Chapter 3

Youthquake: 1950s to 1980s

The Beatles' arrival in June 1964 marked a watershed moment in Australian media, ushering in a seismic cultural shift that forever altered the radio landscape. Dubbed 'the mother of rock', Australian music journalist Lillian Roxon gained an international following for her witty, passionate appraisals. In 1970, the music industry and commercial radio collided in a six-month showdown known as the Record Ban. Airplay for major label releases was suspended, opening the door to unsigned local artists. Listening to the Take 40 Australia countdown becomes a rite of passage. And once music fits in our pockets, we keep it there – forever. 

Footage from advertisement for AWA Carnaby Group transistors, 1967. Courtesy John Dougall and AWA Archive. NFSA title: 45137 

Youthquake tech inspection

From luxury living-room centrepieces to pocket-sized personal devices, radio tech rapidly evolved throughout the Youthquake era.

A home entertainment unit from the 1960s with a television, turntable and radio all housed in a large wooden unit.
HG Palmer three-in-one home entertainment unit

Luxury three-in-one showcase home entertainment unit featuring a 21-inch black-and-white television receiver, AM radio, record player, clock and a microphone. The television set was the main selling point here, the radio and turntable neatly tucked out of sight. Produced in Australia for HG Palmer, a large electrical retailer with over 150 stores nationwide in the early 1960s. 

A small portable radio from the 1960s with a dial on the front and in-built speaker
Kriesler ‘Playtime’ 41-32 portable radio

Australian-made six transistor ‘pocket’ radio, manufactured in Newtown, Sydney. Part of the Kriesler portable radio range that included the larger ‘Playfellow’ and smaller ‘Playboy’ models. Available for 27 guineas (over $900 today) in 1962.

A portable radio unit featuring headphones and a microphone inside a carry case. There is a 5DN radio logo on it.
5DN portable outside broadcast unit

Purpose-built broadcasting device produced by ABC engineers at Adelaide radio station 5DN, enabling station journalists to report directly ‘in the field’. Housed in a brown leather suitcase, this unit includes a Philips microphone and set of headphones. 

An alarm clock radio
Sanyo flip alarm clock radio

The clock radio emerged in the 1940s, taking off in popularity the following decade when 30,000 were being mass produced weekly in the USA. This example dates from the early 1970s and features only AM reception, as Australia would not issue the first FM broadcast licences until 1975.

Radio receiver and turntable with detachable speakers that folds into a carry case.
Pye Blackbox all-transistor stereophone

Two-in-one, portable unit that combines an AM radio above with a four-speed turntable, revealed when the front cover underneath the tuner is lowered. Two speakers are attached on hinges, which swing forward when released. Powered by electricity, this unit cost 119 guineas in 1964 (nearly $4,000 today) and was built in Pye Australia’s factory in Marrickville, Sydney.

A portable transistor radio from the late 1950s
Zenith Royal portable transistor radio

American-made Zenith portable transistor radios were among the most popular of their era, their rise coinciding with the birth of rock’n’roll. The Royal 500D features a stylish design with a support bar for upright positioning, and is powered by four AA batteries.

Inside a radio studio with tape decks and mixing desks.
‘I've worked in newspapers, TV and stand-up comedy, but radio is the most dynamic of all. If you are in live radio in a big city like Sydney, you have all the adrenaline of a newspaper office. Radio can be as dynamic and exciting as you want, while also setting its own agenda.’
Wendy Harmer
Broadcaster, author, columnist and comedian

Essential moments from the Youthquake era

A record ban threatens the local music industry, Top 40 and talkback change Australian radio forever, and a young woman from Brisbane becomes the world's hottest music journo. 

How the introduction of the Top 40 pop chart helped to bring the golden days to a close and kickstart a new era in radio. 

Music writer Lillian Roxon was one of the most influential rock journalists in the world from the mid-1960s to the early 1970s.

Until 17 April 1967, talkback radio was illegal! It wasn't until then that listeners first enjoyed the possibility of discussing any topic live on air.

Youthquake radio posters

From the early 1960s and through to the '80s, radio posters took on a life of their own as era-defining works of art.

Radio station poster featuring drawings of milestones and famous faces from the 1970s in Australia

‘Livin’ In the 70s - 3XY Rocks Melbourne’ poster from 1979. 

Once described by its number one personality Greg Evans as 'a leviathan of a station', 3XY dominated Melbourne airwaves for a decade, supplanting 3UZ as the top rock music radio station by 1974. With commercial FM radio not due to launch until the following year, this 1979 poster captures a moment in time when AM radio remained the dominant force for music consumption. Other significant 3XY broadcasting alumni during this time included Lee Simon, Barry Bissell, Jane Holmes, Peter Grace, Craig Huggins, Kevin Hillier and Richard Stubbs.

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Poster for 2UE talkback radio from the 1960s

2UE ‘Sydney talks on open line’ poster, c. 1967.

Just after midnight on 17 April 1967, 2UE announcer Ormsby Wilkins created Australian radio history, reportedly being the first to receive callers live to air. Until then, talkback radio had been illegal in Australia, as broadcasting telephone conversations had been prohibited since 1905. Today talkback radio remains a key component for the success of many broadcast networks, with the mixture of views about news, sport, politics and other issues an immediate conveyor of its audience’s opinions.

A radio station poster showing lots of famous faces including Elvis Presley, The Beatles and John Farnham

2SM ‘Top one hundred of the decade’ poster, 1970. 

Radio station 2SM – at the beginning of their ratings dominance of the Sydney pop music radio audience - celebrated a momentous decade in music with this poster, available gratis in local record stores in 1970. Of the Top 100 songs listed, 20 were by Australian artists, evidence of the growing confidence and success of the local industry. No artist though – Australian or international – came close to matching The Beatles’ 16 entries, including four in the top 10. 

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A radio poster for Double J radio station

2JJ ‘Double Jay rock’ poster, 1978. 

Launching in January 1975, the ABC’s 2JJ (later triple j) was the first genuine rival to commercial AM radio’s music listening stranglehold. Opening their debut broadcast with Skyhooks’ ‘You Just Like Me ‘Cos I’m Good in Bed’ – an album track banned on commercial radio – set the tone for the new public broadcaster as rebellious, youth-oriented and committed to homegrown music. 

Various bumper stickers for radio stations

A collection of car bumper stickers produced over several decades, covering AM and FM radio stations situated in both metropolitan and regional areas. When created on vinyl, the strong adhesives ensured these ‘moving billboards’ – positioned on the metal bumper bars and back windows of vehicles – often endured far longer than the station’s logo designs and slogans that they helped to promote.

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Poster showing a drawing of a female figure wearing lingerie and standing in front of a microphone

EON FM poster and calendar, 1985.

The commercial FM radio revolution began with a new decade, EON FM, 2DAY FM and FOX FM all launching within a month of each other in 1980. By the end of the year, the five mainland state capitals each had their own commercial FM station in place. The first to launch, EON FM in Melbourne (later Triple M), shifted its initial playlist focus from album tracks to the Top 40, with immediate success. AM radio’s hold on the music listener would end abruptly, many of their best-known presenters and production personnel switching to FM employment throughout the 1980s. The risqué imagery was typical for the time – but would fall out of high rotation as cultural norms evolved and radio became more representative of its audience. 

Interview with Youthquake Curator Simon Smith

Radio 100 curator Simon Smith shares his unique insights into the innovations, cultural impact and societal shifts seen throughout the Youthquake era.

Simon highlights the beginning of the modern vinyl era, the importance of the 'Fab Four' touring Australia in 1964, invention of the portable radio, legalisation of talkback in 1967 and the cult of the personality DJ, as Australia looked to American radio for our influences.

Simon also reveals how he tracked down a rare recording of The Ampol Show featuring an interview with Little Richard and shares memories from his teenage years, listening to Barry Bissell's Take 40 Australia countdown.

Read interview with Radio 100 Curator Simon Smith

A group of teens cheering and holding signs that say 'I'm a 3UZ fan'
‘Youthquake crosses so many landmark moments. The beginning of the modern vinyl record era. The birth of Top 40. Talkback radio in 1967. The cult of the personality DJ. And the early 1970s when music programming was on high rotation.’
Simon Smith, Radio 100 curator

The Youthquake Revolution

Music is on the move as the portable transistor gives rise to youth culture, and news, sport and entertainment are available anytime, anywhere.

The Ampol Show was a popular variety program hosted by Jack Davey. In October 1957, three American rock‘n'roll stars - Gene Vincent, Little Richard and Eddie Cochran – appeared on the program while on tour in Australia. The visiting musicians are warmly greeted by the audience, each politely answering questions from the host. The interview most notably captures Little Richard speaking candidly to Davey about his recent decision to quit the music business for an evangelical life as a preacher.

The power of radio to bring live sport into the homes of millions is clearly evident here, in this sequence from the closing stages of Melbourne 3DB commentator Ron Casey's exciting radio call of Lionel Rose’s World Bantamweight Title Fight in Tokyo, Japan against Masahiko ‘Fighting’ Harada. This radio broadcast was inducted into the NFSA’s Sounds of Australia registry in 2009, acknowledging the nation’s most significant sound recordings.

In this excerpt from his 2010 NFSA oral history with interviewer Wendy Stapleton, Lee Simon recounts the initial programming strategies of EON-FM as Australia's first FM commercial radio station in July 1980 and, as its first program director, the significant decision he made the following year which helped reverse the flagging fortunes of the nascent FM broadcaster.