100 Years of Broadcast Radio

AUSTRALIANS watched many countries start radio broadcasts, though we were not idle, with many amateur experimenters and large companies like AWA running test broadcasts.

Early development

Australia’s world-renowned opera singer Dame Nellie Melba gave her first broadcast recital on 15 June 1920, from Marconi’s factory in Chelmsford, UK. She was shown around the factory, including the tall aerial tower on the roof. On seeing the height, she said, “Young man, if you think I am going to climb up there, you are sadly mistaken!” 

Government permission

A conference was called by the Postmaster-General’s Department (Need to explain here, use of initials in text below: PMG. – or, explain below.] for May 1923 in Melbourne. The conference unanimously decided on a scheme that became known as the “Sealed Set Scheme”. This meant Radio stations should make their own subscription charges. The most controversial feature of the sealed sets was that only one of two stations could be received.

The stations pushed the federal government for this feature, thinking it was a brilliant idea – forcing listeners to only their station(… to their station only… ?). 

The first Australian broadcast

At 8pm on the evening of the 23rd of November 1923(evening of 23 November 1923), people in Sydney heard 2SB make the first radio broadcast in Australia. 

The first broadcast date was incorrectly quoted over subsequent years; however, most – including the newspapers at the time – credit 2SB as the first fully established station, with corporate backing, well-published regular programs and receivers available at a range of radio stores. Commercial radio broadcasting, with paid advertising, commenced in 1924.

Melbourne’s first broadcasting station was 3AR

Built by AWA for Australian Broadcasting Company (ABCo), with the transmitter located at Braybrook, the station’s studios were located on the roof of the Melbourne Herald newspaper office. The following year 3UZ Melbourne was licensed, followed by 3DB Melbourne in 1926.

The sealed Radio receiver system was an outstanding failure. 

It was replaced in 1924 with “open all stations reception”: Class A stations received revenue from licence fees paid by listeners and from limited advertising, while all revenue for Class B stations came from advertising.

In 1929, the federal government acquired all Class A stations, which were then operated by the PMG with programming supplied by the ABC. 

Radio went on to become a massive industry, with millions of radios in Australian homes and vehicles. The transmitting system was AM (Amplitude modulation) – still in use today; in fact, 3AW AM is regularly the highest rating Melbourne Radio Station. 

Vintage AM radios in wood, Bakelite or plastic cases are collected by the 1,200 members of the Historical Radio Society of Australia (HRSA). An estimated 30,000 early radios are in HRSA member’s collections, many painstakingly restored to working condition. 

Digital does not fully replace AM 

Unfortunately, digital radios often don’t have AM reception – not desirable, as Digital Radio has many black spots and there are millions of AM radios in homes. Further, AM radios continue to be the best way of notifying people about fires, floods and other disasters. 


For more information on the HRSA, please contact Kevin on Ph 0435 378 678.