An Opportunity Lost: 3KZ at Trades Hall

Comment from Radio Historian Peter Philp

 

Recently the Melbourne Trades Hall held an open day weekend as part of Open House Melbourne. The event was highly publicized, highlighting attractions such as the impressive renovation of the grand old building and the fact that the old 3KZ studio would be recreated with live broadcasts.

Experiencing the proud history of the Victorian union movement and reforms it has achieved was one thing but also seeing, be it only for a weekend, a resurrected 3KZ, was another high point of interest.

I was eager to see the the ‘old lady’ after working there for more than 13 years. I joined the official hour-long tour with great anticipation. The Trades Hall looks stunning – restored to its former glory, with its long history well documented in glass showcases.

And what about the recreated 3KZ?

Regrettably it was a fizzer. I felt cheated after all the promotion.

There was no studio or 3KZ broadcast. No even a sign mentioning the Brighter Broadcasting Service. Yes, there was a couple of people sitting at a table in the centre of the decorated Solidarity Room, interviewing some union officials. Later in a private conversation with these broadcasters of the supposed re-enactment, they appeared to have little interest in 3KZ.

The tour took in a large section of the building but failed to visit or mention the ballroom in which the 3KZ studios were built. During the weekend long broadcast, only one scripted formal paragraph spoke about 3KZ, but lacked any depth regarding its important contribution to this city.

What an opportunity lost, both from an historical point of view and spectator interest.

I spent time wandering around the Electrical Trades Ballroom (once 3KZ’s studios) and had difficulty trying to visualize how a radio station’s studio operation fitted into this space – two broadcasting studios, a radio theatre, large master control room, disc cutting suite and a library housing more than 30,000 records.

For an independent broadcasting station, 3KZ achieved so much, presenting an extraordinary variety of ground-breaking programming, performers who became Melbourne’s biggest radio stars and a tradition that few stations could equal.

The organizers’ promotion of 3KZ could have been used to the labour movement’s advantage. But they appeared to have no idea about the value of that story.

The broadcasting licence that put 3KZ on the air was, for most of its history, owned by Industrial Printing, a union affiliate. However, it was wise enough to realize that it would not be competitive against the then commercial stations, 3UZ and 3DB and the soon to be established 3AW, so Industrial Printing leased the licence to advertising company, Val Morgan and Sons. Naturally there were certain strict conditions: the studios must remain within the Trades Hall; a lucrative financial arrangement, and that the union movement would be allocated guaranteed broadcast times.

Forever, 3KZ would be publicly linked to the licensees, which I suspect was beneficial to the owners without having much of a detrimental effect on the station. The Trades Hall Council’s evening allowance was in peak listening time between the 7pm news and the highly rated Darrod’s drama at 7.15 and the ALP’s morning time slot was in the middle of the busy and popular morning program. In later years, the Sunday Labor Hour ran into Stan Rofe’s Platter Parade with its huge audience.

ALP figures and unionists would regularly wander into 3KZ for a cut of tea. They were always welcome regardless of the personal political persuasions of the station’s staff. Announcers such at Norman Swain and Ron Cadee would respond by saying “look who has dropped in for a cuppa.” Generally, it was a happy association.

The Trades Hall’s story will never be complete without remembering the important tenant in the ballroom on the first floor – 3KZ, The Brighter Broadcasting Service. Like all radio stations in this city, 3KZ’s life is crowded with invaluable history but this story had additional unique qualities.

For the many who remember that story and deem its importance, should not merely love it but use every opportunity to re-tell it.

 

About the Author

Peter Philp is Melbourne journalist and broadcasting historian. He is the author of Drama in Silent Rooms, the history of the Australian radio drama and producer of a number of broadcasting documentaries.

 

Main photo: Trades Hall, on the corner of Victoria and Lygon streets in Carlton.

Darge Photographic Co.,photographer, circa 1889. Photograph. State Library of Victoria Picture Collection.

 

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