‘Hullo, 7ZL here’. With these words, broadcast on 18 December 1924, radio arrived in Tasmania. But the fledgling Launceston station struggled technically and financially. The 1927 Royal Commission on Wireless heard numerous complaints about 7ZL, and was asked to consider whether a state as small as Tasmania had 396 radio, tasmania sufficient resources to support radio. Despite the rocky start, however, several Tasmanian-owned companies would play a significant role in shaping the state’s radio industry.
Commercial radio began in 1930 with the opening of 7HO Hobart and 7LA Launceston by music company Findlays Pty Ltd (later Commercial Broadcasters Pty Ltd). The company went on to establish a statewide network of stations, affiliated with the Macquarie Network, at Burnie (7BU), Queenstown (7QT) and Derby (7DY).
Hobart’s second commercial station, 7HT, was also associated with a music company. Brothers Edward and Bernard McCann were both musicians with an interest in radio. Edward established an orchestra associated with the ABC, becoming first program director and then Tasmanian manager (1946–53), while Bernard established and managed Hobart’s 7HT. 7HT and 7HO remained the only two commercial stations in Hobart for 53 years.
In 1938, W.R. Rolph & Sons Pty Ltd, owners of the Launceston Examiner, expanded into broadcasting. Prime Minister Joseph Lyons (a Tasmanian) presided over the opening of 7EX. In the 1960s, both Commercial Broadcasters, the owner of 7HO, and W.R. Rolph & Sons established television stations. Commercial Broadcasters’ subsidiary, Tasmanian Television Ltd (TTL), gained the licence for Hobart station TVT6, which opened on 23 May 1960. The close relationship between radio and television was evidenced by the co-location of 7HO and TVT6, an arrangement that included a bimedia newsroom—one of the first in commercial media.
Edmund Rouse, managing director of the Examiner, established Northern TV Pty Ltd in 1962, gaining the licence for TNT9. In 1965, Northern TV and The Examiner Pty Ltd merged to become Examiner-Northern Television Ltd (subsequently ENT Ltd). Following a hostile takeover of TNT6 in 1982, ENT became the dominant player in Tasmanian media. The company acquired a second Tasmanian radio station, 7HT, in 1983, as well as several interstate and overseas radio stations. The company controlled the Examiner, the statewide Tasmanian Mail, 7HT and 7EX, and commercial television in Tasmania.
The ABC offered Tasmania an alternative to ENT. 7ZL became part of the ABC’s national network, and 7ZR (Hobart) and 7NT (Launceston) provided local content. In the late 1980s, when ABC Radio National had offices in each state capital, Hobart produced several programs, including Sandy McCutcheon’s adult education show Connexions. On the state stations, a number of long-serving presenters attracted a loyal audience. Ric Patterson, who began broadcasting on 7ZR in 1969, inaugurated the Hobart Christmas Pageant, as well as the annual Giving Tree Walk in which ABC staff walk from Burnie to Hobart to raise money for charity.
By the time television arrived, commercial radio had come to depend on local advertising for 80 per cent of its revenue. Towards the end of the 1980s, this began to impact on the industry. Facing falling returns from its radio stations, ENT centralised the news departments of 7HT and 7EX, and diversified into retail, opening a string of record bars. Hobart’s 7HO underwent a substantial format change, abandoning horse racing—which had been a staple part of the station’s programming—in favour of music programs.
The arrival of FM radio added further pressure, with increased competition from community stations. Hobart’s first FM station, established in 1977, was 7CAE FM (now Hobart FM), under the auspices of the Tasmanian College of Advanced Education. In 1979, 7RGY (Regional Geevston Youth, now Huon FM), was established to serve the Huon Valley with equipment donated from 7HO. In North Launceston, City Park Radio began broadcasting in 1986. There are now 14 community radio stations throughout the state.
ENT failed in its bid for a commercial FM licence in Hobart and, with the arrival of the first commercial FM station, 7TTT, in July 1990, further rationalised its radio operations. ENT’s troubles were compounded by the actions of former managing director Edmund Rouse, who was found guilty of attempting to bribe a Labor MP in 1989. The scandal surrounding Rouse’s conviction sealed the fate of the former media conglomerate. ENT engaged in asset sales, selling both its Hobart radio stations in 1991 before being taken over by WIN Television in 1994.
In 1989, Reg Grundy’s RG Capital Radio began to invest heavily in Tasmanian radio. The Findlay family, which had retained a controlling interest in a number of regional stations, left the industry, selling 7LA, 7AD Devonport, 7BU and 7SD Scottsdale to RG Capital. RG Capital continued its acquisition of Tasmanian stations, with the purchase of 7TTT in 2000 making it the dominant player in Tasmanian radio. In 2004, the RG Capital stations came under the control of Macquarie Regional RadioWorks and changed hands again in 2007 to comply with media ownership legislation following Macquarie’s takeover of Southern Cross Media.
Grant Broadcasters Pty Ltd, through its subsidiary Tasmanian Broadcasters Pty Ltd, bought the stations in 2007 and now has a portfolio of 14 stations throughout the state, including 7AD Devonport, 7BU, 7HO, 7LA, 7SD and 7XS Queenstown and 90.1 Chilli FM (originally 7EX, relaunched as a Launceston youth station in 2011). Tasmanian Broadcasters also owns Sea FM branded stations in Devonport, Burnie and on the north-east and west coasts.
While digital radio has been available in mainland metropolitan areas since 2009, it is not yet available in Tasmania. A 2011 application to the federal government’s Regional Development Fund by Commercial Radio Australia for a rollout of digital radio in Hobart and Launceston was unsuccessful. As with other regional areas, technological and policy issues stand in the way of a digital rollout in Tasmania, and the cost of such a rollout is also a significant factor.
REFs: A. Alexander, ‘The Companion to Tasmanian History: Radio', http://www.utas.edu.au/library/companion_ to_tasmanian_history/R/Radio.htm (2006); S. Tanner, ‘The Rise and Fall of Edmund Rouse’, Australian Studies in Journalism, 4 (1995).