TV Reinvents Radio with Talkback: Tim Bowden

TV Reinvents Radio with Talkback: Tim Bowden

Tim Bowden talks about how the introduction of TV in Australia in 1956 affected radio. Radio soon changed focus and continued to prosper, particularly during daytime hours and because of its immediacy.

The introduction of television services in Australia brought vast changes to the radio industry. Radio's serial dramas, variety and quiz shows – the mainstay of evening programming – appealed less to listeners when they discovered they could watch similar formats on televison.

Many listeners would rather watch films and shows imported from the United States than sit in a room and listen to a locally produced, original play on the radio. Some radio broadcasters predicted that television would be the death of radio altogether. But radio reinvented itself, and fought back powerfully on two fronts.

First, radio could report news instantly, while television news was intially slower to produce. So radio increased its news reporting. Radio stations bought more cars and fitted them with two-way radios, to get to the scene of news stories and quickly report back to the newsrooms. Radio promoted itself as the medium for the news 'scoop'. 

Second, radio introduced a format termed 'talkback'. With television up and running in Australia, listeners still continued to tune into their favourite talkback shows on radio. So radio stations looked for ways to enhance the format and invited their listeners to 'phone in'. Previously illegal, the break for radio broadcasters came in 1967 when the Federal Parliament authorised the broadcast of material via the telephone.

At 9am on 17 April 1967, radio host Mike Walsh on 2SM opened the lines to listeners' calls, making him the first presenter to have his own legal talkback program on Australian radio.

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