Radio Soaps and Yes, What?: Tim Bowden

Radio Soaps and Yes, What?: Tim Bowden

Tim Bowden describes the popularity of radio dramas and soap operas in the 1950s and 60s, before television took over people's attention in the evenings.

He mentions examples including Blue Hills (1949–76), Yes, What? (1936–40), Dr Paul (1949–70) and Portia Faces Life (1952–70).

Serials populated by 'ordinary Australian families' were the most popular entertainment on radio in the 1950s. The genre termed 'soap opera' originated in American radio serials of the 1930s, and owes its name to the sponsorship of programs by major soap and powder manufacturers.

Promoted as a way to 'liven the humdrum', they offered an escape from the drudgery of real life. Listeners rode the rollercoaster of emotional crises throught their beloved characters.

The focus on nuclear familes – mum, dad and the kids – expressed and reinforced the most important social values of Australia in the 1950s.

The most famous of all Australian radio soap operas in the 1950s was Blue Hills, which aired Monday to Thursday from 1949 to 1976, a total of 5795 episodes. Blue Hills was broadcast as part of the ABC radio Country Hour.

The 15-minute serial dealt with the problems of rural life and recounted the adventures of the Gordon family. Whole towns ground to a halt for 15 minutes each day and the service in stores and pubs virtually stopped while each episode went to air.

Other popular soap operas included When a Girl Marries, Portia Faces Life and the classic Dad and Dave.

Tim Bowden is a broadcaster, radio and television documentary maker, oral historian and author.