It’s funny how we get so used to things in our lives that it would be difficult to imagine life without them.  There are plenty of things in the modern world like this, so ingrained into everyday living that we almost forget that they were not always there. 

Radio, FM or AM, is one of these modern wonders now so normal we forget that it was one of the most profound influences on the twentieth century Australia.   The wireless, as it was for so long known, had its first test run in Sydney in 1919 with the first station, 2SB (Sydney Broadcasters, later 2BL later 702ABC) going to air on a regular basis in November 1923.  This was quickly followed by 2FC broadcasting from the department store Farmer & Co in December and then 2UE in 1925, Australia’s longest running commercial station. 

These were all AM, or Amplitude Modulation stations, broadcasting on a low frequency.  Although the stations did not broadcast far, they did transform the way people interacted with the world. 

While at first the broadcasting was aimed at a male audience it was soon realised that there were plenty of women out there listening as well, especially during the day.  Programs were changed to suit this new audience, with programs on motherhood, practical psychology, health, cooking and beauty tips all being broadcast during the day. 

At night, news and radio serials took over with the family gathered around their free standing radio. 

The latest in 1930s radio technology

 Blue Hills and the Goons became long time favourites. The radio became a companion in the home.

In 1953 the invention of the transistor radio made the radio portable, just in time for the arrival of rock ‘n’ roll. Talkback radio began in 1967 allowing people to finally have a say on air.  Up until that time it had in fact been illegal to have talkback as it was deemed to breach broadcasting and recording laws.  But once they were on air the talkback hours quickly increased, making household names of some broadcasters and seeing some stations go all talkback.

While talkback grew, so too did music, especially rock.  Although 2UE introduced the Top 40 in 1958, it was 2SM that was Sydney’s biggest rock station.  Run by the Catholic Church (SM standing for St Marys), 2SM moved to 24 hour broadcasting in 1963 and were instrumental in bringing out the Beatles in 1964.

The big change to radio came in 1974 when regular FM (Frequency Modulation) services began with 2MBS FM in Sydney.  FM allowed better, clearer and stronger broadcasting.  2JJ began in Sydney in 1975 (going national in 1990) as a youth broadcasting service, 2Day FM and 2MMM began in 1980.

Poster for JJJ

And of course FM allowed for new, independent specialist stations to emerge.  None finer then Fbi,  broadcasting full time since August 2003, and, on which if you listen very closely Friday mornings at 8.15 you might just hear Sydney’s surface being scratched every week.

Want to know more?  Check out Michelle Arrow’s book Friday on our Minds or Bridget Griffen-Foley’s Changing Stations: The Story of Australian Commercial Radio.

And if yhou want to get involved in history in Sydney this week, its History Week 2010.  A program is here at www.historyweek.com.au

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