Greg Poppleton

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1920s Radio in Australia – Phantom Dancer 11 August 2020

1920s Radio Dance bands on this week’s Phantom Dancer made me think about what is remembered about 1920s radio in Australia

The Phantom Dancer is your non-stop mix of swing and jazz from live 1920s-60s radio and TV every week. Presented and produced by 1920s-30s singer and actor Greg Poppleton, The Phantom Dancer’s been on-air over 107.3 2SER Sydney since 1985.

Hear The Phantom Dancer online from 12:04pm AEST Tuesday 11 August at where you can also hear two years of archived shows.

As always, the finyl hour is vinyl.

Radio mast at Sir Ernest Fisk's home in Wahroonga, Sydney 1918

Radio mast at Sir Ernest Fisk’s home in Wahroonga, Sydney 1918


In 1916, former Marconi telegraphy agent, Sir Ernest Fisk, became managing director of the fledgling company. Australian Wireless Amalgamated (AWA)

The Australian Government granted AWA the exclusive rights to operate the Coastal Radio Service (CRS), a network of maritime radio stations that eventually included stations in New Guinea that had been hurriedly installed when Japan entered World War II.

The first radio broadcast from the UK to Australia was received by AWA with the then Prime Minister, Billy Hughes, praising the troops he has just inspected on the Western Front.

The Australian Government needed a direct radio service with the UK and they commissioned AWA to create a service. The government increased the new company’s capital and became its majority shareholder.

AWA established two large beam wireless stations on 180 hectare sites; a receiver site in Victoria at Rockbank near Melbourne and a transmitter site at Ballan near Ballarat; this site became known as Fiskville.

A shortwave beam radiotelegraph service was set up between Australia and Britain. This new service undercut the early cable companies and was inaugurated on 8 April 1927, this service continued until 31 May 1969.

AWA established a similar service between Australia and Canada. In April 1930 the Empire radiotelephone service commenced.

AWA transmits the first newsreel pictures from Sydney to London.

2FC radio broadcast 1927


1921 – 22
1920s radio in Australian began when Charles MacLurcan was issued the very first broadcast radio licence in Australia for station 2CM. This was broadcast from the Wentworth Hotel in Sydney, which was owned by the MacLurcan family. 2CM broadcast popular classical music concerts every Sunday night.

It was the first radio station in Australia to publish a regular program guide. His first broadcast resulted in over 2000 letters from enthusiastic listeners. Broadcasts ended with the joke, “Time to wind up the cat and put out the clock.”

2CM evolved from morse code station, XDM, which began broadcasting in 1911.

In 1921, Sydney audiences could also hear 2YG broadcasting weekly concerts from Coogee. It was operated by Ray Allsop who had also started in 1911 with a morse code station, XCA. Ray Allsop went on to be chief engineer of 2BL Sydney. He lobbied for the introduction of FM radio in Australia.

There were almost 50 radio stations on air in Australia in 1921 and 1922.

In May, lobbying for the introduction of professional radio broadcasting led the Commonwealth Government, to hold a conference with the radio manufacturing industry. This conference resulted in Australian radio being managed under ‘the sealed set’ system, whereby stations could be licensed to broadcast and fund themselves by selling radio sets to ‘listeners-in’ preset to receive only their station.

It was easy for listeners to avoid the licence fee by building their own sets or modifying one they had bought to receive more than one station.

2FC in Sydney was the first radio station to be licensed on 10 September 1923 (going to air officially on 9 January 1924) under the new system. The first station to go to air was 2SB Sydney (soon renamed 2BL), officially starting on 23 November 1923.

3AR and 3LO Melbourne went to air on 26 January and 13 October 1924.

The radio industry successfully lobbied the Commonwealth Government to introduce a two-tiered system in July 1924. The ‘A’ licences were financed by listeners’ licence fees imposed and collected by the Government. ‘B’ class licence stations generated their own revenue through advertising. ‘A’ class stations could also advertise but few did.

The ‘A’ class stations were the original sealed set stations plus one each in Hobart, Adelaide and Perth – 2BL, 2FC, 3AR, 3LO, 7ZL, 5CL, 6WF.

The first ‘B’ class station on air was 2BE Sydney in November 1924

South Australia’s first radio station 5CL went to air on November 20.

Number of radio receiving licences reached 40,000 by year’s end.

The oldest surviving ‘B’ class (commercial) station is 2UE which went on air on January 26.

3UZ Melbourne began broadcasting.

South Australia’s first commercial radio station 5DN went to air February 24.

Uniquely, radio broadcasting began in Brisbane in 1925 when the Government of Queensland commenced its own broadcasting operations with the callsign 4QG – 4 denoted the state of Queensland; QG stood for Queensland Government.

Number of licences issued reached 80,000.

3DB Melbourne commenced broadcasting

Post card midnight announcer 2FC

1927 – 1930
A Royal Commission into radio recommended full nationalisation of radio in Australia in the style of the BBC. The conservative government chose to out-sourced programming, instead. However, as each ‘A-class’ licence expired during 1929 and 1930, the Commonwealth acquired then maintained the station’s transmitters and studios through the Postmaster-General’s Department. Programming for the Commonwealth Government’s National Broadcasting Service was supplied by the private Australian Broadcasting Company, formed in Melbourne in 1924.

Licensed radio listeners rose to over 300,000 (approx. 4.7% of a population of 6,400,000) by the end of 1929. With an average household size in metropolitan areas of about 4.2 people (based on 1921 and 1933 censuses), this meant that 20% households in Australia had radio by the end of the 1920s.

Australian radio though, was largely heard in the capital cities.

By December 1929 there were 19 licensed stations but only three were in regional cities. These were Newcastle, Toowoomba and Bathurst.

Australian and New Zealand AM Radio Dial


Australian radio call signs begin with a number followed by 2 letters (and later 3 letters for FM stations). The international radio prefix for Australian radio is VK. Shortwave stations and stations outside of the standard AM and FM frequencies would identify themsleves with the VK prefix. For example, the University of NSW educational station on 1740 KHz in the 1970s announced itself as  VK2UV.

The number designates the state in which the radio station is situated.

The original numbers were,
2 – New South Wales
3 – Victoria
4 – Queensland
5 – South Australia
6 – Western Australia
7 – Tasmania

Later were added at various times,

0 – Antarctica
1 – Australian Capital Territory
8 – Northern Territory
9 – Papua New Guinea and Australian External Territories


The ONLY extant recorded representation of the Sydney (Australia) broadcasting station 2FC’s very formal programming when it was ‘Farmer And Company’s Station’, recorded in Jan 1928.

The 2FC personalities heard on this disc are:
* CHARLES E LAWRENCE (1885 – 1968), the vaudeville and radio comedian, pseudonymously recording in whispered and subversive undertones as ‘Mike – the voice of the studio’.
* LAWRENCE HALBERT, the 2FC announcer.
* LEN MAURICE (1900 – 1952), baritone and contract singer for Columbia Records’ studio at Homebush, Sydney.
* BERTHA WARREN, soprano.
* JEAN GERRARD, accordionist.
* EWART CHAPPLE, pianist and accompanist. Enjoy!


Play List – The Phantom Dancer
107.3 2SER-FM Sydney, Live Stream, Digital Radio
Community Radio Network Show CRN #449

107.3 2SER Tuesday 11 August 2020
After the 2SER 12 noon news, 12:04 – 2:00pm (+10 hours GMT)
and Saturdays 5 – 5:55pm
National Program:
1ART ArtsoundFM Canberra Sunday 10 – 11pm
5GTR Mt Gambier Monday 2:30 – 3:30am
3MBR Murrayville Monday 3 – 4am
4NAG Keppel FM Monday 3 – 4am
2SEA Eden Monday 3 – 4am
2MIA Griffith Monday 3 – 4pm
2BAR Edge FM Bega Monday 3 – 4pm
3VKV Alpine Radio Monday 6 – 7pm
7MID Oatlands Tuesday 8 – 9pm
2MCE Bathurst / Orange / Central West NSW Wednesday 9 – 10am
2ARM Armidale Friday 12 – 1pm
7LTN Launceston Sunday 5 – 6am
3MGB Mallacoota Sunday 5 – 6am
6GME Radio Goolarri Broome Sunday 5 – 6am

Set 1
Swing Orchestras on 1944 – 46 Radio
Open + There Must Be A Way
Boyd Raeburn Orchestra (voc) David Allyn and Margie Wood)
Palace Hotel
KQW CBS San Francisco
19 Jun 1945
Open + Do You Love Me?
Harry James Orchestra (voc) Ginny Powell
‘Spotlight Bands’
El Patio Playhouse
KHJ Mutual Los Angeles
13 Apr 1946/div>
Cherokee + Spring Fever
Jan Garber Orchestra
‘One Night Stand’
Palladium Ballroom
AFRS Re-broadcast
25 May 1944
Set 2
1930s European Cabaret
Chodidla (Happy Feet with satirical lyrics)
Osvobozene Divadlo (voc) Jaroslav Jezek Orchestra
Comm Rec
Djangology + Limehouse Blues + Breakup
Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grapelli
‘Saturday Night Swing Club’
Shortwave from Bricktop’s Cabaret, Paris
30 Jun 1937
Song of the Inadequacy of Life + Mack The Knife + Final Chorus
Lotte Lenya and the cast of the 1930 Threepenny Opera Berlin Production
Comm Rec
Set 3
Modern Jazz Sounds on 1950s Radio
Open + Without A Word Of Warning
Arnett Cobb Orchestra
‘Stars in Jazz’
3 Jul 1952
Open + Dynaflow
Stan Kenton Orchestra
‘Jazz Club USA’
Voice of America
Washington DC
Rockin’ Boogie + Close
Condoli Brothers
‘Stars of Jazz’
AFTRS Re-broadcast
Set 4
Dixieland Jazz on 1940s-50s Radio
Jack Armstrong Blues
Louis Armstrong All-Stars
New York
Georgia Blues
Miff Mole (tb) with Henry Levine Octet
‘Chamber Music Society of Lower Basin Street’
11 Aug 1941
Sheik of Araby
Ralph Sutton All-Stars
Club Hangover
KCBS CBS San Francisco
7 Sep 1954
Set 5
The Kings of Swing on 1945 Radio
Open + Instrumental
Tommy Dorsey Orchestra
‘One Night Stand’
400 Restaurant
AFRS Re-broadcast
30 Sep 1945
High Tide
Count Basie Orchestra
AFRS Re-broadcast
Nov 1945
Drop Me Off
Charlie Barnet Orchestra
‘Spotlight Bands’
Fort Devon Mass
Mutual Network
15 Oct 1945
Flying Home
Lionel Hampton Orchestra
AFRS Hollywood
3 Dec 1945
Set 6
1920s Dance Bands
Ja, ja, die Frau’n sind meine schwache Seite
Jack Hylton Orchestra (voc) Austin Egen
Comm Rec
26 Jan 1928
Mystery Medley (Can you guess the titles?)
Red Nichols and his Five Pennies
‘Brunswick Brevities’
Radio Transcription
New York
27 Aug 1929
Tip Toe Through The Tulips
Don Voorhees Orchestra (cnt) Red Nichols
‘Hit of the Week Records’
New York City
Feb 1930
Yours Sincerely
Eskimo Pie Orchestra
‘Eskimo Pie Program’
Radio Transcription
New York
Jul 1929
Set 7
Raymond Scott on 1940 Radio
Pretty Little Petticoat (theme) + Huckleberry Duck
Raymond Scott Orchestra
Panther Room
Hotel Sherman
WMAQ NBC Red Chicago
Creepy Weepy
Raymond Scott Orchestra
Birdseed Special
Raymond Scott Orchestra
Panther Room
Hotel Sherman
WMAQ NBC Red Chicago
Raymond Scott Orchestra
Set 8
Bebop Infused Rhythms on 1940s Radio
Twilight in Teheran
Buck Ram All-Stars
Comm Rec
New York City
18 Sep 1944
Mel’s Idea
Benny Goodman Sextet
‘One Night Stand’
The Click, Philadelphia
AFRS Re-broadcast
3 Jun 1948
Tiny’s Blues + Father Knickerbocker
Chubby Jackson Orchestra
‘Symphony Sid Show’
Royal Roost
5 Mar 1949

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