100 years of radio... and 50 years of ABC Friends.

Radio in Australia had its centenary at the end of last year, giving ABC radio programs an occasion to reflect on a century of change and achievement – from the quirky regulations of the 1920s to the enormous impact of broadcasting on Australian music. Appreciation for radio drew on a range of perspectives, from the intimacy of listening to the excitement of live broadcasting. The anniversary was, for the most part, a warm-hearted expression of radio.

ABC Friends co-hosted a panel discussion on 100 year of radio late last year, with and at the Eureka Centre. You can view the recording of that seminal event below:

But that’s not quite the whole story. And delving deeper into radio’s past is a chance to discover the origins of public advocacy for the media in Australia.

Throughout the 1930s, the independence of radio was severely compromised. Government interference was permissible and widely exercised, particularly if not exclusively, in relation to the newly formed Australian Broadcasting Commission. Speakers were dropped and talks scripts were altered. The ABC was not alone in this – the BBC in Britain experienced the same interference during this time – and in both cases, the consequence was self-censorship.

But in Australia, this situation was made known to a wider public. In 1936, the Council for Civil Liberties called for a change to the Broadcasting Act. In 1937, Melbourne University political scientist William Macmahon Ball castigated the government for instilling a sense of ‘timidity’ in the ABC. In 1941, Prime Minister Menzies established a parliamentary inquiry into broadcasting, hoping, according to one biographer, that the fuss would go away. It didn’t. Across Australia, submissions in person and in writing showed a desire for broadcasting that was independent from government.

This is the start of public action in Australia for media, particularly public broadcasting, that serves the public interest. It lays the foundation for the later development of ABC Friends and is part of the story of one hundred years of radio.

The organisation which became ABC Friends was founded in 1976, so we will have our 50th anniversary in 2026. A small working group has formed to plan how best to celebrate such an auspicious event, and suggestions are welcome via the ABCF Victoria office.

Jennifer Bowen
ABCFV History Working Group