Who was radio pioneer Charles Maclurcan?

Was Charles Maclurcan really Australia’s first licenced broadcaster?

How we listen to radio continues to evolve but it is important to sometimes take a look back on how far we have come.

That is just what Jane Arakawa has done in a radio documentary she submitted to the CBAA’s National Features and Documentaries Series.

After receiving many excellent submissions, 12 individuals were chosen to undertake mentoring and training to bring their documentary idea to fruition.

Arakawa, from Northside Radio in Sydney, produced a story called Australian Radio Pioneer: Wound Up the Cat and Put the Clock Out. You have to listen to the audio to get the cat/clock reference.

The documentary told the story of a man named Charles Maclurcan, one of Australia’s early radio pioneers.

radioinfo asked Jane why she chose to tell this story:

“I was researching some items for World Radio Day a few years ago, and my father David Chapman, who manufactured Austral Car Radios and TV’s in Glebe, told me that a family friend’s grandfather, Charles Maclurcan, was one of Australia’s early radio pioneers. I then contacted the grandsons for the February 13th World Radio Day program. It was at that point I discovered just how significant Charles Maclurcan’s passion for radio technology and broadcasting had been.

Although many articles had been published about him, it seemed that in recent times, his achievements had perhaps faded from sight. More focus is placed on the first commercial radio licences even though amateur broadcasters were presenting interesting and engaging radio programs that led to the establishment of commercial licences and the national broadcaster.”

On the Inaccuracies she found during her research Jane said:

While there are some ‘date inaccuracies’ due to people recounting dates and days at the time of their interviews,  (which I have chosen not to edit out), I feel that it brings to life the story of a very passionate radio pioneer and raises the interesting questions around the upcoming 100 years of radio celebrations.”

Whether or not Maclurcan’s was the first radio license granted or not was the big hurdle Jane had to face in her research. She carried out in depth investigation into the matter which can be heard in the documentary:

“For this documentary I had received access to some valuable Maclurcan family documents and then contacted the President of the Historical Radio Society of Australia who put me in touch with the two people who have done extensive research whom I interviewed and you hear in the documentary. They both have done detailed investigations into the dates and the categories of licences from primary sources and have both written books with extensive detailed information.

“The exact details of each licence and when it was issued are all documented quite thoroughly and available online at www.hrsa.asn.au and http://www.australia.gov.au/about-australia/australian-story/radio-in-australia.

“Another invaluable source, was a book available in the Mitchell Library, and offered to me by grandson, John Maclurcan that details the personal family records of his grandfather Charles Dansie Maclurcan. The personal family photographs were made available for the documentary and we visited the Powerhouse Museum together where his own scrapbooks and log books are now kept.”

“In my opinion, it seems to come down to the category of the licence that creates the major discussions of who is recognised as holding ‘Licence No 1’ in Australia, and I hope that my documentary on Charles Maclurcan will affirm his place in our radio history.”

Jane Arakawa’s description of her documentary explains more about this controversial historical curiosity in the annals of Australian Radio:

“My passion for radio and the immediate, intimate connection it creates between us, lead me to discover this dedicated Australian radio pioneer and how he faced his technical hurdles and engaged his audience over various media.

I learnt that Charles Maclurcan erected aerial masts on top of the first Wentworth Hotel located on Church Hill, Lang Street Sydney in 1911 and was communicating with incoming and outgoing ships. By early 1922 he was broadcasting an entertaining and engaging radio program each week with a program guide published in the weekly newspapers of the time. He was issued Licence No.1 in December 1922 and continued his broadcasts and experiments until 1927 when he was required to take over the management of the Wentworth Hotel until its sale in 1950.

I discovered that some of Charles Maclurcan’s equipment was held by the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney and also on display at the Radio Museum at Kurrajong, NSW. It was at Kurrajong that I first heard of an ongoing discussion among radio historians regarding which station can lay claim to holding Licence No 1 in Australia. Charles Maclurcan returned to his love of radio in his retirement and his passion and dedication resulted in the Australian Government declaring upon his death in 1957 that his call sign 2CM was never to be re-issued.

You will hear how Charles Maclurcan engaged his listeners through multi-media platforms of the time, why historians are debating who holds Licence No.1, and how his grandsons have respectfully and openly shared his story of radio with us.

I now consider Charles Maclurcan to be Australia’s first multi-platform radio producer.”


Listen here to ‘Australian Radio Pioneer Wound Up the Cat and Put the Clock Out’

The pictures below are from cigarette cards that depicted some of Maclurcan’s radio equipment (click pic to enlarge).


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