Radio – Perth (1933-1937)
Our radio listening (in 1933) was on crystal radios, which we would build and then fit them into cigar boxes. The things we could do with a cigar box. They were made of cedar, and we kept in them our odds and ends, our cigarette cards, our stamps and our old coins. We used headphones to hear local radio stations 6WF, 6ML, 6PR, and 6IX. On clear nights we could get SA stations like 5CL Adelaide and 5CK Crystal Brook.
Crystal sets were bought, or made up from kits or parts swapped between friends. Attach an aerial wire and a set of headphones and you were ready to receive. Success or failure depended on the “cat’s whisker”, the wire forming one contact of the crystal in the set. The “whisker” was used to find the right reception spot on the crystal. Any slight vibration and you lost contact. You had to move the “cat’s whisker” around till you again found your station. The crystal had to be kept clean so it was handled with a pair of tweezers. Its safest home was a dust-free glass tube. You had to listen intently in your headphones as any outside noise was disturbing. It was possible to use two headphone sets.
Day and night our entertainment backstop was the wireless. You could buy a “6 Valve-All Wave-Kriesler (Cabinet)” for 30 pounds ($60) if you bought from retailer Arthur Pidgeon, well-advertised as “The Bird For Wireless”. If you did not have electric power then you could get a battery-operated receiver for $70 from the well-known retailers Stott and Hoare. Ten or more weeks wages for a radio then, but now a twin-speaker hi-fi set for the weekly average wage or a transistor radio for the pay equivalent of half an hours work. My radio was a 5 valve mantel model ($37 new) and gave me a good deal of pleasure with its variety of entertainment.
There were several radio stations in this State in the 1930s. 6WF (Westralian Farmers) went to air in 1924 as the first in WA and five years later the station (was sold to the ABC) took the title of 6WF National. Till late in 1930 it had not been possible to have a telephone conversation between the Eastern States and Western Australia and this gap in communications was bridged when the East-West telephone line was built and officially opened with a conversation across the continent between our own Premier, Sir James Mitchell, and Postmaster-General Joe Lyons, later (1932) our Prime Minister. The significance of this event for the broadcast listener in this State was that important speeches by both political and community leaders could be received over the transcontinental telephone and then broadcast over 6WF.In 1932 the Australian Broadcasting Commission was created under Commonwealth legislation and it took over several capital city and country stations as part of a plan for the expansion of broadcasting services. In 1933 a new one-way East-West channel between 3LO Melbourne and 6WF was opened to help meet the public demand for relayed music programmes and special features. It was to be 1942 before a reversible channel (West-East) would be opened.
People I remember from the ABC around 1934 include the announcer Roy Glenister, Dorothy Graham and the pianist Phyllis Blott. Dave Howard, that wizard of the saxophone, could have been with 6WF at that time, but certainly later. An almost unknown instrument now, rarely heard now on its early launching pad the ABC, the sax was a delight to the ear. Dave Howard could make it talk. Among the “talkers” on the ABC was C C Wicks, the football commentator. Others were Reg Russell who did the trots, and Keith Gollan with his commentaries on the races. Keith grew up with horses and later rode many winners on the flat and over hurdles. He was a top race caller and sports writer (“Orme” of the Daily News).
“Actuality” or “on the spot” broadcasts such as the 1934 London to Melbourne Centenary Air Race won by Scott and Campbell-Black in the DH88 Comet, and the Royal Visit of the Duke of Gloucester, brought the outside world into our homes before we saw the movie newsreels of the same events. We had descriptions of Sheffield Shield cricket from the Eastern States and, after 1934, the Tests. In 1935 it was the series against South Africa which came to us about teatime, free of decisions that mix up sport with politics. Whether the cricket match was played in England or South Africa the synthetic broadcast came from the ABC studio in Sydney. The ideas man was the ABC’s Charles Moses and the story has been well-documented by Alan McGilvray and others since then.
West Australian, Saturday 6 October 1934, page 22 – The Royal Visit Source: Trove
The brief explanation is that coded cables were sent direct from the overseas cricket ground to the ABC in Sydney where a team of three or four commentators unscrambled the messages and went to air as though they were at the ground. They bowled every ball, hit every run and made every catch or stumping. With the help of an innovative sound effects team you heard the ball hit the bat and the applause of the crowd for a good piece of cricket. All our regular programmes were ignored when the Test cricket was on. After a few minutes of each night’s broadcast the ”synthetic” description, helped by a little bit of static, sounded so real that we settled down for a good night’s cricket with a mental image of Lord’s or wherever to add the final touch of reality.
6ML (Musgroves Ltd) the first (1930) commercial radio station was popular listening for the crystal set users. There would have been around 4,000 or more users tuning in with a ”cat’s whisker” to precisely locate the new station. A sister station, 6IX, came on air in 1933 and it was the first station with a sporting service and with popular music. The 6IX manager was Bryn Samuel who gave commentaries on boxing and wrestling, cricket and tennis, as well as doing the regular announcing. The other commercial station was 6PR (on air 1932 – Correction 1931). It was located at 86-90 Barrack Street over the showrooms and offices of the station owners, Nicholsons Ltd.
In 1935/36 Alwyn Kurtz (also known as Alwyn Kurts) became an announcer with 6PR. I used to tune in to his breakfast program where he had the help of “Tiger” to wake up the sleepyheads with a roar or two, and roar he did. Alwyn took over the children’s session, Peter and Pongo, and gave the kids plenty of fun on that show. Around 1940 Kurtz moved to the East and joined 3XY. From radio he went to TV and who can forget his performances in the TV show, Homicide. Over the years he had a regular involvement in television and became known to most TV watchers. He had come a long way from spruiking outside the Ambassadors Theatre in Hay Street and from demonstrating handy household gadgets in the big stores. One such job involved a product to stick leather soles on shoes. He had the personality to be a success. Early in 1988 he was still doing TV work, at 72 (he died in 2000, aged 84).
Some advantages we had over present-day radio listeners were the detailed radio programmes in the weekly magazine the Broadcaster. When you knew the radio programmes for the week ahead you could plan your listening day by day to include hearing your favourite singer or band, much better than you can today. A typical page in the Broadcaster would read off its programme details for you:
“POPULAR SONG HITS”
8.52 – “Sweet Georgia Brown” – The Pickering Sisters
9.2 – “Jerome Kern Medley” – The Savoy Hotel Orpheans
9.6 – “Shadow Waltz” – Bing Crosby with Jimmy Grier Orchestra
9.10 – “My Song Goes Around The World” – Frederic Bayco – Organ
9.42 – “It Isn’t Fair” – Gracie Fields
10.10 – “Vienna City of My Dreams” – John Hendrick – Tenor
10.15 – Session of new recordings released by Regal Zonophone.
Note: If reception conditions are favourable this programme may be interrupted from 9.30pm to take a re-broadcast of European short-wave transmissions.
Dance music programmes included the popular local bands playing at well-known city and suburban venues such as the Embassy and the Palais de Dance, Cottesloe (also known as Palais de Danse, on the site of the now Indiana Tea House), from where Ron Moyle and his band broadcast regularly. I remember going to the Embassy for the first time and getting my two left feet into action. I think it was Maxine Gorman who started me off on the Polka. It was a case of everybody up to madly dance around the floor. I improved over the years but not enough to give Fred Astaire any worries. The Embassy Ballroom was a popular place to go and people would crowd up the stairs, or try the little lift, on their way to one of the pre-booked loges, something like a theatre box, or to the best seats they could find. At home you could often listen to dance music coming direct from one dance venue or another, till the radio stations closed usually between 10.30 and 11pm.
Timetabled programmes enabled me to chase across the radio dial and tune in to my favourite singers, Bing Crosby, Deanna Durbin and Dick Powell. In the 30s we came to know the words of all the popular songs and could sing along with the stars or the band music, and whistle most of the tunes. Messenger boys and truck drivers, motorists and pedestrians, were all liable to burst out with a few bars of something in their contribution to making our city a happy place to move about in.
In the spring weather St George’s Terrace always had an air of well-being about it as city workers and shoppers enjoyed a lunchtime walk in the sun amid the chatter and laughter of their fellows. Today the Terrace hears no song save the cacophony of noisy motor cars and trucks, the grinding take-off of buses and the crackle, pop and roar of motorbikes. You see the people waiting at the bus stops looking no different to the same people waiting for transport on the main streets of Moscow or Leningrad. Not a smile on their faces, just a look of resigned acceptance of the situation as it is, as they sit or stand in the wind-swept tunnel created by the “reach for the sky” philosophy of the architects and city planners. A little more foresight may have given us an open city spreading from the Swan River to Hyde Park rather than a Perth where the theme has been, “Up, up, and away”, to the music of “Anything you can build I can build higher!” “No, you can’t!” “Yes, I can!” “Yes, I can!” “Yes, I am!”
So much for a comment along the way. We may have had a nice sunny St George’s Terrace to meander along and happy songs to help blow our troubles away but we also had wireless licences to pay. A fee of 21/- ($2.10) or so was charged, with half of that going to the ABC to keep it going. The fee was about 25% of the (weekly?) male wage and 50% of the female wage. When the fee was first levied in 1932 (licences were introduced in 1923, in 1932 the ABC was established) the number of radio licences issued across Australia was 450,000 and 37,000 of these were in WA (Note: unverified). Licences were abolished in 1974.
In the mid-1930s the Perth ABC news bulletins were produced locally with the station announcers reading local and overseas news straight from that morning’s West Australian. The newspaper proprietors gave their approval for this new form of newscasting. Later in my life the West Australian became, to me, the best paper in Australia. Its coverage of foreign news was far superior to any in the other States. The orderly and predictable arrangement of other news and articles or special features right through from the front page made for easy reading and quick searching. It is not so today. One has to turn page after page of advertisements to avoid missing news items of special interest. One commentator on the news was 6PR’s “The Watchman”, E A Mann a former National Party Federal Member for Perth (1922-29). My Dad never missed him.
At William Street I had my wireless set to keep me company and many new songs to be singing or whistling as I was wont to do any time. Popular songs of the day were “The Very Thought Of You”, “The Isle Of Capri”, “I’m In The Mood For Love”, and a favourite of mine, “The Lady In Red”. “Moon Over Miami” was played by many dance bands but my choice for the best record of that was the one when it is sung by Vaughan Monroe and I think later by Matt Monro.
The ABC and the commercial stations gave us a good run for our licence money with musical programs. Classical, light classical, and popular melodies, all made up a nice selection whatever your taste. Today it is different with the ABC. The great songs of the years gone by, the gold records of the past, seldom see the light of day. We have to be content with the late evening segments of “Sentimental Journey” at weekends. The ABC caters for people who like “crash, bang” music without really knowing who their daily audience is at any time of the day. They may have the ear of 20% of the listening public for the news or special programs but for quieter music we have to try 6NR. The commercials do better but the number of adverts far outnumber the musical items.
Radio – Kalgoorlie (1939)
Radio was the main source of information and entertainment on the goldfields and Kalgoorlie was well-served by the ABC’s 6GF, and the commercial station 6KG. Bill Londregan was the announcer and his junior was Eddie Hansen. I met Bill through the Bennetts family. Everybody liked Eddie on air and off. We met again when he joined RAAF aircrew. After the War he worked in Perth radio. 6KG came on at 7am with a burst of music followed by fifteen minutes of news. The most sought after information in town was the train times for Perth and the Eastern States. Music again till the 9am to 11am closedown, and then more music till noon when we heard the news and the mining quotes for 15 minutes.
“Dad and Dave” came on at 12.15 giving listeners a laugh over lunch. Music till 1.30 and then off air till 5.30, birthday time. At 6.00 music and mining quotes for 30 minutes, and then the good adventure serial, “The Crimson Trail”. Back to earth at 7.00 for the news. Only one or two ads mixed into the music programs and we did not have to listen to advert programs interspersed with music as we do now. The listeners had a fair go and the songs and music were close to what could have been the listeners choice. Today when one listens to the ABC, particularly in the news hours from 6am to 8am, one wonders how music programs are dreamt up. Some stations seem to have announcer’s choice, or a selection printed out by a computer that is tone-deaf, or has a kinky grudge against humans. More on early radio programs later.
The radio stations gave local sporting bodies a good coverage and we had a good run when special races were put on by the EGC Club. The two stations had a good listening audience as the programmes were good entertainment. 6KG followed the early evening music with the ten-minute feature, “How the Other Half Lives”, and then gave a repeat of the lunchtime “Dad and Dave” episode. That could be followed by singers of renown such as that talented singer of spirituals, Paul Robeson, singing, “Ol’ Man River” in his powerful bass-baritone voice. That voice was loved by millions of people all over the world. After items like that there would be an hour of “Home Favourites” till 9.15, and then it was music for all tastes till close-down time at 10.30. During that time we would hear all the big bands and the popular singers like Bing Crosby, Dick Powell, the Andrews Sisters, and Deanna Durbin. The listeners seemed happy with the 10.30 close. 6WF closed at 11.30.
The ABC station 6GF was run by Jack Gibbings and he used to start off at 6.30am with music till 6.45 when he read the news. 7.00am was the time for morning exercises and after 15 minutes of those you could continue to stay in bed and listen to music for another hour. At 8.10 Jack read the news from the Kalgoorlie Miner and then 6GF closed down till 10am, re-opening with music followed by a devotional service session. In those days that would be about religion but today a “religious” programme can be about anything, from mystics to black activists, when all we want to start the day is a reading or two from the Bible to remind us that He is still up there somewhere.
“At Home and Abroad” went to air at 10.40 while we were all busy working but I would try and listen to it repeated at 6.45pm, for it had a good coverage of happenings overseas in the months left before the outbreak of World War II. The “Women’s Session”, and the “Schools Broadcast” were followed by an hour of music for the housewives and stay-at-home listeners who were able to enjoy some dance band music, light melodies, and popular singers of the day. At 12.45 there was 30 minutes of news, markets, and the weather.
“Perth Speaks” then came on for an hour and it was followed by an hour of music and then a schools broadcast till 3.15pm. After that two hours of music and song, and good old-time dance music till 10 minutes of news at 5.20. The children had their session at 5.30pm and then we had music till the mining quotes at 6.20pm. A rousing burst of lively “galloping” music introduced the ABC sports round-up at 6.30 for many years but that fine theme tune was swept away by some new-broom wielder lacking any sensitivity for the public tradition and sentiment associated with the music.
After the repeat of “At Home and Abroad”, the “Digger’s Doings” session came on for the 15 minutes before the news. In those days if we heard it on the ABC it was right and true. Today? The news preceded “Discussion” and then there was the “After Dinner Show”. The next programme was “Money For Nothing” and I do not remember what that was about. There is no such thing, of course, but so many people of every generation believe that it can be done. The “get-rich-quick” schemes, the stock market, futures, and currency trading, have all left thousands of people lamenting and many promoters and traders wining and dining on the French Riviera or the Queensland Gold Coast. After “Money For Nothing” the ABC then gave us, for a small part of our radio licence fee, three hours of recorded celebrities. The night’s entertainment finished with music and the late news, and at 11:30pm 6GF closed for the day. I met up with Jack Gibbings again early in the war years when he was doing his aircrew training at a Service Flying School in WA. The two goldfields stations served us well and earned my little tribute to them here, as I give these lines to their programmes.
Radio – Madang (1944)
We used to listen to Radio Australia (at ADHQ, Madang) when reception was good and would listen to the big races and other sporting events that were broadcast specially for the troops. We could write and request our favourite songs and I did this on spec once and struck gold. We were listening to a program of requests when we heard the ABC announcer say, “And now for F/Sgt Doug Cash and the other NCOs in the “Snake Pit” at the Sergeants’ mess at Madang, “Poinciana” sung by Bing Crosby”. It is hard to express now our feelings at the time on hearing a favourite song and singer in such surroundings, when we were so far away from our loved ones. Sentimental blokes?
“Blow, tropic wind
Sing a song through the trees
Trees, sigh to me
Soon my love, I will see
Your branches speak to me of love”
Radio – Kalgoorlie (1946)
We occasionally went visiting or to the pictures or trots but most nights listened to the radio or played records. The local stations 6KG and 6GF had good musical programs ranging through popular music (as different to “pop music”) to light classical and 6GF also leaning to the heavier classical music. We were not bored to tears with talk-back sessions like we are today while at the same time we could listen to prominent speakers on topical subjects. The song hits of the 1943/46 era could be heard often along with other popular songs from the Broadway stage shows and the movies. Around 1946 we would be listening to such numbers as “You’ll Never Know”, “Brazil”, “Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree”, “As Time Goes By”, “Swinging On A Star” and “Sunday, Monday, Or Always”. The last song was recorded by Bing Crosby at the time of a musicians strike. A girl chorus backed the record which became a top seller. Another favourite was “In My Adobe Hacienda”.
When younger brother Roly was with the RAF in England he sent me the words and music sheet for “Long Ago And Far Away”. He had a good voice for singing all the latest songs and he sang in many Air Force concerts in England while awaiting transport home. The song was nice and easy to sing and it was one of the numbers that I sang in a RAAF concert at Pearce when the song was new out here in Australia. It could have been the first local performance. It was recorded by Bing Crosby and Dick Haymes and then many others.
And then there were the bands we could listen to. Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Harry James, Artie Shaw, and Duke Ellington. Their music still lives on in some special programs like the ABC “Sentimental Journey”. The airways are now overcrowded with music amplified to a pitch that makes the words unintelligible and lifts the music to a volume that is beyond reason. The great composer Kahn was heard to say, “The lyrics are mostly OK and the music is well written but why do they have to play it so loud?”. Good question. Crash!, Bang !, Crash!. We can do without it.
The local radio stations 6GF (6WF relays) and 6KG broadcast from early morning to 10.30 pm. A typical programme for the commercial station 6KG began at 7.30 am with Australian and overseas news then a half hour of “Breakfast Brevities” and “Hill-Billies”. The popular favourite “Train Information” at 8.20 am was a must to listen to. On time was good but a late train arrival could upset somebody’s plans for the day when urgently needed parts and other goods, and the mail, were delayed. Popular music, the BBC News, a morning prayer, and a story, filled an hour till the hospital session at 9.30 am. A cheery break for and with the patients and we were set for “Crossroads of Life”. Music then put us on a happier path with singers like Kate Smith, a popular star immortalised by a song, “When the Moon Comes Over the Mountains”.
By midday listeners would have heard “Aunt Jenny”, waltz music, and the goldfields news with anything from new visitors in town, to a house fire or a mining accident. The afternoon started with “Songs to Sing and Whistle”. Most people could whistle or sing a popular song or two. You never hear whistling in the street now.
6KG closed down from 1 o’clock till 5 pm. More news, more songs, “Birthday Time”, and then dinner music. After tea we could follow the action in “A Case for Cleveland” “ then the BBC news came on with the sound of Big Ben chiming in London. Another detective, this time “Nick Carter”, and after that “The Singing Cowboy”, and then a session with Bing Crosby and Judy Garland. Next was the soap opera of the day (or night really) “When a Girl Marries”. It was turned on in most houses at 9 pm and talked about next day at work or in the street, more so when someone missed the previous night’s episode. This “soap opera” was sometimes followed at 9.15 pm by “Bachelors of Song”. “No!, No! a Thousand Times No!” played? Classical music and dance tunes took us on to 10.30 pm. “Goodnight”.