Chapter 1

New Waves: 1923 to 1935

Radio revolutionised Australia, signalling the dawn of modern communications, entertainment, advertising, entrepreneurship and celebrity. 

But few early broadcasts survive. Radio’s origin story is one of fragments, residing in its technologies, innovations, ephemera and uncanny possibilities

New Waves: tech inspection

Some of the earliest pieces of radio equipment and artefacts held in the NFSA collection. 

Wireless radio receiver, c1908. Featured a wooden board with a cylinder attached and a copper wire wound tightly around the cylinder.
Wireless crystal receiver

Crystal sets are the simplest type of radio receiver. Named for the crystal detector, used to regulate the electrical current emitted by a radio signal, they were simple to construct, inexpensive and required no additional power supply. However, crystal sets could only receive signals within a small geographic range and listeners needed headphones to hear radio broadcasts. This model is c1908. NFSA title: 1738017

A radio receiver from the 1920s, housed in a wooden box with a set of headphones attached to it.
Crystal radio set with Brandes headphones

Crystal sets were the first model of radio receiver marketed to domestic consumers, their greatest popularity coinciding with the introduction of commercial broadcasting in the 1920s. Though fully assembled crystal radios were available for purchase, many were homemade, such as this example from the mid-1920s. NFSA title: 1532199

Radio receiver, c1920s, housed in an ornate wooden box.
Electrical Specialty Manufacturing Company radiogram

The oldest radiogram held in the NFSA collection, combining both a radio and a gramophone in one console. The Electrical Specialty Manufacturing Company marketed radios under its own name from 1933 to 1937, targeting wealthier customers with the slogan 'the aristocrat of radios’. NFSA title: 1738020

Electric radio receiver in a metal box with dials on the front.
Astor Aladdin Electric radio receiver

The Aladdin Electric is a tuned frequency radio receiver, first marketed by Australian manufacturer Astor in 1929. Tuned frequency radios featured multiple dials which each had to be adjusted to receive the desired signal. Radio suppliers often sold branded notebooks for listeners to record the frequencies of their local stations. NFSA title: 1738016

A radio receiver from the 1920s, housed in a wooden box carry case with a handle on top.
Airzone portable radio receiver

This portable radio receiver features an inbuilt speaker and is housed in a black leatherette carrying case. First released in 1928, this model was an instant bestseller for Airzone, an Australian manufacturer of radio equipment founded in 1925 and based in Camperdown, NSW. NFSA title: 1532192

A homemade radio with a dial and speakers on the front and a handle on top. C1936
Homemade radio receiver

Shortwave radio, so named because its wavelength was shorter than the signal used in AM transmission, could travel far greater distances. Shortwave broadcasts could be received from across the globe, indicated by the locations listed on the dial of this homemade model, including Radio Luxembourg, Paris and Moscow. From the collection of John Bice Redmond and Irene Lucy Redmond, c1936. NFSA title: 1738022

Close up of someone's hand turning dials on some radio equipment.
'The small number of people who had crystal sets and earphones, or radio sets with large speakers, in their homes gingerly tinkered with knobs and wires or aerials for the best possible reception, marvelled at the mellow tones transmitted and invited neighbours over to share in the novelty.'
Bridget Griffen-Foley
Radio historian

New Waves: radio ephemera

From recordings to portraits and souvenir programs, step back in time with a selection of rare preserved radio materials from the NFSA vault.

A group of people holding banjos and standing around a piano.
Harrison White's Banjo Troupe on 2BL

Harrison White performed regularly for Sydney broadcasters 2BL and 2FC between 1927 and 1931, both with his Banjo Troupe and as a solo artist. Initially great rivals, 2BL and 2FC were amalgamated with the other A-Class radio stations to form the Australian Broadcasting Commission in 1932. NFSA title: 449617

An enamel and metal badge with the words Fox Hoyts printed on it.
Fox-Hoyts Radio Club pin

This pin was issued by the NSW chapter of the Fox-Hoyts Radio Club to Franklyn Barrett, manager of several Hoyts theatres in Sydney. Though membership to most radio clubs was open to all listeners, there were also radio clubs catering for specific audiences. There were clubs for women, children, moviegoers, veterans, gardeners and fans of individual programs. Even listeners working the overnight shift had the 2CA Night Owl Club. NFSA title: 766371

A group of people standing around a man seated at a small table behind a 2UE microphone
Group portrait of 2UE presenters

2UE was founded by CV Stevenson (pictured second from left) in 1925, who served as the station’s first announcer and chief engineer. The announcers pictured here worked at 2UE for decades, including Uncle ‘Si’ Meredith (seated) and (left to right) Willa Hokin, band leader Rex Shaw, Arthur Carr (‘Ambrose’ the Clown) and Auntie ‘Maude’ (Mrs Si Meredith). NFSA title: 1610972

A man holding some papers and smiling. He is seated behind a 3KZ radio microphone.
Radio 3KZ announcers

Then as now, on-air talent was key to radio stations developing and retaining the loyalty of listeners, lest they be tempted by a rival broadcaster. Norman Banks, who joined 3KZ in December 1930, was the most popular radio announcer in Melbourne, in part because he spoke like he was a friend, or kindly neighbour. Thousands might be tuning in, but for the listener at home it was if Banks was speaking directly to them. NFSA title: 1693124

A child sitting on a stool and wearing headphones listening to the radio, c1930s.
Child listening to a 'Mulgaphone' radio

Mulgaphone was a Perth-based manufacturer of radios founded in 1924 by Westralian Farmers Ltd, owners of station 6WF. Mulgaphone radios were only sold in Western Australia, marketed particularly to listeners living in remote areas as depicted through this photo of a child listening to a broadcast from the most southern westerly point of Australia at Cape Leeuwin. Manufacturing ceased in 1929, the company unable to compete with cheaper models imported from Eastern states. NFSA title: 358852

Front cover of a program for a radio concert, c1925.
Souvenir program for the 'Radio Voice Concert'

The Radio Voice Concert was broadcast from Sydney Town Hall on 17 June 1925. What makes this souvenir program historically significant is that it conveys the sheer novelty of radio in the 1920s, including articles such as ‘Wireless: Its Limitless Spheres’, ‘How Programmes are Prepared’ and ‘Should Noted Singers Be Broadcast?’ It even takes care to explain that listeners cannot expect to enjoy every program broadcast, with different programs appealing to different audiences.  NFSA title: 438750

orange and pink graphic of audio spectrogram
'The parallel between early radio and early internet I find most endearing is that they epitomise what can be achieved by the efforts of enthusiastic amateurs.'
Amy Butterfield
Radio 100 curator