NFSA curator Thorsten Kaeding

Interview with a Curator

Interview with Radio 100 Curator Thorsten Kaeding

Thorsten Kaeding reveals what he unearthed through Radio 100, including the pros and cons of the immediacy of radio, how it paved the way for television, why more people need to know about the role of women during the Golden Days, and more.

This feature is part of the NFSA's Radio 100 celebrations


What does radio mean to you?

Like most people radio was and is an integral part of my daily life. As a young adult it helped shape my musical tastes and how I saw myself in the world and it still has the power to inform and educate me so many years later. I remember listening on my portable radio and cassette player, waiting for the latest song I was into, fingers poised to hit record so I could fill my mix tape and share with friends.

When I started working at the National Film and Sound Archive one of the first projects I worked on involved sending blank audio tapes to radio stations around the country, hoping they would have time to tape their programs and send them back to us for archiving. It was extremely hit and miss – now though, we capture over 18,000 hours of radio via DAB and internet streams each year.


Radio is designed to be listened to in real time. What challenges and benefits did that pose for Radio 100?

The immediacy of radio posed a couple of major challenges for our Radio 100 project and for the collection and preservation of radio in general. Firstly, so little of the early years has been preserved as it went straight to air without being recorded. It was not until transcription discs for radio serials, and later the advent of audio tape, that we started to have a more indicative record of what went to air.

Secondly, the nature of radio as an ephemeral media has resulted in radio stations and staff not always recognising how important it is to record and preserve content. So much has been lost because no one thought it important to record programs and when they did, the audio tapes were constantly reused over the years (deteriorating their quality).


What has been an item in the Golden Days collection that resonated with you?

I love the behind-the-scenes newsreel that shows how cricket broadcasts were simulated in the early 1940s. Before live broadcasts, the action was relayed by cable and read out by a commentator with accompanying sound effects. I particularly like the effort that went into providing an entertaining and exciting experience for the audience despite the technical limitations. It shows how radio has always risen to the challenge of giving the audience what they need.

I’m also a massive cricket fan, so that may have something to do with it too.

Fox Movietone Newsreel Cricket Broadcasting: How it's Done, 1940. Courtesy: Cinesound Movietone Productions. NFSA title: 28040

In what ways did radio lead the way for television?

The content on early television such as drama, game shows, variety, comedy and news were all pioneered in radio. Much of today’s television content still harks back to formats developed in radio during the 1930s to 1960s. Most of the first big stars of Australian TV started their careers and honed their skills on radio.

Without our vibrant radio industry, television in Australia would have taken much longer to hit its stride. Many writers, actors, producers, and production companies transitioned seamlessly from one medium to the other. Yet even with the drain of talent and formats from radio to television, radio was able to reinvent itself and stay relevant in our lives.


What is something about the Golden Days of radio that isn't talked about enough?

The incredibly important role of women during the Golden Days is something that isn’t talked about enough. A prime example is Grace Gibson and the Grace Gibson Production Company. Set up by Grace in 1944, it went on to become one of the most successful production houses for radio drama in the world. There was also Gwen Meredith, who wrote all 5,795 episodes of Australia’s best-known and most-loved radio series Blue Hills from 1949 to 1976, as well as all the stars in front of the microphone including Queenie Ashton, Amber Mae Cecil and Binny Lum.


Is there an item in the Golden Days collection many Australians might still recognise today? E.g. jingles, ads. 

I’m sure everyone would recognise one of our earliest and still most successful advertising Jingles, the Aeroplane Jelly song. Written in 1930, the version we have is from 1938 and sung by Joy King. At seven years old, Joy won a competition to sing the jingle and it’s her version that has become best known and most loved over the years since. At one point during the 1940s the jingle was played over 100 times a day on Sydney radio.


What have you enjoyed most about working on the Radio 100 project?

I’ve loved diving into our fantastic radio collection and re-discovering just how diverse and fascinating it is. I’ve also enjoyed researching and recognising how significant radio has been in our lives over the years, how resilient and adaptable radio is, and how it has found, built, and maintained diverse communities.

I’ve also enjoyed the process of sharing this unique collection and celebrating just how special radio is with everyone. Mostly though I’ve loved working with my archive colleagues, whose passion, drive and commitment has made the project an absolute joy.



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Main image: NFSA curator Thorsten Kaeding.