Source: Wireless Weekly 5 July (1935), 17
Oswald Anderson Oswald Anderson i(9163542 works by) (birth name: Andrew Oswald Anderson)
Born: Established: 1885 Summer Hill, Ashfield - Burwood area, Sydney Inner West, Sydney, ; Died: Ceased: 1 Aug 1944
Gender: Male
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Oswald Anderson was a composer, musician, playwright, radio pioneer, station manager, music publisher, businessman.

Although best remembered today as one of Australia's radio broadcasting pioneers, Oswald Anderson's career prior to 1925 saw him regarded as one of the country's leading composers of popular and concert songs. He was also involved in repertory theatre in Sydney as a manager, producer and director, co-founded a music college, set up his own publishing company, collaborated with author Conway T. Drew on the stage adaptation of his hit novel Jinker, the Grafter's Mate (1916), and had a long association with the music publisher and instrument importer W. H. Paling. Anderson's radio career began officially in 1925 (although he took part in at least one experimental transmission in 1923) and ended with his death. During that time he spearhead the formation of the Federal Radio Network (later renamed the Commonwealth Broadcasting Network) and oversaw a number of significant Australian radio firsts - initially with Sydney station 2FC and later with 2BL, 2UW and 2UE


Considered one of the best-known figures in early Australian radio during the 1920s, Oswald Anderson was widely referred to as "A.O." (or Andy to his friends), and often described as "dapper." While few Australian's within the broader public would recognise his name today, he is nevertheless regarded by radio historians as one of the first active leaders of Australian broadcasting, a position his contemporaries also believed he held. While his contribution to the industry is invariably acknowledged in contemporary insights into our early radio history, few refer to his background prior to entering the field in 1925, and indeed his reputation as one of our most successful composers of popular and concert songs during the 1910s and 1920s is rarely mentioned.

1885-1913: Andrew Oswald Anderson was born in Summer Hill, Sydney, the youngest of five children. His parents were London-born Duncan Anderson (1843-1894) and Isabella Brown Anderson (nee Wilson, 1843-1929). After completing his education he entered the insurance industry, working primarily in clerical positions up until at least the late-1910s. Although details regarding his musical education are currently unknown, he appears to have become an accomplished pianist and developed a passion for composition.

Anderson came to prominence as a composer in 1912 following the publication of his original song 'Your Dear Eyes' (words by Wilson Bingham). According to Anderson it paid him £250, which was enough to get married and finance an extended trip to England ('He Bought Cricket to the Hearth,' p.4). The song, which had been especially written for emerging concert singer Ludwig Schaeffer, is first known to have been performed by Schaeffer in Grafton on 17 May 1912. The Clarence and Richmond Examiner's music critic saw it as 'a somewhat uncommon composition, departing considerably from the beaten track of love songs.' The critic goes on to note: 'It furnished special scope for [Mr Schaeffer] and every inch of that scope was taken advantage of… [it] was perhaps better suited to his baritone voice than anything previously attempted' ('Ludwig Schaeffer Concert.' 18 May 1912, p.4).

By November 1912 'Your Dear Eyes' had sold in excess of 3,000 copies according to its publisher, W. H. Paling (Sun 10 November 1912, p.6). That same month Anderson's songs performed by a select group of local artists and musicians at a recital held in St James Hall, Sydney. The Evening News (Sydney) notes that the concert, comprising all original compositions by a local composer, was 'quite unique in our music history.'

On 22 March 1913 Anderson married the director of Sydney's Wentworth free kindergarten, Bernice Wessberg. The couple left for an extended overseas trip a few weeks later, travelling to the USA and Britain. While in England he studied at the London School of Music and plugged his compositions around various publishing houses and agents. His Australian connections saw singers of the calibre of Ada Crossley, Eileen Boyd, Madame Stralia, Robert Radford, and Peter Dawson agree to perform his songs, while Boosey and Co, Chappell Ltd, Charles Heard and Newman Publishing all accepted manuscripts for publication. During his time in Britain Anderson was also appointed player piano demonstrator at the 1913 British Music Exhibition, held at the Olympia Theatre.

Anderson's biggest songwriting success from this period was 'Song of Triumph,' which became a huge hit after Dawson included it in his repertoire.The famous Australian baritone went on to perform a number of Anderson's songs over the coming years, including 'Away in the West of Ireland,' and they subsequently remained firm friends for many years. Anderson on several occasions organised social events for Dawson during his off-tour periods in Australia between 1915 and 1918, and the singer sometimes reciprocated with appearances at fund-raisers. While Anderson was overseas a number of his songs were published in Australia, and became popular with concert and variety artists alike.

1914-1919: Anderson and his wife returned to Australia in late-1914 after almost two years away. Throughout the course of the war years he organised numerous musical concerts and patriotic and fund-raising events, while also continuing to write and publish new music. He started his association with Sydney's Repertory Theatre in 1915 as business manager, later taking over the position of Director. Both roles saw him vested with the responsibility for overseeing theatrical productions and social events. In early 1916 he furthered his interest in music by opening Anderson's Music House in Pitt Street. The business, established legally as Anderson's Ltd, operated as a publisher, teaching academy and importer of musical instruments among other things. His wife Bernice and father-in-law Bernard James Wessberg were among the company directors.

Anderson's connections with both the music and theatrical world of Sydney (he was a member of the Actor's Association) led to him opening the Sydney Academy of Music in early 1917. As Business Manager and Principal he was supported by Professor Roland Woodhouse (music) and Walter Bentley (elocution), with more than a dozen teachers comprising its staff. The Academy offered tuition in singing and various instruments, along with special classes in opera, composition, stage and picture acting, dance, and orchestral and chamber music. Around the same time he was asked by Bert Bailey to assist author Con Drew in adapting his 1916 racing-industry novel, Jinker, the Grafter's Mate for the stage. Presented during Sydney's 1917 Easter Racing carnival, the play was directed by Bentley and produced by Anderson. Among the cast members were Fred Macdonald, Harry McDonna, Gilbert Emery, and Tal Ordell.

From 1918 Anderson became increasingly active as a director and producer at the Repertory Theatre, overseeing such productions as Dorothy (opera) and The Girl from the U.S.A. (musical comedy). He maintained his interest in musical events and charities however, going on to produce concerts and recitals at the Sydney Town Hall and various theatres and halls around the city. Among the fundraisers he oversaw were those assisting orphanages and the Comfort Fund. In June 1918 he also arranged a series of concerts for Sergeant Peter Dawson, recently released from war service.

The momentum that Anderson had been building over the latter years of the 1910s came to a halt in early 1919 when he was forced to apply for bankruptcy. In a statement given during his examination before creditors on 28 May, Anderson recalled that his financial difficulties were a result of the big strike of 1917 and the losses he incurred during the course of the Theatre Royal production of Jinker the Grafter's Mate. The Sun newspaper records part of Anderson's evidence during the proceedings:

In 1917 he produced a play for a man named Drew, a journalist. It was called Jinker - an Australian comedy. Witness was to finance the production and get a half-share. It was first produced at the Repertory Theatre, and was an absolute failure. Then it was transferred to the Theatre Royal for two weeks. The first week it paid its way, but the second week it was a failure. It was then taken to the country. The author and witness dramatised the story. His partner was not able to find his share, and he had to find the lot, which necessitated his borrowing £450....he never recovered from the loss, and that was mainly the cause of his bankruptcy ('Musical Venture : Anderson's Limited.' 29 May 1919, 27).

Describing himself as a salesman and domiciled on the Esplanade at Manly, Anderson further stated that he had been forced to sell his interest in Anderson's Ltd and had also resigned from his teaching academy. Although he had since taken a position with Palings Ltd at £7. 7s a week, his debts had accrued to around £650.

1920-1924: In April 1920 Anderson was discharged from bankruptcy, albeit with a 12 month suspension. The following month the Voice of the North (Newcastle) announced the songs that had been chosen for a three day competition to be held during city's Discovery of Port Hunter celebrations. Anderson's newly published number 'You Lovely Thing' was selected for the Mezzo Soprano section. Another of his songs, 'Dear Heart of Mine,' received much publicity around the country through "New Music" columns published in metropolitan and regional newspapers. One Brisbane critic wrote of the song: 'A more ambitious ballad [it] offers plenty of scope for dramatic treatment' (Daily Mail 5 June 1920, p.10).

Anderson's entrepreneurial activities appear to have remained dormant during the early 1920s, no doubt a response to his bankruptcy. He continued writing and publishing music, and maintained his position with Palings as head of its player pianos department. Reports from newspapers during this period indicate that his duties sometimes involving travel to regional centres in order to provide demonstrations. His songs also continued to be performed at various recitals and concerts, including an "All Australian Concert" given at Paling's own concert hall in 1921. At that event his works were performed along with selections by notable composers Edith Harrhy, Marsh Little, May Summerbelle, Percy Grainger and Peter Dawson ('All Australian Concert.' Sydney Morning Herald 21 November 1921, p.5). At some concerts Anderson accompanied the singers on piano.

Anderson had his first contact with radio broadcasting through Palings in mid-1923 when the company organised a series of musical performances which were given an experimental transmission on 20 June by Amalgamated Wireless of Australasia Ltd. The concert was managed by Anderson. ('Wireless Music from Palings.' Sydney Morning Herald 2 July 1923, p.5). He remained with Palings until 1925, at which time he moved his career in the new medium of radio. During his last years with Palings Anderson continued to maintain close links with the Sydney concert and recital scene. This ongoing association was hugely significant, not only during the course of his early radio career, but indeed throughout it.

1925-1929: In early February 1925 a number of newspapers announced that Anderson had accepted an appointment with Farmer and Co Ltd as its manager of broadcasting ('Personal.' Sydney Morning Herald 12 February 1925, p.8). The appointment was a fortuitous one as he quickly demonstrated a high degree of business enterprise and creative ingenuity. One of his first successes was to organise a live broadcast from the Sydney Tivoli that involved the stage being designed as a replica of the 2FC studio. he also continued to dabble in creative aspects of production, especially within the area of music. In November 1925, for example, he wrote the musical score accompanying the Sydney Repertory Society's dramatic reading of the John Drinkwater play, Mary Stuart ('2FC Sydney.' Register 25 November 1925, p.10). His position as manager also allowed him the opportunity to plug Australian compositions, including his own, for broadcast by various singers ('Australian Composers: Radio Helps Them." Queanbeyan-Canberra Advocate 25 Mar. 1926, p.1).

In 1928 Anderson was given the job of managing both 2FC and 2BL for the New South Wales Broadcasting Company. One of his first duties in this position was to arrange programming so that at least one of the A class stations was on the air continuously from 7am until midnight six days a week ('Broadcasting Manager.' National Advocate 25 July 1928, p.1).

1930-1944: In April 1930 Anderson resigned from the newly formed Australian Broadcasting Company (formerly the New South Wales Broadcasting Company) in order to manage Paling and Co's Pitt Street branch, which also operated the B class radio station 2UW. In a public statement of regret in losing Anderson, the head of the company, Stuart F. Doyle, said of his former manager:

He has done so much for broadcasting in New South Wales. For many years he has advanced the interests of broadcasting, and has seen it grow from a very small beginnings until today it has reached considerable proportions in this State ('Mr Oswald Anderson.' Daily Standard 5 April 1930, p.8).

Anderson's decision to leave the Australian Broadcasting Company (later the Australian Broadcasting Commisson) was to a certain extent a result of his displeasure with its management's refusal to implement a ball by ball call of that year's test cricket series (being played in England). His move to 2UW also saw him spearhead the formation of the Federal Radio Network, later renamed the Commonwealth Broadcasting Network. As Harry Criticos notes:

Consisting of 2UW, 3DB, 4BC, 5AD, 6ML and some country stations, it was designed to split copyright and landline charges, and increase the stations’ appeal to advertisers hitherto deterred by the limited transmitter power of commercial stations. That year, 2UW and 3DB joined forces to provide a ‘ball-by-ball’ coverage of the Ashes Test matches in England. Two years later, Anderson presided over the coverage of the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge on 20 stations ('Commercial Radio Networks').

Anderson's innovative system of providing cricket commentary helped boost audience numbers, and provided the impetus for Charles Moses to take the idea of broadcasting cricket further through the use of special effects and atmospheric sounds

Anderson left Australia in 1936, spending the next three years living and working in the USA and Great Britain. During this time he wrote about his impressions of overseas broadcasting and television for various magazines and newspapers, Wireless Weekly and The Australian Women's Weekly. On his return he became manager of Sydney station 2UE, remaining there until he joined the Colgate Palmolive Radio Unit in 1941 as its manager ('Personal.' West Australian 4 Aug. 1944, p.4).

Oswald Anderson died in a Sydney private hospital on 1 August 1944 after a lengthy illness. His sons, Peter and Bruce, had by this time also become well-known in the radio industry.

In addition to the first cricket match broadcast, Oswald Anderson oversaw a number of other Australian radio debuts - the first election broadcast (1925), the first programme to be re-broadcast by the BBC (in which a kookaburra laughed heartily all through Strella Wilson's aria from La Boheme), the first underwater conversation between two divers, the first horse-racing description (1925), the first radio serial, and first broadcast from a plane. He also broadcast the joining together of the two halves of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and hired a trawler to meet the ship carrying the Duke and Duchess of York (2FC therefore became the first media organisation to describe the Duchess's clothes to the Australian public).

Most Referenced Works


  • Original songs with music by Oswald Anderson include:

    • 'Awakening' (n. yr.) Lyrics Oswald Anderson.
    • 'Away in the West of Ireland.' (1914) Lyrics Oswald Anderson.
    • 'Dear Heart of Mine' (1920) Lyrics by Wilson Bingham.
    • 'God's Gift' (1912) Lyrics by Edward Teschemacher.
    • 'Josie' (1923) Lyrics and music by Madeline Rossiter and Oswald Anderson.
    • 'Kitchener's Horse' (1915) Lyrics by Edward Teschemacher.
    • 'Life's Greatest Gift' (ca. 191-) Lyrics by Oswald Anderson.
    • 'Love's Surrender' (1913) Lyrics n/e.
    • 'Love's Wish' (1912) Lyrics adapted by Anderson from Omar Khayyam.
    • 'One Tender Thought' (1912). Lyrics n/e.
    • 'Pleading' (1913) Lyrics by Wilson Bingham.
    • 'Regret' (1912). Lyrics adapted by Anderson from Omar Khayyam.
    • 'Rustic Romance, A' (1913). Lyrics n/e.
    • 'Song of Life, A.' (1912) Lyrics n/e.
    • 'Song of Triumph, A' (1912) Lyrics adapted by Anderson from Longfellow's 'Victor and Vanquished.'
    • 'Summer Skies' (1919) Lyrics n/e)
    • 'There Was a Man' (1922) Lyrics by Harold Middleton.
    • 'You Lovely Thing' (ca. 1920) Lyrics by Edward Teschemacher.
    • 'Your Dear Eyes' (1912) Lyrics by Wilson Bingham.

    NB: This list, comprising all known songs written by Oswald Anderson, is likely very incomplete.

  • In 1919 Anderson was used extensively in celebrity endorsement advertising for an asthma cure claimed by Hall of Health proprietor Bernard James Wessberg (also his father-in-law). At the time Wessberg was operating out of Lismore, New South Wales. Not surprisingly there was no mention of their relationship or Anderson's bankruptcy.

    Wessberg made newspaper headlines in 1927 following his death. To read more, see 'Did Bernard Wessberg Die Testing a Theory?' Mirror (Perth) 26 February 1927, p.12.

  • Anderson's Scottish grandfather, Andrew Anderson, was reportedly a composer of note. One of his works, Church Music," was still extant according to Sydney's Truth newspaper (5 August 1928, p.12).

  • This biography has been contributed by Dr Clay Djubal as part of a digital archive and educational program research grant (2015-2016) awarded to Kerry Kilner (UQ Research Fellow, School of Communication and Arts, The University of Queensland). Funding for this grant was made available by The Ian Potter Foundation.

    Some additional research was conducted under the direction of Professor Tom O'Regan (School of Communication and Arts, The University of Queensland) as part of a project into the intermedial relationships existing between the Australian theatre, radio, film and television industries.

Last amended 29 Jun 2017 14:09:03
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