Radio Amateur Hour

Celebrating UNESCO World Radio Day
 Chris Arneil

We're celebrating UNESCO's World Radio Day with a selection of clips from Australia's Amateur Hour, a pioneering talent show that became a pop-culture phenomenon. It was heard across Australian radio stations from 1940 to 1958 after beginning on home station 2GB Sydney, hosted by Harry Dearth. Read a preview that was published in The Australian Women's Weekly ahead of its debut.

Dick Fair took over as compere when Dearth joined the air force in 1942. By 1950, Fair had moved to 2UW to host a similar program, and Terry Dear (pictured above) became the host of Australia's Amateur Hour until it ended in 1958 after a total of 925 episodes. The format was also adapted for television in 1957, but it only lasted seven months.

Australia's Amateur Hour was broadcast nationally, as well as on Radio Australia and a number of war theatres. During the year the program travelled around the country, showcasing local talent from a different town or city each week. The finals were held at the end of the season in Sydney. Just like today's reality shows, listeners voted by phone (as well as by letter).

According to John Potts in his 1989 book Radio in Australia, the program was derived directly from the American show Major Bow's Amateur Hour, and its lengthy run allowed Lever Brothers to obtain an Australian record for continuous sponsorship of a program.

Potts says that its success 'has been attributed to its basic idea of "Australians entertaining Australians" (the winner of each show was determined solely by listeners' telephoned or postal votes), and its combination of raw talent and human interest embodied in many of the contestants'.

Several popular performers made an appearance, including Johnny O'Keefe, Jimmy Little, Olive and Eva, Rolf Harris, Frank Ifield.

Potts explains that 'a great diversity of aspiring talent (including Aboriginal and ethnic contestants) was paraded before the listeners, all with the sense of the program actually venturing into the heart of the land, investigating every corner in the search for Australian raw material, the whole enterprise being transmitted everywhere in the nation. Especially during the tension of wartime, Australia's Amateur Hour both comforted and reassured its listeners as to the strength of the "national spirit" embodied in the project the show entailed.'

Visit our Curated Collection to listen to clips featuring:

  • Chad Morgan
  • The Trinamics - a quartet featuring Keith Potger, later of The Seekers
  • The Reading Sisters featuring guitarist Walter Pitt (brother of Georgia Lee)
  • George Hill
  • Albert Namatjira
  • 'New Australians' Paula and Olga Perledo, from Greece.