The Art of Radio

1930’s art deco style logo for VK3ME Melbourne

When radio was introduced to the public in the early 1920’s, it was a time when poster art was still an important means of advertising.

Both unknown and important artists of the time were happy to earn extra money from designing travel posters, advertising new automobiles, and contributing to the design of commercial art by creating brand logos and other works.

During the 1930’s in particular, the art deco style spread rapidly across Europe, the United States and to Australia and New Zealand. The mixture of new technology in the form of radio and artists commissioned by business enterprise proved a fertile ground for the creation of The Art of Radio.

There were so many new radio stations, and each wanted to be seen as different from others in the same town or nearby areas. Many countries regulated radio by allocating callsigns to each new station, and designers were kept busy creating clearly identifiable logos for each callsign.

Over time, some of these callsigns vanished from the airwaves. The only tangible and remaining link to their existence is their artwork, and some examples are included in this article.

Like popular household brands for products such as cornflakes and cars, logos have also been altered to keep pace with changing times. Very few, if any, have remained completely unchanged. The illustration at the beginning of this article is for VK3ME, which was an experimental shortwave radio station established by Amalgamated Wireless Australasia (AWA) and broadcast from Melbourne in the 1930’s.

Detail from 1930’s letterhead for 3WM Horsham

Also in Victoria, the small farming town of Horsham in the west of the state was once home to 3HS which broadcast in the 1930’s, but has long since closed down. Its logo demonstrates its pride in being from this particular part of Victoria called the Wimmera.

In New Zealand, local radio stations were established in most of the small towns, including the city of Nelson on the South Island.

Listener confirmation card (QSL) detail for 2ZR Nelson

Here, 2ZR was broadcasting in the 1930’s and already promoting the high level of sunshine hours which Nelson is famous for. Within a few years, this station had been brought out by Like many original New Zealand radio stations, 2ZR was operated by a local radio club

This is a fairly plain and simple design, actually quite common amongst the early artwork of most radio stations in Australia and New Zealand.

For a more elaborate and complex design example, the gold mining town of Ballarat in Victoria clearly had money to spend when it came time to create a logo for its local radio station 3BA.

Detail from 1930’s letterhead for 3BA Ballarat

This is one of the most detailed artworks from any Australian station in the 1930’s.

It’s reminiscent of the artwork found on share certificates and banknotes of the time, and is quite conservative in style.

Sunny Brisbane, however, went for a more sophisticated urban look at the same time, appealing to the middle class citizens who could afford to buy large radio receivers.

Listener confirmation (QSL) card detail for 4BK Brisbane

Broadcasting Station 4BK was owned by a major local newspaper, and probably had access to the same artists who drew the advertisements found in the daily columns.

Certainly the layout is more commercial than that of the previous examples.

The biggest city in Australia in the 1930’s was Sydney, and in keeping with the ‘big city’ image, one of the local commercial radio stations, 2UW used a skyline of familiar high rise buildings to show it meant business.

Detail from 1930’s letterhead for 2UW Sydney

Even more interesting is the location of the two towers in the heart of the design. Some 70 years ago, 2UW was positioning itself as being the station which covered Sydney.

Detail from 1930’s letterhead for 2TM Tamworth

The northern part of New South Wales is called New England. One of the first radio stations in the region made the connection with the town criers of the old New England towns of the United States as a means of talking to local people.

From the early 1930’s, here is the familiar logo of 2TM in Tamworth, which endured in much the same form for most of the 20th century.
One of the most popular radio stations in New Zealand was 1ZB, ‘The Friendly Road’. In its prime, 1ZB had a mass audience the likes of which seriously worried the new Labour government which attempted to jam the broadcasts of the Rev Colin Scrimgour (Uncle Scrim).

The station was effectively nationalized and became the flagship for the new commercial service run by the government. It has since been sold to private owners again, in this case, a large foreign media group.

Listener confirmation (QSL) card detail and ‘Friendly Road’ verse for 1ZB Auckland

Here is the original logo for 1ZB, including the drawing of ‘The Friendly Road’ and the short verse which accompanied it.

This brief look at some examples of The Art of Radio © from Australia and New Zealand in the 1930’s is a very small taste of the wide range of work, some very plain, some sophisticated and some more complex which accompanied the sounds of music and voices of the airwaves.

Detail from 1930’s letterhead for 3RI Melbourne

This fanciful design from the earnest artists of the Victorian Railways Institute who operated a short lived radio station 3RI is a good place to end this introductory chapter.

In future chapters, designs in black and white, single color and more, and ranging from radio masts to globes and much more will serve to illustrate that artists have let their imaginations create some wonderful works to accompany the music and voices of radio in Australia and New Zealand.

All images used in this article are from original documents held in the Eric Shackle Collection © Radio Heritage Foundation.

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