Radio Station 2CM: The Very First Radio Broadcasting Station in Australia

According to radio historians, the very first radio broadcasting license in Australia was awarded to Charles Maclurcan due to his regular Sunday evening broadcasts over experimental amateur station 2CM.  The program content for each weekly broadcast was published in a radio magazine in advance, and each program was avidly followed by anywhere up to 5,000 listeners each week.

Charles Dansie Maclurcan was born in Brisbane Australia on August 2, 1889.  His mother Hannah was an accomplished business woman who managed the family hotel businesses throughout her entire life, and she was also a specialist cook who produced and published a whole series of annual cooking and recipe books.  Her first husband died young, and likewise her second husband (Donald Maclurcan, father to Charles Maclurcan) died young also.

After his many years of schooling, Charles Maclurcan took employment in electrical engineering, and he early showed an interest in the unfolding development of wireless and radio.  Together with his sister’s husband, Cyril Lane, they established a radio/wireless company in Sydney in 1910, for which an experimental amateur station XDM was built.

The original Wentworth Hotel & Ballroom in Lang St. Photo: Lost Sydney Facebook page.

This wireless station XDM was installed on the roof top of the family’s two storeyed Wentworth Hotel on Lang Street in downtown Sydney, from which frequent wireless contact under the callsign LMX was made with shipping in nearby Sydney Harbour.  Two radio masts were installed on the flat roof, and as an interesting addition, Maclurcan  also installed a model railway system underneath the wireless aerials.

In later years, Charles Maclurcan revealed that he had a hidden motive back then for his early emphasis on wireless and radio development; he wanted to impress a particular girl.  However the girl was not impressed, and she later married somebody else, though young Charles did continue to develop his avid interest in radio.

During the year 1912, 23 year old Charles Maclurcan went on a tour of Europe.  However while he was away, a fire destroyed the wireless equipment on the roof of the Wentworth Hotel, which almost spread to the entire hotel itself.  The roof top wireless station was never rebuilt.

During World War 1, Maclurcan was permitted to continue with the further development of his wireless experiments, and together with his many official radio contacts, he was the only amateur radio station in Australia that was still permitted on the air.  His wartime duties were conducted in cooperation with the Australian army, and for this purpose, he was granted the honorary rank of Major.

The belligerent animosities of World War 1 ended at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the the eleventh month (Monday November 11) in 1918 and during those four years of tragic human events over in Europe, wireless had become radio.  With a somewhat unsteady peace on the horizon, radio was seen in the post war era as an excellent medium for the mass communication of entertainment and information, and as we know that was the coming new direction for program broadcasting.

In September 1920, the Australian government removed all wartime restrictions, and amateur radio operators were permitted back on the air once again.  At the same time, business enterprises were giving serious consideration to establishing radio broadcasting stations in the major cities throughout the continent.

Charles’ shortwave QSL card. Image: Australian Old Time Radio

In fact at that stage, amateur radio stations were encouraged to provide programming for the public interest, entertainment and information, and that is exactly what Charles Dansie Maclurcan observed as the direction for his amateur radio station.  He began his well planned 90 minute Sunday evening programs during the following year 1921, a little more than one hundred years ago.

At that stage, Charles Maclurcan was already married to Winifred Josephine Kenna of the nearby Sydney suburb of Homebush, and they already had three sons, the youngest still an infant.  They were living in the parental home “Namanula” in Agnes Street, in suburban Strathfield, and 32 year old Maclurcan began his 90 minute Sunday night broadcasts over longwave station 2CM, with just 7 watts on 214 kHz.

The electronic equipment was installed upon a bench at the side wall of their garage, and the two wooden masts were standing on a vacant property adjacent to their suburban home.  At the end of each broadcast, Maclurcan would sign off with the adage: Don’t forget to wind up the clock and put the cat out.  Or perhaps occasionally: Don’t forget to wind up the cat and put out the clock.

Josie Melville on air in the 2CM studio on 6-3-1923 as Australia’s first female announcer. Photo: Australian Old Time Radio

On Sunday evening March 18, 1923, 19 year old actress Josie Melville was a guest in the Maclurcan home in Strathfield, and she was coaxed, inspite of her reticence at the microphone, to sing two pieces of music, apparently unaccompanied.  One was Look for the Silver Lining, which you heard as our opening music in this program, sung by Marion Harris from the same era as Josie Melville.  There are no known recordings of Josie Melville singing, one hundred years ago.

After nearly four years of broadcasting his very popular Sunday evening programs, Charles Macluran made his final broadcast over 2CM on Sunday evening February 17, 1924.  There were already half a dozen radio broadcasting stations on the air in Australia and several more were in the planning stages.

Radio broadcasting station 2CM was no longer needed, and in any case, Charles Dansie Maclurcan was packed and ready to make a voyage to the United States.  From then onwards, station 2CM was just another amateur shortwave communication station, like so many others in Australia.

During the following year (1924), some of the 2CM radio equipment was incorporated into the first transmitter that was taken into use by the commercial station 2HD, that was inaugurated by Harry Douglas in Hamilton, Newcastle on January 27, 1925.

Radio entrepreneur Charles Dansie Maclurcan, 2CM, died in Sydney in 1956 at the age of 67, and he was acknowledged and appreciated for his contribution to the development of wireless and radio in Australia in the earlier years.

It was Prime Minister Billy Hughes who signed license no 1 for station 2CM.  As a result of his support for the station, and its ultimately worldwide impact on radio broadcasting, the Australian government took an action, stating that Maclurcan’s 2CM had provided a unique and needed radio broadcasting service in the era just before regular broadcasting stations became airborne, and in honor of the original station 2CM, this callsign must never be issued again.

Now actually there was another radio station in Australia with the callsign CM, though this other CM station was 4CM, in Brisbane Queensland, and it played a part in the development of television.  But, that’s a story for another day.

This feature was written by Adrian Peterson and originally aired on Adventist World Radio’s “Wavescan” DX program of July 31, 2022

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