Chapter 5

Let's Get Digital: 1990s to now

Radio was the template for television, the internet and podcasting, with each heralding the death of the former. But radio persists, both as a medium and model – especially in Australia where the local industry is still iconic.  

This isn’t without trial and error. As technology continues to shift, success in these spaces requires a delicate balance, and it doesn’t always work. BigFatRadio is an example of an early internet radio station ahead of its time. So what was this precursor to our current digital radio landscape, and what happened to it?

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

Let's Get Digital posters and ephemera

The design aesthetic of early digital reflected the period’s dynamic push-and-pull of tech and culture. It was bold, experimental – and occasionally chaotic. New tools (Photoshop 1.0, primitive gifs) and music (grunge, techno, Britpop) gave designers unparalleled expressive possibilities, leading to fractal futurism, kaleidoscopic palettes and early 3D typography. This wasn’t a cohesive stylistic movement but a bracing show of divergence. Radio, naturally, adapted, with posters and merch spanning deliberate DIY to cacophonic colour. Here’s a visual diary of Let’s Get Digital.

The front and back of a postcard for the Martin/Molloy radio show
Martin/Molloy promotional postcard

Tony Martin and Mick Molloy were one of Australia’s most successful radio duos of the 1990s. The show Martin/Molloy was broadcast nationally on 54 stations on weekday evenings. Martin and Molloy also had great success releasing three charting comedy albums during the run of the show from 1995 to 1998, and both have continued to have successful careers after their radio show ceased. This postcard perfectly demonstrates the duo's combination of satire, irreverence and toilet humour which proved an irresistible mix for evening radio.

Poster for a radio station that has the word 'freakyloopsthree' written at the top
2SER Freaky Loops Three poster

2SER began broadcasting as a community radio station in 1979 and has gone on to become one of Australia’s most successful and best known community stations. Along the way it has launched the careers of many successful broadcasters including Richard Kingsmill, Robbie Buck, Fenella Kernebone and Julie McCrossin. Freaky Loops was a series of dance parties hosted by 2SER in the late 1990s; at the time, they were the largest underground dance parties in Sydney. Proceeds from the events went to support the radio station, demonstrating the ongoing link between radio and live music.

A handwritten set list for the radio show Sampa the Great
Sampa the Great 3RRR setlist

Radio has a long history in promoting live music both in studio and by advertising upcoming shows. Sampa the Great is a hugely successful Zambian rapper, singer and composer who exemplifies the growing diversity of Australia’s music scene. Radio, and especially community radio, has been pivotal in supporting live music and providing a platform for diversity and inclusion, helping to broaden and enrich our culture.

A door knob hanger for Edge Radio with a logo and images of radio DJs on one side and the words DO NOT DISTURB on the other side.
Do Not Disturb: Edge Radio door hanger

Edge Radio is a youth-oriented community station based in Hobart. Edge styles itself as Hobart's only youth station with a mix of content highlighting the diversity of its audience. The promotional ‘Do Not Disturb’ door hanger neatly aligns with its core youth market in an amusing way.

A white t-shirt with an orange logo on it that says SBS PopAsia
SBS PopAsia t-shirt

This white and orange t-shirt displays the logo for SBS’s popular digital radio station PopAsia, which broadcasts music from East Asia and South-East Asia. Since its beginnings in the mid-1970s, SBS has produced and expanded its reach, now broadcasting in more than 60 languages. The last decades have seen a substantial increase in the local audience for Asian content, reflecting the ever-changing multicultural nature of Australia.

Poster for a 'radiothon' showing a cartoon of a globe with facial features being held up by a transistor radio with arms
2XX 25th birthday radiothon poster

As low-cost communication networks increased in the late 1990s, the term ‘globalisation’ was popularised. In this 2001 poster from Canberra community radio station 2XX, the text ‘think global, listen local’ reflects the tension of the time between an increasingly interconnected world and local communities. Today, there are over 450 community radio stations in Australia which use technology, such as online streaming, to connect communities globally.

Let's Get Digital essential moments

Once a purely live medium, the introduction of digital radio and podcasts makes it possible to stream catch-up episodes and podcasts at our convenience, and connects us with favourite hosts, untold stories and unique perspectives.

This interview with the popular radio duo Hamish Blake and Andy Lee on the podcast Game Changers was recorded just before the pair left radio to focus on television and podcasting in 2017.

First Nations writer-actors Nakkiah Lui and Miranda Tapsell introduce themselves and their podcast Pretty for an Aboriginal

Coverage of the 2019–2020 bushfires, which features in the podcast From the Embers, demonstrates the longevity of radio as 'a trusted friend'.

Let's Get Digital tech inspection

The boundaries between radio and online blur as the internet becomes a daily part of life – and our audio technology adapts.

A Sony brand clock radio
Sony digital DAB clock radio

The Sony XDR-S16DBP digital clock radio shows the popularity of retro styling in the digital radio market – a trend which was prevalent from the beginning of digital radio and continues to the present. This radio's 20 presets across DAB and FM signals highlights both the sheer range of stations available and the ease of controlling and curating the listening experience for the owner.

An Apple iphone from 2009
Apple iPhone 3rd generation mobile phone and mp3 player

While early Apple iPhones used Broadcom chips, which were in theory able to process FM signals, Apple left the radio receiver functionality inactive. Nonetheless, smartphones ushered in a new era of listening to music and radio, and today apps enable integrated listening of radio, podcasts and music. The smartphone is now one of the most popular audio devices in use.

A small portable radio transmitter
Belkin Tunecast 3 FM car radio transmitter

The sharp increase in new audio technologies resulted in a disconnect between existing older technology and the ever-changing new. This led to the need to retrofit or provide adapters so newer tech could be used in contexts such as older cars. This device allowed you to listen to an audio player, like an iPod or MP3 player, through your car radio by tuning into an unused radio frequency rather than having to buy and fit new equipment. 

A small black iRiver branded digital audio player
iRiver S10 2GB MP3 player

Released in 2007, the iRiver S10 continues the trend for playback devices to become ever smaller and more wearable. With an FM tuner featuring autoscan and presets and a built-in clock to schedule recording, it was an early example of giving the user more control of the listening experience and freeing content from the constraints of scheduling.

Evoke brand radio receiver in a rectangular wooden casing with a handle on top.
Evoke DAB digital radio receiver

Released in 2002, the Pure Evoke-1 radio was one of the first affordable digital radios on the market. Its affordability helped digital radio take off in the UK and around the world. The design is both reminiscent of mid-20th century transistor radios and typical of the early 2000s with features like silver speaker grills. The radio offered interference-free sound, the selection of stations by name, auto-tuning features, and a scrolling text display of song information. For many listeners it would have been their first time using radio with this kind of technology.

A Sony brand digital music player in a pink casing.
Sony Walkman 4G digital media player

From its iconic original 1979 cassette Walkman, Sony has continued to use the brand for its portable music devices. In this Sony digital media player, originally released in October 2006, the headphone cord works as an antenna to pick up FM radio signals.