Formation of the Australian Broadcasting Company

This article was originally aired over Adventist World Radio and now forms part of the Radio Heritage Collection ©. All rights reserved to Ragusa Media Group, PO Box 14339, Wellington, New Zealand. This material is licenced on a non-exclusive basis to South Pacific DX Resource hosted on for a period of five years from July 1 2002. Author: Adrian Peterson

Big radio anniversary in Australia; the formation of the ABC

It was just 70 years ago that a dozen mediumwave stations located in 10 cities in 6 states throughout the Commonwealth of Australia were formulated into a national network of government radio stations. That event occurred on July 1, 1932 and today they are celebrating their fabulous 70th anniversary with a whole host of special programs.

This is how it all began.

The first permanent radio station in Australia made its inaugural broadcast in Sydney on November 13, 1923 under the callsign 2SB. At the time, station 2SB was owned and operated by a small commercial company, “Broadcasters Sydney Limited”. Their original callsign, 2SB, was derived from the initial letters of their ownership, Sydney Broadcasters, with the digit 2 indicating the state of New South Wales.

In anticipation of the inauguration of this new commercial radio station, test broadcasts were conducted from the station location on the rooftop of a newspaper company, “Smith’s Weekly” & “Daily Guardian” in Philip Street, Sydney. The first test broadcasts were made from an amateur radio transmitter running just 10 watts under the callsign 2HP. A few days later, when the commercial transmitter was ready for action, low powered test broadcasts were conducted from this unit.

This first new radio station in Australia commenced a regular broadcast service with a flourish, and the inaugural live broadcast included local Sydney musical talent, both vocal and instrumental. One month later, an official inaugural ceremony was broadcast and this included a speech by the Postmaster General of Australia, under whose jurisdiction were all matters associated with wireless broadcasting.

Some three months after the initial commencement of programming over station 2SB, the callsign was changed to 2BL and this new callsign was also taken from their ownership name, Broadcasters Lilmited. This new callsign was taken in order to avoid confusion on the part of listeners because of the similarity in sound between 2SB and another mediumwave station now on the air, 2FC.

Radio station 2FC was inaugurated as Australia’s second wireless station about three weeks after the inauguration of the first station 2SB. Likewise, temporary accomodation was secured for this station on the top of another large building in downtown Sydney, the departmental store of Farmer & Company.

Soon afterwards, a large transmitter facility with tall antennas was installed at Willoughby, overlooking the beautiful Sydney Harbour. This location was in use for only three years, before an even more suitable location was secured, at the AWA transmitting facility at Pennant Hills, an outer suburb of Sydney.

As time went by, the interests of both stations, 2BL & 2FC, became intertwined, until they were amalgamated into one large broadcasting company with studios and offices in Market Street, Sydney. At first, the ownership was under the New South Wales Broadcasting Company, and then the Australian Broadcasting Company.

Finally, the Commonwealth Government took over and these two “A” class radio stations became the headquarters operation for the Australian Broadcasting Commission. Station 2BL is still 2BL, though in 1971, the callsign of station 2FC was changed to 2RN, standing for “Radio National”.

Both of these pioneer radio broadcasting stations in Australia were involved also in shortwave broadcasting. The very first shortwave broadcasts in eastern Australia were made from station 2BL in February 1926, using the amateur transmitter 2YG, owned by Roy Allsop, the station engineer.

These shortwave relays originating from station 2BL were on the air spasmodicially for a period of three years and they were then transferred to the sister station, 2FC. At this stage, the regular mediumwave transmitter at Pennant Hills was re-tuned at night to a shortwave channel for this special shortwave programming.

As time went by, further changes took place and these shortwave brodcasts were taken over by AWA under the callsign VK2ME. At the commencement of the European Conflict in 1939, this shortwave service from Pennant Hills was taken over by the ABC as “Australia Calling”, the forerunner for Radio Australia, and the experimental callsign VK2ME was regularized into VLQ.

Both 2BL and 2FC issued QSL cards in the early days and today theseitems are quite historic. One of these early QSL cards shows also the shortwave channel for 2FC, as 28.5 metres, corresponding to 10675 kHz.

These two original commercial stations in Sydney became the headquarter stations for the Australian Broadcasting Commission on July 1, 1932, which is the big anniversary that the ABC in Australia is currently celebrating. At the time of the formation of the ABC, 12 mediumwave stations were incorporated into the new government radio network. These stations were located in all six state capitals, though Darwin in the Northern Territory had no radio station of its own at the time.

In addition to the capital city stations, a further four relay stations in country areas were also absorbed into the ABC network, and these were :-
2NC Newcastle, New South Wales,
2CO Corowa, in the border area betwen NSW & Victoria,
4RK Rockhampton, Queensland; and
5CK Crystal Brook in South Australia.

In addition to the 12 mediumwave stations, the PMG department also operated an experimental shortwave station at Lyndhurst under the callsign, VK3LR. This transmitter took its programming as a relay from the two “A” class mediumwave stations in Melbourne, 3LO & 3AR.

The callsign 3LR was a combination of the callsigns of the two mediumwave stations. The experimental callsign VK3LR was regularized just prior to the commencement of the war, as the more familiar VLR, though this station was closed a decade or two back.

A few days ago, I phoned the ABC in Australia for additional information regarding their 70th anniversary celebrations, and the receptioniste girl at the switchboard gave the identification simply as, “702”. This of course, is the frequency for their mediumwave station 2BL. Today, the ABC operates a nationwide network numbering more than 500 AM, FM and shortwave stations throughout Australia.

One of the major 70th anniversary events is a historic broadcast with program input from the twelve original mediumwave stations in the ten cities in the six states.

Another significant event that will occur on July 1 is the launching of the ABC’s seventh radio network. This new network will be an Internet only radio service featuring contemporary Australian music for the age bracket ranging from 30 – 50 years.

Early Australian Radio Stations – 2SB = 2BL

Year Date Event & Reference
1923 Oct 19 Amateur 2HP begins daily test transmissions afternoon & evening; WW
2HP 10 w 350 m (857 kHz) 126-128 Philip St Sydney; WW 77.17 26-10
2HP private experimental station owned by W. J. Maclardy; WW 9-11
2HP temporarily located at Smith’s Weekly Building; WW 77.17

1923 Nov 2SB begins low power test broadcasts “A” licence; WW 77.17 9-11-23 2
2SB test broadcasts with 10 watts; Radio 77.11 12-12-23 470
2SB located Smith’s Weekly-Daily Guardian Philip St; Radio 77.11 12-12
2SB studio & cage type antenna on roof; Radio 77.11 12-12-23 470

1923 Nov 13 2SB begins regular broadcast service; Mackay Australia 207
Special live program; Walker 14

1923 Dec 13 Official inauguration 2SB live program PMG speech; WW 77.17 21-12

1924 PMG notice authorises change of callsign 2SB = 2BL; Radio 77.11 20-2
(Probable date for change of callsign, March 1, 1924; AMP)
2SB becomes 2BL; Radio 82.6 5-3-24

1925 End 2BL power increase to 500 watts; WW 77.17 2-7-26 13

1926 2BL power increase to 1,000 watts new transmitter; WW 77.17 2-7-26
2BL studios 4 Bligh St, transmitter Higg St Coogee; 2BL AMP Fact Sheet

1926 Feb 2BL tests on SW via 2YG 40m 3 evenings weekly; LI 79.23 20-2-26 3
1928 2BL-2FC SW broadcasts from 2FC MW transmitter Pennant Hills
1928 Aug SW tests discontinued; AMP RA dissertation

1928 Aug 14 2BL – 2FC amalgamation; Mackay 23

1929 Jul 22 2BL taken over by Australian Broadcasting Company; Walker 169

1930 2BL moves in with 2FC in Market St, Sydney; WW 71.11 21-3-30

1932 Jul 1 12 stations amalgamated into Australian Broadcasting Commission

1938 2BL-2FC transferred to new Liverpool facility

Early Australian Radio Stations – 2FC = 2RN

Year Date Event & Reference
1923 Dec 5 2FC first broadcasts studios & transmitter on top of Farmer Building;

1924 Jan 10 2FC official inauguration; Walker 14

1923 2FC new studios on top Farmer building; WW 77.11 28-12-23 2
2FC transmitter facility at Willoughby; WW 77.11 20-12-23 2

1926 Mar 29 2FC switched from Willoughby to Pennant Hills; WW 77.11 9-4-26 23

1928 2BL-2FC SW broadcasts from 2FC MW transmitter Pennant Hills

1928 2BL-2FC amalgamation begun; WW 77.1 27-4-28 5

1928 Apr 2FC moves into Her Majesty’s Building, Market St; WW 77.1 27-4-28 5

1928 Aug 14 2BL – 2FC amalgamation approved; Mackay 23

1930 2BL moves in with 2FC, studiods Market St, Sydney; WW 77.11 21-3-30

1938 2BL-2FC transmitters now located at new Liverpool facility

1991 2FC callsign changed to 2RN, Radio National; WRTVHB 191 & 1992

Early 2BL & 2FC QSL Cards

Call Year Date kHz QSL Card Organization Sydney
2BL 1928 Dec 15 850 Opera Stars NSW Broadcasting Co 96-98 Market
1931 May 31 850 Microphone card ABCompany 96-98 Market
1931 Jun 17 850 Microphone card ABCompany 96-98 Market
1932 Jul 18 855 Microphone card ABCommission 96-98 Market
1932 Aug 20 855 Microphone card ABCommission 96-98 Market

2FC 1926 Oct 27 Photographic card
1928 Dec 15 680 Opera Stars NSW Broadcasting Co 96-98 Market
1931 May 31 665 Microphone card ABCompany 96-98 Market
1931 Jun 17 665 Microphone card ABCompany 96-98 Market
1932 Jul 18 655 Microphone card ABCommission 96-98 Market
1932 Aug 20 655 Microphone card ABCommission 96-98 Market
1939 Dec 19 Jim Davidson

SW 1927 Dec 26 Aust-UK Map
1928 Dec 15 10675 Opera Stars NSW Broadcasting Co 96-98 Market

Australian “A” Class Mediumwave Stations Formulated into the ABC – July 1, 1932

Call City State kW kHz Inauguration Date
2BL Sydney NSW 3 855 1923 Nov 13
2FC Sydney NSW 3.5 665 1923 Dec 5
3AR Melbourne Vic 4.5 610 1924 Jan 26
3LO Melbourne Vic 3.5 800 1924 Oct 13
4QG Brisbane Qld 2.5 760 1927 Jul 27
5CL Adelaide SA 2 730 1924 Nov 20
6WF Perth WA 3.5 690 1924 Jun 4
7ZL Hobart Tas 1 580 1924 Dec 17

2CO Corowa (Albury) NSW 7.5 560 1931 Dec 12
2NC Newcastle NSW 2 1245 1930 Dec 19
4RK Rockhampton Qld 2 910 1931 Jul 29
5CK Crystal Brook SA 7.5 635 1932 Mar 15

VK3LR Lyndhurst Vic . .6 5800 1928

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