25 years of Commercial FM

As the radio industry awaits the launch of DMG’s new stations in Sydney and Melbourne, this week marks the 25th anniversary of commercial FM radio in Australia.

Melbourne’s EON FM, now Austereo’s Triple M, was the first commercial station on air on 11 July 1980. A number of ABC and community stations had already been on air in Sydney and Melbourne before the FM commercial stations began.

Also on 11 July 1980, the ABC’s 2JJam became 2JJJfm, though it was still just a ‘Sydney only’ station.

Commercial FM began with seven stations around Australia between July and September 1980: 2DAY and 2MMM Sydney, 3EON and 3FOX Melbourne, 4MMM Brisbane, 5SSA Adelaide and 6NOW, always identified on air as 96fm.

EON was first on air with these words: “It’s one past midnight and this is 92.3, E-O-N FM. I’m Peter Grace and this is the beginning of a long, long time. The first song is The Eagles’ ‘New Kid in Town’.”

Perhaps a good choice – considering the title and that The Eagles were a huge contemporary band in 1980 with a number one album, ‘The Long Run’.

However, the man, who named EONfm (now Triple M Melbourne), Trevor Smith, says: “Come to think of it now, I think we really should have started EON with an Australian song.”

And, why the name, EON? “When we came on air, we said: ‘It’s the beginning of long, long time’. EON, in a literal sense, means an immeasurably long period. Also, the letters are in the word Melbourne,” Smith says.

The early broadcasts of EON ‘Stereo Music Radio 92.3’ emanated from South Melbourne with a line up including: Jan Cannon, Joe Miller, Mike Nicholls, Lee Simon, Karl Van Est, Grace and Smith.

On reflection, Smith says: “You know, we had fairly humble beginnings there. Nothing like 2MMM’s million dollar Bondi views for us!

Our first broadcasts were from a makeshift studio in a back room in Bank St with hessian bag lined walls. But, we had a very nice console!”

Much later, EON became MMM in Melbourne, as a result of a change of ownership. In fact, it changed frequency to 105.1 on the same day in 1988. The re-launch that day was to the beat of an Australian song, the 12 inch mix of ‘New Sensation’ by INXS.

Eight years after the original round of FM licences, a second round of FM commercial licences were opened up and various AM commercial stations were offered the opportunity to convert to FM.

There are many stories, myths and legends of the early (sometimes awkward) years of Australian commercial FM. They are all chronicled in Wayne Mac’s much anticipated book due out later this year, Don’t Touch That Dial – Hits ‘n’ Memories of Australian Radio.

In the meantime, Mac has updated his website to include historic profiles, complete with sound grabs of each of the original seven commercial FM stations.

Click on the link below and follow the links to ‘FM25’. You can also reserve a copy of the book while you are there.