Radio sets and TV (and licence fees) in Australia

Background article

Radio Station callsigns first established in 1920

A radio set, or wireless as it was more commonly known, was regulated at purchase to the wavelength of a particular radio broadcaster and listeners paid a subscription to listen to that radio station. In November 1923 a subscription could cost as much as 3 guineas i.e. 63 shillings and an additional listener licence fee of 10 shillings was also payable to the Postal (PMG) Department.

These licence fees in 1923 were thus "sealed set" licences for one station only. But it was quite easy for listeners to avoid the licence fee by building their own sets or modifying one they had bought to receive that station.

On 1 July 1924 the PMG introduced a two-tiered licence system. The "A" class licences were to be financed by listeners' licence fees imposed and collected by the PMG, and "B" class licences to be offered to anyone else who wanted to have a go. Starting from that date, when only 1400 PMG broadcast listener licences had been issued, mostly in Sydney and Melbourne, by the end of 1924 the number of licences was close to 40,000. It doubled to 80,000 by the end of 1925.

The oldest surviving "B" class (commercial) station today is 2UE, which went on air on Australia Day 1925 as 2EU. The reputed reason for the change of callsign is that EU sounded like "Hey, You". On 8 March 1925, 3UZ Melbourne (RSN Racing & Sport) began broadcasting.

On 27 July 1925 at 4QG (today known as 4RN - Radio National), the Queensland Government started broadcasting from its first "A" Class station in Brisbane. Its first program at 1pm was the Market report, followed by the Stock Exchange and the weather. The station then closed until 6.30pm when the Children's Hour was broadcast.

On 17 August 1925, 4GR (Triple M Darling Downs) became the first "B" class radio station to broadcast in Queensland. It was the brainchild of Edward Gold who had earlier conducted test radio broadcasts in a shed from his experimental radio station 4EG.

Financially, it was hard going. In 1928, the government announced all "A" class stations would be nationalised via the PMG, as licences expired. A private Melbourne company founded in 1924, the Australian Broadcasting Company, supplied programming.

On 1 July 1932 the Australian Broadcasting Commission based in Sydney took over with 12 national stations. 4QG in Brisbane and a second relay station 4RK in Rockhampton.

By then, three "B" class stations had started broadcasting in Brisbane.
  1. 4BC on 16 Aug 1930, initially owned by John Beals Chandler
  2. 4BK on 29 Sep 1930, initially owned by the Courier Mail. Today, known as B105.
  3. 4BH (Brighter Hours) on 2 Jan 1932, transmitting from Bald Hills. With 4BH, a music shop located at 90-92 Queen Street Brisbane provided a letterbox/suggestion box at the front of the store for musical requests and other suggestions, thus garnering public affection. Mr Walter Pym of 4QG was its station manager, and Miss Ivy Ray was one of the first female radio announcers.

On January 7, 1938 the ABC opened 4QR in Brisbane. Quoting ABC's general manager Charles Moses, it "allowed 4QG to change to a purely local programme with twice as much time on air for local artists. The new station, 4QR, will broadcast the national program in full."

1942 Licence Fees increase to twenty shillings annually.

Television was introduced as an experimental technology in the 1920s and 1930s, and it was not until after World War II that it was widely adopted as a form of mass communication. Note, during the fifties and in the sixties the hours people watched television in the UK and Australia were tightly controlled, with only two hours programming permitted before 1pm. In the UK until 1955 there was just one channel, the BBC.

In 1954 the Menzies Government formally announced the introduction of the two-tiered Television system—a government-funded service run by the ABC, and two commercial services in Sydney and Melbourne, with the November 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne being a major driving force. The Nine network commenced broadcasting in Sydney on 27 October 1956, Seven network in Melbourne on 4 November, and ABC in Sydney on 5 November.

In Brisbane, QTQ-9 commenced on 16 August 1959, BTQ-7 on 1 November, ABQ-2 on 2 November. Network 10 launched as ATV-0 in Melbourne on 1 August 1964, as TEN-10 in Sydney on 5 April 1965, and as TVQ-0 in Brisbane on 1 July 1965.

Broadcast Licences

In January 1957, TV viewers were required to pay £5 licence fees yearly per household, and an additional £2.15.0 licence for radio. Non-payment was a punishable offence with fines of up to 50 pounds, though, for most first time offenders, the usual fine was two pounds plus court costs.

By the 1970s, combined radio and television receiver licences could be bought for $26.50, however "the end was nigh". On the 18 Sep 1974 the Federal Government under Gough Whitlam, decided to drop licence fees due to the high cost of monitoring compliance. The ABC, which had been financed by the licence fees, was then funded by general taxpayer revenue. A plan to reintroduce a combined radio and television receiver licence in 1975 costing $70, was considered but dropped.

TV Channel History

In 2022 many of the regional TV stations are serviced as affiliates. The receiving stations and affiliates then insert their own localised news and advertising.

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