Australian Broadcast History:
The first station in Australia to Commence Service was 2SB (Broadcasters (Sydney) Limited) in Sydney, NSW, (Licence No.3) which went to air on 23 November, 1923. They changed their Callsign to 2BL on 9 February 1924 due to confusion by listeners with 2FC Callsign)
Broadcasters (Sydney) Limited’s 2SB was the first station to Commence Service,
the first licence (No.1) was issued to Farmer & Co’s 2FC on 27 August 1923. 2FC
Commenced Service on 9 January 1924.
Farmer & Co was a Sydney department store (which was later taken over by Grace Bros and then Myers). It was developed by Earnest Fisk of AWA (Amalgamated Wireless Australasia), a radio company which had been conducting experimental radio broadcasts since 1919 with lectures and demonstration of wireless communications to the Royal Society of NSW in Sydney on 13 August.
Fisk's company desired to sell sets sealed and tuned to only one frequency, and to provide the programming. His company held many patents which other set builders would need to license from AWA, who were keen to see multiple sets per home.
objections by the Wireless Institute which represented experimenters' views, the
Fisk proposal was accepted and "sealed-set" broadcasting started.
2SB only passed on the 10 shilling PMG license fee, as it was being subsidized by retailers selling the sets. 2FC however charged 3 pounds and three shillings (approx $6.30).
The two Sydney stations were followed by 3AR in Melbourne (Victoria) on January 26, 1924, 6WF Perth (Western Australia) on June 4, 1924, 3LO Melbourne on October 13 1924, and 5CL Adelaide on November 20 1924.
Public acceptance of the sealed-set system was best described as "underwhelming." Sets were scarce - fixed tuning made set design more difficult and unpopular. By mid 1924 there were only about 1200 sealed-set licenses issued, but over 5000 people had applied for an Experimenters License. Furthermore, it took the ingenious Australians about two days to figure out how to jimmy open the 'sealed sets' and rig them to receive anything they wanted to hear....
On the 17 July 1924 new Regulations were signed by the Governor General which put an end to the Sealed Set Scheme and allowed open receivers. The existing Licences approved at that time became Class A Stations and new Licences would be issued for Class B Stations.
The first twelve
months of radio broadcasting in Australia has been comprehensively researched,
using original sources, by Ron Langhans and published as an eBook (PDF).
It is freely available from the Historical Radio Society of Australia website (http://www.hrsa.asn.au) at this direct link
The 1927 Royal Commission into wireless broadcasting came about from listener dis-satisfaction with the programming and coverage of the manufacturer/retailer driven services. It recommended the licence fees be pooled, and that the larger stations (Class A stations) should co-operate to provide better services and wider coverage. The tactic would "equalize" the service across the country, with larger capital-city stations effectively subsidizing the smaller country-town stations. Of course, the larger stations refused to agree to this Government scheme.
In mid-1928, to break the impasse the Government established the National Broadcasting Service to provide the service and coverage the existing stations were unwilling to provide. This service was funded by a compulsory license fee, chargeable to all owners of radio receivers. As licenses for the larger (Class A) stations came up for renewal they were cancelled and reissued to the National Broadcasting Service - with their transmitters and studio equipment being purchased by the Government. (Imagine that happening today!!)
The Postmaster General's Department was given the responsibility of running the new service. (At that time the PMG provided postal and telephone services.) To complement the license-fee funded Class A stations, a Class B Licence was established for privately run stations which would not have access to license-fee revenue but would be allowed to carry advertising and become the Commercial Stations we know today.
The first B Class Licences to Commence Service were 2UE (Electrical Utilities), Sydney on 26 January 1925, followed by 2HD (Mr H A Douglas), Newcastle on 27 January 1925, and 5DN (Mr E J Hume), Adelaide on 24 February 1925. Claims by 2BE (Burgin Electric Co) that they Commenced Service on the 7 November 1924 (the day their Licence was granted) is not supported by Archive records and a more realistic date would be after July 1925.
Back to the past ... it became politically difficult to sustain the PMG's running of the National Broadcasting Service, so on July 1, 1932 the Government established the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) to run the National Broadcasting Service. The ABC still exists today as the prime National radio and television broadcaster and still operates (amongst many others) those stations "snatched" from the early entrepreneurs ... such as 2BL, 2FC, 3LO, 3AR. ABC radio & TV signals are available to all Australian residents - via radio, television, and the VAST satellite service, and more recently online streaming and smartphone apps.
In 1975 the Government established "ethnic" broadcasting. The aim was to provide broadcasting in the "homeland" language of migrants to provide important settlement information. The catalyst for this was the start of a universal medical health-cover scheme called Medibank - and the need to get the necessary information to non-English speakers. It was cemented into Government policy by the establishment of the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) in 1977 to run 2EA and 3EA as multi-lingual radio stations. The SBS was later to expand into "multicultural" FM and TV broadcasting.
In 1980, the ABC became a Corporation - The Australian Broadcasting Corporation by Act of Parliament. This provided more flexibility in staff practices, fund-raising and operation. For example staff are no longer tenured Commonwealth Public Servants with all the inflexibility entailed, and it is able to engage in some entrepreneurial activities for fund raising (concerts, merchandising, facility hire etc), but is still prohibited from accepting `Australia.
The fortunes of the commercial "Class B" stations have waxed and waned. Often, when viewed purely as businesses they have been poor performers, with many stations in major markets running at a loss for long periods. Yet, they have always managed to survive as an important part of Australian Radio Broadcasting.
AM stereo came in the early '80s, when Australian AM'ers were being creamed in the ratings by the FM stations. AM stereo was viewed as a potential savior in the face of FM competition. The DOC chose Motorola C-QUAM as the standard (with Kahn and Harris Systems as options). Regular operation started in about 1985, and continued into the 2000’s, fading out as interest from broadcasters and listeners waned.
Through the fifties and sixties there was some experimentation with FM broadcasting, but no significant activity. Towards the end of the '60's imported audio equipment with FM reception capability was becoming common -fuelling a demand for the "HI-FI" performance of FM transmissions. The Government held an inquiry into FM broadcasting, recommending in 1972 that FM broadcasting be introduced.
However, it was not in the internationally accepted VHF band, but in the UHF band. This was seen as a way to promote local receiver manufacture; also, a big chunk of the 88-108 MHz band was already in use for a couple of TV channels and Air Navigation aids.
Fortunately the UHF proposal soon fell by the wayside, under the weight of the huge installed user-base of internationally standardized VHF receivers in the public’s hands.
There was not a lot of interest in FM broadcasting by the existing AM'ers, so it was offered to fledgling community broadcast groups for non-commercial (subscription and limited sponsorship funded) broadcasting. Commercial ("mainstream") broadcasting was planned for the future, and it was understood that before this could happen the 88-108MHz band would have to be cleared of its non-radio users. Over the years the mantra of "Band II Clearance" was heard around the radio industry.
In 1975 the
concept of community broadcasting on the FM band was launched, with licenses
granted to organizations which would fund their operations by listener
subscriptions and limited sponsorship on-air mentions. One or two frequencies
were available for each state capital city, and typically they went to a
fine-music society, and a Student's Union. (e.g. in Brisbane, Queensland's
capital city there was 4MBS (licensee - Music Broadcasting Society) programming
classical music, and 4ZZZ (licensee -
University of Queensland Students' Union) programming wild progressive rock and left-wing political commentary - as you might find in a University student body of the 'seventies.
After a few years of community broadcasting, the Government announced plans for commercial FM stations. In July 1980 the first commercial FM station 3EON (now 3MMM) in Melbourne took to the airwaves, followed closely by 2DAY-FM and 2MMM in Sydney, 3FOX in Melbourne, 6NOW in Perth and 4MMM in Brisbane in August, and finally SSA-FM in Adelaide in September.
During the 1990s and early 2000’s the radio broadcasting industry took great interest in the establishment of digital broadcasting in Europe (a “new band” system using the Eureka Project 147 DAB system), and the US (where various “in-band” on-channel and adjacent-channel digital systems were being trialled and introduced).
In 1998 the
Government announced that digital radio, using the Eureka147 system (DAB) would
be permitted, following trials in 1998-9. Trials were conducted in Sydney and
Melbourne, and the planning commenced. In the first phase of the rollout,
existing National, Commercial and City-wide Community broadcasters would be
allocated “slots” in multiplexes in the major state Capital cities (Sydney,
Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth). By the time these services went to
air, the DAB+ standard had emerged, utilizing AACplus, which provides higher
audio quality at significantly reduced bitrates compared to the original DAB’s
MPEG Layer II.
DAB+ was the standard adopted, and this allowed broadcasters to add significantly more services without impairing the quality of their primary simulcast service.
These services went to air in early 2009, with official launches across the states in May 2009.
As at the time of writing (2017), trial broadcasts have been established for several years, and are continuing in Canberra and Darwin, with planning underway for a further rollout to regional areas.
More details on Digital Radio in Australia can be found on the DAB+ website, the ACMA Digital Radio Planning section, and the WorldDAB Country information section.
Broadcaster - The ABC:
The ABC (AKA "Auntie") took much of its style (and programming) from the
BBC (hence the affectionate nickname). Whilst it crasser commercial
neighbors were taking their style from the US stations, the ABC was very
much an "outpost of Empire" broadcaster. Any programming not originated
locally would typically be bought in from the BBC. The ABC took its charter
of providing radio services for all Australians very seriously. In each
metropolitan centre (State Capital) it provided two radio services, best
described as one mainstream (drama, quizzes, sport, variety music) and one
highbrow (classical music and drama, speeches and debate, and Federal
parliamentary broadcasts!) - but both were very different from the
These services beamed out on MF at 50KW omni for the mainstream and 20KW
omni for the highbrow. They were well engineered services, with the best
low-end frequencies and 5/8 wave top loaded (capacitive-hat) masts for
maximum groundwave coverage .. and they covered wide areas(and still do).
As well as their metro stations the ABC had regional stations in major
provincial centres (3 or 4 per state) which together with the metro
stations blanketed most of the country with at least one ABC service. The
"regionals" took selected parts of the two metro stations and combined them
into one program adding their own local material for their region - usually
news and rural affairs material. Sometimes in the smaller towns a "relay"
station was set up. This was just a low power (200watt to 500watt)
transmitter fed by landline with the same program going to air on the
FM broadcasting and another tier of broadcasting:
Television broadcasting started in Australia in September 1956 - although it took about ten years for TV to reach all areas of Australia. Each regional center had at least one commercial station, and one national station (run by the ABC) per market.
Early regulation of broadcasting had fallen under the jurisdiction of the Postmaster-General's Department (the PMG). Mr (later Sir) Earnest Fisk of AWA (Amalgamated Wireless Australasia) - successfully lobbied the PMG to mandate a system of "sealed sets" - fix tuned to one frequency.
For listeners there was a 10 shillings (approx $1.00) Govt license fee, plus whatever subscription charges the broadcaster levied - then you had to buy/rent the "sealed-set" ... and repeat the process for each station you wanted to listen to. (However there was an experimenters clause which allowed experimenters to build multi-station sets for a license fee of one pound (approx $2.00)-but they were also expected to pay the stations' subscription fees.)
In July 1924 the PMG's Department abandoned the sealed-set rules, permitting open tuning sets to be manufactured and sold.
In 1927, a Royal Commission created the National Broadcasting Service, the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC). The ABC held Class "A" licenses, the commercial stations had Class "B" licenses. This set in place two tiers of broadcasting - (The designations Class A and Class B have disappeared from use - now they are just known as ABC stations and commercial stations) - which still exist today. In the early 1970's "Community" stations (funded by voluntary subscriptions and grants) were added. And in the 90's, a narrow-cast class of stations was developed, usually commercial but licensed to target only a defined audience - business, tourist, ethnic group.
The current regulatory body is the Australian Media and Communications Authority
Call letters: Australian stations have call signs that identify the state by number:
|2||New South Wales||2BL, Sydney|
|5||South Australia||5DN - Adelaide|
|6||Western Australia||6PR - Perth|
|7||Tasmania||7LA - Launceston|
|8||Northern Territory||8HA - Alice Springs|
While all licenced stations
have a nominated call-sign, which appears on their licence documents, many
stations have adopted positioning slogans (“Classic Rock”, “Hits”, “Talking
Lifestyle” etc.) which they use on air in lieu of their callsign.
My sincere thanks to Peter Smerdon for his large contribution to this page.
Revisions April 2017 by Peter Smerdon & Ron Langhans.