AMALGAMATED WIRELESS (AUSTRALASIA) LTD
Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Ltd (AWA) was formed in July 1913 by merging the Australasian wireless businesses of the German Telefunken and British-based Marconi. Telefunken had licensed local rights to a company whose shareholders included (Sir) Hugh Denison, the Bulletin’s William Macleod and retailers Anthony and Samuel Hordern. Marconi employed agents, then sent a full-time representative, (Sir) Ernest Fisk, to Australia in 1911. Denison negotiated a merger of the businesses in 1912 as part of a global deal between Telefunken and Marconi. He became AWA’s first managing director and chairman. Fisk took over as managing director in 1916 when Denison resigned.
Initially, the company supplied wireless equipment and operators to shipping companies. It expanded into manufacturing, and services and equipment for aircraft and motor vehicles. After demonstrating direct communication between Britain and Australia in 1918, AWA proposed commercial wireless telegraph services over the same route. Led by Prime Minister William Hughes, the federal government invested a half-share in a recapitalised AWA in 1922. Hughes joined the board in 1923, remaining a director until his death in 1952. Commercial services with Britain opened in 1927 and with North America the following year. Cheaper than the submarine cable services operating since 1872, wireless forced the restructuring of British international telecommunications. International wireless telephone services were launched in 1930.
While developing long-distance wireless telecommunications, AWA was also helping to establish broadcasting. From the early 1920s, receivers were manufactured for listeners and transmitters for broadcasters. AWA’s patents were made freely available to other manufacturers after a 1927 Royal Commission criticised the company’s tough terms and conduct, but AWA secured a guaranteed share of listener licence fees until 1934. A network of commercial radio stations was assembled, mainly in country areas. The flagship, Sydney’s 2CH, occupied studios in the AWA Tower, Sydney’s tallest building until the 1960s.
The growth of broadcasting and tariff protection encouraged AWA to expand electrical manufacturing, despite the Depression. The Scullin Labor government approved AWA’s establishment of Amalgamated Wireless Valve Company Ltd (AWV), a subsidiary with overseas shareholders including the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), whose ‘Radiotron’ trademark was used for AWV’s valves. An ambitious plan to reorganise local wireless, broadcasting and music manufacturing into a single company, owned by AWA and major English and American music and consumer electrical companies, was rejected by the Lyons conservative government.
Fisk’s long-term deputy, (Sir) Lionel Hooke, took over as managing director in 1945. The next year, AWA’s international wireless services were nationalised; the company became primarily an electronics manufacturing and services organisation. Revenue soon surpassed the marks achieved during the war-time booms in overseas communications and defence production. The Menzies Coalition government sold the Commonwealth’s half-share of AWA in 1951, ending three decades of joint public/ private ownership. AWA was a shareholder in the company that was awarded one of Sydney’s first commercial television licences, then the major shareholder in the winner of the third licence. A microelectronics business was also formed in the 1960s. Anticipating the launch of colour television, a joint venture with Europe’s largest colour television receiver manufacturer, Thorn Electrical Industries, commenced in 1973–74, but competition—especially from Japanese manufacturers—was intense. The newly elected Whitlam Labor government cut tariff rates sharply in 1973. Hooke, chairman for 29 AGMs, died in 1974, aged 78. His son, John, took over as chairman. Tariffs were cut further in the 1980s and AWA-Thorn was sold to Mitsubishi. AWA lost around $50 million in a foreign exchange trading scandal in the mid-1980s, although some of the losses were recovered from auditors Deloitte. Most of AWA’s radio stations were sold after changes to media ownership rules in the 1980s; TEN10 Sydney had already been sold to News Limited. John Singleton’s Macquarie Radio Network acquired 2CH in 1994.
Renamed AWA Limited in 1988, the old wireless company launched Club Keno in New South Wales in 1990 in a joint venture with registered clubs. The defence, marine, aviation and microelectronics businesses were sold and in 2000, now primarily a gaming enterprise, AWA was bought by Jupiters Casino. The company now trading as AWA is the information technology services business, founded by AWA in 1982. It was acquired from Jupiters’ new owner, Tabcorp, in 2004 in a management buy-out led by former AWA managing director John Dougall.
REFs: Radio Waves, AWA Centenary Issue, 125 (2013); J. Given, ‘Transit of Empires’ (PhD thesis, 2007).