RADIO, WESTERN AUSTRALIA
Radio formally began in Western Australia with the launch of 6WF in 1924.
The station was the brainchild of John Thomson, who worked for Westralian Farmers Ltd, from which the station took its name. He recognised the value of broadcasting for transmitting timely and accurate information about market prices and trends to the company’s widely dispersed clientele. The company built studios on the top floor of its own premises, and on 4 June 1924 6WF was launched. Licences were sold under the sealed set system, which delivered broadcasts of orchestral concerts, specialist talks on topics such as politics and automobiles, recorded stories, and market and weather reports.
When the dual system of ‘A’ (licence funded) and ‘B’ (commercially funded) stations was introduced, 6WF became an A-class station. It was taken over by the fledgling national network, the Australian Broadcasting Company, in September 1929. The creation of the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) in 1932 brought all the A-class stations together under a single broadcasting entity.
Perth had to wait until 1938 before a second ABC station, 6WN, opened. 6WF evolved into the local service, offering a flow format of popular music and talks programs, while 6WN became part of the national network carrying block programming featuring classical music, plays, specialist talks and educational programs relayed from the eastern states. The ABC network of WA regional stations began with the opening of 6WA in Wagin in 1936 and continued to expand over the following decades.
6WF became the state branch of the national network of ABC stations. Over half of its airtime was devoted to music programming in the form of orchestra and dance band concerts. In 1934, the Perth Symphony Orchestra became Western Australia’s contribution to the ABC’s ‘six orchestra’ policy. That same year, drama began to appear, along with church services on Sundays, and talks by local intellectuals such as Professor Walter Murdoch.
One early feature of 6WF programming was an occasional talk on topics of interest to women. This evolved into the women’s session initiated by Dorothy Graham in 1929, which became a staple of the daily schedule, featuring broadcasters of the calibre of Irene Greenwood, Kitty Gillies, and Catherine King (Murdoch’s daughter).
School broadcasts began in Western Australia in 1935 and the state was responsible for introducing the Kindergarten of the Air in 1942; when the national version of the program began in 1943, Western Australia’s version was retained, protected by the two-hour time difference.
Meanwhile, commercial radio was developing parallel to the ABC. As elsewhere, stations were often started up by companies with something to sell. Single stations often diversified into regional relay stations, ultimately amalgamating into nationwide networks.
Perth’s first B-class station, 6ML, run by music company Musgroves Ltd, started broadcasting in 1930, before becoming part of the Federal Radio Network, later renamed the Commonwealth Broadcasting Network. It ceased broadcasting in May 1943. 6PR, originally owned by another music company, Nicholsons Ltd, started broadcasting in October 1931, later becoming part of the Major Network before joining the Macquarie joint venture by West Australian Newspapers and Musgroves under the WA Broadcasters Ltd umbrella; it was later incorporated into the Major Network. 6PM went to air in April 1937, part of the Whitford Broadcasting Network, which was a grouping of 6PM and regional stations 6AM Northam, 6GE Geraldton and 6KG Kalgoorlie. 6KY was launched in October 1941, an initiative of the People’s Printing and Publishing Company of Western Australia Ltd. It was affiliated with the ALP, which invested in labour broadcasting nationally in response to what it perceived as a rightwing bias in the media. The Broadcaster (est. 1935) was the state’s main radio magazine.
Thus, by 1941, all the players in Perth radio were in place. The market did not change until the 1970s, with the coming of community stations, and the 1990s with the arrival of FM radio.
While local stations were able to receive syndicated talk material from other states, it was only in 1933 that the technology was developed that enabled music content to be transmitted across the continent. As in other states, the nature and tone of the content differed between the ABC and the commercial stations, with 6WF and later 6WN pursuing their mission to inform and entertain, while the B-class stations, pushed by their advertising remit, targeted mass audiences via a more entertainment-based mix.
Their offerings also included children’s concerts, women’s sessions and quiz shows. For example, 6IX featured Jess Robertson as ‘Phoebe the Early Cook’ and as ‘Aunty Judy’ in the Children’s Session. On 6PM, children’s programs aimed at ‘listeners of today’ and ‘buyers of tomorrow’ included the Willie Weeties Club, a live singalong program sponsored by Weeties. There was also a lunchtime singalong ladies’ concert program, John Luke’s Shopping Basket.
By the 1970s, the local commercial stations offered variations of popular music formats based on strong local identities such as Lionel Lewis (6KY), Gordon O’Byrne (6PM) and Eoin Cameron (6IX). In 1977, 6PR became Perth’s racing station through an agreement with the TAB. It then introduced a talk/sport format, which in 1984 evolved into the news/talk format that it has retained ever since.
Though the coming of television to Perth in 1959 ended the dominance of radio, the advent of FM radio in the 1970s gave the industry an edge by offering better sound quality. By the end of the decade, Perth was receiving the ABC FM fine music station, which had begun broadcasting in 1976 in Adelaide, Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney. The ABC’s youth station, Triple J, arrived in 1989. In the commercial sector, 96FM was inaugurated as Perth’s first commercial FM music station in August 1980. The station had the FM band to itself from 1980 to 1991, dominating the ratings.
Community radio arrived in Perth in October 1976 with the opening of 6NR, based at the then Western Australian Institute of Technology (now Curtin University). The following year saw the launch of 6UWA FM (later 6UVS), Western Australia’s first FM station, based at the University of Western Australia. 6NR focused on community access programming, while 6UVS was more of a specialist arts and music station. The sector expanded over subsequent decades with the addition of stations for the print handicapped (6RPH), ethnic communities (6EBA) and the Aboriginal community (6AR, relaunched under new management in 2009 as Noongar Radio).
The advent of satellite transmission enabled remote Western Australian Aboriginal communities in the Pilbara and Kimberley regions to benefit from the Broadcasting for Remote Aboriginal Communities scheme. From 1985, this service broadcast programs provided by the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association as well as the ABC.
In the 1980s, media deregulation and the opening up of the FM band had an impact on the local radio market. While the talk station 6PR and the ‘Golden Oldie’ stations remained on the AM band, in 1991 6PM became the first Perth AM station to move on to the FM band, followed later in the year by 6KY. In 1997, the Austereo network bought both stations, now branded 92.9FM and 94.5FM respectively. With 92.9 targeting younger audiences and 94.5 (later MIX94.5) appealing to the more mature audiences, they soon dominated the ratings in Perth. Needing to divest itself of a surplus station Austereo sold 96FM to the Southern Cross Network, then owner of 6PR.
The Perth market remained relatively stable until 2002, when new player Nova arrived, targeting the 18–24 years age group. This resulted in an adjustment of music formats by all the rival commercial music stations, with Nova building a strong presence in a turbulent local market. The station affiliations in 2014 are: Fairfax Media—6PR and 96fm; Capital Radio Network—6IX; Southern Cross Austereo—92.9 FM and MIX 94.5FM; and Nova Entertainment—Nova 93.7.
The arrival of DAB+ digital broadcasting in 2011 provided local access to national digital radio services as well as a new platform for local stations.
REFs: L. Lewis, On Air (1979); I.K. Mackay, Broadcasting in Australia (1957); B. Shoesmith and L. Edmonds, ‘Making Culture Out of the Air’, in G. Bolton et al. (eds), Farewell Cinderella (2003).