It was just yesterday, Sunday, August 16, 2015 that the darling of the Darling Downs turned 90.
In Steve Ahern’s book, Making Radio, a chapter on the history of the medium in Australia includes the 4GR call sign as being named for founder Ted Gold with GR standing for Gold Radio. The chapter has been reprinted below with kind permission.
Today, 4GR is part of the SCA regional network.
This video promoting 4GR to advertisers from the early 1980’s was posted to YouTube in February this year.
A History of Radio in Australia
Radio was born from the convergence of many inventions and technologies more than a hundred years ago. The lessons of a century ago can be applied in this era, as the same trends occur again thanks to the convergence of old and new media in the digital domain.
Radio was not invented by any one particular person. It developed through advances in science and technology through a period of several hundred years and many brilliant minds were involved in the process of radio’s discovery.
Radio’s evolution was the result of an international amalgam, with contributions from many different countries through many eras. Eventually there was an understanding of radio waves as being similar physically to light waves, both being electro-magnetic radiations.
In 1267 the English philosopher and scientist Roger Bacon wrote of the possibility of using electricity for communications. He was promptly imprisoned for dealing in black magic!
In 1672 Germany’s Otto von Guericke made a sulphur ball that, when rotated and rubbed, produced electricity, rather like a modern generator. The Leydon Jar, forerunner of the modern battery, was produced by Dutch inventor Musscehenbroek in 1746. A vital link in the chain of discovery was the identification of positive and negative electrical charges by American Benjamin Franklin in 1752.
In chronological order, here are some of the other important discoveries and developments that led to radio’s multinational birth:
1800 Volta (Italian) developed the first battery.
1819 Oested (Danish) demonstrated that electricity can magnetise.
1825 Ampere (French) laid down the basis for electro-dynamics.
1827 Ohm (German) studied the relationship between current, voltage and resistance.
1831 Faraday (English) discovered induction, magnetic lines of force.
1831 Henry (American) developed the electro-magnet.
1887 Hertz (German) transmitted and received the first radio waves.
There were also many other great minds that contributed to the overall development of radio. People such as Edison, Bell, Maxwell, Fleming, Morse, Hughes, Lodge, Meissner, Pupin and de Forest. However, it was Marconi who deserves the main credit for putting the accumulation of knowledge into the practical use of wireless telegraphy, or radio, as we know it.
Guglielmo Marconi came from a wealthy Italian family and had the time and the money to buy apparatus and to experiment. He built his own sending and receiving equipment and in 1894 transmitted morse code messages by radio waves, for the first time in history, across the garden of his father’s home in Italy. In 1897 he developed the first commercially successful spark-coil transmitter. In 1901 Marconi sent a signal (simply the letter ‘S’ in morse code) across the Atlantic Ocean, a distance of 1800 miles (about 2900 kilometres).
Australia was involved in experimentation about that time, too. In 1897 William Bragg of Adelaide and G W Selby of Melbourne demonstrated wireless transmission of messages. In 1901 Henry Jenvey, an electrical engineer with the Victorian Post Office, made radio contact with the Duke of York’s escort ship during a royal visit to Australia. The Marconi family is still involved in electronics and Marconi’s grandson is keeping the link with radio alive. When he visited AFTRS in 2004 he said:
‘My grandfather was the one who put all the pieces together, that is why he is remembered. His legacy united the world then and led to the birth of other electronic media. His family hope that Radio will always be used to bring unity and peace to the world.”
Other Australian wireless pioneers about that time included P B Walker, C P Bartholomew and Frank Leverrier of Sydney.
Recognition of the importance of radio came about in Australia with the introduction of the Wireless and Telegraphy Act 1905. This brought about federal control of the medium of communication by wireless, mainly for navigational purposes.
Internationally, the first report of a radio program was in 1906 when Professor Reginald Fessenden of Massachusetts, USA, used his experimental station to broadcast a short program of two musical items, a talk and a poem. The program was picked up by wireless operators on ships as far as 300 miles (about 480 kilometres) away.
Perhaps the most notable pioneer of radio in Australia was Ernest Fisk. He arrived in Australia from England in 1910 with patents from Marconi and Telefunken. He eventually became managing director of Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited (AWA) which played a big part in the development of radio in Australia. In 1913 AWA established the Marconi School of Wireless, training many of the early pioneers in the technical aspects of radio and continuing to train technicians and engineers over the years. Because of security restrictions there was a suspension of experimental radio in Australia during World War I. Meanwhile, in the USA, by 1916 the idea of a ‘radio music box’ for home reception of musical programs had been put forward by David Sarnoff, an engineer with the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America.
AWA conducted many experiments in radio telephony. In August 1919 AWA transmitted a radio program of music from their offices in Clarence Street, Sydney, to a hall in Elizabeth Street, a few city blocks away.
Quite a number of former armed forces wireless operators in the early post World War I period helped to increase the growing interest in radio. In the early 1920s amateur (or ‘ham’) wireless operators included Charles MacLurcan of Strathfield, Sydney, using a call-sign comprising his initials, 2CM; also an AWA engineer, Joe Reed with 2JR; and stations 3DP Hawthorne and 3SW Kew in Melbourne, as well as 6AG Perth.
The world’s first radio station to broadcast regular programs was the Marconi (there is that name again) transmitter in Essex, England. It started in February 1920 with a recital by the renowned Australian singer Dame Nellie Melba. The first radio station on air in the USA followed nine months later. It was KDKA broadcasting from the Westinghouse Electric factory in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania on 2 November 1920, premiering with a presidential election broadcast.
By 1922 the broadcasting of music was an accepted fact of life. In the USA more than 500 radio stations had been licensed to operate and in Britain the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) was under way. The name was changed to British Broadcasting Corporation in 1927.
Back in Australia in the same year, on 31 March 1922, the country’s first ‘live’ broadcast took place, transmitted from the stage of Her Majesty’s Theatre in Sydney. The program featured a Russian pianist, and vocal duets by British couple Madge Elliot and Cyril Ritchard.
Also in 1922, AWA entered into an agreement with the Commonwealth of Australia to develop, manufacture and sell radio communication equipment, to erect radio stations and conduct radio services.
In 1923 the Australian Commonwealth Government approved the ‘sealed set’ system that had been proposed by AWA. Listeners paid a subscription to a private broadcasting company and a licence fee to the government, then tuned into the station or stations to which they subscribed. The sets were fixed to only those frequencies, so that nothing else could be heard. Limiting the way consumers could use new technology did not prove successful and the sealed set regulatory system was soon abandoned.
The annual government licence fee was 10 shillings for one station and £1 for two or more stations. On top of the government fee the annual station subscription ranged from 10 shillings to three guineas (£3.3). In 1925 the minimum weekly wage for men was about £4.10, so it was not cheap to buy radio services.
There were two stations approved for Sydney: 2SB, operated by Broadcasters Sydney Limited, with a subscription of 10 shillings and 2FC, operated by Farmer and Company, with a listener’s subscription of three guineas. In Melbourne there was 3AR, the Associated Radio Company and in Perth 6WF, Westralian Farmers Limited.
The great occasion for Australia was 13 November 1923 at 8 pm, when our first radio station went to air. This was 2SB Sydney which later changed its call-sign to 2BL. Twelve days later 2FC went to air, although it was not officially opened until January 1924. Radio 2SB’s opening program was broadcast from a studio in Phillip Street. It was a live musical performance featuring a soprano, a baritone, a contralto, a cellist and the St Andrews Quartet. The 2FC opening program was a complete transmission of the J C Williamson and J & N Tait production of the musical The Southern Maid from Her Majesty’s Theatre.
The next radio station to open was 3AR Melbourne, on 26 January 1924.
The origin of call-signs in Australia is interesting. The prefix numerals: 2 for New South Wales, 3 for Victoria, 4 for Queensland, and so on, dates back to Federation in 1901 when defence became a federal responsibility. At that time Australia was divided into numbered districts. New South Wales was the second military district, Victoria the third, and so on. This method of identifying the states was carried on by the radio authorities and is now also used in Australia’s postcode system. There was no first, or number 1 district, probably because it could be confused with the letters ‘I’ or ‘L’.
Now to the origins of the letters used in just a few of Australia’s radio station call-signs:
2HD Newcastle comes from Harry Douglas who started the station in 1925.
2UE Sydney was originally 2EU, standing for Electrical Utilities. It was thought that 2EU sounded too much like ‘who are you?’ so the letters were reversed.
4GR Toowoomba stood for ‘Gold Radio’ because the first licensee was Ted Gold.
4QG Brisbane stood for Queensland government.
7HO Hobart was started by Ron Hope, so the letters stand for the first two letters of his name and for the word ‘Hobart’.
2GB Sydney came from the name of an Italian philosopher, Giordino Bruno, respected by the Theosophical Society, 2GB’s first licensee.
2SM came from St Mark’s Church, Drummoyne because the local parish priest, Father Meaney, held the first licence.
Many call-signs are derived from the name of the town or area concerned, such as 2DU Dubbo, 2BH Broken Hill, 4BU Bundaberg and 3CV Central Victoria. Over the years some original call signs have changed or been dropped by successive station owners.
In July 1924 the government brought in new regulations that established two categories for radio stations in Australia – the A Class stations, financed by licence fees from listeners, and the B Class stations, financed by the selling of advertising time – in other words, the commercial stations.
Interestingly, the government initially allowed some ambiguity by permitting the A Class stations to accept restricted advertising – a total of one hour in every 12 hours of broadcasting time, in periods of no longer than five minutes at a time. However, the A Class stations were not very interested in selling advertisements and this arrangement was dropped three years later, in 1927.
The first B Class station to take to the air was 2BE Sydney, operated by the Burgin Electric Company. It started on 7 November 1924 and ceased operations in November 1929.
The oldest still-functioning commercial station in Australia is 2UE Sydney which started on 26 January 1925. One day later 2HD Newcastle opened. Next in order were 2UW Sydney, 5DN Adelaide, 3UZ Melbourne, 4GR Toowoomba, 2KY Sydney. 2GB Sydney opened in 1926. Revenue for each of the radio stations averaged £70 per week in their first year of operation.
In 1928 the federal government decided to set up a national broadcasting service with A Class stations owned and operated by the government, but with programs provided by independent contractors.
Between July 1929 and December 1930 the government took over the A Class stations. After this, the Australian Broadcasting Company was hired to provide programs in all states and territories. This company was made up of Greater Union Theatres, Fuller’s Theatres and J Albert and Sons, music publishers.
By 1930 most countries had well-developed broadcasting systems in operation. The number of stations in the world in 1925 was about 600. That number more than doubled by 1935.
Although program contractors were paid half the licence fee, the first year of operation apparently resulted in a loss for them. The government ended the arrangement and in mid-1932 set up the Australian Broadcasting
Commission. It was at this stage that the terms ‘A Class’ and ‘B Class’ were phased out in favour of ‘national’ and ‘commercial’ stations.
The early 1930s was a time of a great expansion in broadcasting in Australia. In 1930 13 new commercial stations came into being, and one new national station. In 1931 there were another 17 stations launched,15 commercial and two national. In 1931 the Federation of Australian Radio Broadcasters (FARB), originally known as the Federation of Australian Commercial Broadcasters, was formed with 27 members to safeguard the interests of the commercial group of stations. By the end of the 1930s there were 131 radio stations, including 26 national stations.
Radio programs became much more diverse in the 1950s. Serials, recorded on 16-inch acetate (and later vinyl) transcription disks, became popular family listening. Plays were very much in vogue, usually one hour in length. Talent quests, quiz shows, comedy, sport and a variety of musical programs were also popular with listeners.
A number of production houses supplying serials and other recorded features to the Australian radio industry were established by the late 1930s. In the heyday of Australian radio drama some of these production companies were Grace Gibson Radio Productions, AWA Limited, Hector Crawford Productions, BEA, EMI, Fidelity Radio, Ron Beck, Donovan Joyce Productions, Artransa, Featuradio, British-Australian Programmes, as well as 2UE, 3DB and the Adelaide Advertiser Network.
In December 1939, the year the Second World War started, Prime Minister Robert Menzies inaugurated Australia’s overseas short-wave service which became known as ‘Radio Australia’.
Tremendous influence on the programming of commercial stations was wielded by two of Australia’s largest advertising agencies during World War II and the post-war period, until the advent of TV in 1956.
The agencies were George Patterson Pty Ltd and the J Walter Thompson Company. Both bought large amounts of radio time to broadcast top radio shows for their clients Lever Brothers and Colgate Palmolive (the big soap companies—hence the term ‘soap operas’ or ‘soapies’). Apart from a rash of serials, some of the shows broadcast under this type of arrangement were: Lux Radio Theatre, Australia’s Amateur Hour, The Quiz Kids, Calling the Stars, Share the Wealth, Pick-A-Box, Cop the Lot, The Youth Show and Rise and Shine. The two top performers associated with many of these shows were Jack Davey, a New Zealander, and Bob Dyer, an American, the two quizmaster kings of Australian radio.
Part of the history of radio in Australia was the establishment during the late 1920s and early 1930s of the Royal Flying Doctor Service and the School of the Air in outback areas. These vital services still play a critical role in the sparsely settled regions of inland Australia.
Networks of radio stations were formed during the 1930s for the purpose of facilitating programming and the selling of programs and air-time for advertising. These networks included the AWA Network, the Federal Network, Associated Broadcasters, the Commonwealth Broadcasting Network, the Major Network. The Macquarie Network, the biggest and most influential, was formed in 1938 with key station 2GB Sydney. At one time the Macquarie Network had 26 member-stations and a further 35 cooperating stations.
Network discounts enabled advertisers to buy radio time at favourable rates, simplifying accounting and billing procedures. Networking, both commercial and ABC, was an important development. It brought the major radio shows into the homes of people in most parts of Australia.
A number of comedy shows enjoyed great popularity during the late 1930s, the 1940s and the early 1950s. These included Dad and Dave, Mrs ’Obbs, Fred and Maggie, Yes, What? and Life with Dexter. Popular serials that attracted loyal followings were Blue Hills, When a Girl Marries, Dr Paul, The Lawsons, Mary Livingstone, MD, Big Sister, Portia Faces Life, Martin’s Corner, Hagen’s Circus, and such dramatic thrillers as the Gregory Keane series Dossier On Dumetrius, Deadly Nightshade and Twenty-Six Hours along with First Light Fraser, The Woman in Black, Night Beat, I Hate Crime and Tarzan.
Many talented actors were involved including Nigel Lovell, Alistair Duncan, Lyndall Barbour, Leonard Teale, Charles (Bud) Tingwell, Thelma Scott, Owen Weingott, Guy Doleman, George Edwards, Nell Stirling, Edward Howell and Therese Desmond, to mention just a few.
Apart from the quiz kings Jack Davey and Bob Dyer, the 1940s and 1950s produced a glittering array of radio stars including Roy Rene (Mo), George Wallace, John Dease, Eric Pearce, Terry Dear, Gwen Plumb, Willie Fennell, Howard Craven, Eric Baume, Keith Smith, Charles Moses, and Len London – and there were many others, all household names.
Producers of radio drama and musicals were also well known to listeners. Names such as Harry Dearth, E Mason Wood, Donovan Joyce, Ron R Beck, Humphrey Bishop, Hector and Dorothy Crawford, Grace Gibson, J Colin Craigen and Harry Harper became strongly identified with the programs they produced.
Before TV, radio devoted many hours each week to children’s programming. The Fairy Godmother ran on 2CH Sydney and the ABC had its enormously popular Argonauts’ Club which included serials like The Muddle Headed Wombat. Then there was The Search for the Golden Boomerang, David and Dawn in Fairyland and more grown-up fare such as Hop Harrigan, Superman and The Air Adventures of Biggles. Most radio stations had their ‘aunties’ and ‘uncles,’ personalities who conducted afternoon children’s sessions, running various competitions, reading letters and essays, giving birthday calls and sometimes awarding certificates for effort and excellence.
When TV was launched in Australia in 1956 it led to marked changes in radio as the industry turned to technology and programming innovations to combat the more compelling visual medium. The small portable transistor radio replaced the more cumbersome valve-operated models and this brought about a change in listening habits. Radio spread outdoors so that people could listen individually, wherever they went. The radio became a personal accessory. It also spread to every room in the home, not just the lounge room where it had been ensconced for years but was now being moved aside to make way for the TV set. More and more car radios were also produced.
The public was seized by the novelty of the ‘glamour’ medium, TV, and radio was pressured to embrace new programming styles and changes in receiver technology to help reinvent its place in the lives of its audience.
It became apparent that radio’s great strengths compared with TV were its flexibility, immediacy, its personal intimate appeal, its ability to expand the imagination, and to connect with the listener in any location. Radio also proved it had great strengths as a service medium, able to become intimately involved with the community in a way that was not possible for TV. Later it showed its ability to reach specific age groups and demographic areas through specialised programming formats. When compared with the much higher costs of TV production and advertising, commercial radio demonstrated its power to sell products through a low-cost advertising medium.
From a commercial perspective, radio’s ability to stage promotional events and competitions for its advertisers and to conduct outside broadcasts easily and without fuss added points in its favour. So radio programming and operations evolved to meet the new challenge of TV and the more sophisticated demands of the audience.
Radio became more and more a personal medium for music, news, information, entertainment, service and perhaps, most importantly, for listener involvement and interactivity.
In the new scheme of things, commercial radio stations dropped drama, quiz shows, features and serials as their formats adapted to the TV age and embraced program elements such as immediacy in news and telephone talkback.
News bulletins became shorter, more frequent, crisper in style, using actuality and voice inserts. News on the hour and, later, the half-hour, became the normal programming practice. 2UE Sydney, for example, had broadcast 12 regular daily news bulletins in 1955, but by 1963 it was broadcasting 30 bulletins daily.
Initially TV had very little effect on commercial radio station revenue in Australia. There was a slight drop in revenue during the first year of TV, 1956-57, when the overall radio industry net profit dropped from £1.5 million to £1.49 million, but there was a quick recovery and the following year profits rose again to £1.9 million. The overall trend however was down, in the face of competition from the new advertising medium TV, which fragmented media consumption. Radio now has about a 9 per cent share of Australian advertising nationally.
With the advent of TV, produced mostly from the capital cities, radio’s involvement with the community became most important in country areas. As well as the usual services such as news, weather, sport and ‘what’s-ons,’ country stations provided market reports, frost and flood warnings, bush fire information, livestock details and agricultural advice. There were also broadcasts from local shows and field days, emergency service information and funeral announcements. Even in today’s sophisticated media environment, rural radio stations still play a vital role in times of natural disasters such as floods and bushfires and serve to link local communities.
An innovation by 2UE Sydney in 1958 was the introduction of Top 40 programming, featuring the playing of the 40 most popular songs of the day. This changed the style of popular musical programming and was quickly adopted by many stations around Australia, becoming another example of how radio adapted itself to threats from rival media.
Before Top 40 programming many of the big-name radio hosts tended to be those heard nationally through the many syndicated programs mentioned previously. There were, however, quite a few high profile personalities who were only known in certain cities. For example, listeners outside of Melbourne would not have been familiar with the authoritarian tones of Norman Banks or the zany antics of Nicky and Graham or Ackie or Jackie.
The emergence of Top 40 radio gave rise to many young local performers who were very different from their predecessors. Fuelled by the sound of rock ‘n’ roll, the birth of teenage pop culture and the increasing mobility of the medium, radio was ideally positioned to take new directions with the Top 40 sound.
Central to the Top 40 format was the style and individuality of the presenters. By the late 1950s the era of the disc jockey or DJ had begun. Among the pioneers of this ‘hip and happening’ approach were Bob Rogers, John Laws, and Tony Withers in New South Wales; Stan Rofe, Don Rainsford, and Brian Taylor in Victoria; Geoff Atkinson, Bill Gates, and Malcolm Searle in Queensland; Graeme Cornish, Jim Slade, and Bob Francis in South Australia; Peter Dean, Johnny Fryer, and Colin Nichol in Western Australia; and John Loughlin, Rod Muir, and Don Lunn in Tasmania.
While these and others bolstered their popularity through the early part of the 1960s, the Top 40 formula was further developed and sometimes re-branded. In Adelaide, for example, there were three commercial AM stations competing head to head – 5AD was the original Top 40 player, while 5KA employed The Top 50 sound and 5DN, The Big 60.
Many stations in the 1960s were also keen on positioning themselves with younger listeners and promoted their on-air people in teams as if they were a pop group. Examples include ‘The Good Guys,’ first heard on 2SM in 1963 and then on 2HD, 3AK, 5KA, 6PR and 7HO. 2UW had ‘The 11- 10 Men,’ 4BC ‘The 11- 20 Men,’ and 6KY The 12-10 Men.’ 3KZ had ‘The Most Happy Fellas.’ It was all very ‘blokey.’ Women were not part of the DJ scene. Instead, the few women who were on the air in those times were mostly heard during the women’s morning session or, surprisingly, on midnight-to-dawn shifts. Some women had been on air during the war years, but were forced to give up their jobs when men returned from active service.
Prominent in most commercial stations of the 1960s was the increased use of slogans or, as they became known by the 1980s, ‘position statements.’ There was ‘The Brighter 2UE,’ ‘Happening Radio 3XY,’ ‘3AW The Talk of the Town,’ ‘Action Radio 5AD,’ ‘Fun Radio 3UZ,’ ‘The Big BC,’ ‘2SM Two Way Radio’ and ‘7HO The Big Sound’ to name a few.
Stations also used lavishly produced identification jingles and DJ themes to augment their sound. These were usually bought ‘off the shelf’ in the USA with call-signs, cities and slogans added. When these catchy sounds were combined with the constant patter of the DJs and the hit records of the day, radio stations became a magnet for young listeners chasing a lively sound.
In the mid to late 1960s one ‘positioner’ was introduced that had a profound effect on the presentation of nearly every music station then and now. Two short, sharp words said it all: ‘More Music.’ Like the Top 40 format that was transplanted from the USA in the late 1950s, the More Music approach that followed was arguably the most potent force in radio formats of the 1970s and into the 1980s.
Originally installed on 4IP as early as 1966 by their US-based consultant, ‘More Music’ was characterised by super-tight presentation, contests, short talk breaks, a repetitive rotational playlist, and a variety of audio tricks. More than one radio station was heard running reverberation (reverb) across their program chain and speeding up songs.
It was 2SM that brought ‘More Music’ to prominence in Sydney during 1969 and later, through its core of programming people, spread the format’s ethos to other markets during the 1970s. In addition to 4IP and 2SM the format’s ‘feel’ was heard on 3XY, 2NX, 6PM and 7EX. Also the similarly named ‘Constant Music’ format was played on 4BK and 5KA in the early 1970s. Canberra’s 2CC followed the fashion, launching in 1975 as ‘Music Radio.’
Rod Muir was the main driving force of ‘More Music’ on AM in the 1970s and was also one of the major players behind the ‘Triple Your Music’ concept on FM in the 1980s.
Talkback or open-line as it was known in the 1960s officially began in April 1967. Until that time some stations were using home-made devices to record telephone messages to be aired later in certain programs. This was in contravention of broadcasting regulations of the time, but it did not stop Melbourne’s 3AK and Sydney’s 2UW, which were instructed to cease the practice. Live talkback enabled listeners to participate in programs for the first time. It gave listeners a chance to have their say or to air their views on topical issues or personal matters and to seek information from experts on a variety of subjects from gardening to medical, veterinary or legal matters.
Lonely people could call their favourite radio presenters and chat to them on air. This had never before been possible. It has been said that talkback radio replaced the neighbourly chat over the backyard fence. It certainly revolutionised the sound of radio and began the polarization of formats, splitting them into the extremes of either music or talk.
Radio now concentrates on music and talk programs instead of serials, quiz shows, drama and variety programs. Pioneers of talkback radio were Ormsby Wilkins, Mike Walsh, John Pearce, John Laws and former radio quiz champion and later politician Barry Jones.
From 1950 to 1991 30 new AM commercial stations opened in Australia, many in small country centres and geographically isolated regions, but some to better serve large cities and high population areas. These included 2NX Newcastle in 1954, Newcastle’s third commercial station, 4GG Gold Coast in 1967, 2CC Canberra in 1975, giving Canberra a second AM commercial station, 3MP Melbourne in 1976 and in 1978, 2OO Wollongong and 2WS Sydney.
After an initial round of new FM licences were bought, many AM stations were offered the chance to convert to the FM band. Some took up that opportunity while others did not see the value of changing from the most listened-to band to take a chance on a new band that might not yield good audience numbers. Nearly thirty years later, now that FM is the dominant band, some companies look back at that strategic decision with regret. The lessons of FM conversion from the 1970s may well prove relevant again as stations face similar strategic decisions about digital radio broadcasting, which has just been introduced in Australia.
The face of radio changed considerably when FM stereo broadcasting was introduced. With it came the establishment of the public broadcasting sector, now called ‘community broadcasting’ in 1974. This was followed by the start of a new ABC service for classical music listeners called ABCFM in 1976, and later by new FM commercial stations. The opening up of new frequencies dramatically enlarged the radio landscape in Australia during the following decade.
Community broadcasting responds to community needs and allows for the servicing of minority and special interests, airing a wide and diverse range of programs and giving access to the airwaves for volunteer broadcasters. Initially public broadcasting station licences fell into three categories:
X Educational (E), issued to educational bodies to provide programs of continuing and adult education and to include material to enrich the cultural life of the audience.
X Community (C), issued to community groups to provide programs serving a particular community.
X Special (S), issued to groups to provide programs serving a particular interest or group of interests.
The ‘S’ and ‘E’ class licences were later absorbed into the broad Community Radio category.
Since then other classes of licences, such as ‘Narrowcast,’ have also been added, giving Australia one of the most diverse radio regulatory landscapes in the world.
It was in 1974 that the first three public broadcasting stations in Australia were opened. They were two ‘special’ category stations 2MBS-FM Sydney and 3MBS-FM Melbourne, and one ‘educational’ station, 5UV Adelaide (now called Radio Adelaide). 3CR-FM Melbourne became Australia’s first ‘community’ category station in mid-1976.
Between 1976 and 1977 sixteen public broadcasting station licences were issued, at least one station in each state and one in the Australian Capital Territory. All stations were non-profit and were staffed by volunteers. Now there are over 300 community stations around Australia. For an explanation of the philosophies of each sector see the next chapter.
The Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) was established in 1978 to provide multilingual radio services through stations 2EA Sydney and 3EA Melbourne. Having expanded its services, SBS radio is now broadcasting all around Australia in more than 60 languages and is keen to use the extra channel opportunities presented by digital radio to further expand its programming.
Commercial FM stations were introduced to Australia in 1980. Seven stations were opened that year, two in Sydney, two in Melbourne and one each in Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth. The new stations were branded with words such as Fox and Eon, or 2Day and Triple M, which set them apart from the traditional AM call signs, even though behind the brands there were still official call signs.
A technological development designed to combat the effect of the commercial FM stations was the introduction of stereo AM broadcasting in 1985. AM Stereo, however, did not prove popular with listeners because reception required a new, expensive, hard-to-get radio receiver, and AM Stereo virtually disappeared. The lessons learnt about properly marketing, pricing, supplying and promoting new receiver technologies from the failed introduction of AM Stereo are relevant lessons today for the introduction of digital radio and multimedia services.
In 1983 federal parliament enacted the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act and the Australian Broadcasting Commission became a corporation, with a new chairman, new directors and a new charter. This allowed the ABC to enter into commercial enterprises such as shops and also coincided with the expansion of its youth network Triple J.
The Broadcasting Services Act came into effect in October 1992, doing away with the 1942 Broadcasting Act, offering the radio sector greater self-regulation and altering some of the rules on foreign and cross-media ownership. At the same time the old regulatory body, the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal, was replaced with the Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA).
With the growth of new forms of media such as the internet, and the convergence of telecommunications technologies, Australia again changed its media regulatory environment in 2005, merging the ABA with the telecommunications regulator the Australian Communications Authority (ACA) to form ACMA, the Australian Communications and Media Authority.
As the regulatory rules changed, so did many ownership structures. In the late 1980s the Macquarie Network, then owned by the Fairfax newspaper group, was sold to Sonance and eventually broken into individual parts and sold on to various other broadcasting organisations.
Austereo Limited was started by Paul Thompson with SA FM in Adelaide, using audience research and programming techniques that were new to Australia at the time and made the station more listener-responsive than its rivals. Austereo then acquired FOX-FM Melbourne, 2DAY-FM Sydney, and other stations, forming a national capital city network. Throughout the 1980s and 90s the two giant FM groups, Austereo and Triple M, battled for market leadership, but eventually merged to save money and reduce debt.
The Australian Radio Network’s (ARN) growth in the 1990s parallels that of the Macquarie Network of the 1940s and 50s. After its growth phase, ARN also downsized and stations now owned by ARN include WS-FM and 96.1 FM in Sydney, 4KQ and 97.3 in Brisbane, GOLD-FM in Melbourne, and the MIX group of capital city stations. In 2003 many old ARN station names were re-branded as MIX under American CEO Bob Longwell, to introduce economies of scale and consistent marketing.
Unlike other broadcast sectors in Australia, radio has no foreign ownership restrictions and, at the time of writing ARN is part owned by American broadcast giant Clear Channel and DMG Radio is owned by the British Daily Mail group. Austereo and Southern Cross Broadcasting are publicly listed Australian companies. Changes in media ownership laws are proposed and it is possible that other broadcasting sectors will also be opened up more to foreign ownership in the future as media becomes more global.
The advent of satellites, starting with the launch of AUSSAT in the mid-1980s allowed easier program networking, making satellite program distribution an integral part of the broadcasting scene. It is now being supplemented and, in many cases, superceded by electronic on-line delivery through companies such as Southern Cross Syndication and community radio’s CAN program delivery system.
Some of the most successful networked programs during the 1990s were ARN’s overnight Truck Radio, Austereo’s Martin & Molloy Drive program and Sky Radio’s John Laws Show.
The 1990s saw the growth of large regional companies such as DMG Regional Radio and Reg Grundy’s RG Capital Radio which also relied on networking from regional ‘hub stations’ using satellites and wide area computer links. Both groups were bought by Macquarie Bank in 2004 under the banner of Macquarie Regional Radioworks, with CEO Rhys Holleran driving the company’s growth.
The 1990s also saw the evolution of Southern Cross Broadcasting into a large and profitable integrated Radio, TV and Film Production business under the leadership of Managing Director Tony Bell.
In 1997 one of Radio Australia’s main transmitter sites in Darwin was closed down because of government funding cutbacks, resulting in the status and staffing of ABC Radio Australia being dramatically downgraded. Since then RA has developed new transmission outlets through the internet and with rebroadcast partners, pioneering a new multi-media strategy for communicating Australian views to the world.
ABC Radio’s domestic networks have also developed new strategies for reaching audiences in recent years, embracing the internet and multimedia to connect with audiences beyond their traditional radio sets. Under Director of Radio Sue Howard, ABC Radio expanded its NewsRadio network and created a range of Dig internet radio channels. Because of the complexity of integrating network and local programming across an ever-increasing number of AM and FM transmitters, ABC’s Local Radio network dropped all its historical callsigns (2BL, 3LO, etc) at the beginning of the new millenium and renamed them by their frequencies and cities, such as 702 ABC Sydney and 774 ABC Melbourne.
Between 1999 and 2000 a number of commercial Talk-Radio stations came under scrutiny from the ABA’s ‘cash-for-comment’ enquiry that investigated third-party payments to talk hosts at 2UE Sydney and in other capital cities. Recommendations from this enquiry tightened up the codes of practice and led to increased vigilance against payments that may influence the editorial opinions of current affairs announcers.
Well known talk radio announcers in the first decade of the new millennium include 2GB’s Alan Jones and 2UE’s Stan Zemanek in Sydney, Neil Mitchell at 3AW Melbourne, 5AA’s Leon Byner and 6PR’s Howard Sattler. On ABC Radio Ian McNamara is a household name with his program Australia All Over, and Radio National presenters Geraldine Doogue and Philip Adams are also well known.
Septuagenarian John Laws continues on air after 50 years in radio. While Laws says the ‘Cash for Comment’ enquiry took its toll on him, he is still as enthusiastic as ever about his radio program. When asked about the highlight of his radio career he told radioinfo: “Tomorrow’s program – every day is a highlight in this business.”
In December 1999 the ABA decided to license new commercial FM stations in the major capital cities, with DMG bidding successfully for all of them and introducing the Nova network under CEO Paul Thompson and Group Program Director Dean Buchanan. DMG then outbid all rivals to gain second licences in Sydney and Melbourne, building stations named ‘Vega’ for an over 40 target audience.
The advent of the internet, audio streaming and digital radio has moved radio into the digital domain, allowing it to re-invent itself again for a new generation of listeners who consume radio through computers, mobile phones, iPods, mp3 players and the other digital devices. They are used to having more control over their own choice of programming than listeners from any previous generation.
The convergence of radio receiver technology, the further specialization of niche formats, increased competition from other media and changing consumer habits will challenge radio to keep adapting and re-inventing itself to remain relevant to its audiences into the future. The past 100 years of radio history indicate that the radio industry is capable of meeting that challenge.
Reprinted from: Ahern, S. Making Radio, Allen & Unwin, Sydney.