RADIO, SOUTH AUSTRALIA
The Adelaide Advertiser reported on 21 August 1924 that the South Australian Radio and Broadcasting Company had successfully transmitted from the Grosvenor Hotel. Central Broadcasters was registered on 4 November that year, and received the call-sign 5CL on 20 November. In 1928, it was integrated into what became the ABC. Amateur radio experiments produced 5DN (1924), 5KA (1927) and 5AD (1930).
5DN was originally broadcast from the home of its founder, radio enthusiast Ernest James Hume (1870–1929). Ernest’s wife, Stella (1882–1954), was more than an announcer: she also produced and directed programs. Guests included Adelaide-based performer Roy Rene (‘Mo’), and with 5DN licensed to do 24-hour broadcasts, the station was even heard in the eastern states. Stella Hume produced the station’s first radio play, Lilies of the Field, in November 1924.
Later owned by the Methodist Church, 5KA is best remembered for having been closed down in 1941 as a result of its connections with its Jehovah’s Witness owners. An inquiry by Port Adelaide Intelligence Officers led to accusations that it might be sending coded information to enemy agents. Fuelled by popular sentiment against the Jehovah’s Witness anti-war stance, particularly from Smith’s Weekly and Truth, 5KA was attacked as unpatriotic and seditious. In July 1940, it was informed that its scripts were to be censored, that no extempore comment was to be allowed—and that the Jehovah’s Witnesses were to pay the costs of the monitoring of their own broadcasts.
In the 1980s, 5KA moved to FM, reformatting first to country music, then in 1990 becoming KAFM, having bid $5.5 million for an FM licence. Its AM frequency went to community station 5RPH, providing information services for the print handicapped. In 1993, Hoyts Media, which owned the Triple M network, bought 5KA, transitioning it to Triple M 104.7.
The call-sign of 5AD stood for its Advertiser owners; the station commanded huge loyalty. In the 1930s and 1940s, it produced the radio comedy series Yes, What?, with hundreds of episodes written and performed. Between the 1950s to the 1980s, disc jockey and later talkback shockjock Bob Francis and broadcaster-jazz musician Keith Conlon were among 5AD’s stars, as were breakfast-shift duo ‘Baz and Pilko’ (Barry Ion and Tony Pilkington).
During the 1980s, 5AD was winning all timeslots with its ‘Rhythm of the City’ branding until Baz and Pilko defected to rival 5KA. The pattern repeated in the mid-1990s, when the station won 50 consecutive rating surveys with Jeff Sunderland and Keith Conlon—only to have them leave for Triple M.
Even stations established much later in the history of broadcasting experienced dramatic format redesign in the 1980s. 5AA, founded in 1976 as a ‘Beautiful Music’ station, was an instant hit. However, it was sold five years later to the TAB for horse and dog racing calls, and then again in the mid-1990s as part of the SA government’s asset sales. It was caught up in the succession of networks built by Paul Thompson. In 1980, he established Double SA-FM, now SAFM, the first commercial FM station in Adelaide. It became the highest rating Adelaide station in the 1980s and early 1990s, but when its Austereo network merged with Triple M’s Village Roadshow in 1995, Thompson regrouped with DMG Radio Australia, rebranding 5AA to ‘Interactive Radio FIVEaa’ in 2000, and establishing Nova 91.9 in 2004 as part of a new national network. SAFM’s dominance saw constant call-sign swapping, simulcasting of signal, rebranding and endless experimentation.
When the early FM licences became available in the 1980s, 5KA and 5DN became the new licensees. The shift proved problematic for 5DN, which had been a popular sports and entertainment service, broadcasting the first ball-by-ball cricket from 1930; providing South Australia’s first independent news service from 1938; producing popular variety shows such as Merv Hill’s Under the Stars and Radio Canteen; and airing the first South Australian talkback radio with Rev. Neil Adcock in 1969. FM music broadcasting was to prove a step too far. In 1990, 5DN rebadged to FM Radio 102 FM, with a Classic Hits formula promoted as ‘Sounds Like Adelaide to Me’. It reformatted in 1992 to X102 (Adult Rock) and was then sold to 5AD, as Warwick Fairfax Junior divested himself of the Macquarie Network.
Radio’s difficulties ran along the fracture lines between FM music formats and AM talk, perhaps best revealed in the story of 5AD. Once outbid by 5DN for the first 1980s FM licences, it was bought by Montclair Investments, a group including 5DN talk host Jeremy Cordeaux. When the federal government allowed ownership of more than one station in a metropolitan market, Montclair bought 102.3FM, hoping to shift across its 5AD audiences to an Easy Listening Hits and Memories format by simulcasting programming on to its 5AD AM signal—but was forced to close when it was judged to have an unfair audience reach.
With its old rival 5DN now itself identified as an FM music station, Montclair re-launched 5AD into an AM Hybrid Talk station, Radio 1323, with Cordeaux, Nan Witcomb and Bob Byrne. But audiences had shifted to FIVEaa and ABC Local Radio’s 5AN. In the 1990s, both 1323 and 102.3FM were bought by the ARN (Australian Radio Network), only to close in 2004, their licences leased to SEN Melbourne (Sports and Entertainment Network). Embarrassingly, 1323 AM dropped from a 6.7 audience share in 2004 to near nil by 2005. SEN returned the licence to ARN, which simulcast as MIX 102.3 FM. Finally, the AM service was rebadged and reformatted as Cruise 1323 Easy Listening, and in 2012 joined ARN’s Classic Hits Network.
South Australia has proven most innovative in the community radio sector. Radio Adelaide (5UV), which began in 1972, became the first and longest-established community broadcaster in Australia, with over 500 volunteer programmers and an exemplary community training provision, winning the Outstanding Training Provider of the Year Award in 1999. With a commitment to student radio and a creative urge that led to the founding of community station 5EBI (Ethnic Broadcasting) in 1979, it has provided a superb training ground for broadcasters.
Three D Radio (5DDD) began as a radical music station in 1979, and had the advantage of having first badged itself as ‘5MMM’—a callsign it sold to Austereo’s Triple M commercial network. The station remains known for its music policy, playing 40 per cent Australian music, and its many ‘cult’ shows.
One distinctive specialist sector within community broadcasting involves Indigenous services, including Port Augusta’s 5UMA Umeewarra Radio. The more remote Radio 5NPY was inaugurated in 1988. It serves 11 communities in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands, linked through a Broadcasting for Remote Aboriginal Communities (BRACS) network centred in Umuwa.
Throughout these developments, ABC Radio continued to serve South Australia, through networked national services—Radio National, NewsRadio and Classic FM—and 5AN, which began in 1937. In 1974, the ABC opened a production and transmission complex, later managed by David Hill. The building remains an Adelaide landmark. The importance of 5AN to Adelaide audiences was recognised when Afternoons host Carole Whitelock became the first ABC broadcaster to out-rate her commercial rivals.
By 2013, South Australia had 61 radio stations for a population of 1.65 million people: four FM and two AM metropolitan commercials; six AM and four FM regional commercials; 18 FM and one AM community regionals and eight FM and one AM community metropolitans, with the ABC providing eight AM regional stations, six FM national streams and two AM, as well as 891 ABC Adelaide (formerly 5AN).
REFs: J.F. Ross, A History of Radio in South Australia 1897–1977 (1978); P. Strawhan, ‘The Closure of Radio 5KA, January 1941’, Historical Studies, 21(85) (1985); D.J. Towler, The First Sixty Years 1924–1984 5DN 972 (1984).