There were many compounding factors that led to the format’s immediate success and take up by other stations across Australia. The introduction of television to Australia in 1956 meant that many serials and quiz shows, a mainstay of radio at the time, could now be seen ‘with pictures’ in the home, so radio audiences were dwindling.
Postwar prosperity, the advent of rock’n’roll, advances in recording formats and transistor radios led to an expanding popular music audience, hungry for the latest singles (mostly from the United States - the first Australian Top 40 chart featured no Australian artists). The new format was also a breeding ground for young Australian artists and the eventual pop music boom of the 1960s.
Most saw the new format as a necessary change for radio - John Laws described it as the ‘music boom that had to happen’ - although it required many stations to abandon their traditional audiences, and the change was not without detractors. After 2UE introduced the Top 40 format, rival Sydney station 2GB did the same in order to keep up in the ratings.
Ben Coombes, Macquarie Network executive at the time, said of the change, 'Myself and Bert Button, who was manager at 2GB, all thought this was crazy. It didn't appeal at all to 2GB's traditional audience, which was a middle class, middle-aged group … I was so disappointed.'
Des Foster, also at 2GB at the time, stated '2GB still had a very large pool of loyal listeners, mainly older people who were resistant to change. So really whatever we might have gained on the one hand with programming more oriented to the television age, we lost on the other as we alienated those older audiences.'
In this clip from his oral history interview, Henry Gay, former program director at Melbourne's 3AW, describes the rapid take-up of the Top 40 format across the country and how it was implemented at 3AW: