Content feed Comments Feed

The 6WF Story – Part 2 of 3

Posted by ken On August - 20 - 2012

The Australian Broadcasting Commission

The Australian Broadcasting Company was disappointed with the revenue derived from licences and decided not to seek a renewal of the contract for the provision of programs over the National Service. The Government prepared legislation for an Australian version of the British Broadcasting Corporation. On 17 May 1932, the necessary legislation was enacted and on 1 July 1932 the Australian Broadcasting Company’s twelve stations were taken over by the Australian Broadcasting Commission. The 6WF transmitter was relocated to Wanneroo (now called Hamersley) in 1933. At that time, the commercial sector had 43 stations.

6WF broadcasting station in 1933 – Huts and Antenna at Wanneroo (Hamersley)
(Photo © State Library of Western Australia)

In 1932, the PMG Department procured the Wanneroo property on the northern edge of the state capital, Perth, for the new ABC transmitter site. At the end of the year, the eight year old medium-wave 6WF mast was relocated from the top of the Wesfarmers building in Wellington Street, Perth, with the old transmitter retired and a new 5 kW transmitter installed at Wanneroo.

6WF broadcasting station in 1933 at Wanneroo (Hamersley)
(Photo © State Library of Western Australia)

According to Alan Thomas in “Broadcast and Be Damned: The ABC’s First Two Decades”, Melbourne University Press, 1980, p. 39.

The best the Government of the day could offer the ABC by way of guidance was informal advice to emulate the BBC. ‘Walk in the footsteps of the BBC and fall in behind Britain’ was the advice given to the Commission’s first chairman, Charles Lloyd Jones, by the Prime Minister, Joseph Lyons, in 1932.

The impact of quality Music

Music was the only area of programming in which the ABC was given a firm direction. ‘The Commission’, it was stated in Section 24 of the Act, ‘shall endeavour to establish and utilise… groups of musicians for the rendition of orchestral, choral and band music of high quality’.

As part of its charter, the ABC established broadcast orchestras in each state with WA concerts performed initially in His Majesty’s Theatre and then later in the Capitol Theatre and Winthrop Hall. Many musical broadcasts were performed live, which necessitated studio bands and orchestras. Small studio orchestras which numbered 20 permanent players in Sydney and 15 in Melbourne were inherited by the Australian Broadcasting Commission from its predecessor the Australian Broadcasting Company. In Western Australia, the ABC formed the Western Studio Orchestra, which consisted of fifteen players.

There were also other bands and musical groups formed by the ABC and outside influences. Orchestras in WA included the Commercial Travellers’ Orchestra, the Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra and the Perth Symphony Orchestra. Bands included the Fremantle City Band, Fremantle Naval Band, North Perth Citizens’ Band (Conductor Charles Court), Perth City Band, R.S.L. Band and the Western Military Band. Choirs included the ABC Wireless Chorus, Bel Canto Choristers, Commercial Travellers’ Concert Party, Festival Choir, Ladies’ Odeon Society, Maylands Orpheus Society, Metropolitan Gleemen, North Perth Choir, St. Patrick’s Boys’ Choir, Subiaco Choral Society and the University Choral Society.

In October 1933, the ABC began assembling a band of 45 players from all the States to form a military band. Then in 1934, the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s National Military Band, conducted by Captain H. E. Adkins, a famous English bandmaster, arrived In Perth after a tour of Australian capital cities. A series of eight Perth concerts were then given at His Majesty’s Theatre. On the bands arrival by train in Perth, it was welcomed by a large crowd. The band members were resplendent in striking scarlet jackets faced with gold, red caps and red-striped trousers. Accompanying the bandsmen were the general manager for the ABC (Major Walter Tasman Conder), the conductor of the band, and the manager of 6WF (Mr. Basil Everald Wharton Kirke). Among the crowd on the platform were Dr. J. S. Battye, the president of the Perth Symphony Orchestra (Professor A. D. Ross), and the Secretary for Railways (Mr. J. F. Tomlinson).

The ABC National Military Band

Major W. T. Conder went on to explain that the ABC planned to erect new studios on the east side of Mill Street, Perth. Major Conder spent a strenuous day attending to the most pressing of the matters which necessitated his visit to this State, saw the National Military Band commence its initial concert at His Majesty Theatre, and, at 9 pm, 11 hours after his arrival, boarded the Great Western express to return to Sydney.

There existed conflicting musical visions between the ABC’s second General Manager, Major W.T. Conder (who got the job in April 1933 after the first manager, Harold Williams, died), and the second Chairman, W. J. Cleary (who on 3rd July 1934 succeeded (Sir) Charles Lloyd Jones). Their dispute can be characterised as ‘giving the public what they want’ (Conder) or ‘giving them what they need’ (Cleary) resulted, in Conder’s dismissal. This was unfortunate, as Conder experienced great success with Melbourne’s 3LO, due to his genius for organisation, his vision, and enthusiasm for all things affecting radio. Coming from the highly successful theatrical entrepreneurial firm, J. C. Williamson Ltd, he was a superb showman who believed that programs should be aimed at the masses. He did not believe in too many talk sessions, but rather wanted more sporting and entertainment – “everything on the air but hot air”. Condor was also an intelligent man who earlier was a master at a school and taught French, history and mathematics. The commission dismissed Conder and news of his ‘resignation’ came as a complete surprise to the public.

His adversary, Chairman Cleary was a cultivated man who loved classical music and intellectual pursuits. He possessed a large library, taught himself French, German and Latin and was widely read. He wanted the ABC to educate as well as entertain and promoted talk, commentary sessions and radio plays. Cleary acted as general manager until he had groomed (Sir) Charles Moses to take over the position. Some of Cleary’s notions conflicted with Australia’s WWII Prime Minister John Curtin, who was critical of the ABC’s high brow content, wanting more entertainment for the troops.

A radio programming parallel between this and the Vietnam War period is where our young men were being conscripted and sent overseas to a conflict (which was unpopular back home and unlike the earlier wars, their contribution was not appreciated, or rewarded on their return) whilst the ABC became a repository for young academics and war protesters who found their niche as spoken word producers on the ABC’s Radio Two (now Radio National), or 6WN on the dial. The protest movement was strong at the time, and it was not uncommon for them to produce marathon durations on related topics. One very much deemed of high importance was their objection to nuclear power, with one special taking up most of an evening to broadcast.

This was heavy going, as each point was substantiated by the views of other academics and scientists, to bring the importance of the subject thoroughly home. No matter how relevant or important the matter was, it proved to be an ordeal to listen to, particularly after the programmers scheduled this epic for at least three repeats, over the following months.

As valid as the message was, it was not spiritually uplifting or joyous listening. Not the sort of respite one would want to escape the rigours of war, during a period of rest and relaxation, as the preferred entertainment of the era was somewhat different. Nevertheless, the ABC was determined to educate the listener, even though the ratings book often only registered an asterisk, indicating that the audience was too low to measure.

Fortunately, 6WF was a less sombre outlet at that time, with the WA presenters providing themed evenings of Yesterday’s Hits, Country and Western music, Folk and Beyond and Jazz. In contrast, the Perth generated content made 6WF the highest rating ABC radio station in the nation, compared to the other metropolitan ABC stations and the nationally sourced and more serious 6WN.

Throughout the 1930s, the vast majority of ABC educational broadcasts, both for school and adult audiences, consisted of broadcasting instructions, in the form of lecturing to the listeners, which reinforced the ‘give them what they need’ rather than ‘what they want’ dogma, where the recipient was not the one determining what they needed.

The ABC slavishly following the BBC, caused it to sacrifice popularity in its attempt to push its cultural doctrine on the public, until it provided an alternate outlet with a less serious approach in 1938 with 6WN. Even then it was more stuffy than the commercial stations. The ABC could have been a totally different beast if Conder had not been dismissed. The proposed new ABC studios in Mill Street did not eventuate, and it would take another twenty six years before the Adelaide Terrace studios became the home of the ABC in WA, after much lobbying by Basil Kirke.

Early 6WF Celebrities – The ABC Military Band, Nelson Burton (conductor of Western Studio Orchestra and ABC Wireless Chorus, Percy Grainger (eminent pianist, composer and conductor), Ron Moyle and his Orchestra, Captain Adkins (conductor of the ABC Military Band)


Early 6WF Artists – Gertrude Hutton, Marcia Hodges, May Webster, Madam Masson, Auntie Maxine and Charles Court

In 1934, Professor Bernard Heinze was appointed part-time musical adviser to the ABC. In 1936, on Heinze’s recommendation, the ABC began establishing a wider variety of studio orchestras in all States.

In 1936, the ABC introduced Celebrity Subscription Concerts, and engaged many artists and conductors from overseas. The Western Studio Orchestra then called itself the Perth Concert Orchestra, and added players for the larger concerts to then become the ABC (Perth) Symphony Orchestra. By 1937, the letters “ABC” had been dropped from the title and the orchestra once again became known as the Perth Symphony Orchestra.

Dance music was also an important part of ABC programming in the 1930s and the bands that performed live in the studios delivered the best of contemporary music, except jazz which was frowned upon. Bandleader Jim Davidson set up his own ABC Dance Band, playing music popularised in America by bands such as Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw and Tommy Dorsey. By 1938, the band was a major recording act, that did national tours with guest artists such as Tex Morton and Bob Dyer.

The better standard of music not only enlighten the listeners to the many music genres, but also fostered an appreciation among those who had never heard such before the advent of radio, particularly the non theatre going public. This greatly added to the popularity of radio.

The ABC’s second radio station in Perth, 6WN opened on October 12, 1938. The transmission mast was sited on top of the GPO in Forrest Place, where it would stay as a landmark until removed during the second world war as a potential hazard. Work also commenced on the installation of two additional broadcast transmitters at Wanneroo, one medium-wave and one shortwave. After one year, the medium-wave 6WN transmitter was transferred from the GPO building to Wanneroo, and a new shortwave transmitter VLW was installed for coverage of outback areas in Western Australia. The local ABC manager was then Conrad Charlton.

By 1939, 6WF was designated as part of the ABC network transmitting the Australian National Program and as such carried the ‘highbrow’ component, whilst 6WN and its associated network of stations was the alternate or ‘lowbrow’ content (these roles were to swap in later years).

The 1940 Walt Disney animated film “Fantasia”, had a big influence on audiences, particularly ABC radio listeners, as it introduced many to a music form they were not familiar with. Disney animators set pictures to Western classical music as Leopold Stokowski conducted the Philadelphia Orchestra to expose people to such popular classics as: Toccata and Fugue in D Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach, Nutcracker Suite by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Paul Dukas, The Rite of Spring by Igor Stravinsky, The Pastoral Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven, Dance of the Hours from the opera La Gioconda by Amilcare Ponchielli, Night on Bald Mountain by Modest Mussorgsky, and Ave Maria by Franz Schubert. Additional pieces were incorporated in 1941, including Ride of the Valkyries by Richard Wagner, The Swan of Tuonela by Jean Sibelius, Invitation to the Dance by Carl Maria von Weber and Flight of the Bumblebee by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.

The nature of ABC Vs Commercial Broadcasting

By the early 1940s, there were about 130 commercial stations and a roughly equivalent number of ABC stations spread throughout Australia. The ABC had national commitments including news, education, parliamentary broadcasting and culture, whilst the commercial stations were much more community-orientated in nature, responding to the local scene from which they garnered advertising.

ABC Education Department

There was, then, no provision in the Australian Broadcasting Commission Act (1932) which specifically required or empowered the ABC to produce and broadcast educational programs. Meanwhile, the ABC had to contend with the populist programs coming from the competition provided by the commercial radio stations, so without the monopoly that the BBC enjoyed, it was deemed that if enlightenment was to be achieved, then it had to come through entertainment.

According to the First Annual Report of the ABC, Year Ended 30th June, 1933, p. 18, children were ‘among the keenest and most appreciative of wireless audiences’. This was observed with the afternoon children’s programs on most radio stations during the 1920s, where they exploited the capacity of radio to stimulate the imagination of its young listeners:

“In many ways these children’s programs were the most innovative of the early forms of broadcasting. Broadcasters took on names (and personas) like Miss Kookaburra, Miss Mary Gumleaf and Billy Bunny and endeavoured to create a fantasy radio world for their audiences. The emphasis on spontaneity, on the unrehearsed, on the relaxed and the friendly, and the invitation to young listeners to enter this imaginary world, exploited wireless broadcasting as a new medium more fully than did other early programmes.”

An axiom of broadcasting is that, “You can’t please all of the people all of the time, but one can attempt to please most of the people most of the time.” In reality, the ABC at best often pleased some of the people some of the time, but as revenue was coming first from the licence fees, and later from the government, the ABC had the luxury to experiment more than the commercial sector, as their revenue stream was not derived from garnering big audiences for clients advertising. Thus, there was a fundamental inconsistency between the ABC’s ‘duty’ to contribute to the educational development of the community and its goal to attract mass audiences.

The Australian Broadcasting Company had made a serious attempt at ongoing educational broadcasts in 1929, when they began a daily ‘Education Hour’ for schools in Victoria and New South Wales. But as The Australian Broadcasting Company Year Book 1930, p. 43, pointed out:

“In every country when broadcasting first established itself, the conservative element in educational circles looked upon the suggestion of using wireless as an accessory to their activities as nothing short of heresy… Even yet there is not a full realization of the advantages of wireless in education in this country, but at no late date it is hoped that the broadcasting services will be as freely used in the schools here as in some of the overseas countries.”

However the 1931 experimental broadcasts in Victoria did succeed in overcoming the opposition of teachers, and they represented the foundation of school broadcasting in Australia. So when the Australian Broadcasting Commission took over the Company’s operations in 1932, it inherited an embryonic system of educational broadcasting.

  • 1933 ABC launches national school broadcasting service in Victoria, NSW, Queensland. and South Australia.
  • 1935 ABC school broadcasts have been extended to all mainland States.
  • 1937 ABC establishes Federal Department of School Broadcasts under Rudolph Bronner, who believed that ‘the school broadcast is designed to supplement, not supplant, the schoolroom lesson’.
  • By 1953, over 80 per cent of Australian schools, State and private, utilised the ABC schools broadcasts as part of their weekly curriculum. Loud speakers were installed in each classroom, to facilitate this, and school public address announcements, which soon seemed to become more prevalent than the school broadcasts.

In 1942, “Kindergarten of the Air” began on ABC Radio in Perth, after the fear of air-raids on Fremantle and Perth led the State government to close its kindergartens that year. The WA State manager of the ABC, Conrad Charlton was persuaded to let Catherine King and her colleagues try a daily kindergarten program which was inaugurated on 19 February. It was later broadcast nationally and became one of the ABC’s most popular shows. The first presenter was Margaret Graham, with Jean McKinley as the pianist.

With her piano accompanist, Margaret Graham produced Dance and Sing, a book of the songs and music used in the program.

The ABC already ran a successful women’s session presented by Catherine King who was interested in the establishment of kindergartens in Perth. (She was the daughter of prominent Australian academic and essayist Sir Walter Murdoch, the Professor Murdoch after whom that University is named. Her husband Alec King was a member of the ABC Education Broadcasting Committee.) Catherine King was later joined by Erica Underwood on the session. Margaret Graham also gave short talks on the ABC’s women’s session, providing advice about young children’s behaviour and learning problems, and on the clothing, games and books that were appropriate for them.

In 1943, the war-time Australian Prime Minister John Curtin expressed concern about the ABC content directed at the troops. He thought there was too much talking and serious music. He wanted the ABC to make an effort to supply material that the armed forces wished to hear. It was a time when crooners such as Bing Crosby (1903-1977), Frank Sinatra (1915-1998), Perry Como (1912-2001) and others entertained with this popular vocal style. Voices that ABC senior taste determinators resisted being heard on the national stations.

The ABC complied with the Prime Ministers wishes and from the 1st sept 1946, 6WF concentrated on light content, whilst 6WN concentrated on the serious, which included current affairs, and features. Light music, as the ABC defined it, covered a range from the not-quite-classical to vaudeville, from comedy acts to community singing. Then to torpedo the ABC gaining increased popularity, the Commonwealth government decided that the ABC should broadcast selected parliamentary sessions live from 1946, despite the disruption this caused to regular programming.

In December 1945, the rural affairs program “The Country Hour” premiered, providing a service to the farmers which Wesfarmer and 6WF humbly pioneered back in 1924. Though by now the program was broadcast on 6WN and the regional network. It concluded with a serial called The Lawsons which was replaced in 1949 by the serial Blue Hills (which ran until September 1976). The Lawsons and Blue Hills were written by Gwen Meredith, about the lives of families in a typical Australian country town called Tanimbla. “Blue Hills” itself was the residence of the town’s doctor.

In 1951, Dorothy Hollingsworth (known as ‘Miss Fleming’) was the creator and presenter of ABC Radio series “Let’s Join In” from 1951–1989. Dorothy is an Alumnae of Methodist Ladies’ College, Perth.

The ABC gains a News Department

Though the ABC was not directed to conduct a news service, according to Section 22, of the Australian Broadcasting Commission Act (1932), it could collect ‘news and information relating to current events in any part of the world’. Initially, the news was collected from the daily newspapers.

From 1932 to 1936, ABC stations in each State provided news bulletins by having the duty announcer read local and foreign news items straight from the newspapers. In 1934, the ABC hired its first journalist and the first Federal News Editor was appointed in 1936 to control a national news service which was relayed to all States except Western Australia. Meanwhile in WA, Dick Collins would cut up the Daily News and paste up a compilation of stories for the announcers to read in Perth.

Once the ABC started collecting and writing their own radio news stories, the spoken word for the bulletins was written for the ear in short, crisp sentences, rather than the eye, as in the case of newspaper stories.

While the ABC imposed the rule of anonymity on its newsreaders, the BBC was not as strict, for it wasn’t until the second world war, when the ABC took six news bulletins per day from the BBC (in addition to the ABC generated bulletins) that the ABC following the BBC practice of allowing the newsreaders to give their names at the top of each bulletin. Then the BBC bulletins were cut down when John Curtin took over as Prime Minister. He insisted that the ABC give emphasis to the war in the Pacific, over that in Europe.

During the Second World War, the government imposed censorship on the media, even weather reports were not broadcast due to the restrictions. At the end of June 1940, the Department of Information (headed by Sir Keith Murdoch, the father of Rupert Murdoch) took control of the ABC’s 7.00pm nightly national news. On 18th July that year, Murdoch obtained authorisation to compel all news media to publish Government statements as and when necessary, however, after listeners expressed their preference for independent news presented by the Commission, control of the news was returned to the ABC in September 1940.

It was during the war, that the ABC recruited a greater proportion of women to replace men, who had joined the armed forces. It was during this period that Phyllis Hope-Robertson became the first woman to read State bulletins in Perth.

The Commonwealth government compelled the commercial radio stations to broadcast national news bulletins three times a day at 7.45am, 12.30pm and 7.00pm, and carry the ABC bulletins until the end of the war. Early in 1945, the government removed the obligation on commercial stations to relay certain ABC bulletins. However, many stations went on taking them, particularly in the rural areas, having now to acknowledge the ABC as source of the service. 6PM was the last commercial station in Perth to give up taking the ABC News, in 1964.

The ABC News Department was formally inaugurated on 1 June 1947, with the story gathering much assisted by the teleprinter, and later the Telex, as the ABC became a big and far flung organisation, with bureaus in many countries.

The news staff numbers were now such that the ABC could finally break away from using the newspapers as a source, and in the process gain independence. A true alternate supply of news, which would no longer be stale waiting for the presses. Labor at the time was keen on an alternate source, considering the media monopolies which had formed in the commercial media, were not always supportive of their policies. (The later situation which developed in the UK, surrounding the demise of the News of the World newspaper, and the influence of one news baron is a case in point, which substantiates these early concerns, where government policy was unduly influenced by one unelected person.)

Perth would take the Australian and overseas component direct from Sydney and then follow with a State bulletin, until it was decided to read it all from Perth. This required that the world and interstate news be continuously fed to Perth by the teleprinter, complemented by locally generated stories. The duty subeditor (valued staff such as Arthur Steinhauser) was on the look out for new stories to freshen up each bulletin, so that the next wasn’t a carbon copy of the last. The edited stories would then be jumbo typed onto scripts for the newsreader, to increase legibility, though it was common practice to hand the reader the top copy from the Telex machine, when reading the early morning bulletins. The news typists also took stories over the phone, typing items from correspondents who were scattered throughout the state, whilst listening to headphones as the stories were dictated. Eventually, it was decided to incorporate sound actuality with people interviewed on the spot, or have reporters convey a story in their own voice. Telephone interviews and reports were also to be included.

The teleprinter evolved from the telegraph, but instead of using Morse, Baudot code was more suited. Its a character set predating ASCII, which is more familiar to computer enthusiasts. With the communication rate of symbols being known as the baud rate. The symbols allowed the telegraph transmission of the Roman alphabet, punctuation and control signals. This code was then enhanced, prompted by the development of a typewriter-like keyboard with the Carriage Return and Line Feed codes introduced. Further developments added other codes such as the BEL (bell) and WRU (Who aRe yoU) to the 5-bit teletypewriter codes, before the debut of 7-bit ASCII in 1963. Ringing the bells conveyed the urgency of the message, the more bells the more important.

The Telex network is a switched network of teleprinters, which was introduced to Australia on a manual basis in 1954 and converted to automatic in 1966. News services such as Associated Press, the Weather Service, Reuters, and United Press (later UPI) were early adopters of the technology.

The half-hour morning current affairs program AM began in 1967 and its evening counter-part PM began two years later. Western Australia had its own version of the AM program, until centralisation demanded that we take the Sydney generated version. David Moore was the regular presenter from Perth, with Pat Harding taking over in latter years.

The impact of Cricket

One factor which did attract praise to the station was the opportunity to report on cricket.

Cricket is one of the most popular sports in Australia, at international, domestic and local levels. It is the dream of every aspiring young cricketer in Australia to one day play against, and beat, England, so there was a keen interest in the game by young and old. There was no such thing as ball-by-ball coverage before the introduction of wireless, as cricket fans only had newspaper accounts as a guide to play, so the opportunity to hear a cricket commentary proved extremely popular, and a great incentive for radio stations to satisfy the listeners. It was a service which evolved as commentators developed techniques to describe the play and technology enabled it to happen.

In 1930, on the eastern side of the continent, the Australian Broadcasting Company and Class B commercial stations 2UW Sydney, 3DB Melbourne, 4BH Brisbane and 5AD Adelaide collaborated to provide coverage of the cricket test match series in England.

Meanwhile, 6WF broadcast live short-wave descriptions live from England before the synthetic cricket broadcast began in 1934. These were received from the BBC experimental short-wave station 5SW, that conducted test broadcasts to the Empire.

First Cricket from WACA
Arrangements have been made, it is learned, to broadcast from station 6WF a description of the match as it is being played each afternoon so that listeners in the country and those unable to at tend may follow the progress of the game from start to finish. It.has not yet been decided who will describe the match, out it is more than likely that it will be a player of international reputation.
The Daily News Thursday 11 March 1926

Interstate match
Arrangements have been made by 6WF to describe the cricket matches to be held on the WACA grounds from Februarv 25 to 28. between Victoria and W.A. In all probability these descriptions will be given by Mr. S.B. Gravenall.
The Daily News (Perth, WA) Monday 13 February 1928

International Cricket
To-morrow, Friday and Saturday descriptions of the cricket match between England and Western Australia will be broad cast by 6WF and each evening a resume of the day’s play will be given.
The West Australian (Perth, WA) Wednesday 30 October 1929

Cricket from England
Note: Test cricket scores will be broadcast at the following times during the day: 1.30 a.m., 7.31 a.m., 8 a.m., 12.41 p.m., 7.30 p.m., 9.2 p.m., 9.45 p.m., 10.30 p.m., 11.5 p.m. Providing atmospheric conditions are suitable, 6WF will re-broadcast from 5SW Chelmsford, England, an eye-witness’s description of the first Test match at 1.30 a.m. tomorrow;
The Daily News (Perth, WA) Tuesday 17 June 1930

Researched by Richard Rennie

It was an exciting time for followers of the sport, as it was the era of Don Bradman, who was regarded as the greatest cricket player of all time.

Sir Donald Bradman (1908-2001) was an Australian cricket player who is credited with raising the spirit of our nation, that had suffered under the economic depression. His first Ashes series was in 1928-1929 and by the time of the Bodyline series he was without peer as a batsman. The infamous Bodyline series came to life on ABC Radio between 1932 and 1933 with five Test matches in Australia, where England won The Ashes by four games to one, following the highly controversial bowling tactics used by the England team under the captaincy of Douglas Jardine.

Western Mail in 1924

Though BBC Radio began covering live cricket broadcasts from 1927, with ball-by-ball commentary, getting a cricket commentary from England was fraught with problems as the first submarine communications cables only carried telegraphy traffic. The technology of the time did not allow for in-line repeater amplifiers in the cable to facilitate voice. Cost-efficient telephone cable telecommunications did not arrive until the 1940s. Short wave reception was subject to fading and distortion caused by the warbling, whistling and hissing artefacts of the long distance transmission. The solution the ABC devised was to fake it.

From 1934, synthetic cricket broadcasts were presented by the ABC, where commentators in Sydney recreated the game as it was being played in England.

ABC cricket commentator Alan McGilvray
(Photo courtesy of the ABC)

Alan McGilvray recalls in his autobiography, “The Game is Not the Same,”

(Eric) Sholl had been despatched to send cables according to an elaborate code. Outside our studio, a team of five or six decoders would put the cables into readable form from which the commentators would operate. The cables covered everything we would need to paint a word picture … Sholl would tell us about the weather, the crowd, even the traffic getting to the ground. Any time the field changed, he would fire a new cable and each over send a cable with a complete run down on every ball.

A collection of recordings of loud cheers, polite applause, crowd annoyance reaction and so on were used as applicable by a sound effects man. The sound of the bat striking the ball was generated by a pencil in the hands of the commentator tapping on a round piece of wood on the desk, the harder the stroke seemed on the cable, the more resounding the tap of the pencil!

Eric Sholl was the ABC State Manager for WA when announcer staff were selected for ABW Channel 2 in Perth.

Synthetic Cricket Commentary

“Before radio, cricket enthusiasts had to rely on newspaper reports for scorecards of the day’s game. There was no such thing as a ball-by-ball coverage. Radio developed an ingenious system, used from 1934, where commentators in Sydney recreated the game as it was being played in England – synthetic cricket. Detailed analysis of a match was sent via teleprinter from the ground to a studio in Sydney and as soon as one minute later, these descriptions would be broadcast by the commentary team, complete with the sound of a wooden pencil striking the desk and sound effects of a crowd. Synthetic descriptions proved to be incredibly popular.”

This was the world of synthetic broadcasts, before shortwave radio stabilised to become a wonder of communication technology.

These fake broadcasts proved to be incredibly popular.

Alan McGilvray gave his first regular shortwave broadcasts of cricket from the UK in 1938, even though the quality was poor and subject to frequent breaks.

In 1948 the BBC provided full ball-by-ball coverage for Australia, as the submarine cable technology was now up to the task of amplifying the voice signal over the vast distance. People no longer needed to suffer the much inferior short-wave reception. This was most welcome as the Australian team became famous for being the first Test match side to play an entire tour of England without losing a match. This feat earned them the nickname of “The Invincibles”, to be regarded as one of the greatest cricket teams of all time.

Efforts to increase the profile of Wireless

In 1934, a Radio & Electrical Exhibition was held at Government House Ballroom, from where every Saturday night, mostly “old Time” music was broadcast by 6WF.

1934 Radio & Electrical Exhibition at Government House Ballroom
(Photos © State Library of Western Australia)

There have been a number of publications dealing with broadcasting in WA. One prominent one was ‘The Broadcaster’, which was published by West Australian Newspapers from April 7th, 1934 until January 15th, 1955, when it was incorporated in the Weekend Mail newspaper as a lift-out.

The Broadcaster
(Courtesy of Peter and Michael Goodall)

Very much appreciate the contributions of Richard Rennie, Nettie Errington, David Carlisle, Richard Ashton, David Hawkes, Murray Jennings, John Barnett, Trevor Kelly, Gary Matthews and Ken Brand.

This story is in three parts…

Related stories…

Leave a Reply

Warning: Unknown: open(/home/content/65/3837765/tmp/sess_hq84fcs92qonnmlna9iq6rdoe0, O_RDWR) failed: No such file or directory (2) in Unknown on line 0

Warning: Unknown: Failed to write session data (files). Please verify that the current setting of session.save_path is correct () in Unknown on line 0