Radio 100

Who Listens to the Radio? An NFSA podcast

Marking the centenary of radio in Australia, the National Film and Sound Archive presents Who Listens to the Radio?, a podcast about technology and culture.

Who Listens to the Radio? is part of our Radio 100 celebrations.

About the podcast

From the first radio broadcast, to the birth of the teenager, to the invention of the podcast, Who Listens to the Radio? dives into the rich audio culture that shaped our nation. 

We ask all of the important questions like: did video kill the radio star? Can you speak with the dead through radio waves? And of course, who actually listens to the radio? 

Listen to the Who Listens to the Radio? trailer below, and binge all six episodes from 6 March here – or wherever you get your podcasts.

Who Listens to the Radio? was produced by Audiocraft for the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia.  

Narrated by Patrick McIntyre, with guests Bridget Griffen-Foley and Peter Fisk, science correspondent Andy Trieu, and NFSA curators Thorsten Kaeding and Amy Butterfield.  

Credits

Cinesound Review’ courtesy Cinesound Movietone Productions 

Who Listens to the Radio?’ theme music written by A. Pendlebury (Mushroom Music) and S. Cummings (Warner Chappell Pty Ltd) (APRA). Performed by The Substrates, and recorded at Schlam Studio Canberra with Jodie Boarder and Alexis Mallard (vocals), Danny Roberts and Gerard O’Neill (guitar), Andy Ryan (bass) and Glenn Elliott (drums). Recording and mixing by engineer Danny Roberts and arrangement by Andy Ryan and Alexis Mallard. 

Writing and research by Patrick McIntyre, Kate Scott, Ute Junker, Stephanie Van Schilt and Caris Bizzaca. 

Find Who Listens to the Radio? at the National Film and Sound Archive website or wherever you get your podcasts. This podcast is part of the NFSA’s Radio 100 celebrations.  

Who Listens to The Radio?

Episode 1 - Origins 

 

Patrick McIntyre: Wherever you are listening, if you're in Australia, you're on Aboriginal land.

At the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia, we pay respect to the elders and acknowledge their ongoing custodianship of the country where we made this podcast, and of the country you're listening to it on.

Radio has been a dominant cultural force in Australia for more than 100 years. 

It’s the grandmother of home entertainment and of what we now think of as the mass media.

Radio means different things to different people. For some, it's a reliable constant in their everyday lives. 

Thorsten Kaeding: Radio's meant a huge amount to me. Throughout my life, I think I've always listened to radio – different things at different times, depending on where you are and what sort of headspace you're in, but I think that's what radio does really well is: it gives you options to be engaged, distracted, comforted.

Sometimes, all of those things, but mostly, it's just really nice to have on in the background a lot of the time. Sometimes, you just want to know someone else is there.

Patrick McIntyre: For others, it was the soundtrack of their childhood. 

Bridget Griffen-Foley: My mother, who was also a news junkie, listened to radio. She'd listen to a lot of talkback. She'd listen to John Laws, for instance. So I grew up listening to commercial radio as much as to ABC radio. 

Patrick McIntyre: Or... their first glimpse into a bigger, ever-expanding world.

Peter Fisk: I used to go to sleep listening to the radio in the evening. Quite often. I remember listening on my crystal set late at night that Czechoslovakia was being invaded, and there were tanks rolling down the streets in Prague. I remember that very clearly because that was a very big deal at the time. 

Patrick McIntyre: While the pioneering amateur station 2CM had been regularly broadcasting music for audiences in Sydney since 1921, Sydney’s 2SB is the first station officially licensed by the Australian Government to hit the airwaves. 

Sound of family, radio being tuned in.

Picture this: it's the evening of November 23, 1923.

At exactly 8pm, music comes flooding through the speakers. The first program included everything from Robert Schumann's Two Grenadiers to Camille Saint-Saens' The Swan from The Carnival of the Animals.

Only a few hundred people may have heard it - enthusiasts with their crystal sets and headphones, households of early adopters who had already installed a big, clunky radio unit in their living rooms. But that moment marked the birth of Australia’s love affair with radio.

And while the 2SB call sign no longer exists, it was the beginnings of ABC Radio Sydney. 

Music

Patrick McIntyre: In this podcast, we'll be looking back at the past 100 years of radio broadcasting in Australia. 

It's a survivor, radio – adapting and evolving in response to any number of cultural and technological threats, inventing new models of programming, advertising and celebrity, helping to amplify voices on the margins of society while at the same time bringing the nation's commuters home every day with all the hits of the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s.

From crystal sets to podcasts, we're a nation of audiophiles – so settle back as we celebrate the century of radio and ask the question:

Theme music (“Who listens to the rad-i-o?”)

You've tuned into Who Listens To the Radio? Brought to you by the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia. I'm Patrick McIntyre, and this is Episode 1: Transmission Statement

OK, let’s start at the very beginning – the beginning of the 20th century. 

Like a lot of familiar household technologies, radio was originally invented for a totally different purpose.

Our team of curators at the National Film and Sound Archive has been digging deep through our radio archives to bring together our digital exhibition, Radio 100, which you can find on our website. 

Thorsten Kaeding: My name is Thorsten Kaeding. I'm the Senior Curator of Acquisition Programs at the National Film and Sound Archive. Radio wasn't actually designed for what we ended up using it for. It was designed primarily for shipping and to enable ships to communicate. That was even more so in the wake of the Titanic sinking as well. 

We're really capturing the expressions of Australian culture and popular culture. Radio is a fantastic way to do that because it's so immediate, and it speaks so much to the time.

Most radio isn't designed to last for 100 years. It's designed to go out, have an immediate impact, and reflect the culture. So, for us, it's really fascinating to be able to collect that and then look back on it because it's not telling timeless stories. It's not, as I say, designed to be re-listened to over and over again. It's just for the moment. I think we get out, in some ways, our truest cultural representation of the past. 

Patrick McIntyre: As the 20th century dawned, the driving force behind the inception and operation of radio technology was the Marconi Company, formed by visionary Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi. Here's Bridget Griffen-Foley, a Director of Research and Innovation at Macquarie University:

Bridget Griffen-Foley: He was an Italian nobleman and he had found a way in the 1890s to transmit telegraph messages without connecting wires. 

Guglielmo Marconi, now credited as the inventor of radio, found little enthusiasm for his creation in Italy. He set sail for England, arriving in 1896 with his telegraph machine and the hope the UK would be more receptive. 

And it was. England embraced both Marconi and his invention. The British Marconi company launched its first radio station in Chelmsford, pioneering – and then dominating – ship-to-shore communication. 

So, how did radio evolve from a maritime tool to the first form of electronic home entertainment? Again, it was Marconi got the ball rolling. After World War 1, he started thinking about radio for cultural uses. In 1920, from its base in Chelmsford, Marconi’s company broadcast a performance by Australian opera superstar Dame Nellie Melba that could be heard for hundreds of miles. 

Music

Within years, radio stations were popping up all over the globe.

While Marconi is the biggest name on the world stage, Australia’s approach to radio was very much driven by maverick Ernest Fisk – here remembered by his grandson, Peter. 

Peter Fisk: So, I'm Peter Fisk. My father was Ernest Kelvin Fisk, who was Sir Ernest Fisk's first son. 

My grandfather, Ernest Fisk, was born in 1886. 

I remember he was a little bit eccentric. He lived in Roseville at that time, and we used to visit him. And being six years old, one had to be on one's absolute best behaviour at his lunch table or dinner table with Lady Fisk, his wife, and I do remember being impressed by the way he managed his tea.

He would have several cups, empty cups, in front of him with the teapot, and he would pour his tea into one of them, and then pour it into another cup, and then pour it into another cup in order to get the temperature just how he liked it. And, of course, being six years old, I thought everybody must have done this. And I remember being surprised when other people just poured their tea into their cup and drank it. So, he was eccentric. 

Patrick McIntyre: In his youth, Ernest Fisk was just another kid in England trying to get by, selling newspapers at a railway station when he was a teenager, then working as a telegraph operator at a local post office.

Peter Fisk: Because that was a major means of communication by Morse code down wires – and he was an actually pretty good telegraphist. And by the time he was about 20 or so, he decided to attend what was known as the Marconi School of Wireless. And at that time, radio or wireless as it was called on ships was in its early stages, was very, very new technology. It was complex and not widely understood.

And the Marconi company would provide for a ship, not only the equipment to receive and transmit messages, but also the operators. And in order to be an operator, you had to go through the Marconi School. And so he went through that school and did very well at that, and then spent the next few years sailing around the world on various ships as a ship's radio operator. And after some years doing that, the company recognized that he was actually a very bright, well-spoken young man. And they moved him into jobs where he was actually demonstrating the equipment and then into sales. And he eventually ended up in Australia, as part of the Marconi company’s agency in Australia.

That was about 1910, 1912, something like that. Then the Marconi company decided to merge its Australian branch with the German Telefunken company in about 1913 or so, to form what became known as Amalgamated Wireless of Australasia. 

Patrick McIntyre: By 1916, Fisk was managing director of Amalgamated Wireless Australasia – or the AWA – and he would shortly make history. 

Bridget Griffen-Foley: And in 1919, Fisk arranged, when he was giving a public lecture in Sydney for the Royal Society of New South Wales, he and AWA arranged for the National Anthem, God Save the King, to be broadcast across Sydney. And so the attendees at his lecture, witnessed, heard, what really was a very early radio broadcast put on, especially for them.

Music: God Save the King

Patrick McIntyre: As you can imagine, the audience was said to have “marvelled exceedingly.” 

[Andy Trieu science update]

Andy Trieu: We interrupt this broadcast for a science update. What is a radio wave? Let’s dive into the fascinating world of radio waves, those invisible messages of the electromagnetic spectrum that keep us connected and entertained. So picture this, it’s the late 1800s and James Clerk Maxwell drops the bombshell of electromagnetic theory in 1867, predicting the existence of radio waves. Fast forward to 1887 and Heinrich Hertz proves Maxwell right by cooking up some radio waves in his lab. Marconi steps into the scene in the 1890s, crafting the first practical radio gear. Suddenly, we’re hurtling toward the 20th century and radio becomes more than just a cool experiment. It hits the commercial stage around 1900 and by 1912 we're officially calling these waves, radio waves, ditching the old school Hertzian wave. Now, let's talk sources. Lightning crackles, and cosmic wonders like the sun, galaxies and nebulas are natural rock stars belting out radio waves. On the flip side, our tech-savvy species joins the party with transmitters – gadgets that shoot out radio waves by wrangling oscillating electric currents through antennas. Imagine these waves as streams of photons, the uncharged VIPs of the particle world. When they reach a receiver's antenna, they create tiny oscillating currents that the receiver eagerly picks up. It's like a symphony of electromagnetic harmony, orchestrated by scientists and engineers throughout history, so whether it's a lightning bolt composing a cosmic melody or your favourite radio station beaming tunes through the air, radio waves are the unsung heroes of modern communication, broadcasting and navigation. Tune in because the world of radio waves is as captivating as it is essential to our connected lives. Back to regular programming.

Patrick McIntyre: The airwaves were crackling with all sorts of experiments conducted by businesses, advocates and enthusiastic amateurs – all leading to that first ‘official’ Australian broadcast in 1923. Unfortunately, nothing survives of these early broadcasts. But in the archives, we hold what we believe are the two oldest recordings of radio in Australia.

Here’s Amy Butterfield, a curator on NFSA’s Radio 100 project.

Amy Butterfield: The first thing that strikes you when looking at the earliest days of radio, as is the case with the earliest days of film or television, is that not much survives, especially in the case of radio because it's not a recorded medium. 

The earliest recording of a live radio broadcast, in Australia, we believe is the 1932 Melbourne Cup call.

 Sound of Melbourne Cup recording.

Amy Butterfield: The next oldest recording we have is a very short – it's about three minutes – sound recording of a commentary of a boxing match that happened in Melbourne the same day, which really surprised me. It took me a long time because we had a year which we couldn't be sure about.

Sound of boxing match.

Amy Butterfield: It was March 1932. So I had to trawl through a bunch of newspapers. Trove made that possible. And we were able to find a record of the match in question and it wasn't a famous match at all. I've maybe found half a dozen just quick newspaper lines about it. But I am confident that it was recorded on the 1st of November 1932, a matter of hours after the Melbourne Cup, which sort of makes sense because they probably used the same technology. The Melbourne Cup call was conveyed, I think, by telephone line to a radio station in Sydney.

It assumes this importance because it's one of the oldest radio broadcasts that survives but, you know, the history of radio is there's nine years between the beginning of broadcasting in Sydney/Melbourne is 1924, Adelaide 1924 (and) the other cities, a bit later.

Patrick McIntyre: As with the early days of film and television, the early innovators weren’t necessarily aware of the significant impacts their work would have in the future. They’re just mucking around, trying out new things – not keeping meticulous recordings and copies for future generations.

Amy Butterfield: So there's nearly a decade where no actual radio broadcast recording survived. So you've sort of got to come at it from multiple angles and use different kinds of evidence to sort of build a picture.

Patrick McIntyre: Let’s get back to Ernest Fisk and his AWA.

Bridget Griffen-Foley: The dominant figure, I think, by the 1920s in the radio industry in Australia was Ernest Fisk.

Peter Fisk: In cooperation with the Marconi Company, they set up a wireless station to communicate directly with the rest of the world, just northwest of Melbourne, at a place that became known as Fiskville. I think there were some egos involved there. It was named after the boss.

But that was an extraordinary system of communication, to actually be able to directly send radio messages, from Australia to England and back again on a commercial basis and on a routine basis. It was a very big system, had enormous antennas – you can still see the bases of them out there – and it was a huge technical achievement and operated incredibly until 1969.

Bridget Griffen-Foley: By the 1920s, there were amateurs who were experimenting with technology with basic receivers, which were called crystal sets, but there was no sort of clear commercial or Government or regulatory plan for wireless broadcasting.

Old broadcasts

Patrick McIntyre: Thorsten Kaeding says that another turning point in 1923 was the Government stepping in to regulate the lawless radioscape.

Thorsten Kaeding: The Government, through the Post Master General at the time, legislated to put out licenses. And that's where I suppose formal commercial radios took over from those first amateur radio broadcasters.

Patrick McIntyre: The initial solution to airwaves regulation was the “sealed set” system - each radio receiver was locked onto just the one station. Not surprisingly, this limited system didn’t really work for broadcasters or their audiences – and it didn’t last long. 

It was replaced in 1924 with the introduction of two different kinds of broadcasting licence: Class A and Class B. Class A stations were paid for by licence fees paid by listeners and collected by the Australian Government, and Class B licences were available to anyone who thought they could make a go of it: businesses, churches, trade unions. 

This cunning plan avoided the pitfalls observed in the nascent radio industries in the UK and the US – the UK being a government monopoly in the form of the BBC and the US being a wild frontier of commercial anything-goes. Ultimately, in Australia, the Class A stations evolved into the ABC, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and the Class B stations into the commercial sector as we know it today – funded by advertising.

Australians took to radio: fast. Amy Butterfield reflects on the surprising speed of Australia’s commercial broadcasting, a momentum fuelled in part by the indefatigable Fisk. 

Amy Butterfield: What surprised me about radio is how much quicker Australia was to get it started. I think America was the first, and they had commercial broadcasting, I think, from late 1920. The BBC first started in 1922. I think Australia was before other countries in Europe. Whereas with television, we were so slow off the bat – like most countries in Europe certainly long had television before we did.

Music

Patrick McIntyre: We were even slower when it came to the internet – but we’ll come to that in a later episode.

Fisk’s prescience also extended to the potential for radio to make the world smaller. He said in 1923, “No scientific discovery offers such great possibility for binding together the parts of our far-flung empire, and for developing its social, commercial and defence welfare”. Remember back then that commercial flights between the UK and Australia didn’t start until 1935, and a one-way trip took twelve days.

The dream was that radio would help to bridge the gap between the city and the country. 

Music

Bridget Griffen-Foley: Bring city joys such a concerts, entertainment, enlightening experiences to more isolated rural areas.

An early periodical called Wireless Weekly actually speculated in about 1922 how radio might connect this land of magnificent distances. So in Australia, because the population was quite small and so dispersed, there was a real challenge for commercial interests, but also regulatory and Government bodies to think about ‘how could radio reach people geographically?’, ‘how could the transmitters be strong and powerful enough?’, and ‘how could it be commercially viable, given how dispersed the population was?’

Early broadcasts were heard by experimenters, but there weren't thousands and thousands of listeners in the 1920s. Radio sets were reasonably expensive. Licenses were quite expensive. 

Patrick McIntyre: As ever, the promise was there, but the practicalities were daunting. As Secretary and Director of the Post Master General’s Office Harry Brown put it in 1928, the problem was “to provide a reasonable service to six million people scattered over three million square miles of a continent” - the very same problem that dogged the roll-out of television, telephone, mobile phone, internet and broadband in the decades to follow.

But for now – back to the 1920s. What were these early radio receivers like?

Bridget Griffen-Foley: Initially, the receivers were simply these crystal sets that were listened to by earphones. But as the 1920s progressed, radio manufacturers including AWA produced radio sets and they tended to be large and cumbersome, quite expensive, big pieces of technology set in brown, inevitably brown wooden furniture that was in the living room. 

So the pictures that you would see in radio periodicals in the 1920s and into the 1930s, showed these pieces of furniture and the family – the mother, the father, the children, sometimes grandparents as well – gathered around the radio set.

Patrick McIntyre: These large radios, invariably brown, are the sort captured in photographs of the era – the whole family gathered around their bulk to listen together - only one program at a time, mum and dad invariably in control of the dial. 

And what was actually on the radio in the early years?

Thorsten Kaeding: A lot of the material and some of it's really typecast, I suppose. The material that was broadcast during the day were operas essentially that were designed with a female audience specifically, but many of those as soap operas do attract, you know, all sorts of people to them.

Audio: soap opera clip

Thorsten Kaeding: So it was everything from comedies to soap operas, exactly what you would expect on television in terms of television content. 

Audio: soap opera clip 

Thorsten Kaeding: Television took on those shows off radio. So all of the sorts of dramas, sitcoms, comedies, melodramas, soap operas that you get on television have their roots in radio. That's exactly what the radio series were all about. Everything from children's ones like Superman. Through to the more melodramatic ones like Porsche Faces Life. 

Audio: “Portia Faces Life”  

Patrick McIntyre: Bridget Griffen-Foley unveils a fascinating aspect of the era—the occult. The uncanny ability to pick up disembodied voices floating in the air fuelled the belief that radio could be used to communicate with spirits from the beyond. 

Bridget Griffen-Foley: So as radio develops in the early part of the 20th century, people, spiritualists, thought that it might be possible to use seances to communicate with the living by spelling out coded messages through short tapping noises.

So the hope that coded messages could be relayed through short tapping noises in seances is quite similar to the sort of Morse code tapping that is used in telegraphy.

In the 1910s, there's an increasing popular association between telecommunications and the invisible spirits, disembodied communication. And radios were used by some people in the hope that you might be able to make contact with extra-terrestrials, particularly Martians.

There's a real interest in this in the 1910s and 1920s. Ernest Fisk himself thought that it might be possible to communicate with the dead through radio. And this was a belief that wasn't just unique to him. After the losses of World War One and World War Two, with the losses of so many young men in particular, there were grieving people such as Fisk – he lost one of his own sons in World War Two – who thought desperately that it might be possible to communicate with the dead using wireless telegraphy.

There certainly was a great deal of interest in these sorts of possibilities for early decades of the 20th century. 

Thorsten Kaeding: The whole sound recording thing, I think, has always been something which has tended towards that sort of spiritualism aspect. A lot of people thought that there was something inherently magical about being able to actually record sounds and voices in particular and then to be able to broadcast them as well.

Bridget Griffen-Foley: Interestingly, the American magician Harry Houdini, he was a sceptic, who actually used his fame to try to expose the wireless-related tricks that were behind some sort of fake mediums and spirit trumpets of the 1920s.

Patrick McIntyre: The belief in the mystical powers of radio gave rise to acts like The Piddingtons, an Australian couple who first showed off their alleged telepathic abilities on Melbourne station 3KZ in 1947. 

Sydney and Lesley Piddington were a hit – they would later share their talents to an audience of millions on the BBC. 

Thorsten Kaeding: They started out on radio using the technology in order to be able to essentially do what we now call illusion and magic tricks, which once again, I think is fascinating to use radio for that.

Patrick McIntyre: In this excerpt from their show's only surviving Australian episode, Sydney attempts to transmit to Lesley the names of horses competing in the 1947 Melbourne Cup. 

Sound of The Piddington Show.

We might consider the audience naive for falling for these tricks, but as science fiction writer Arthur C Clarke famously said, “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” 

Thorsten Kaeding: I think nowadays we would be really sceptical about it because we know how technology can be manipulated and all of those sort of things, but that wasn't the case for them. They were really able to fascinate people, and in fact, I think I was just looking recently; there are still people trying to figure out how they did some of the performances that they did on radio.

Sound of The Piddington Show

Patrick McIntyre: And now, get ready to step into the 1930s, often dubbed the Golden Years of radio. For decades, that big, glowing box on the shelf would be every family’s primary source of news, music, sport, comedy and drama - amongst all the advertising! 

But already - on the horizon, a threat is approaching.

[Excerpt from Episode 2]

Peter Fisk: There’s no doubt that television had a big impact on the radio serial

Jo Palazuelos-Krukowski: As television is kind of supplanting radio as a medium and transistor radios are coming in and people are listening to radio in their cars or on the beach, there's less of that people sitting down and listening to a half-hour radio drama. 

Music

Patrick McIntyre: This has been Who Listens to the Radio? brought to you by the National Film and Sound Archive.

 

Thank you to our guests Bridget Griffen-Foley, Peter Fisk and our science communicator Andy Trieu, and to NFSA curators Thorsten Kaeding and Amy Butterfield. If you've enjoyed, Who Listens to the Radio? don't forget to rate and review wherever you get your podcasts. You can visit the Radio 100 Digital Exhibition at nfsa.gov.au.

Who Listens to the Radio? was produced by Audiocraft for the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia.  

Narrated by Patrick McIntyre, with guests Bruce Ferrier, Jo Palazuelos-Krukowski and Wendy Harmer, our science correspondent Andy Trieu, and NFSA Curator Thorsten Kaeding. 

Credits: 

Unknown Quantity, Portia Faces Life and The Shadow courtesy GraceGibsonRadio.com 

The Witch’s Tale – courtesy Radio 2GB Sydney 

Australia’s Amateur Hour courtesy of Amalgamated Wireless Australasia Pty Ltd 

It’s Ruth courtesy of Christina Wilcox, Yowie Films 

Blue Hills courtesy of Australian Broadcasting Corporation Library Sales 

Who Listens to the Radio?’ theme music written by A. Pendlebury (Mushroom Music) and S. Cummings (Warner Chappell Pty Ltd) (APRA). Performed by The Substrates, and recorded at Schlam Studio Canberra with Jodie Boarder and Alexis Mallard (vocals), Danny Roberts and Gerard O’Neill (guitar), Andy Ryan (bass) and Glenn Elliott (drums). Recording and mixing by engineer Danny Roberts and arrangement by Andy Ryan and Alexis Mallard. 

Writing and research by Patrick McIntyre, Kate Scott, Ute Junker, Stephanie Van Schilt and Caris Bizzaca. 

Find Who Listens to the Radio? at the National Film and Sound Archive website or wherever you get your podcasts. This podcast is part of the NFSA’s Radio 100 celebrations.  

Who Listens to The Radio?

Episode 2 - The Golden Years

 

Patrick McIntyre: Wherever you are listening, if you're in Australia, you're on Aboriginal land.

At the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia, we pay respect to the elders and acknowledge their ongoing custodianship of the country where we made this podcast, and of the country you're listening to it on.

By the mid-1930s, Australia was changing – fast. The country emerged from the hardships of the Great Depression – when unemployment was over 30 per cent – with their spirits buoyed by a true-blue cricket legend…

[Grab from the song "Our Don Bradman"]

https://www.nfsa.gov.au/collection/curated/songs-jack-ohagan

… and a homegrown engineering triumph…

[Grab: “the official opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, made in Australia, by Australians, for Australians”].

https://www.nfsa.gov.au/collection/curated/opening-sydney-harbour-bridg…

And then there was radio. This amazing technology brought the world into your living room, and Australians couldn’t get enough. By 1937 – just 15 years after it was officially launched – the radio had pride of place in two out of every three homes. The family would gather around to listen – to the news and the races, the soaps and the serials, to riveting dramas and side-splitting comics. 

Now, it wasn't just about heading home for your dinner – you also wanted to catch your favourite show. Just as Henry Ford’s assembly lines created a relentless rhythm for the workday, radio reshaped your downtime.

Bruce Ferrier: People loved their radio serials, and they'd have a radio serial at 9 o'clock in the morning, 11 o'clock in the morning, another one in the afternoon, and a few at night, and all of that.

Patrick McIntyre: Radio created formats that live on today.

Jo Palazuelos-Krukowski: Television pulls a lot of the formats that we get out of radio. Quiz shows, newscasts, dramas, soap operas, get pulled in from these this radio serial tradition that's growing globally.

Patrick McIntyre: And it created new stars – many of whom would also make the move to television. The Golden Years of Radio may only have lasted a few decades, but they helped shape the media of the twenty-first century.

[Theme music] ​

I’m Patrick McIntyre and you've tuned into Who Listens To the Radio?, brought to you by the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia. This is Episode 2: Golden Years, in which we look at radio’s glory days.

Radio soon became an essential part of daily life. It was great at bringing you the news – especially if you lived in the country, where it might take four days for the newspapers to arrive. 

During World War II, newsprint was severely rationed. So, if you wanted to hear the latest from the front, you switched on your set.

But while radio was good at news, it was even better at entertainment – creating the first generation of couch potatoes. Why get dressed up to go the theatre when you could stay home and switch on your set? 

Jo Palazuelos-Krukowski: So, the first American radio play was The Wolf by Eugene Walter in 1922. It's a log cabin drama. And then the BBC's Twelfth Night was the first British dramatic play to air in 1923. In Australia, it was 1925's The Barber's Barber, so horror radio is embedded into Australian radio media and radio drama from the very beginning.

My name is Jo Palazuelos-Krukowski. I am a Fulbright Scholar and PhD candidate at UC Santa Barbara in Theatre Studies.

What's really cool about radio serials is, well, you think about it, you have to fill content, right? You've got all of this airspace, and the radio serial is fantastic because it allows you to revisit the same characters, so you don't have to do all that groundwork. But you put them in new situations, and you can tell longer stories over a longer period of time.

Patrick McIntyre: Those stories included comedy, crime, the supernatural, and even a homegrown Superman series. At first, they were based on American and British formats, but later, local shows like Blue Hills and the Naked Vicar Show became hits.

[Sound from popular soaps]

Radio was a communal experience. Every time you tuned in to your favourite show, you knew countless other people were listening at the same time, and the next day, everyone would be talking about it at work. That was part of the thrill. Like the internet in a later age, radio connected you, no matter where you lived. 

Radio took inspiration – and sometimes performers – from vaudeville theatre, a mash-up of songs, dance, magic, comedy. Vaudeville performers were great at ad-libbing, which was important for radio, as industry veteran Bruce Ferrier explains. 

Bruce Ferrier: That ability to ad-lib also carried over into radio serials and the radio serial actors. Because the cost of a disc to, because they used to cut the, the acetate for a recording live, and you had these, machines that would carve out the grooves of the master disc. They cost about two pounds each. Sounds like nothing today, but it was a huge amount of money. And so, radio actors quickly learnt in Australia that if they made a fluff and screwed up a disc, they were less likely to be employed for the next serial. Resultantly, they, too, were able to ad-lib. And it was a, something for which Australian radio actors were internationally renowned.

Jo Palazuelos-Krukowski: Australian radio actors were the best site actors in the world. So you could put a script in front of them and they would just murder it in the best way possible.

Patrick McIntyre: Among the biggest names to move from the theatre to radio was Roy Rene, better known as the iconic character Mo. His live segment on the Calling the Stars program was hugely popular, and beloved performers like Ruth Cracknell, for many decades one of our biggest stars – you may remember her from Mother & Son – she also got her start in radio. Here’s a clip of Ruth talking about her very first job in a radio drama.

[Ruth Cracknell clip]: "We'd get dressed up in evening dress and be very glamourous, and we'd all be lined up on chairs, and there'd be a microphone in the centre of the stage, and there was often a piano over there, and there was a sound effects box with gravel and coconut halves for the horses' hooves and a door which would open and shut. I always wanted to do sound effects…”

Clip from radio episode: [Sound of gun] "He's got a gun too!" [Sound of object breaking, a woman screaming].

Patrick McIntyre: One of the most successful radio drama companies in the world was Australian. But it was founded by a Texan, Grace Gibson. She first visited Australia as a sales rep for the Radio Transcription Company of America – that was a company that sold recordings of dramas to be adapted for new markets. 

Bruce Ferrier is now the owner of Grace Gibson Productions.

Bruce Ferrier: And she still had right to the very end, a really broad American, deep South accent. That sort of thing. But she was a remarkably good saleslady. The managing director of 2GB, Alan Bennett, went over to Hollywood in the very early 1930s to do a bit of a study on what the new innovations in radio were.

And he quickly realised the big up-and-coming thing was radio serials. So he met up with a group called Radio Transcription Agencies. And with them, there was this lady selling transcriptions. Her name was Grace Gibson. She sold him every single serial script that they had, but he did it on the basis that she had to be seconded to come to Australia for six months to show them how to set up a recording studio and run it and all of that sort of stuff.

So she was there from 1934. When she arrived out in Australia, she was on a phenomenal 40 pounds a week, about 80 dollars a week. The average male worker, and bear in mind it was a very male-dominated industry, would have been on probably a fiver a week. She was on eight times that, so she was doing very well right from the very beginning. 

Patrick McIntyre: Here's NFSA curator Thorsten Kaeding, who we met in episode one.

Thorsten Kaeding: She founded what became the biggest radio series production company in Australia. And they produced hundreds and hundreds of different titles, all through that period. And, yeah, I think it's a lovely, fantastic piece of history that Grace Gibson, as a woman, was able to do that, but also highlights the fact that, particularly in that period, women were really at the centre of radio in a way that I think we've forgotten. So it's fantastic to bring those stories out and yeah, Grace Gibson, obviously, is a prime example of that.

Bruce Ferrier: Her main trick was to buy American radio transcription scripts and then bring them back here and get them localised, Australianised.

So you had shows like Dragnet, Nightbeat, and so on. And indeed, even Portia Faces Life, which was a daily soapie. 

[Clip from Portia Faces Life]

Bruce Ferrier: Now, these were daily soaps that would be on air Monday to Thursday in the mornings, and there'd be just ongoing storylines, a bit, I suppose, like Neighbours or Home and Away, where the story just keeps unfolding from one adventure to another, to another, to another. There's no beginning and no end to it, but it just keeps on going.

Patrick McIntyre: Before long, Gibson switched to using Australian writers – many of them women.

Thorsten Kaeding: So in terms of radio series, there were a lot of series written by women. A lot of the biggest radio series were written by women, like Blue Hills. And also, because they are dramas in the same way we would produce dramas now with actors playing those roles, a lot of female actors became really, really famous, in Australia, during that radio period.

The announcers were almost entirely men, but a lot of what was going on in terms of writing and production, women were heavily involved, which yeah, I think is a story that's worth telling.

Patrick McIntyre: From the beginning, women were an important audience for radio and their taste were surprisingly varied. Here’s Jo.

Jo Palazuelos-Krukowski: Well, I think that women's place in horror radio, both performance and horror radio audiences, is really interesting because they were a huge part of the demographics that these shows appealed to. Broadcasters found that very quickly. So, if you look at the show The Witch's Tale, which airs in America in 1931 for the first time and, that's where kind of the radio horror serial is thought to begin.

[Clip: The Witch’s Tale]

The Witch's Tale, which is hosted by a female narrator, and so they knew that women were just tuning in to these all the time. So, in Australia, when it airs, it airs in Sydney on 2UZ in 1942. And it's aired two times during the week. On Thursdays at 7.30pm, but it's aired at 11am on Tuesdays. And who's listening? Women, right? Because that's what the programming slots, right? Kids are off to school, and especially radio’s early days, it wasn't something that was very transportable. Women were listening, and they knew that. So, women were making up huge amounts of the audience, but yeah, it also gave a lot of really great opportunities for female performers like Neva Carr Glyn or Lyndall Barbour, who stars in The Witch's Tale.

Patrick McIntyre: Many shows were recorded live – and those recordings would then make their way around the country. 

Bruce Ferrier: You'd have a rehearsal, so everybody in the studio, right? Rehearse, bang, and then, ‘okay, now, let's go for the record’, and so they'd hit the record button and then record that episode. From there, that acetate would go off to a production pressing company, and about six copies, maybe, of that serial were made, and then they were sent out eventually to radio stations across Australia.

So you might start off with, say, one disc going to maybe a Brisbane radio station.

From there, they would... Post it onto maybe the Ipswich station. They might then post it onto the Toowoomba one. And then they would post it on to Roma and then on to Charleville etc, etc. And so one disc could cover a huge area.

Patrick McIntyre: Like any new technology, radio changed life in unexpected ways. It helped bring families together. Most households only had one radio, so the programming had to appeal across the generations.

Bruce Ferrier: So they were the... Absolute golden days of radio, and that's the era of Jack Davey, John Dease with the Quiz Kids, all of those sort of shows, and you had the Caltex Theatre, and The Nile radio players etc, etc. All of these shows for both daytime, but very especially night-time.

Patrick McIntyre: But it also caused new types of conflict, and not just fights over what to listen to. Famous writer Miles Franklin complained about her neighbour’s radio keeping her awake at night – a new phenomenon for city-dwellers.

Radio was seen as an essential part of modern life. For many working-class households, the radio was often their first – and only – electric appliance they purchased. The Australian Council of Trade Unions declared that: “Every home, no matter how poor they may be, is entitled to a radio in the house”. Because it wasn’t cheap to get one of those big radios with their complex vacuum tube technology.

[Andy Trieu tech update]

This is Andy Trieu, your science correspondent. Yes, vacuum cleaners. I mean vacuum tubes. Have you ever wondered about those vintage-looking tubes in electronics. Meet: vacuum tubes. They control electric currents in a high vacuum, making them the OGs of electronic devices. From thermionic tubes for signal amplification to vacuum phototubes detecting light, you know, they've had quite the journey. Picture hot tubes in audio amps emitting a cool red-orange glow. Iconic, right? Take the diode. AKA Fleming valve. Invented in 1904, it's the simplest tube, with electrons flowing one way, cathode to anode, add control grids and voila: they become the heart of early electronics, powering everything from radios to TVs. Fast forward to the 1940s. Semi-conductors took over. Smaller, cooler and more efficient. Transistors edged out tubes in the 60s, but the cathode-ray tube held strong in TVs until the 21st century. Believe it or not, these tubes still persist in microwaves, high-end audio amps and electric guitars for that classic warmer sound. Just remember not all electronic valves are vacuum tubes. Some are gas-filled wonders, exploring electric discharging gases without the heater drama. Back to you, Patrick. 

Patrick McIntyre: Nothing could slow the radio boom. In the 1930s, the Postmaster-General commissioned an average of nine new commercial stations each year. Religious groups and trade unions snapped up stations of their own. 

With so many new licences, hundreds of stations had their wavelengths recalibrated to avoid interference. And back then there were even debates about media ownership. Keith Murdoch’s Herald and Weekly Times was described as “an octopus in the air” because it held licences in multiple states. 

A radio licence cost just 25 pounds but you could rake in big advertising dollars – making radio just as much of a threat to newspapers as the internet is today. 

Advertisers helped shape radio programming. In fact, the term “soap opera” was a reference to the soap manufacturers who sponsored serials in the US.

The biggest advertisers didn’t just sponsor shows – they even produced them. Australian shows like the Lux Radio Theatre, which was recorded live in the studio, were glamorous events, with performers as well as the audience dressing up for the occasion.

And then there was Australia’s Amateur Hour – the precursor to The X Factor and The Voice. Starting in 1940, it ran for 19 years and featured amateur performers from every corner of the country, and it helped reflect the changing social and cultural face of Australia in the 20th century. Here’s a clip from a 1952 episode featuring Vaudeville and country legend Chad Morgan.

[Chad Morgan clip]

At this time, broad Aussie accents weren’t often heard on the radio – unless you tuned in to Dad and Dave.

Thorsten Kaeding: Dad and Dave from Snake Gully, which I think starts in the 1930s and goes through, had a series of movies made as well, coming out of the radio show. It was that popular, hugely popular, and launched the career of a lot of people in radio.

[Sounds of Dad and Dave from Snake Gully]

Thorsten Kaeding: Dad and Dave was one of those where, because it's comedy, they were able to use really broad Australian accents that you didn't hear anywhere else – on the radio or anywhere else for that matter in a media sense. So, I think that was part of what made it hugely popular and able to connect to people.

Patrick McIntyre: Radio announcers were expected to use Received Pronunciation, also called BBC English–       

[Clip from Australia’s Amateur Hour]

Bruce Ferrier: There's no doubt at all that, speaking proper Australian was really very, it was very much an Australian version of British. And I mean, just listen to the politicians of the day, like Sir Robert Menzies, a very rounded sort of, cultured. It was a cultured Australian accent rather than a very British one, but it certainly had big heaps of British overtones in there. Likewise, newsreaders and announcers, especially on the ABC, but also in commercial radio, very much that was the scene standard to be. And it was an era, and in fact, even when I joined in radio, it was still an era of, if you had a really good voice, then you were halfway there, sort of thing. That only started fading away, I suppose, in the 1970s onwards, when it became a lot broader and a lot more relaxed and Ozzified I suppose.

Patrick McIntyre: This is Wendy Harmer – comedian, author and legendary radio presenter. We’ll be hearing more from her in episode four.

Wendy Harmer: It is quite amazing when you think about it, how the Australian accent has changed on the radio.

You know, how in the early days you'd have to be speaking in a rather cut-glass accent, like the Queen. Margaret Throsby talks about how when she started on the radio, she'd have to speak very nicely and be very particular. And of course now, you've got people like me, whose voice was once described as the brakes on a tram. So we do hear that embrace of the Australian way of speaking. And I don't think we listen to radio anymore and think ‘gosh, that's a really broad Australian accent’. We don't sort of ark up about that, but we used to, of course.

I guess the challenge coming along is to see how we embrace other accents on radio. I don't think we're quite there yet with how we deal with that and the way that we listen.

[Music]

Patrick McIntyre: An even bigger change was on the horizon. Television was coming, and history was about to repeat itself. Television would steal ideas – and stars – from radio, just as radio had done to theatre.

Thorsten Kaeding: Yeah, whatever you think of when you think of television content like that started on radio, those genres.

So, a successful case study in terms of a show would be Homicide. Started on radio, some of the radio actors went on to have huge television careers. Bud Tingle is an example. He started on radio and was a big star on radio before television started. Lots didn't transition, I think, similarly to film.

Patrick McIntyre: But video didn’t necessarily kill the radio star – many survived and made the switch to the small screen. And despite some grim predictions, the arrival of television in 1956 didn’t kill the radio industry, either. Instead, radio reinvented itself – and not for the last time. 

Bruce Ferrier: there's no doubt that television had a big impact on the radio serial. And I think primarily the sort of impact it did was it closed down a lot of those soapies we were talking of earlier, you know, the Portia Faces Life.

For them to continue, they realised that they needed to have shorter storylines, self-contained storylines, of maybe 104 episodes that would run for about five or six months. But it would start with Portia becoming involved in a case, Portia following that case through and getting a conclusion to it. And then that would finish. And then she'd go into another adventure. And that's how the last few years of Portia Face's Life happened. And why it continued through into the 1970s. By adapting into being a serial as against a radio soapy.

Patrick McIntyre: There were other changes, too. With three-minute pop songs now filling the airwaves, radio developed a new rhythm. 

Jo Palazuelos-Krukowski: So, as television is kind of supplanting radio as a medium and transistor radios are coming in and people are listening to radio in their cars or on the beach, there's less of that people sitting down and listening to a half-hour radio drama. So what happens? People are listening to Top 40; they're listening to music.

And so what these radio writers did for this particular series, which is so interesting, is they put together this series, they took horror radio, and they took that kind of shortened time slot, and they would write these little three-minute ghost stories that were just such a blast.

Bruce Ferrier: Anything longer than that they saw as being too long. And so resultantly Gibson started producing these short little three-minute episodes of things like Harvest of Hate, My Father's House, Without Shame, and so on.

But the problem was... So, to recap the beginning of every day, you'd used half a minute there, and to build up to some sort of climax, you only had a couple of minutes in which to do that. So, it all became just a little bit too claustrophobic.

Patrick McIntyre: The decline of the serial marks the end of radio’s golden age.

Bruce Ferrier: I always like to think that our radio serials are the perfection of the podcast, to be honest. And maybe that's a little bit egotistical, but the thing I love about our radio serials is that you've got sound effects, you've got atmos, you've got actors who really know what they're doing and how they're living that story, living that character, living that role. And you get all of that with the embellishment of sound effects.

The golden years of radio really were fairly short if we look back at it. It would have been from around about the late 1930s, but probably even more so post war, post Second World War. Probably 1940s when families started coming back from overseas service and all of that sort of thing. And from there through for the next 20-odd years, they were the absolute golden years of radio.

Radio certainly did change, has changed, and will continue to evolve. I mean, we're watching it now as slowly but surely broadcast radio starts disappearing altogether. In fact, talking to a couple of technical engineers in the radio industry, they're saying that networks are now saying this will be the last transmitter we'll be buying because it'll all be going online, et cetera, within the next decade to 15 years. And a transmitter's going to last about that long, maybe a little bit longer, but they really were aware that broadcast radio as such will change, but it's just moving into more use of an audio medium and that will develop and open up things, as we've seen with podcasts coming in and they're having their big impact.

Patrick McIntyre: We’ll be taking a closer look at podcasts in episode six. But before then, there are some big changes about to shake up radio. When a new technology – the transistor – appears, radio morphs once again. Instead of being something you went home for. It became something you take with you.

Music 

[Excerpt from Episode 3]

Simon Smith: The transistor radio meant that you could take it into your bedroom, the bathroom, you could take it to parties, you could take it to the beach, you could take it anywhere. It was in your car; instantly, music was accessible everywhere.

Patrick McIntyre: In the next episode, we look at how the transistor radio helped power a cultural revolution by paving the way for a new phenomenon... the teenager.

[Sound of teenagers screaming]

This has been Who Listens to the Radio? brought to you by the National Film and Sound Archive. Thanks to our guests, Bruce Ferrier, Jo Palazuelos-Krukowski, Wendy Harmer, our science communicator Andy Trieu and our NFSA Curator Thorsten Kaeding. You can visit the Radio 100 digital exhibition at www.nfsa.gov.au. If you’ve enjoyed Who Listens to the Radio? don’t forget to rate or review wherever you get your podcasts.

Who Listens to the Radio? was produced by Audiocraft for the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia.  

Narrated by Patrick McIntyre, with guests Lorna Clarkson and Fenella Kernebone, our science correspondent Andy Trieu, and NFSA Curators Thorsten Kaeding, Simon Smith and Johanna McMahon.  

Credits: 

Richard Mercer’s Love Song Dedications courtesy of Australian Radio Network 

Who Listens to the Radio?’ theme music written by A. Pendlebury (Mushroom Music) and S. Cummings (Warner Chappell Pty Ltd) (APRA). Performed by The Substrates, and recorded at Schlam Studio Canberra with Jodie Boarder and Alexis Mallard (vocals), Danny Roberts and Gerard O’Neill (guitar), Andy Ryan (bass) and Glenn Elliott (drums). Recording and mixing by engineer Danny Roberts and arrangement by Andy Ryan and Alexis Mallard. 

Writing and research by Patrick McIntyre, Kate Scott, Ute Junker, Stephanie Van Schilt and Caris Bizzaca. 

Find Who Listens to the Radio? at the National Film and Sound Archive website or wherever you get your podcasts. This podcast is part of the NFSA’s Radio 100 celebrations.  

Who Listens to The Radio?

Episode 3 - Wired for Sound 

     

Patrick McIntyre: Wherever you are listening, if you're in Australia, you're on Aboriginal land.

At the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia, we pay respect to the elders and acknowledge their ongoing custodianship of the country where we made this podcast, and of the country you're listening to it on. 

For many of us growing up, there was just one reason to switch on the radio: to hear the latest hits. 

Jo Palazuelos-Krukowski: Just driving around in a car, you escaped into these songs that were just waiting for you in the air.

Lorna Clarkson: It taught me how to make mixtapes at home, and it was all originally from listening to how disc jockeys back then on air, would you know, weave in great new pop music and introduce this new sound coming out of somewhere around the world. So, I was obsessed. It was our internet basically back then. 

Patrick McIntyre: The music you listened to helped define your identity     

Benjamin Law: Growing up on Queensland's Sunshine Coast in the 1990s, it was very much about FM, a very commercial, laid-back pop-rock station. And at our school, when you got to high school, you either stayed with CFM or you graduated to Triple J. You became one of the alternative kids, or you became one of the norm kids. 

Patrick McIntyre: But that intense relationship you had with your favourite station that brought you the music you wanted to hear, any time of the day or night, didn't always exist. It was born in the 1950s, thanks to two remarkable inventions that were inextricably intertwined. One was technological, one was cultural. They were the transistor radio and the teenager.

[Theme music]

Patrick McIntyre: You've tuned into Who Listens To the Radio? Brought to you by the National Film and Sound Archive. I'm Patrick McIntyre, and this is Episode 3: Wired for Sound.

It’s the late 1950s. The kids born in the post-war baby boom – all five and a half million of them – are hitting adolescence. And they’re doing it differently from anyone before. It’s what NFSA curator Simon Smith calls a ‘Youthquake’.

Simon Smith: Youthquake (coincides) with both the rise of rock and roll and the start of television in Australia. And from this, we're talking of the era coinciding with post-war prosperity and the baby boomer generation, many of whom became teenagers just as the mid-1960s British invasion of beat groups began to make an impact around the Western world.

Patrick McIntyre: Unlike their parents, these “teenagers” – as they soon became known -– were born into good times. They didn’t have to quit school and get a job. They could keep studying and spend their pocket money on cool clothes, cool movies, and cool music. Thorsten Kaenig, one the NFSA’s curators, explains.

Thorsten Kaeding: I think there's a few different things happening at the same time there, which is often how these things work, I suppose. Some is technological, some is cultural. The cultural side is about during the Second World War and then at the end of the Second World War, the predominance of American culture, and American culture in, particularly in the 50s, starts to become really around the teenager, both in terms of music and James Dean films and the like. It's that youth culture part of it and the early part of rock and roll, obviously with Elvis, but also Australian performers as well, like Johnny O'Keefe or Col Joye, who become really big stars at that period.

Patrick McIntyre: One of the essential items for every teen was the new-fangled transistor radio: made of plastic, powered by batteries, and small enough to carry wherever you went. Here, with a bit of science, Andy Trieu.

[Andy Trieu tech update]

Knowledge time! Welcome to the fascinating world of transistor radio. A journey from bulky tubes to pocket-sized marvels. In 1947, the transistor was born, changing the game in consumer electronics. The Regency TR1 hit the shelves in 1954, marking the advent of the first commercial transistor radio. Fast-forward to 57 and Sony's TR63 made transistor radios a mass market sensation, dominating the 60s and 70s as the go-to electronic communication device. So, what's good about the transistor? Small, shock resistant and instant-on, making it a game-changer. Compare that to the hefty, portable tube radios of the 50s and you'll see why transistor radios become a global sensation. Around 1980, the scene shifted. AM transistor radios face competition from Boom Boxes and the iconic Sony Walkman. As technology advanced, portable CD players, mp3 players and smartphones took the spotlight. But the transistor's colossal impact of innovation, meaning pocket-sized convenience, reverberated through all tech that followed. Operating between 88 and 108 megahertz, FM introduced wider channel spacing. 200 kilohertz apart, significantly more spacious than AM's 10 kilohertz; this meant less interference between stations. Back to you, Patrick.

Patrick McIntyre: Mass-produced first in Japan, later in Australia, the transistor radio turned everything around.

Simon Smith: What happened during the Youthquake era is that the transistor radio meant that radio went from being a family group listening experience to a personalised individual listening experience. Well, you had the option to do both, and the transistor radio meant that you could take it into your bedroom, the bathroom, you could take it to parties, you could take it to the beach, you could take it anywhere. It was in your car; instantly, music was accessible everywhere.

Patrick McIntyre: The transistor radio became the blueprint for all the handheld audio technology to follow: the Walkman, the Discman, the boombox, and the digital device you're probably listening to right now. But the thing is, the sound quality was… not great. So, record companies adapted. Companies like Motown knew their audience was tuning in on transistors, so they mixed their tracks to suit the machine's low fidelity.

[Motown grab]

Around this time, the radio market divides – between stations for older listeners focused on news and current affairs, and stations delivering non-stop rock and roll to insatiable teen fans. The music was exciting, and so was the chance to hear from your idols.

By the 1960s, music stations had developed their own sound.

Simon Smith:  We sort of think of the rock and roll era as everyone, you know, being rowdy and out there. But really, when you listen to Presley and those guys speaking, they're still very respectful to elders. They’ve still got that old school, ‘well, yes, you're older. You might be square, but I'm still going to be very nice and respectful to you’. You move to the sixties. That sort of dissipated. So I think the 60s was a time, obviously, of massive change culturally across everything. But in terms of radio, it was the moment that I think Australia started to sort of find their own voice a bit. 

Patrick McIntyre: And then came an event that changed everything: the Beatles Tour of 1964.

Simon Smith: The Beatles coming to Australia was the biggest thing to happen to the music industry. The music industry changed overnight. There's this absurd moment where they landed in Sydney. The weather was atrocious. They got out at Mascot. They were put into an open truck. It was almost hailing. The Beatles were laughing, you know, you wouldn't – you'd never see this these days. They were laughing because the weather was so bad. They just wanted to greet the kids who'd waited out all night, who were drenched and freezing and everything – they're holding umbrellas that have gone inside out, like it's just, they were useless. 

But what happened in Australia was that radio covered The Beatles tour so heavily, and it was just such an enormous, exciting time to be in Australia, to be young, and radio covered that so well. The Australian tour just changed the music industry. The radio industry were so excited when they came out. 3UZ said to their presenters: when they come in, like in Melbourne, when they come in, we don't want you to just give a standard report. ‘We want excitement, we want energy’. So they really talked it up. It was the biggest thing to happen to Melbourne, really, probably since the Olympics. 

Audio grabs: various reports from The Beatles tour

Patrick McIntyre: The Beatles were only supposed to perform in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, but Adelaide's three main stations decided to do something about that. They got together a petition with 80,000 signatures, and it worked. Adelaide was added to the itinerary, and when the band arrived, they were met by an estimated 300,000 people.

It proved the might of a new cultural power player – the disc jockey. Listeners often felt a very personal bond with the DJs, who seemed to be talking directly to them.      

The top DJs soon became stars in their own right.

Simon Smith: In the 60s, the DJ had enormous power. They invented catchphrases. They had their own fan clubs. They sometimes had bigger fan clubs than the artists themselves. And they became extremely important. If they liked a song, they could break a song. As in they could make it popular and people would listen to the radio, and then they would go to record shops and buy the music that they had heard on the radio. So the radio was incredibly powerful for records. The DJ they had discs in front of them, and if they wanted to play something, they could.

Patrick McIntyre: The TV Week King of Pop Awards even had a category for the most popular radio presenter in each state. 3XY’s Greg Evans – who would later host TV dating show Perfect Match – was so popular he took it home six years in a row. His winning streak only ended when they stopped handing out that award.

Big-name DJs had the power to pick the next big thing.

Simon Smith: Someone like Stan Rofe – Stan ‘the Man’ Rofe – he was the biggest name in teenage radio in the 1960s in Melbourne. So many '60s Australian music artists attribute him with their success because he would play their discs. Sometimes he would play their discs multiple times in an hour until you got used to it or until you liked it. He was a good arbiter of taste. He really pushed local talent. Bands like The Masters Apprentices, The Twilights, Zoot, Russell Morris. These artists, they all attribute Stan Rofe to a lot of their success because in those days, radio had the power to make or break hits. In Sydney, you had someone like Ward Austin, who is sometimes known as the White Knight. He always wore white, generally white denim. And he was sort of one of the most out-there radio presenters. He was really hip. He had very cool speak – what you’d class today as cool speaking, hip speak.

Patrick McIntyre: So when, in 1970, a spat between radio stations and record companies took hundreds of bands off the air, it wasn’t just the fans that panicked – it was the artists.

Simon Smith: So the record ban or radio ban of 1970 was one of those remarkable periods in Australian music that, through a clash of commerce between the big Australian and UK recording companies wanting radio stations to pay them for their discs that they were making.

Well, the radio stations were making heaps of money from their free product, right? So, the radio stations were going, well, we can't afford to pay you for the discs. We're giving you free publicity of your artists. But it led to an impasse in 1970 for five months on Australian radio, where the discs that were on the major labels were banned from being played on Australian radio.

Patrick McIntyre: And then, one man stepped up.

Simon Smith: So what happened was there was a company called Fable Records run by a guy called Ron Tudor. They had just started up. They were not bound by the terms of this ban. 

In a brilliant piece of opportunism, he basically organized for local artists not signed by the big labels to record these overseas hits. They got played. Fable then became big. And actually, this was a period when there were a lot more Australian artists on the charts just because of things like Fable.

‘In the summertime, when the weather is fine’. That was an English song by a band called Mungo Jerry, sent over here. The Mixtures recorded it. 

 (Music: Mungo Jerry x The Mixtures song) 

Simon Smith: And it led to people having careers as a result of almost like a window opening up where all these big artists weren't being heard for five months on the radio. So quick, bring in the Aussie artists to do some of these songs. And it led to quite a few careers. 

So it was a very interesting time in Australian radio. You could say it was almost sort of like the precursor for kind of alternative artists being able to get into the charts.

(Music break) 

Patrick McIntyre: More change was coming. In 1975, the ABC launched a youth station in Sydney with the call sign 2JJ or Double J, which later went national and was renamed Triple J. 

Double J started pushing boundaries from the very beginning. DJ Holger Brockmann launched the station with the first words "Wow, we're away".

 (Sounds of "Wow, we're away" from the Double J archive) 

Patrick: … and the Australian song no other station would play. Here’s Johanna McMahon, a curator at the NFSA.

Johanna McMahon: The first song that they broadcast was Skyhooks.

 (Music Cue: Skyhooks ‘You just like me cause I'm good in bed’) 

Johanna McMahon: ‘You just like me cause I'm good in bed’, which was banned on commercial radio because it's, you know, there's like the content. And then, they started, bang, first song, like, ‘we're not like that, we're a public station, we can play what we want, we're youth-oriented, we’re rock fuelled’. It's kind of that Australian homegrown music.

Patrick McIntyre: In the seventies DJs started to lose some of their power, with TV shows like Countdown becoming more influential.

Simon Smith: By the seventies, the DJ was less important than the music. The music got a bit more serious. Music industry got more serious and slicker. And so the DJs were still popular. They're always going to be popular DJs, but it was less about kind of their personality and more about the music that they were playing. 

Patrick McIntyre: And when the mass-produced cassette recorder came along, anyone could play at being DJ.

Simon Smith: From the past, it brings back memories of listening to 3XY in the late 70s and later Barry Bissell's Take 40 Australia as a teenager in the 1980s. 

[Audio from radio]

Saturday night was the Australian Top 40 with Bissell. Sunday night was the American Top 40 with Casey Kasem and later Shadow Stevens. I'd have a 60 or a 90-minute cassette tape. So I'd be taping only the songs and bits that I wanted to relisten to, not the entire programs, which also explains, I think, why a lot of material doesn't survive because people didn't really want the bits in between, they just wanted the music, and they wanted to relisten to the music.

Patrick McIntyre: The game changed again when frequency modulation arrived. Never heard of it? You might know it as FM – a type of broadcasting that produced clearer, crisper sound than AM, or amplitude modulation. Australia was slow to adopt FM. A small number of licenses were handed out in the seventies to public and community broadcasters, but it wasn’t until the beginning of the 80s that the commercial took notice, and by the end of that decade, the airwaves were dominated by the behemoths of Today FM, Triple M and Triple J.

These stations featured plenty of music and charismatic drive-time announcers who became household names. Some made the move from TV, like Tony Martin and Mick Molloy of D-Generation and The Late Show. Gone were the days when TV poached radio's brightest stars – now it's a two-way street. 

And once again, the boomers were in the right place at the right time. Now they were running the show, so they programmed what they wanted to hear: easy-listening or nostalgia-based stations and formats, like GoldFM in Melbourne that played hit songs from the 1960s and 70s. 

(Music)

So, where did that leave today's teenagers? Well, they turned to the stations where they could hear new and local music: community radio and Triple J.

Fenella Kernebone: You hear these great stories about people burning their own record or, putting on a cassette and running to the radio station and putting on immediately. Well, that has happened in Australia. 

Patrick McIntyre: Fenella Kernebone has spent many years working in radio - from her origins in community radio and Triple J, she is currently the head of conference programming for South by South West Sydney.

Fenella Kernebone: I think the birth of our community radio stations and our national stations has enabled, particularly through time, for younger artists to get a chance to get their music out there to specific communities. 

I think Australia's access to this extraordinary community radio network, but also the fact that we have a really strong national ABC, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, plus also the youth network of Triple J, and the additional stations that are on top of that from SBS and beyond has given us an incredible opportunity to create our own identity.

Patrick McIntyre: We'll be taking a close look at community radio in episode five, but for now, it's worth noting that it helped launch some of our best-loved acts, including Dan Sultan,

(Music: Dan Sultan ‘Old Fitzroy’)

Courtney Barnett,

(Music: Courtney Barrett ‘City Looks Pretty’)

And Gotye,

(Music: Gotye ft Kimbra ‘Somebody That I Used to Know’)

Meanwhile, over at Triple J in 1989, staffer Lawrie Zion came up with one of those basic but genius ideas: asking listeners to vote for their favourite song of all time. The winner of that first poll, which was called the Hot 100, was Joy Division with their song "Love Will Tear Us Apart". 

 (Music: Joy Division ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’) 

And when the poll was held again the following year, they won again. 

(Music: Joy Division ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’) 

In 1993, after a year off, the poll got a new name – The Hottest 100 – and a new rule. Only songs released in the last 12 months were eligible. Joy Division’s run was over.

It took another four years before listeners voted an Aussie band into the top spot, and that was Spiderbait with their song ‘Buy Me a Pony’.

 (Music: Spiderbait's ‘Buy Me A Pony’ / Triple J Announcement of winner) 

But then, there was no stopping them. Four of the next five winners were Australian, including The Whitlams,

(Music: The Whitlams’ ‘No Aphrodisiac’)

Powderfinger,

(Music: Powderfinger ‘These Days’)

Powderfinger again,

And Alex Lloyd.

(Music: Alex Lloyd’s Amazing)

Very soon, people around the country were holding parties for the countdown, echoing the early days of communal radio listening.

Johanna McMahon: I've been to many a Triple J Hottest 100 parties in my time where you're like listening all together, and that's like a kind of special part of it as a medium I think.

Patrick McIntyre: In any given year, you wouldn't find much crossover between the acts on the Hottest 100 and the playlists of the big FM stations. Hierarchies of taste were already forming.      

Through it all, radio continued to provide the soundtrack to people’s lives, as Lorna Clarkson recalls. 

Lorna Clarkson: I think because of the era I was born in, radio was central to all family entertainment. It was basically what you tuned into to hear anything new. Like you couldn't research music outside of radio. I remember as a really young child being in the car with my parents and my brother, and we would just be fighting over what music to listen to, like what radio station to tune into, because we were all music obsessed.

Dance music in the 90s, when there was no internet, when there was, you know, very little information and very little opportunity to hear music that you wanted to hear, it was the DJs that we're playing the music on the radio stations that actually formed subcultures here in Sydney.

Patrick McIntyre: Lorna is one of the original members of Sydney's community radio station FBi. She now works at LiSTNR and hosts the Down Low Disco on 2SER. And she’s been thinking about how the arrival of streaming platforms like Spotify and Apple Music has changed our relationship with music. 

Lorna Clarkson: There's something quite special about parameters and imposed parameters. So, I love that I have access to everything I ever want to listen to on streaming platforms. But it's also overwhelming. So, when you've got access to absolutely every song that's ever been made, how do you then journey through that? It almost goes back to the days of record shops or radio stations in the early days where you actually need someone else to come and curate it for you. 

Patrick McIntyre: Just as the transistor helped create teen culture, digital devices have cemented the idea of having your personal soundtrack to life. 

Lorna Clarkson: For me, I remember going on my first overseas trip as a 19-year-old, and I think CD Walkmans had just come out. It was terrible. It skipped, like you had to hold it flat so it wouldn't skip the CDs. But I was so obsessed. I had to have CDs and pack CDs to travel with.

And I had to hold my Walkman in my hand, flat, as I walked around the streets of London to my own personal soundtrack. But that experience of soundtracking my own journey, like my own adventure, still sits with me. 

I think that kind of mobilisation of music through technology is hugely important.

Patrick McIntyre: The music coming through the airwaves has influenced generations of listeners. But at the same time, another new radio format was also bringing big changes in society, and that was talkback. 

[Grab from next episode]

Chris Arneil: Literally like Facebook marketplace for radio.

Patrick McIntyre: In the next episode, we look at the rise of talkback radio and its evolution and how you get people to broadcast their most intense feelings to total strangers. 

Wendy Harmer: I remember the morning after Princess Diana had died, and I just sort of sat there and fielded for hours and hours, just women absolutely distressed and so sad and all crying, and I was crying too.

Theme music

Patrick McIntyre: This has been Who Listens to the Radio? brought to you by the National Film and Sound Archive. Thank you to our guests, Lorna Clarkson, Fenella Kernebone, and our NFSA Curators, Thorsten Kaeding, Simon Smith and Johanna McMahon, and our science correspondent Andy Trieu.

You can visit the Radio 100 digital exhibition at www.nfsa.gov.au

Who Listens to the Radio? was produced by Audiocraft for the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia.  

Narrated by Patrick McIntyre, with guests Wendy Harmer, Sally Cockburn, Bonnie Leigh-Dodds, Tom Hogan, our science correspondent Andy Trieu, and our NFSA Curators Chris Arneil and Amy Butterfield. 

Credits: 

AWA Carnaby Group Advertisement courtesy of Amalgamated Wireless Australasia Pty Ltd 

Beatles Arrival Essendon Airport 1964 courtesy of RSN Racing & Sport 

Take 40 Australia courtesy of Southern Cross Austereo 

Martin/Molloy – 'New National Anthem’ courtesy of Tony Martin and Mick Molloy 

Who Listens to the Radio?’ theme music written by A. Pendlebury (Mushroom Music) and S. Cummings (Warner Chappell Pty Ltd) (APRA). Performed by The Substrates, and recorded at Schlam Studio Canberra with Jodie Boarder and Alexis Mallard (vocals), Danny Roberts and Gerard O’Neill (guitar), Andy Ryan (bass) and Glenn Elliott (drums). Recording and mixing by engineer Danny Roberts and arrangement by Andy Ryan and Alexis Mallard. 

Writing and research by Patrick McIntyre, Kate Scott, Ute Junker, Stephanie Van Schilt and Caris Bizzaca. 

Find Who Listens to the Radio? at the National Film and Sound Archive website or wherever you get your podcasts. This podcast is part of the NFSA’s Radio 100 celebrations.  

Who Listens to the Radio?

Episode 4 – I Just Called to Say I Love You

 

Patrick McIntyre: Wherever you are listening, if you're in Australia, you're on Aboriginal land.

At the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia, we pay respect to the elders and acknowledge their ongoing custodianship of the country where we made this podcast, and of the country you're listening to it on.

Before Twitter, there was talkback. If you wanted to tell the world what was on your mind – about the trains running late again, the latest geo-political crisis, which Hemsworth brother is the hottest – you rang up the radio.

But that wasn’t always the case.

Thorsten Kaeding: If you look at the influence that talkback radio has had in the last, you know, 30-odd years, it has been huge. When we say talkback, it’s basically just people calling in. Even calling in and requesting songs. It was illegal for a long time. 

Amy Butterfield: Talkback, which sort of became the bread and butter of AM radio at the end of the century, wasn't even allowed until 1967 because you weren't allowed to broadcast what were private conversations. Like, the phone lines were regarded as private, so it doesn't matter if people consented to having their phone calls on the radio, it just wasn't allowed.

Patrick McIntyre: Talkback comes in many forms. For politicians, it's been a way to sell their policies. Paul Keating said, "If you educate John Laws, you educate middle Australia". The rest of us used it for everything, from having a whinge to sharing our most intimate secrets.

Wendy Harmer: There was a great talkback where a woman said – the topic was, ‘How did you first know when your husband was having an affair?’ – and she rang in to say, 'Well, I knew Matthew was having an affair because he said he was out with Danny.’ We said, ‘Well, how did you know?’ She said, ‘Because I was in bed with Danny at the time!’ I think we invented a segment, which I think is still used now: ‘Should I go or should I stay?’ And that's where we get the, you know, someone comes on board, and they talk about their relationship, and then the whole audience gets on and says whether they should leave or whether they should stay. So it became, it was a sort of a confessional style of radio that I was involved in, which I really loved.

[Theme music]

Patrick McIntyre: You've tuned into Who Listens to the Radio? brought to you by the National Film and Sound Archive. I'm Patrick McIntyre, and this is Episode 4: I Just Called to Say I Love You. 

When radio first appeared in the 1920s, it was a one-way format. We tuned in to whatever was on air – just as we would later do with television. The United States got into listener participation early in the 1930s. But in Australia, privacy regulations – yes, they were a problem even back then – made it illegal even to phone in and request a song. 

[Andy Trieu technology update]

This is Andy Trieu, your science correspondent. Talkback 101.  Before April 17, 1967, engaging in talkback radio discussions was illegal in Australia. The rise of television in 1956 prompted radio to innovate, leading to the introduction of open line or beeper phone programs by stations like Melbourne’s 3AK and Sydney’s 2UW in 1963. However, these were shut down after six months due to legal restrictions on recording and broadcasting telephone conversations. The regulations were finally lifted on April 17, 1967, marking the birth of legal talkback radio. Pioneers like Ormsby Wilkins, Barry Jones, Mike Walsh, Buzz Kennedy, John Laws and Norman Banks reshaped radio’s schedules to embrace this revolutionary format. Despite early scepticism, talkback radio flourished, covering a range of topics from politics to health. 3DB even introduced a buy, sell and swap program named Tradio. Discover how this once-forbidden pleasure became the dynamic landscape of talkback radio in Australia. Back to you, Patrick.

Patrick McIntyre: So, after a lot of pressure from the industry, the government lifted the restrictions, and away we went. 

[ARCHIVAL: Barry Jones introduces his 3DB show and discusses road rules with a caller on the second day of legal talkback in Australia.]

Patrick McIntyre: People started calling in from everywhere, about everything. Some complained about “the youth”. 

[ARCHIVAL: Talk It Over with Pat Jarrett, with a caller voicing her concern about 'the barefooted youth of today'.]

Patrick McIntyre: Others tried to flog their carpets.

[ARCHIVAL: A caller offers a carpet square for sale on 3DB's Tradio, a buy, swap and sell talkback program hosted by John Anderson.]

Chris Arneil: Literally like Facebook marketplace for radio.

Patrick McIntyre: Now talkback had arrived, presenters had to figure out how to make it work. Here’s Chris Arneil, a curator at the National Film and Sound Archive.

Chris Arneil: Before the presenters became really adept at that, it was a real novelty. It was advertised in the newspapers as, 'Hey, talk to us about whatever you want.’ People would just call up and ask what night their bin night was. It was kind of like people didn't really know what to do.

Patrick McIntyre: Eventually, we all got the hang of it, and presenters began putting their own spin on the medium.

Chris Arneil: There was all sorts of like advice programs and gardening programs like there are today. It wasn't always as completely toxic as it might be today but it really kind of opened the democratic floodgates, having that citizen participation of media and broadcasting.

Patrick McIntyre: Talkback had something for everyone. Listeners loved hearing themselves – and people like them – on the radio. Politicians loved the direct access to voters. Prime Minister John Howard even set up a studio in his Sydney office just for doing radio sessions. And high-profile presenters loved the attention. For decades, two Sydney titans competed to be talkback’s top dog: Alan Jones, who won 100 ratings surveys in a row, and John Laws, famous for his golden Sennheiser microphone. 

Sometimes on competing stations – sometimes on the same one – they were always controversial – whether it was for how they insulted their own listeners on air, or how sometimes their personal opinions were actually paid for by sponsors.

Jones retired in 2020. Laws, who retired in 2007, is back on air at the age of 88, over on 2SM. These powerful personalities paved the way for the shock jocks who built careers by baiting their audiences. 

Chris Arneil: I think the [talkback announcers] that could manage to make a program out of it were really good at picking the calls that could either move their own agenda along or would bump against their own agenda but be able to make the callers look stupid. So it became sort of an art of that give-and-take two-way thing that a few have really succeeded in doing.

Patrick McIntyre: Talkback became a feature of radio’s new peak periods – the early morning and the late afternoon drive-time slot. NFSA curator Amy Butterfield explains.

Amy Butterfield: You sort of see radio was trying to figure itself out. Like, what can it do that TV can't do? And I think in this period, like car radios existed before the 1950s, but the car radio becomes really big [because] you can't watch TV while you're driving, so there's this time slot that TV can't use, but radio can. And it's the commute hour. You know, early morning, late afternoon. So they're trying to carve out a new sort of market audience share. It's a thing that encourages participation of older listeners rather than younger listeners. Talkback had a kind of different character early on. It wasn't explicitly about the news, or politics necessarily, or current affairs. People would talk back about all sorts of things.

Wendy Harmer: Oh, I've done a million talkback topics over the years. I'm the queen of talkback topics.

Patrick McIntyre: This is Wendy Harmer.

Wendy Harmer: I have been in the radio biz on the radio for about 17 years or so. Probably a bit more, probably almost 20, actually. From AM radio to ABC radio to commercial FM radio, so I've sort of been, you know, I know my way around a microphone by now. I've done, oh gosh, how many zillion sessions of talkback – there was one on Radio National I loved, actually. This was in the years of the Iron John movement and the masculinist movement and men going on vision quests and getting in touch with their inner masculinity, and I remember interviewing one of these blokes who took these men away for these visualisation sort of weekends and sessions, and he said that one of the little visualisations they used to do was imagine which flower their penis resembled. And so I had talkback on Radio National with guys going, well, a zinnia, because it's tall and it's straight, you know, another guy going, a rose, and then this guy gets on, and he says, ‘self-raising flower’.

Patrick McIntyre: Talkback wasn’t just entertaining – it also provided a sense of community, a place where listeners could process significant events together. 

Wendy Harmer: I remember the morning after Princess Diana had died, and I just sort of sat there and fielded for hours and hours, just women absolutely distressed and so sad and all crying, and I was crying too.

I remember on the morning of September 11, we asked all the drivers in Sydney to turn on their headlights in solidarity, and we just watched as the city lit up in front of our eyes from our tower in Bondi Junction. So, I have been behind the microphone when big seismic things have happened. And it feels like a real privilege to have been there.

Patrick McIntyre: Talkback’s ability to get listeners to share their secrets was unmatched for decades - until a new generation decided to let it all hang out on social media. But unlike social media, which is about projecting yourself to the world, talkback’s appeal lies in its sense of intimacy.

Wendy Harmer: Radio is a very intimate medium. I mean, you can't see me, I can't see you, so you do feel like it's very secretive.

Sally Cockburn: I'm talking directly into your headphones or, as it was in those days, your Walkman or your clock radio. It's the intimacy of it. That's why radio works. It still does. Radio builds communities.

I’m Dr Sally Cockburn. Some would know me better as Dr. Feelgood.

Patrick McIntyre: Sally is a real doctor – and it was one of her patients who worked in radio that gave her, her first gig. 

Sally Cockburn: She said we're about to do a sex program, and I put you up for the host job, and I said, ‘I don't know anything about sex’. And she said, what are you talking about? You're my GP; you know you do my pap smears. You prescribe my contraception la la la la la, and I said, 'Okay, let's give it a go.’

Patrick McIntyre: And the phones ran hot. 

Sally Cockburn: I used to trundle in there on a Sunday night at 9:30 for 10 o'clock, and microphones went on – we had to keep the telephones turned off until a moment before the show went to air because we would get inundated with calls. I thought that was normal. I used to get a sack of mail every week. I thought that was normal. 

People often say to me, oh, why did you talk about sex? You know, why did you go and do that? You're a GP. And I said because no one else would do it this way.

I wanted it to be fun. I didn't want it to be sneaky, dirty. But I needed to explain stuff, and I think one of the things I said a lot was, ‘Look, I'm a doctor, I'm a GP, I can talk about pathology. I can talk about the diseases, but when it comes to relationships, the only people who are experts in a relationship are the people in it.’

It needed to be real, and you know, it was frank. Well, it was as if you were going to see your GP. We’d talk frankly, and I used to say, I remember some people would ring up and say, ‘I've got a… can I say that word? And I said, well, I'm sure you can make it anatomical, and then you can say it. So it was really nice for people to be able to feel they could talk openly.

Patrick McIntyre: For every young person thrilled to finally get that excruciating question answered, there were probably parents equally thrilled not to be asked.     

Sally Cockburn: I think parents were probably quite happy their kids were listening to this. In fact, I had lots of parents writing to me saying, 'Look, we were listening in the other room.’

And I used to say, if you're a parent, you can use this as a springboard with your kids. But can I just say they're not just kids who are listening. I mean, we had many older people listening, wanting relationship advice. And I think that was really good to have older people as well.

Patrick McIntyre: People had been turning to the radio for advice since 1969 when Father Jim McLaren launched a Sunday night counselling show on 2UW and 2SM. It ran for more than two decades. And some listeners just kept calling in.

Sally Cockburn: I remember one woman; she rang over a period of about three months, I think, and she was in an abusive relationship. And she was trying to leave the relationship and she was, and she took strength from us. And her partner was evidently a police officer. So I don't know what state she was in now, but he was a police officer and told her no matter where you go, I will find you. You know, that sort of threatening stuff, and I told her, I said, safe houses are called that for a good reason, and I don't believe that the police officers know where they are. But you need support before you can go and you need to get some friends together. Anyway, she rang me; I don't know, it would have been three months later, and she left. She got out. She's not one of those statistics, which, let's face it, there are too many of. I think we were often taking the place of what are now the Lifelines and the 1800 numbers.

Patrick McIntyre: Sally discovered that radio is less anonymous than you might think.

Sally Cockburn: People stop me in the street even these days and say, usually after I've opened my mouth, often they don't recognise the visage. But they say, you changed my life, or you made me think differently about things.

Patrick McIntyre: Plenty of people were keen to talk about sex – but just as many were in the mood for love. Richard Mercer proved that with his phenomenally popular show, Love Song Dedications. 

Bonnie Leigh-Dodds: He never attempted to solve problems. He never tried to go, ‘Okay, I hear that this is, you're going through a divorce and you're unhappy, have you thought about like…’. He never pretended to be a psychologist. He literally just offered them an ear and often just validation. And then a Celine Dion song. And those are just such a beautiful trio, I think, just like validation, an ear and a love song.

Patrick McIntyre: This is Bonnie Leigh-Dodds.

Bonnie Leigh-Dodds: I'm a longtime fan of Richard Mercer and Love Song Dedications. And particularly at a time, I think, in the late nineties and early 2000s, where toxic masculinity or conversations around feelings, particularly for men, were not really commonplace, the idea of having this stalwart of radio lead the charge on being emotionally vulnerable. Like, stunning.

Patrick McIntyre: Richard Mercer had had a long career as a program director and announcer. But the baritone broadcaster didn’t become a household name until he hosted Love Song Dedications. During its 16-year run – from 1997 until 2013 on Mix 106.5 – Richard became known as the Love God.

Bonnie Leigh-Dodds: Like it was just in cabs. It was in takeaway shops. It was just kind of everywhere.

Tom Hogan: Yeah, he really took over our lives for a little while, and we love that. My name's Tom Hogan. I'm besties with Bonnie Leigh-Dodds.

Patrick McIntyre: Bonnie and Tom are the team behind the Missing Richard Mercer podcast.

Tom Hogan: It's just this thing that we loved, and we're just like, there's nothing else like that or at least at the time.

Bonnie Leigh-Dodds: Unashamed, like affectionate public love for someone, was just such a special find, I think and a little very specific pocket in Australian radio history that hasn't really repeated to that height; that extent.

Tom Hogan: We didn't just do a podcast. We did a whole show, and we toured it for a long time. And now we fend off anyone who's having a wedding who thinks that they can get him.

Bonnie Leigh-Dodds: Yeah, once every couple of months, we get asked for Richard's contact details from people who are like, yeah, but David and I got engaged on Love Song Dedications, so it's really important to us that we can reach him. We're like, it's not our job.

Patrick McIntyre: The format was simple. Listeners would call up and share their love story with Richard.

Tom Hogan: Someone will announce themselves and express their feelings, and he's just like, well, I've lined up Celine Dion for you. So, and they're like, 'thank you’.

Sound from a Love Song Dedications call.

Tom Hogan: There's one from like a kid who's in school and just wants to dedicate a song to someone he likes because she's got a great sense of humour and she kicked the ball to him. And we're like, oh my God, he didn't know what to do, so he called up the radio show, and it’s just so sincere about that. And he's just like, I finally get to do it.

Bonnie Leigh-Dodds: I think surprising for the time is the amount of queer dedications that come through on the show as well, which I think was just not a commonplace conversation, like a completely unpoliticised expression of love between two women. And so there was one, I think there's back to back where she calls one week, and she goes, I think I'm going to ask her to marry me, which was also extraordinarily beautiful knowing that at that point in time, same-sex marriage was not legal in Australia.

And then two weeks later, she calls up, and she's like absolutely on cloud nine. And she's like, Richard, I just want to let you know that I did it. I asked her to marry me. And she said yes, and I'm so happy. And he's like, that's great.

There is that, there's that beautiful dedication where somebody calls up and is like, Oh yeah, I want to dedicate one to the old ball and chain. And he just is like, what's she like? And, like, tell me more. And by the end of it, he's like, yeah, I really love her, and she's the best person I've ever known. And it's just in the space of 30 seconds; he has completely undone this piss-take to being like, I really love you. Have a good night. Coming home, baby. It's gorgeous.

Patrick McIntyre: Each call was followed by a song, but the music wasn't really the point.

Tom Hogan: We did manage to get in contact with him and sort of ask him a whole bunch of questions about what this was. And I think the songs was second place. I think for him, it was more about communication, and it was more about giving people space to talk. The song was just part of the format, but that sort of it became so intertwined. He sort of says that it was also for himself to sort of like get, like get better at understanding how to express and how to feel and what other people feel and so that is sort of part of it. You can hear his final dedication – he sort of says all this; it's like part of the final dedication is him saying, I was able to express myself, and I'm able to share love now, and I've got the words for it.

[Sound of final Love Song Dedication]

Richard Mercer: Well, that's our program for the last 16 and a half years. Thank you so much for supporting it and being a part of it. It's been one heck of a ride. I'm going to leave you tonight with one last dedication; this is very special to me because my lady Cherin, the lady I love, sent this in, and I just think it's beautiful, so I'll share this as my parting gift, and I hope you enjoy her words for me. Cherin writes, 'My dear Richard. I thought that I'd send this to you because as you wind down your show to move onto exciting new challenges, I thought that after all these years of you giving out other people's dedications, that you more than anyone deserve one. The thing is, it's hard to pick a song for your Richard because you are every song. You are music to me. But saying that there is a song that… [fade out].'

Patrick McIntyre: So where did all that love go? We still use music to express emotion – although you’re more likely to make a playlist than a mix tape these days. But did Love Song Dedications expose us as a country of hopeless romantics?

Bonnie Leigh-Dodds: I think his legacy is honestly just even cracking open the ability to talk about your feelings in a really public way. He created the idea of a radio personality that existed for good. And that we can connect to radio and we can connect to radio personalities in a positive way.

I'm thankful that there was a space for little romantic kids like me to listen to something and feel validated by the idea of big love. That's such a nice memory to have, is listening and hoping that maybe the boy I had a crush on would dedicate a song to me over the radio.

Tom Hogan: It felt so powerful back then. It just felt like people needed the outlet to express themselves.

Patrick McIntyre: When talkback came along, radio changed from being something you listen to, to something you engage with. By giving people a place to vent, to sell their goods, and to get life-changing advice, it helped connect friends and lovers, neighbours and strangers.

You can think of talkback as an early form of user-generated content, and the way it encouraged people to get personal influenced some of today’s most popular platforms.

Tom Hogan: Just having your voice transmitted felt like a powerful act, I think, which is, I guess, explains the podcast boom. And, out of the social media boom of your voice is relevant, you can express yourself, but yeah, it just, there was no other avenue.

Patrick McIntyre: Radio has always been great at bringing people together. And while the earliest programming was designed to get everyone listening, over time, radio also created places for communities to hold their own conversations. 

[Grab from next episode]

Angela Bates: when I lived in both Broken Hill and Alice Springs at various times, I love listening to the radio when I'm in those towns –  especially community radio, because everybody knows everybody and you're often hearing about stories that are really localised. They’re stories that have meaning and putting faces to the names of people and projects that they're working on.

In the next episode, we explore how community radio created a safe space for people often overlooked by the mainstream - like the queer community and First Nations Australians.

This has been Who Listens to the Radio? brought to you by the National Film and Sound Archive. Thank you to our guests, Wendy Harmer, Sally Cockburn, Bonnie Leigh-Dodds, Tom Hogan and, our NFSA Curators Chris Arneil and Amy Butterfield, and our science correspondent Andy Trieu. You can visit the Radio 100 digital exhibition at www.nfsa.gov.au. If you’ve enjoyed Who Listens to the Radio? don’t forget to rate or review wherever you get your podcasts.

[Music]

Who Listens to the Radio? was produced by Audiocraft for the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia.  

Narrated by Patrick McIntyre, with guests Angela Bates, Benjamin Law and Lorna Clarkson, our science correspondent Andy Trieu, and NFSA curator Nick Henderson. 

Credits: 

‘Stonewall Day Special 1988 and Beyond the Bars courtesy of 3CR 

1985 AIDS Candlelight Vigil Report courtesy of 2SER and Greg Reading 

Radio Redfern Bicentenary Protest Coverage courtesy of Radio Skid Row 

Aboriginal Radio in Aboriginal Country courtesy of CAAMA and David Batty 

Cinesound Review courtesy Cinesound Movietone Productions 

Who Listens to the Radio?’ theme music written by A. Pendlebury (Mushroom Music) and S. Cummings (Warner Chappell Pty Ltd) (APRA). Performed by The Substrates, and recorded at Schlam Studio Canberra with Jodie Boarder and Alexis Mallard (vocals), Danny Roberts and Gerard O’Neill (guitar), Andy Ryan (bass) and Glenn Elliott (drums). Recording and mixing by engineer Danny Roberts and arrangement by Andy Ryan and Alexis Mallard. 

Writing and research by Patrick McIntyre, Kate Scott, Ute Junker, Stephanie Van Schilt and Caris Bizzaca. 

Find Who Listens to the Radio? at the National Film and Sound Archive website or wherever you get your podcasts. This podcast is part of the NFSA’s Radio 100 celebrations.  

Who Listens to the Radio?

Episode 5 – Voices Carry

 

Patrick McIntyre: Wherever you are listening, if you're in Australia, you're on Aboriginal land.

At the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia, we pay respect to the elders and acknowledge their ongoing custodianship of the country where we made this podcast, and of the country you're listening to it on.

There is something really powerful about switching on the radio and listening to someone just like you.

Benjamin Law: When I moved to Brisbane as a wide-eyed 17-year-old, I started my degree, and I just really wanted to get as much experience in whatever media I could, and I started volunteering for 4ZZZ, and the show there was Queer Radio, and because the internet was still so slow at that stage the host, John Frame, would tell me about listeners who would drive for ages just so they could get reception to Queer Radio, to actually hear through the airwaves other queer people sharing their stories, us playing queer music, and that felt like a huge responsibility and honour, actually.

Patrick McIntyre: Hearing someone who shares the same problems and the same sense of humour helps build a feeling of community. 

Angela Bates: When I was at CAAMA Radio, I was working alongside Warren H. Williams, who's a well-known Aboriginal musician. And, I remember his dad, at the time, used to read the news in Arrernte language. I can't remember if it was Western Arrernte but remember when it got to the weather at one point, he said, ‘According to the Whitefella Bureau, the weather's going to be this because sometimes those forecasts they try and get it accurate as possible, but they're not always and Bush people know how to read the weather, probably sometimes better than the Bureau.’ So that was really funny.

Patrick McIntyre: The Internet has made it easy to find your tribe. No matter how obscure your hobby, there's a Facebook group for it. But before the World Wide Web was invented, it was the community radio that made people feel less alone. 

Nick Henderson: One of the things that I found through becoming involved in community radio is really getting to understand the value that community radio can have to individual communities, to individuals themselves and their sense of connection and their sense of being part of something bigger.

Patrick McIntyre: Community radio is a bit like an iceberg. Most of us only see the tip – one or two stations that appeal to us. In fact, there are more community broadcasters in Australia than there are commercial radio stations. And they have helped all kinds of Australians feel like they belong.

[Theme music]

Patrick McIntyre: You've tuned into Who Listens to the Radio? brought to you by the National Film and Sound Archive. I'm Patrick McIntyre, and this is Episode Five: Voices Carry.

With more than 450 licensed stations right across Australia, community radio is big. But trying to chart its history is difficult. Nick Henderson, one of the curators at the NFSA, explains why.

Nick Henderson: Community broadcasting comes out of a range of different areas. It didn't develop as this kind of neat sector, so there'd been a range of ways in which different parts of the community had agitated for more engagement and control. It's useful to look at what they were pushing against and what the scene was like in that earlier period. So in many ways, the Australian media market was quite conservative and looked to repeat a lot of the things in terms of inspiration off the BBC and of Britain and looking at both the government and commercial side over there.

[BBC sound clip]

Nick Henderson: You start getting a bit of a shift in the early 1960s with the rise of the music broadcasting services, MBS, in Sydney and Melbourne.

Patrick McIntyre: So why did it happen? It was partly about a new technology – frequency modulation, or FM. And it was partly about media ownership, with some proprietors scooping up more and more stations. 

Nick Henderson: So even though there'd been an expansion into the regions in different ways, there was also the consolidation of media through different media markets. You've got the Herald and Weekly Times, which had come out of the Murdoch's acquiring a whole lot of stations and, that consolidation, drive programming from metropolitan into regional areas using newspapers and pushing that out.

And then I guess you've got a whole shift. You've got the inspiration, coming through the development from a technical side of the FM band and the agitation more broadly, to look at ways to bring FM into the Australian context. 

Patrick McIntyre: Frequency modulation, or FM, was invented way back in the 1930s, but – not for the last time – Australia was slow to embrace the new format. Lobby groups such as the Listeners Society of NSW campaigned for years to get FM introduced. 

They knew the extra bandwidth would bring a whole heap of opportunities.

Nick Henderson: And so from the 1960s, inspired by different moves, perhaps more from the US, there was a desire to look at the way that educational stations could expand and promote educational efforts, particularly from the universities. You also have a whole range of what, at the time, was probably more likely to be called ethnic or non-English speaking background communities who were interested in getting more space in the airwaves. We're talking about communities who didn't have access to publishing in the same way. You also have a broader kind of interest in terms of community engagement with the sector that was particularly coming out of a student movement.

So, looking at the late 1970s, looking at the activism that came around in that period and the university context, there was a kind of real agitation to have youth engagement. They didn't see that the commercial or government broadcasters represented what their interests were. It's really all of these things coming together.

Patrick McIntyre: This push from groups who wanted to get their voices heard was happening right around the world. Some even set up their own – unlicensed – radio stations. It wasn’t that hard to get yourself onto the airwaves – much easier than trying to set up a TV station, anyway.

Illegal stations like Draft Resister at Melbourne University and People’s Radio at Monash University were part of a global wave known as pirate radio. 

[Andy Trieu Tech Update]

Now, a word from your science correspondent. That's me, the smart guy. 

Argh, me hearties! Whoops. Sorry, wrong podcast. Anyway, unlike legal community radio stations, pirate radio refers to the illegal broadcasting of radio signals without the proper authorisation of radio authorities. These unauthorised radio stations, often operating from ships or other mobile platforms, gained prominence during the mid-20th century, particularly in the 1960s and 1970s. These stations played popular music and often provided an alternative line-up to the more conservative and legal official programming of the time. While pirate radio was more popular in the United Kingdom and the United States, there were reports of it happening locally, too. In 1948, 'DIG: The degustation' broadcast anti-communist messages for 24 minutes, jamming Melbourne's commercial station 3UZ for 10 minutes! Back to regular programming

Patrick McIntyre: But what really kicked things off was when they finally got around to introducing FM in 1974.

Oddly enough, one of the key events was the introduction of Medicare. To explain the new system to people, the Government launched two stations, 3A and 2EA, broadcasting in various languages. 

Those stations were the precursor to SBS Radio, which today reaches an estimated four million Australians, and broadcasts in 68 languages.

Nick Henderson: It was really bringing in a whole range of threads. And there was a lot of work being undertaken by a lot of people: community groups, associations, and Government of different spectrums of politics.

And it was obviously a period of political flux as well with the Whitlam government, who did have a specific interest in community broadcasting, but who dragged their feet in different ways. So you've got the rise of SBS and you've got the shift of programming that happened with these licensed structures, which didn't really consolidate until the late 1970s.

Patrick McIntyre: These stations were run by volunteers on a shoestring budget, so there's not a lot of archival tape left – because they usually had to reuse what they had. But we do know that community radio was a game-changer for many minority groups.

Nick Henderson: Another side is also First Nations. Aboriginal broadcasting was also something that was really developing, particularly in the 1970s, inspired by a lot of these activities by the ethnic broadcasting side and by the kind of rise of educational and other sides, as an opportunity to engage communities of remote and disparate communities, as well as others to program in language, to language revitalization – a whole range of things that were going on.

[Sound of radio broadcast in First Nations language]

Angela Bates: When I lived in both Broken Hill and Alice Springs at various times, I loved listening to the radio when I'm in those towns and especially community radio because everybody knows everybody and you're often hearing about stories that are really localised. They’re stories that have meaning and putting faces to the names of people and projects that they're working on.

So I think they're a great source of information for local news, national news, and also world news too. So it's really important.

Patrick McIntyre: This is Angela Bates.

Angela Bates: I'm both a Māori and Aboriginal woman. My iwi on my mum's side is Te Whānau a Apanui and Ngāti Kahungunu, with links to Whakatōhea. On my father's side, my language groups are Malyangapa and Wanyawalku, with strong links to Barkandji country, which is on the Darling River, the Barker.

I grew up in Broken Hill in far western New South Wales, close to the South Australian border. And my traditional country is Mutawintji National Park and our links to country extend past Tibooburra, right up to the South Australian border and beyond.

Patrick McIntyre: Angela is the head of the First Nations department at Screen Australia and has worked in media for over 23 years.

Angela Bates: Being a country girl from the country, radio was a big thing for us, I think out in the bush. And I remember my dad used to call it the wireless, and we'd listen to it, mainly in the car, but my media career actually started out in radio in 2000.

Patrick McIntyre: Angela started as a trainee at the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association in Alice Springs, or CAAMA. It founded the earliest radio station fully run by First Nations people in 1982. 

Angela Bates: It's really important to have a voice and a platform for Aboriginal people to be able to talk about their issues that relate to us from our perspective instead of coming from a non-Indigenous perspective, but also, it was a great way to get communications out to communities, and for Aboriginal communities to broadcast in their languages.

Patrick McIntyre: There are now more than 100 First Nations radio stations, but CAAMA was the pioneer. They have always tried different technologies – from today's satellite and digital services to the cassettes they used in the early years – so that communities outside the broadcast area could hear their programs. 

And those programs have been remarkably diverse.

[Sound of Aboriginal radio]

Angela Bates: When I started my radio career, I started out as a trainee broadcaster. So I did like the Indigenous music show and an R&B show and things that I liked.

But very quickly I moved into the CAAMA newsroom and did a traineeship as a reporter. And I started up a legal show on CAAMA Radio. It was a weekly legal show, and it was sponsored at the time by the Northern Territory Law Society, and it was a really vital program in being able to give mob in the communities information about what their legal rights are in civil, criminal, and family law, so I think that was really important, especially because we have really high incarceration rates, and sometimes people are locked up just for not paying a fine and really minor incidences. That was a really important program.

Patrick McIntyre: Then there’s Beyond the Bars. 

[Clip from Beyond the Bars]

For more than 20 years, Melbourne’s radio 3CR has been broadcasting this show live from Victoria’s prisons. It features songs, stories, opinions and poems from First Nations men and women on the inside, connecting them with culture and community.

[Music] 

Another group finding their voice was the gay community. Here's Nick again.

Nick Henderson: Gay Liberation Radio Collective was part of the range of community groups that set up 3CR, and they had the first program in Australia in 1976 when the started started broadcasting.

[Audio from Gaywaves 1981]

You start seeing the kind of programs in the same way on the First Nations side; they were popping up all around Australia and expanding their programming from half-hour to three hours in a number of cases, often later at night.

[Audio clip]

But it was a regular program when most of the community publishing and media that was happening at the time was largely, at best, it was fortnight, but mostly it was monthly. So, the kind of timeliness and the ability to push information out around events, around actions and activity, protests and other things was quite significant.

So, it became a really important hub of information and networking.

[Audio clips from LGBTQIA+ radio]

Patrick McIntyre: In 1983, the first trans program, Gay Waves, was launched by the Australian Transsexual Association.

Nick Henderson: That ran for many years on a monthly basis, so they're creating space, they're giving voices, and you see them becoming these spaces for intersectionality, ensuring that there's equal women and men in terms of the representation. The Gaywaves program on SCR alternated generally between a majority of women and a majority of men in terms of their programming.

[Audio clips pushing for gay rights]

Gay Waves was quite significant in the Sydney context, partly because it was the first in Sydney. It started broadcasting initially with a half-hour slot in November 1979, but quickly moved to a three-hour slot, and that length of time allowed it to expand the type of programming.

[Audio clip with a song dedication]

They did a lot of interviews, and I guess they did a lot of engagement. They did a huge amount of work, educational aspects, particularly around HIV, there's a lot of humour, there's a lot of interesting music, they're interviewing musicians and business people and all range of people and for many who are involved, were also involved in other collectives.

Patrick McIntyre: Writer, journalist and broadcaster Benjamin Law started his career doing the night shift on a community radio queer program graveyard shift, 4ZZZ.

Benjamin Law: It was a little bit after hours. We could talk more candidly about queer things. But it was weird and hilarious as well because there were some moments where I was just like, 'Is this okay, what we're talking about?’ Or ‘Is this the way we frame stuff?’ Because I was just still a little baby queer myself. So as much as I'm hosting queer radio, I'm still learning about my queer identity and the queer community. And so I guess you're hearing me learn the ropes, both technically as a radio presenter and also as a queer person.

And there were just some hilarious moments where sometimes we would talk about sexual health and stuff. And because there was a big generational difference between the presenters, myself and Emma, who was the co-host, a straight ally, we would talk about sexual health announcements, blah, blah, blah. And then John, who was from another generation, he was just like, ‘and remember, before anal sex, it is important to void one's bowels,' and then they'd just be dead air because I didn't know how to respond and cut forward to now, decades later, I'm still not sure how to respond.

Patrick McIntyre: A huge amount of community radio is produced outside the major cities. Two-thirds of community stations operate in regional and remote areas. And that’s nothing new. The School of the Air was founded in Alice Springs in 1951 to provide education for kids in remote regional areas that didn't have enough population to sustain a school. For some kids living on far-flung cattle stations, the School of the Air was not just a virtual classroom – it was their only connection with the outside world.

And during emergencies like the 2019 bushfire crisis, public service radio is literally a lifeline. Unlike phone signals and the Internet, AM radio doesn’t collapse when too many people tune in – as this grab from the documentary series From the Embers makes clear.

[Updates from Braidwood emergency]

Patrick McIntyre: The problem is that AM radios are starting to disappear. And unless that changes, according to a recent Australian Government report, lives could be at risk. 

The report says AM radio has been essential during emergencies like fires and floods – including telling residents when and how to evacuate. The report says people in high-risk areas need to maintain those AM receivers.

Community radio is important in other ways, too. Community and alternative stations have opened career paths for those shut out of mainstream radio. For many years, that included women. Here’s Benjamin Law again.

Benjamin Law: From when I was listening to CFM, it would usually be a male voice or two male voices, and if you were lucky, two male voices and the token female! So it'd be like Whopper, Stavvy, and Libby. It was always that kind of combination. I remember when I tuned into Triple J, and then I heard way more female voices.

I heard Caroline Tran, I heard Helen Razer, I heard Judith Lucy, and in fact, Helen Razer and Judith Lucy being on the same show was such a big deal that they called it the Ladies Lounge, which was like really cutting edge at the time. Now you look back, and it would be retrograde if you do that. Now, it's two women on air; you don't need to shine a spotlight on the fact that it's two women.

I do think demographics and audience expectations changed over time, but I do wonder whether that's the case in commercial radio.

Public broadcasters, especially the ABC, have a long way to go, too. So when Beverly Wang and I started co-hosting Stop Everything.

Patrick McIntyre: That’s an ABC Radio National show and podcast devoted to pop culture.

Benjamin Law: We would get comments on social media from RN listeners calling us the diversity pick or questioning why it was that two Asians were co-hosting a show. And I think that's a reflection of the listenership, but I also think it's a reflection of the real lack of industry kind of awareness that we're such a multicultural nation, and media has taken such a long time to catch up, and I still think like it really hasn't. The streets that I walk down, especially in Australian cities, aren't like the line-ups of radio, whether it's commercial or public.

Patrick McIntyre: There’s another group that had to fight to get their voices onto the airwaves – young people. Youth station FBi Radio launched in Sydney in 2001. 

[Music]

Lorna Clarkson – who you might remember from episode three – was there in the early days.

Lorna Clarkson: When I started at FBI, I was actually one of the first presenters. I was the first presenter of Monday Sunset. I think it was on air the first day we were on air. So, really, at the beginning. A good friend of mine, Meagan Loader, was basically a station manager who set up the whole station. She'd been trying to get the station its licence many years prior to that.

So it was really exciting when FBi was awarded the licence. It was such a specific licence as well, which is what I loved. It gave it a very clear parameter, which was ‘this is going to be a youth station’. It was going to be run by young people for young people. So, it was very clear what the goal was from day one.

I think the existence of FBi after coming out of 2SCR was a breath of fresh air. 2SCR is an incredible station. I'm still on 2SCR, so I have a deep love for it, but it can't be everything to everyone. And while it was my youth station in the 90s, it wasn't the youth station it needed to be in the 2000s.

So FBi came along and had teenagers on air:16-year-olds for the first time coming on air and making the radio the way that they wanted the radio to sound, which can't come from a 30-year-old or a 40-year-old. It has to be ideated, imagined, and created by the person who wants to hear it. And that is how it should be.

Patrick McIntyre: And that's as good a way as any of describing community radio: made by the people, for the people. And if some of those people end up moving into mainstream media, well, that's a plus, too.

Angela Bates: We have so many successful programs and successful mob that at that time, really didn't get a look in from mainstream media.

I think the media has progressed a lot since I started out, and there are a lot more mainstream stations now featuring Indigenous talent, talking about Indigenous issues, and supporting Indigenous talent to be able to tell those stories, too, more importantly. So it's coming from an Indigenous perspective, from an authentic place.

Lorna Clarkson: Community radio is integral to allowing people like myself, who are probably passion-driven rather than career-driven, to open up that opportunity to try things out, to learn things on the job and to be able to watch and learn and do it in a way and in a medium and around a piece of content. Like for me, dance music, that makes sense to you.

I think sometimes when you look at or listen to commercial radio, it is so highly polished and it sounds quite orchestrated that you think, 'Oh, I can't connect to it myself personally’. But when I went into 2SER and later FBi, it was very much about you creating what you wanted to create on-air and having a point of difference. And that kind of less polish, more passion was actually the thing that helped these stations rise above, maybe what the commercial stations were offering for people like myself. So, people who are more specialist in their tastes or what they wanted to listen to on radio. So, I think the purpose of community radio and the fact that community stations exist, I can't say enough about how much they add to the integrity of not just music programming but journalism, the dissemination of information, and just giving alternative voices a platform to share stories, share ideas, and help our whole community open up their minds around who we live with, who we live next to, what people think, how they create.

I just hope that community radio continues to have a space and a very strong voice in Sydney, Melbourne, Australia, and around the world into the future because I think without it, we'd be very monocultural.

Patrick McIntyre: Thanks to community radio, a whole host of new voices made their way onto the airwaves. But now, digital technology and podcasts are pushing that frontier even further. 

In our next – and final – episode, we chart how digital tech has changed radio and what's coming next.

[Music]

This has been Who Listens to the Radio? brought to you by the National Film and Sound Archive. Thank you to our guests - Angela Bates, Benjamin Law, Lorna Clarkson, and NFSA curator Nick Henderson, and our science correspondent Andy Trieu. If you’ve enjoyed Who Listens to the Radio? don’t forget to rate or review wherever you get your podcasts. You can visit the Radio 100 digital exhibition at www.nfsa.gov.au

Who Listens to the Radio? was produced by Audiocraft for the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia.  

Narrated by Patrick McIntyre, with guests Siobhan McHugh, Fenella Kernebone, Jo Palazuelos-Krukowski, Chris Gilbey, Benjamin Law, Wendy Harmer, Bonnie Leigh-Dodds and Tom Hogan, our science correspondent Andy Trieu, and NFSA curators Crispian Winsor and Johanna McMahon.  

Credits: 

‘2JJ Opening Broadcast 19 January 1975 courtesy of Australian Broadcasting Corporation Library Sales 

From the Embers courtesy of Community Broadcasting Association of Australia 

Chat 10 Looks 3 courtesy of Chat 10 Looks 3 Productions Pty Ltd 

Stop Everything! courtesy of Australian Broadcasting Corporation Library Sales, Beverley Wang and Benjamin Law 

Who Listens to the Radio?’ theme music written by A. Pendlebury (Mushroom Music) and S. Cummings (Warner Chappell Pty Ltd) (APRA). Performed by The Substrates, and recorded at Schlam Studio Canberra with Jodie Boarder and Alexis Mallard (vocals), Danny Roberts and Gerard O’Neill (guitar), Andy Ryan (bass) and Glenn Elliott (drums). Recording and mixing by engineer Danny Roberts and arrangement by Andy Ryan and Alexis Mallard. 

Writing and research by Patrick McIntyre, Kate Scott, Ute Junker, Stephanie Van Schilt and Caris Bizzaca. 

Find Who Listens to the Radio? at the National Film and Sound Archive website or wherever you get your podcasts. This podcast is part of the NFSA’s Radio 100 celebrations.  

Who Listens to the Radio?

Episode 6 – What’s New is Old Again

 

Patrick McIntyre: Wherever you are listening, if you're in Australia, you're on Aboriginal land.

At the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia, we pay respect to the elders and acknowledge their ongoing custodianship of the country where we made this podcast, and of the country you're listening to it on.

For decades, one of radio’s defining features was its impermanence. You listened to it, and then it was gone. That was part of what kept you tuning in, of course – you didn’t want to miss that next magic moment. But it could also be really frustrating.

Back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, the solution was a clunky cassette recorder.

Crispian Winson: Like a lot of people I know my age used to get a cassette. A blank cassette and tape the songs I wanted off the right off the radio.

Patrick McIntyre: Not anymore. Digital technology has taken us into an era of instant gratification. You can access any audio you want from anywhere around the world, any time you want it – using the same device you use to book an Uber or order a meal. Among all its other uses, the mobile phone has also become the world's biggest audio library. 

Fenella Kernebone: I used to do this radio show on Radio National for a few years, and you'd be working for the week, and then you'd put it to air, and it would go to air for half an hour or whatever it was.

And then it would just be gone. And then it might go up online as a sort of something that someone could go back on later and stream, but you had to have your computer with you. You couldn't kind of take it with you. 

Patrick McIntyre: The digital revolution has radically reshaped our audio culture. The days of ringing up a DJ to request our favourite songs are gone. Instead, we log on to a streaming site and let an algorithm choose our soundtrack for us. 

So – if video didn’t kill the radio star, could the algorithm?

Well, it’s complicated.

[Theme music]

Patrick McIntyre: You've tuned into Who Listens to the Radio? brought to you by the National Film and Sound Archive. I'm Patrick McIntyre, and this is Episode 6: What’s New is Old Again.

It’s time to get digital.

Digital technologies have transformed the way media is produced, distributed and consumed. And that’s particularly the case with radio. In the 21st century, you can still listen to the radio over the good old AM and FM bands, but you can also stream radio over the internet. If you have the right gear in your car or at home, you can listen using Digital Audio Broadcasting, also known as DAB – where digital signals are sent over the airwaves on the VHF band... and you can even hear your favourite radio stars using radio’s great frenemy: the podcast.

Podcasting as we know it kicked off in the early 2000s, and its popularity was fuelled by the advent of portable MP3 players like the iPod – which was sort of like the great-grand-daughter of the transistor radio – which was launched in 2004 and from which podcasting took its name. 

[Andy Trieu tech update]

This is Andy Trieu, your science correspondent. Welcome audio adventurers to the podcast revolution – a digital treasure trove of the internet sea since 1999. A podcast is a digital audio file that's available for streaming or downloading on the internet. These are transmitted through RSS feeds – Really Simple Syndication. While the technology existed in 1999, it was in 2001 that Dave Winer introduced enclosure to RSS feeds, allowing the inclusion of audio, video and PDFs or ePubs. He demonstrated this on his blog Scripting News, embedding a Grateful Dead song.

[Music]

Nowadays, many stations broadcast live and then upload these shows to an RSS feed as a podcast, getting the best of both worlds. Back to regular programming.

Patrick McIntyre: Serial is a podcast produced by influential American media non-profit NPR. It made its debut in 2014. Serial is widely acknowledged as the real game changer for podcasting, showcasing the on-demand episodic more-ishness of the form, and helping to popularise one of the dominant narrative genres of our day: true crime. Just four months after launching, episodes of Serial had been downloaded 68 million times – and that rose to 80 million a year later.

The stunning viral success of Serial announced podcasting as a new cultural phenomenon, and it wouldn't be long before everyone – from amateurs with a mic at home to multinational conglomerates – would be releasing new material and in an increasing variety of genres and forms, including drama – harking back to the golden days of radio plays. Some people confidently predicted podcasts would be the death of radio. Of course, they’d said the same thing when television came along. And they were wrong this time, too.

Siobhan McHugh: Podcasting has obviously had a huge impact on established radio. And in one sense, I see podcasting and radio as absolute siblings – very connected in many ways.

Patrick McIntyre: This is Siobhan McHugh, a narrative podcast producer, award-winning author, oral historian and academic.

Siobhan McHugh: In terms of the way that radio has responded to podcasting, I mean, if you look at it historically at the beginning, it was just a big boost for established radio because they could amplify their listenership by time shifting their original content.

Patrick McIntyre: Many early podcasts were more-or-less, like taping things off the radio: recordings of live broadcasts you might have missed that you could download and catch up on later at your own convenience. But soon, new players were using podcasts to compete with radio.

Siobhan McHugh: I think what took a lot of these broadcasters by surprise was the upstart nature of new entrants into podcasting. People who had not had the imprimatur of established radio, people who just shoved the door open themselves and started doing whatever they wanted to in the podcasting space.

Patrick McIntyre: There is a lot of overlap between podcasts and radio, but also some big differences. Here is NFSA curator Johanna McMahon, who we met in episode 3.

Johanna McMahon: I think about what radio meant to me as a child or a teen. For example, when I was in the early 2000s, it was a very different audio experience of all listening to the same thing. And I think that's really changed really quickly.

Siobhan McHugh: There is an actual podcast quality that is different from radio that has its own distinguishing characteristics, and radio has since been, I think, in one sense, trying to catch up with that. They have got kind of an enhanced intimacy factor because of the mode of consumption, for starters. So most people listen to podcasts one to one, often listening in a private space, in their ears through headphones. Whereas radio was more of a collective in the home activity or, in the car, a kind of almost communal space. Podcasting also is a curated space, so there isn't that flick on the switch and find out what's on. There's a very much opt-in choice. What do I want to listen to? Who do I want to have a relationship with? This is the crucial factor. The host in podcasting is absolutely front and centre in the success of podcasting and the relationship they have with listeners.

Patrick McIntyre: Scroll through your favourite podcast app, and you'll find plenty of well-known hosts. For some, podcasts are part of their radio gig – like Richard Fidler's Conversations on ABC Radio.

Others, like Hamish and Andy, have left broadcasts behind and now just do podcasts.

And some use podcasts as a break from their serious day jobs. 

Grab from Chat 10 Looks 3 https://www.chat10looks3.com/podcast/ep224

“Oh, hello, this is Annabel Crabbe… and this is Leigh Sales. Welcome to our first podcast.

Yes, I'm trying to think of something more illuminating to say, but that just about sums it up (laughter).”

Patrick McIntyre: In the 10 years since that first episode launched, Leigh Sales and Annabel Crabbe’s Chat 10 Looks 3 has shown just how big an Aussie podcast can become. It has spawned best-selling books and sold-out live shows. But those two were already household names. Some of Australia’s most popular podcasts are hosted by people who, not that long ago, would never have got a gig on the airwaves. Because that’s the beauty of podcasts – anyone with a recording device can make one. You don’t need to be a media professional. As long as you know how to talk to your audience, there may be a spot for you on a platform like LiSTNR. 

Many of these podcasts are what’s known as chatcasts or chumcasts. The idea is that you’re eavesdropping on a chat between friends. Which is not unlike one of radio’s favourite formats, those banter-heavy morning and drivetime shows.

Take Stop Everything with Beverly Wang, for example.

(insert grab from Stop Everything) 

Patrick McIntyre: Then there's long-form storytelling. This is Benjamin Law, who we heard from in episode 5. He also happens to be the previous co-host of Stop Everything with Beverly Wang. 

Benjamin Law: The fact that we have serial narratives and investigations that take time, and you can follow the investigations live as they actually happen. The fact that I think radio has found this really interesting marriage between entertainment and education and edification. I think for a long time, radio needed to be very, very serious, or it was completely frivolous.

And I think radio, a lot of the stuff that I listen to, gets you in with a really good narrative hook that's fun in order to bring in the Trojan horse of something that's much more serious, the stuff that TV and writing has done for a really long time. We're seeing that in radio now. And I think radio is taken seriously as a narrative form.

So, as someone who comes from a writing and now screenwriting background, what I'm excited about is radio, which is really pushing storytelling in general. It's not just news and music; it is as important as those two things are. It's about Australian stories, and I'm really looking forward to seeing what Australian stories are platformed next.

Patrick McIntyre: And while listening to podcasts is usually a solitary activity, charismatic hosts can inspire the audience to create their own community. Here’s Jo Palazuelos-Krukowski, whom we met in episode 2.

Jo Palazuelos-Krukowski: I think when you have a cultural event like Serial, it comes back to, like, ‘oh, let's all listen to this together. Let's all experience this together as a community. Let's let it impact us.’ And we have to process it with other people.

We don't just want to keep it to ourselves. So I think when we love something, we listen to it together. And I think that that really shows in the way we handle this media.

Patrick McIntyre: Siobhan McHugh agrees.

Siobhan McHugh: At the same time, listeners are creating these peer-to-peer relationships via social media and building a sense of community around a podcast figure or a podcast show, which is kind of taking it out of the hands of the production and the institution that was behind, say a radio program. They don't have any gatekeepers in podcasting, and that is one of the defining strengths of the medium and one of the exciting things about podcasting, which, unfortunately, like all innovations, can also be abused. And so, on the one hand, the great openness of podcasting and its accessibility to almost anyone to have a go at being a podcaster can be leveraged by people with malevolent intent from my point of view, people who want to use it to perpetrate bigotry or hate speech or whatever.

Patrick McIntyre: For Fenella Kernebone, that looseness of podcasts highlights radio’s dependability.

Fenella Kernebone: There is something to be said, I think, for national broadcasters and for community radio that goes through stringent protocols as part of their licenses in order to help people like myself know that this is trustworthy information. I can listen to it. I can disagree with them sometimes, and I can go and find out who they are. So, it's transparent, and there is an element of trust.

Patrick McIntyre: Podcasts are now one of the most pervasive forms of audio experience to spring from new digital technologies – and Australians now are among the most enthusiastic podcast listeners in the world – surpassing the Americans in 2021. 

But it took a while. Unlike our rapid take-up of radio in the 1920s and 30s, Australia was relatively slow to get digital. 

Sound of a dial-up modem.

Patrick McIntyre: Let’s go back to the late 1990s. It’s an exciting time. Sydney is gearing up for the Olympics. There’s this new thing called the internet that is opening a world of possibilities. And a couple of industry veterans have a bright idea.

Here's producer, executive and music industry legend Chris Gilbey.

Chris Gilbey: I was born in England, and when I came to Australia, at that time, I was making my way in the music business, and I just had reached a point where I went; I don't want to be in this game anymore.

And I'd become very interested in technology, and by 1997/98, I got together with a few of my friends: one of them was Barry Chapman, who had been at Triple J, Ian Rogerson, who'd been an announcer DJ on Triple J and prior to that on Triple M. And I think we probably were drinking, smoking joints, doing whatever we did back in those days. And saying, ‘What are we going to do? Where does this go?’ And I know that Ian Rogerson and I really had together this idea for an online radio station.

Patrick McIntyre: By 2000, they were ready to launch. They had recruited some of the biggest names in the business: Angela Catterns, Ian Rogerson, Helen Razer, Debbie Spillane, Michael Tunn. What could go wrong? 

Infrastructure – that’s what went wrong.

Chris Gilbey: There was virtually no broadband. There was a promise of broadband from Telstra and others. Back then, we were optimistic and thought, ‘Oh, it's just around the corner,' and I knew people at Telstra who were engineers and business development people who kept saying to me, 'It's coming, Chris, it's going to be great.’ So we started putting together this idea in anticipation of being able to stream music. Of course, when you want to look back on it, it was pretty bloody… what can I say? It was very basic. Not necessarily how you'd invent the future. But that's what we were doing.

Patrick McIntyre: Trying to deliver a seamless audio experience via dial-up modem? Big problem. But that's not the only problem. Change is hard – especially when the bright new ideas are local and not imported from an overseas head office. 

Chris Gilbey: The response from the music business was pretty much what I expected. They were... paranoid; they were like hedgehogs, put their heads into the ground and put up their quills to try and protect themselves from the future. Record business consistently tries to protect itself from the future and consistently fails.

And then we had to do a deal with the record companies, the publishing companies, in order to get licenses.

In terms of community access. I think the telcos were very keen to see us succeed because they wanted there to be a pool for broadband. But at the same time, they didn't provide us with any of the infrastructure to enable that to happen. We were naive. I think pretty much every entrepreneur out there is naive to start with. 

Patrick McIntyre: BigFatRadio weren’t the only ones trying something new. Around the same time, another short-lived start-up, Kgrind, promised video channels dedicated to everything from music to surfing to extreme sports. BigFat Radio and Kgrind are great examples of Australian innovation way ahead of their time – unfortunately for them, just too far ahead of their time. 

Nowadays, we largely have our broadband issues sorted, and almost all media we consume is on digital platforms. Streaming is so dominant in the music industry that the Top 40 sales charts now count streams as well as sales. 

And it’s not all about the major music platforms like Spotify or Apple Music. These days, many people are discovering new tunes on video-sharing platforms like TikTok or YouTube. While still important, radio has lost its crown when it comes to making hits. In the UK in 2023, BBC1 ignored Kylie Minogue’s single, Padam Padam.

[Grab: Kylie Minogue, Padam Padam]

Patrick McIntyre: … even after it had topped the charts there. A million TikTok memes broke the song and put Kylie back on top. Targeted by outraged fans, BB1 eventually relented and added to the song to its playlist, tail between legs. 

Nevertheless, radio has proven its resilience. Australians are amongst the world’s top consumers of podcasts, but a large percentage of the population still tunes in to radio. And it’s not just the oldies. In fact, more Australians aged between 12 and 34 listen to the radio each week than use TikTok.

NFSA’s curators are busy capturing the changes in the medium for future generations. Here’s Johanna McMahon again.

Johanna McMahon: Interestingly, when we're thinking about collecting radio, one of the first things we looked at as a way to preserve radio was using the podcast versions, because then they're more easily available. Like Hamish and Andy, for example, and then the limitation of that is that radio is a live broadcast medium. And that is part of it, which has obviously changed a lot over the last few decades but is essential to its nature as well. And so needing to figure out how to capture and preserve something that is live broadcast. Podcasts don't cut it when it comes to preserving it, I don't think. I do think podcasts are incredibly important and need to be preserved in their own right. But I think, when we're thinking about preservation of radio, you need to be able to capture that live broadcast medium.

Patrick McIntyre: And at the archive, we also need to be thinking about what happens next. Perhaps Jo Palazuelos-Krukowski has heard the future – and felt it.

Jo Palazuelos-Krukowski: I do think we're going to find new and exciting ways to play with sound and to create that sense of connection. I went to a fantastic show – they had haptic feedback suits that you could put on so you could feel the music in your body. So it was synced up to what was happening on stage, and perhaps moving forward, radio and aural media will become that, there'll be a linking to that sensory experience and how scary would it be to listen to a horror radio play in a haptic suit.

But yeah, I just think there are so many avenues for it to expand, and I just really hope that we go back and use these old traditions that they don't just disappear, but we build on them, and we make them our own because they are so rich. They do speak to such important cultural moments.

Patrick McIntyre: This is a great point. Throughout its 100 years in Australia, radio has both led change and adapted to it in a constant interplay of culture and technology. But the basic human urge to listen, just to listen – to a story, or to music – has remained a constant. Whether it's through a big brown piece of furniture in a 1930s suburban lounge room, one show at a time, or on your mobile phone, whenever you like and wherever you go.

And radio has survived. It’s there to connect you for the big moments, and it’s a quiet voice in your ear during your downtime. We asked our brains trust if radio can keep competing in a world addicted to images.

Chris Gilbey reckons radio’s ability to transport us guarantees its survival.  

Chris Gilbey: Sound still remains, in my view, a far more important and immersive aspect of our environment than vision. It's a medium that enables you to move out of your own mind and into a bigger space without distracting you. That's really out there. I mean, it really is. The theatre of the mind is enabled by your ears.

Patrick McIntyre: Siobhan McHugh agrees.

Siobhan McHugh: Sound is the first sense we acquire in the womb and apparently the last sense to leave us when we die. We're often told we can hear the voice even when we can't respond. And even film people acknowledge the power of audio, the overriding power of audio. They can have all the beautiful visuals they want, but if the audio soundtrack is off, it won't work. It won't connect with people.

Audio can still quieten a room and reach people in a place that no other medium can. And that is its superpower and its secret power. And that will always endure because it's a primal connection.

Patrick McIntyre: For Wendy Harmer, it’s the immediacy that’s radio’s greatest strength.

Wendy Harmer: I tell you what, when something happens, when there's an earthquake or when there's a fire or when there is a disaster of some kind, or when there is a celebration, everyone is going to switch on the radio because they know that's where they'll find the most immediate up-to-date news. That's where they'll find eyewitnesses who are on the spot. That's where they'll find reporters who are out and about in a heartbeat. And so, you know, that's where we will all gather. And I think that will happen for many years to come.

Patrick McIntyre: Benjamin Law looks forward to radio becoming even more inclusive.

Benjamin Law: I think it's going to be more diverse. And I think diversity is a buzzword, but by diversity, I mean, we're going to hear from so many more people because radio has become incredibly democratic very recently when you think about it. In the past decade alone, the podcasting revolution means that there are so many voices on air that we just wouldn't have caught otherwise: people from disability backgrounds and people from different parts of Australia. I mean, we're a unique multicultural country to an extent, but the fact that we have so many hundreds of languages spoken here and that there is an outlet that at some part of the day will broadcast in your mother tongue like that's extraordinarily important.

Patrick McIntyre: It isn’t just what we listen to that makes radio important; it's the way it makes us feel, according to Jo Palazuelos-Krukowski.

Jo Palazuelos-Krukowski: It's what radio scholars call a care medium. It's a medium that kind of makes us feel taken care of.

Weirdly, even when you're listening to horror radio, you feel like you're being taken care of because the narrator's always like, sit down, get comfortable, turn out your lights. The human voice is like an index of presence.

Patrick McIntyre: We’ll give the last word to Bonnie Leigh-Dodds and Tom Hogan – the diehard romantics we met in episode four.

Bonnie Leigh-Dodds: I think radio is shifting, but it's always kind of shifted with what's happening in the wider landscape.

Tom Hogan: I think even if it's niche, and it survives, then it's still powerful. I think the people who love radio love radio, and therefore it can't. It's not going to disappear. And I say that about so many art forms in general. It's just like, people thought the radio play was dead, and then it's like, podcasts are just everywhere. I mean, I also just love it. I think that's the thing. I think it does allow communication.

Bonnie Leigh-Dodds: I think we've got another centenary ahead of us.

Patrick McIntyre: Who listens to the radio?

We do.

According to Edison Research’s Infinite Dial study, Australians are world leaders when it comes to time spent listening to radio. 79% of us listen every week. That’s higher than in the US, Canada and New Zealand. 

Why are we such a nation of audiophiles? Is it the good old tyranny of distance, the need to bridge the city/country divide? Sure, that may be a factor. Although now we have cellular, satellite and internet, we're pretty plugged into the rest of the world. 

Three in four Australians say that the radio is more important to them in summer: in backyards, on beaches and on the road, lazily keeping an ear on the cricket, the Hottest 100 and maybe a nearby bushfire threat. 

But here’s a thing. Three-quarters of Australians reckon that radio and audio help build a sense of community. And it’s interesting to note that Australian-made podcasts that dominate the charts. The Australian Podcast Ranker, put together by industry peak body CRA, shows that of nine of our top ten podcasts are Australian. Pretty striking when you compare it with the most popular shows at the movies, on TV and on Netflix.

Audio is a real-time medium. It's the way we listen to what's happening around us while it's happening. 

It’s a local medium – letting us tune in to neighbourhood traffic reports and supermarket specials, lovelorn neighbours and angry voters. It’s the sound of us speaking amongst ourselves.

And maybe that’s why we want that voice in our ear to speak in a familiar accent. 

And so, we keep on listening to the radio.

This has been Who Listens to the Radio? brought to you by the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia. Thank you to our guests, Siobhan McHugh, Fenella Kernebone, Jo Palazuelos-Krukowski, Chris Gilbey, Benjamin Law, Wendy Harmer, Bonnie Leigh-Dodds, Tom Hogan, and NFSA Curators Crispian Winsor and Johanna McMahon, and not to forget our science communicator, Andy Trieu. You can visit the Radio 100 digital exhibition at www.nfsa.com.au. If you’ve enjoyed Who Listens to the Radio? don’t forget to rate and review wherever you get your podcasts.

Marking the centenary of radio in Australia, The National Film and Sound Archive presents 'Who Listens to the Radio?' – a podcast about technology and culture.
 
From the first radio broadcast…

[Sound of music]

To the birth of the teenager…

[Fans screaming]

To the invention of the podcast…

Welcome audio adventurers to the podcast revolution!

'Who Listens to the Radio?' dives into the rich audio culture that shaped our nation. We ask all of the important questions like ‘did video kill the radio star?’

They would just murder it in the best way possible.

‘Can you speak with the dead through radio waves?’

People thought that there was something inherently magical about being able to magically record sounds and voices.

And of course, who, actually, listens to the Radio?

When something happens, when there’s an earthquake or when there’s a fire or when there is a disaster, when there is a celebration, everyone is going to speak to you on the radio because they know that’s where they’ll find the most immediate, up-to-date news. That’s where we will all gather.
 
Find 'Who Listens to the Radio?' at the National Film and Sound Archive website, nfsa.gov.au, or wherever you get your podcasts.