Chapter 2

Golden Days: 1920s to 1960s

In Golden Days, radio becomes a vital part of the family home and a reliable round-the-clock source of news, sport and entertainment.  

Image: Radio drama actors (from left to right): Beryl Walker, Margaret Johnston, Elizabeth Wing, Margaret Mouchemore and Patricia Kennedy. From the Grace Gibson radio documentation collection.

Warning: this page contains names, images or voices of deceased Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Golden Days: tech inspection

The NFSA digs into its collection to share radios, receivers and mixing consoles from the 1930s to 1950s.  

Portable car radio receiver from the 1930s with 4 dials and frequencies listed on the front, a speaker on top and wires coming out of the back.
Ferris M94 portable car radio receiver

Car radios only became technologically viable in the mid-1930s. But their rapid adoption by drivers demonstrated the demand for radio on the road. Originally car radios were sold separately and could be installed permanently in a vehicle or kept for use as portable sets. This dual use is evident in the Ferris M94, with its attached handle. NFSA title: 419270

A boxy-shaped HMV radio receiver from 1949. It is in a grey, plastic housing with dials, frequency display and speaker on the front.
HMV 64-52 'Little Nipper' radio receiver

In 1949, His Master’s Voice (HMV) released the ‘Little Nipper’ table radio. There were several updates to the design, with the 64-52 model manufactured 1957-59. The name was inspired by the HMV logo, which depicted the dog Nipper listening to a gramophone recording of his master’s voice. NFSA title: 1507882

Portable radio from the 1940s. It is a tall, rectangular box shape with a front cover and handle on top. Inside there are dials and a speaker.
Astor KQ personal portable radio

Portable radios predate the introduction of transistor models (1954) but were bulky and heavy by comparison. The Astor KQ ‘Portable Personal’ was one of the smallest radios available when introduced in 1947, but it weighed over two kilograms. It was expensive too, the price exceeding Astor's more popular table models like the Mickey Mantle. NFSA title: 1531049

Upright console radio from the 1930s in a wooden housing with a speaker, dial and display on the front.
Philips 6603 Radioplayer radio

Console radios were the largest and most expensive model available, often occupying prime position in the best room of the house. The size of radios was determined by the speaker, in turn determining audio quality, particularly bass levels. Inside this Philips 6603 Radioplayer, the speaker fills more than half the cabinet. NFSA title: 431613

Portable console or mantle radio in a cream-coloured plastic housing with dials on the front.
The Astor 'Mickey Mantle' radio

Smaller than the console radio was the mantle, or table, model. It was typically marketed as an affordable option for consumers, particularly young married couples. The model pictured here is a ‘Mickey Mantle’, manufactured by Astor, the name being a pun on the famous American baseball player of the same name. NFSA title: 1692665

A mixing console for a radio broadcast studio. It is a triangular, wedge shape in a grey metal housing with a lot of differently coloured dials, switches and knobs on the front.
AWA broadcast mixing console

Amalgamated Wireless Australasia (AWA) Ltd was the largest radio manufacturer in Australia. Household radios comprised the largest share of sales for AWA, but they also manufactured equipment and parts for industry, such as this broadcast console. The function of the console was to regulate all the audio signals (such as microphones, instruments, pre-recorded sounds) and combine them into one signal for broadcast. NFSA title: 1731786

A man putting a needle down onto a record on a turntable
‘In the years after the first commercial broadcast in 1923, Australia embraced radio – fast. At first, it was an expensive novelty, but by 1937, not even 15 years later, two out of every three homes had a radio set.’
Golden Days: Radio's Meteoric Rise

Serials for morning, noon and night

From comedy to horror and gripping drama, Australians turned on their radios every day to catch up on the latest from their favourite serial – many of which put female audiences, performers and writers front and centre.

Women weren’t just avid listeners – they created and performed some of the most popular serials in radio's Golden Years. Click through to see some of the pioneers.

From an Australian Superman, to Blue Hills and dramas from Grace Gibson Productions, hear the radio serials that entertained Australia from the 1930s-50s.

Dive into three full-length episodes of radio horror serials that were as popular as they were controversial – handpicked by a NFSA curator.

Essential Moments from Radio's Golden Days

It wasn’t long before radio was the source of entertainment for Australian households. Here are some of the names, serials and shows that grabbed our attention during the Golden Days.

The King of Television started out in radio. Hear highlights from his storied audio career including the popular 'Nicky and Graham' show and broadcasting with Bert Newton.

Pioneering radio presenter and interviewer extraordinaire: listen to Binny Lum's interviews with The Beatles, Barbra Streisand, Dame Joan Sutherland, Fred Astaire and more.

Long before The Voice, audiences tuned into Australia's Amateur Hour – hear clips from this beloved radio talent show, which ran from 1940 to 1958. 

Interview with a Curator

'I’ve enjoyed researching and recognising just how significant radio has been in all our lives over the years, how resilient and adaptable radio is and how it has found, built, and maintained diverse communities.'

Thorsten Kaeding reveals what he unearthed through Radio 100, including the pros and cons of the immediacy of radio, how it paved the way for television, why more people need to know about the role of women during the Golden Days, and more.

Read the interview with our Chapter 2: Golden Days curator.

Golden Days: radio ephemera

An online time capsule featuring photographs, programs, advertisements and personalities from the Golden Days of radio.

Two men and a woman posing with three kids and some dolls. They are all smiling at the camera.
2KY scrapbook on children's programming

Then as now, parents recognised the ability of technology to babysit their children by entertaining them. Presenters were commonly referred to as Uncle or Auntie, and cultivated an attitude that was kind, generous and fun: more relaxed than young listeners’ parents without subverting their authority. Rion Voigt was one such uncle, presenting on 2KY alongside Uncle Algie and Auntie Maude. He kept a scrapbook of favourable press coverage, such as this two-page spread about children’s parties hosted by the station.

Front cover of a booklet for Carols by Candlelight 10th Anniversary showing a picture of some candles and silhouettes of men on camels
Carols by Candlelight souvenir program

The first Carols by Candlelight was in 1938. This souvenir program was produced for the event's 10th anniversary. 3KZ announcer Norman Banks, concerned about those spending Christmas alone, had the idea for an event where the community could gather to sing carols. Carols by Candlelight successfully transitioned to television, but the strongly religious character of the music has been toned down in recent decades in favour of Christmas-inspired pop songs. NFSA title: 489827

A woman sitting at a desk, side on to the camera. She is holding papers and has a radio microphone in front of her.
Nina Valentine at 3BA

Nina Reakes had just started working at 3BA when this snapshot was taken in March 1945. She resigned following her marriage to Peter Valentine but continued to work freelance, recording items for The Women’s Hour and Australia All Over. Her son James carried on the family tradition and has been a presenter for ABC Radio since the mid-1990s. NFSA title: 1497838

Two middle-aged men embracing and smiling. They are looking at the camera and have their hands in each other's pockets.
Broadcast legends Bob Dyer and Jack Davey

Jack Davey and Bob Dyer were two of Australia’s most famous quiz show comperes in the 1950s. In the interests of publicity, they maintained a friendly rivalry over who was the more popular, perfectly captured in this photograph. Their performing styles were radically different: Davey was known for his spontaneity and wit; Bob Dyer delivered carefully prepared gags but possessed excellent rapport with his audiences. Dyer’s skills proved more adaptable to television, with his quiz show Pick-A-Box running from 1949 to 1971. Though Davey launched three television shows in 1957, all were cancelled within the year. NFSA title 354161

glass cinema side featuring an advertisement for radio station 3XY
3XY glass slide theatre advertisement

This advertisement for radio station 3XY was printed onto a glass slide for projection onto a cinema screen. Cinema and radio were enormously popular from the 1930s to the 1950s and complemented each other: radio could be conveniently enjoyed at home, while cinema offered visual spectacle. Television, which combined the advantages of each, would undercut the popularity of both, forcing the adaptation of both mediums. NFSA title: 790178

A full page advertisement from a 1954 newspaper for radio station 2GB
2GB ad from the Sydney Morning Herald

This illustrated program guide encapsulates the range of content broadcast during ‘the golden age of radio’. Scripted series dominate, time slots are shorter, and evenings are promoted as prime-time broadcasting. Within 10 years, scripted programming shifted to television, radio reoriented to music, talk and sport, and drive-time was born with listeners tuning in during the morning and afternoon commute. NFSA title: 446197

orange and pink graphic of audio spectrogram
‘The content on early television such as drama, game shows, variety, comedy and news were all pioneered in radio from the 1930s to the 1960s, and much of today’s TV content still harks back to those formats.’
Thorsten Kaeding
Radio 100 curator