EMIL VOIGT: the man behind the birth of radio station 2KY
by Robin Voigt
Part 5 of 5
On the move
In March 1932 2KY applied to have its power increased to 3,000 watts input to bring it into alignment with some of the now more powerful B-class Sydney stations. At first this was refused by the PMG due to the location of their transmitter at that time. When Voigt responded that they were willing to move their transmitter to a more suitable site further from the GPO and where there were less houses it was approved. Pennant Hills was one of the proposed sites as the transmitters for 2FC, 2SM and 2CH were already located there, but ultimately the new 2KY transmitter was set up at Beacon Hill, near Brookvale, on land bought by Garden and Voigt. On 14 September 1932 2KY moved from the Trades Hall building to the Dymocks block in George Street, Sydney and the new studios were officially opened by J.T. Lang. Work had begun on the building of 2KY’s new high-power transmitting station and the official opening performed by Lang at the new site in Beacon Hill took place on 19 February 1933.
There had been a protracted argument for almost a year between 2KY and the PMG with regard to the power that would be permitted. The day before the opening of the new transmitting station the radio inspectors reported that they were unable to make a proper inspection as a blow-out had occurred just prior to their arrival on-site. However, they were suspicious as the transmitter appeared to include valves that would be capable of much more power than the licence granted and spaces had been left to add in even more power later. The engineers stated that these valves were experimental and provision was being made for the future. Subsequent statements at the opening of the station indicated to the PMG that motives other than experimental were in the minds of the management. During the opening speeches the Federal authorities were criticised for attempting to muzzle 2KY and giving preference to other stations. They acknowledged that the management had provided for power to eventually make the station three times stronger than any in the Commonwealth (ie 20,000 watts) and said when Mr. Lang was Prime Minister again he would see that this power was used.
For months after the opening of the Beacon Hill transmitter rigorous testing was made by the PMG to establish whether the station was broadcasting in excess of the power authorised and 2KY was requested to provide circuit diagrams. The chief engineer of the new transmitter Mr. E. G. Beard replied that the station was not yet completed and that patents were pending on the different types of modulation operating in the final stage so a complete set of diagrams could not yet be provided. He provided the PMG with what written details he could and Mr. J. Brown, the station’s engineer, was eventually able to supply blueprints to everyone’s satisfaction.
The Beacon Hill transmitter had two high wooden masts as the engineering theory then was the higher the masts the better transmission. Many years later it was thought that better signals could be obtained from low ground in a swampy area. Homebush Bay was chosen for the new transmitter site and the station’s transmissions went to air from there in 1949.
In 1954 the Wireless Committee purchased the Minerva Centre in Orwell Street, Potts Point from well known business man and Kings Cross identity, Abe Saffron. Architect Mr. G. Beelaerts was engaged to convert the building into modern studios and offices to house 2KY. The building had a colourful past – while part of it had been used as the old Roosevelt Nightclub and restaurant, another part had a room with a blue ceiling. Known as ‘the Blue Room’ it had been used to show pornographic movies in the 1930s.
The building of the new station was a remarkable achievement and another step forward for 2KY with the best new equipment, sound proofing and lighting available at the time. 2KY operated from these premises for almost 30 years then in 1983 the station relocated its studios and administrative offices to ‘2KY House’ in Parramatta. In 2001 2KY was sold by the Labor Council to the TAB.
The proposal for a network of country stations
By the end of July 1925 Voigt had become Albert Willis’ secretary and was also working closely with Premier Jack Lang advising him on radio. He advocated the abolition of licences, royalties and the restrictions that were being placed on radio as they competed with the Posts and Telegraph. As well as providing entertainment programmes, such as radio drama, music and sport, the obvious advantages of broadcasting were talk programmes which pushed Labor’s views on industrial disputes and social reform legislation.
Voigt and Willis drew up a plan for a network of State-owned radio stations that would reach people in country centres. In this way listeners in isolated communities could have access to information such as market reports from the Agriculture Department for those on the land, Health broadcasting to hospitals, Parliamentary broadcasts, Labor and Industry advertising positions vacant, and other important matters such as education, the railways and police. People in the country were lobbying for equal services as they were only able to receive the distant A-class city stations and only when the atmospheric conditions were favourable.
Voigt was troubled by the implications of this sort of public broadcasting however, and acknowledged that proper regulatory controls would need to be put in place. The radio network plan was the brainchild of Voigt and Willis but the Premier of New South Wales, Jack Lang, later claimed it as his own. Lang was defeated in the elections in 1927 before the scheme was able to be put into place.
By December 1926 a considerable number of trade union offices were equipped with radio receivers, and sets were also installed in a number of factories where workers gathered in the lunch hour to hear talks on politics and the political economy as broadcast through the Trades Hall station.
A busy man
Voigt became assistant secretary to the Labor Council and was on the 1926 Labor Conference’s committee which revised party rules. He was regularly minutes secretary of the conferences, briefly belonging to the inner circle controlling the State Executive in 1927-1930. In 1929 he was appointed director of the advertising, publicity and social department of the Labor Council.
He was founding chairman (1927-1930) of the Federation of Commercial Broadcasting Stations, convened its first meeting, drafted its constitution and rules, and gave it its name. With Mr. L. Bean of Stromberg Carlson he founded the Radio Manufacturers’ Association of New South Wales and became its first President (1928-1929).
Voigt was also secretary of Radio Interests Limited, a protective organisation formed to fight AWA on patents. He was a firm believer in the independence of the commercial stations and he did much pioneering work in breaking the stranglehold of the patent-right holders which at one time threatened to seriously restrain the development of broadcasting in Australia.
In January 1929 he took over the general management of 2KY, holding that position until February 1936. He was also the station’s ringside commentator for six years at the boxing and wrestling matches which were broadcast weekly from Rushcutters Bay. His son Rion was later to follow his father into radio, becoming a radio announcer with 2KY and well known in Australia in his own right for his vivid ringside descriptions.
In 1934 Voigt stepped aside as Secretary of the Labor Council. Mr. R.A. King was appointed to that position and later became manager of the station.
In 1935 Voigt visited Europe, Russia and the United States and while away his position at 2KY was challenged. From its inception 2KY had belonged to the NSW Labor Council, it had never belonged to the Labor Party, but it was controlled by Lang’s allies. Lang was now interested in taking over control of 2KY, and the Wireless Committee at a special executive meeting at the Trade Labor Council sought to get rid of Voigt.
On his return to Australia Voigt was summoned to a meeting of the Executive Council to deal with the issue but aware of the political manoevring behind his back he refused to attend. Disillusioned by his treatment after giving so much of his life to the Labor movement and working so hard to set up our early Australian wireless industry Voigt resigned as manager of 2KY and left the country in March 1936, vowing never to return.
The power struggle at 2KY continued with the factions fighting amongst themselves. Lang, Beasley and Garden aligned to propose 2KY be formed into a company but with strong opposition from the leaders of some of the largest unions this was defeated at a special meeting and within 18 months Lang was to lose control of the Labor Daily as well.
Life after radio
Voigt went back to England, living there for the next 10 years and commenced a number of engineering businesses. He also began Broadcast Enterprises, recording radio programmes for the dominions, as well as importing American movies into Britain and distributing them. In 1940-1945 he co-founded and operated H.V.H. Engineering Ltd in Hereford.
Voigt kept his ties with broadcasting and sport, appearing on early British television as a wrestling and boxing commentator, and also having talks with the BBC regarding the development of broadcasting in England. He was appointed British representative of the Australian Federation of Broadcasting Stations.
Eventually in 1947 Voigt moved to Auckland, New Zealand where he lived out the rest of his life. He had ambitions to introduce television in New Zealand but encountered difficulties getting this set up, so ultimately became a partner in Monro Foundries (1947-1952) and James Motors Ltd (1956-1960).
In the 1950s he trained some of that country’s top runners and always conscious of his own physical wellbeing, he continued to run regularly himself right into his 80s. He jogged several kilometres every day, running up the steep mountain behind his property. After his retirement in the 1960s he also found time to indulge in some of his other lifelong passions – aviation (gliding in particular), fishing, photography and music.
He took little or no payment for most of his work during his years in radio and politics. He readily admitted that he could have made more money if he had believed in the capitalist system and developed his engineering and other business interests. Never given the credit that he was due, a unique individual, he died in Auckland in 1973 at the age of 90.
Robin Voigt is the granddaughter of Emil Voigt.
Five members of her family were prominent in early Australian radio.
Her father Rion Voigt was an announcer with 2KY for more than 40 years, joining the station at the age of 17 in 1932. He trained with the BBC and also worked in New Zealand with 2ZA, 2ZB and 5ZB.
Her grandmother Mrs Eunice Stelzer joined 2GB at its beginning in 1926 working there for 22 years as an announcer and musical advisor. She was a popular and well known figure, founding the 2GB Happiness Club which gave assistance to people in need during the Depression years and also founding the Eurobodalla Homes.
Her grandfather William Stelzer worked at 2GB as well, in charge of the station’s advertising for 20 years.
Her aunt Joy Moorhouse started work at 2GB at the age of 15 in 1932 and worked there for 50 years. She was the station’s first receptionist and telephonist and later went on to work with many famous names as a producer of the first open line/talkback programmes in 1966.
Robin lives in Sydney and is a graphic designer, illustrator and writer.
Copyright © 2006 Robin Voigt
All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, recording or otherwise, without the written permission of the author.