Gaywaves community radio

Gaywaves lives on: Preserving pioneering community radio at the NFSA

Preserving Gaywaves radio at the NFSA
 Chris Arneil

The NFSA has developed a project to ensure the preservation of LGBTQIA+ radio in our collection thanks to a bequest from the estate of Dietmar Hollman, a former presenter and producer of Gaywaves and gay rights activist.


Gay voices on community radio

Did you know that Gaywaves, Sydney’s first gay and lesbian radio program, went to air in a time when homosexuality was still illegal in New South Wales?

The NFSA collection includes a large number of episodes of Gaywaves, which was heard weekly from 1979 to 2005 on Sydney community radio station 2SER.

Gaywaves was Sydney’s first regularly broadcast gay and lesbian radio program and was considered groundbreaking when it went to air in November 1979, a month after 2SER started broadcasting and a time when male homosexual behaviour was still criminalised in seven out of eight states and territories.

The independence of community radio allowed those voices that were often absent from the mainstream media to be heard regularly for the first time.

The program illustrated various aspects of the gay liberation movement in the Australian context through interviews with community representatives, coverage of events such as HIV/AIDS rallies and Mardi Gras festivals, music, talkback, news, current affairs reports and even two radio dramas. Gaywaves also played a global role by sharing stories and content with the internationally distributed US radio program This Way Out.

Listen to an excerpt from the first live broadcast of Gaywaves in January 1980:

Excerpt from the first live broadcast of Gaywaves, January 1980. Courtesy: 2SER. NFSA title: 820493


Obscenity Ruling

Gaywaves was not without controversy. The Australian Broadcasting Tribunal (ABT) classified an episode of the program dedicated to lesbian sexuality from November 1982 as ‘indecent and obscene’, ruling that ‘the broadcast of the detailed explicit descriptions of sexual activity and of physical reactions in the program the Lesbian Sex Special offended to a substantial degree the sexual modesty of the average man or woman in the Australian community’.

The broadcast was subject to investigation by the ABT after two complaints, and the offending program was unable to be rebroadcast as a result, although the Gaywaves team took the risk and did it anyway for the program’s 20th anniversary special in 1999, after the ABT was abolished.

Jackie Randles interviews Prue Borthwick on Media Magazine about the ABT obscenity ruling:

Jackie Randles interviews Prue Borthwick on Media Magazine about an obscenity ruling by the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal, 1982. NFSA title: 506172


'A shared space'

Gaywaves ended in 2005 after 25 years on the air. Presenter Tim Govers told The Sydney Morning Herald that ‘people . . . used to listen to the show when they were young and it helped them come to terms with being gay. A number of people have told me they came out on air by calling the program so it’s been a significant part of people’s lives.’

In 1999, Greg Reading and Susan Hawkeswood discussed the program’s early years:

In 1999, Greg Reading and Susan Hawkeswood discuss the early years of Gaywaves. Courtesy: 2SER. NFSA title: 820602


A passionate collective

Gaywaves was run by a passionate and diverse volunteer collective, including longstanding members Michael Schembri and Uma KaliShakti, who worked on the program for many years; broadcaster and activist Julie McCrossin, whose first broadcasting job was with Gaywaves; and Greg Reading, who was with the program continuously throughout its quarter-of-a-century run.

Radio presenter Dietmar Hollman at the 2SER panel
Dietmar Hollman at the 2SER panel, c1987-89. Courtesy: 2SER 107.3. NFSA title: 1002527

Dietmar Hollman joined Gaywaves in February 1985 and worked on the program for more than 15 years as a presenter and program producer.

Hollman was a member of the New South Wales Gay Rights Lobby during the gay law reform campaign in the early 1980s, and was later encouraged to join Gaywaves by union activist Jerry Davies. Hollman donated his collection of Gaywaves recordings, posters, photographs and other documentation to the NFSA in 2009, and before he passed away in August 2012 he chose to support the NFSA with a bequest.

In accordance with his wishes to preserve recorded sound from the radio broadcasting collection, we have been able to focus on preserving and sharing Gaywaves and other LGBTQIA+-related radio recordings from the NFSA collection.

In this clip, Dietmar Hollman discusses the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) with American activist, film historian and author Vito Russo on Gaywaves in 1988:

Dietmar Hollman discusses the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) with American activist, film historian and author Vito Russo on Gaywaves,1988. Courtesy: 2SER. NFSA title: 819028


A valuable bequest

We gratefully acknowledge what Dietmar Hollman’s bequest has made possible. The bequest will allow the NFSA to:

Gaywaves float at the 1994 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade
Gaywaves float at the 1994 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade. Courtesy: 2SER 107.3. NFSA title: 1002519

● Digitise all analogue sound recordings and related documentation of the Gaywaves series (over 160 episodes spanning 1985 to 2001 held on both compact cassette and VHS tapes) and all other LGBTQIA+-related radio recordings in the NFSA collection

● Supplement these recordings with detailed information, listing program contents and interviewees

● Collect significant retrospective LGBTQIA+-related radio programs

● Focus on collecting contemporary LGBTQIA+-related radio programs, including: Melbourne gay and lesbian community radio station JOY 94.9 and 2SER’s joint broadcast of the 2014 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, and 3MDR Mountain District Radio’s commentary of the Pride Cup, an AFL match held for the first time this year to celebrate sexual diversity.

Through his generosity, Dietmar Hollman has guaranteed that he and other pioneering voices of Australia’s gay liberation movement will be able to be heard by future generations. 

Listen to more clips in our Gaywaves curated collection or in the SoundCloud playlist below:


Recordings from the radio program Gaywaves, which ran from 1979 to 2005 on Sydney community radio station 2SER 107.3. Courtesy: 2SER 107.3. Image from the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives badge collection.


This article was first published in 2014. The text was updated in 2023.


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