John Williams, Treasures of Nhill & District Facebook page, 25 March 2023
The Nhill Free Press predicted in 1922 that one day all homes would have a wireless set. But would Nhill ever have its own wireless station?
In a manner of speaking, Nhill finally has its own radio station, albeit a relay station for Horsham’s 3WM.
It’s a “No static FM” transmitter at Lawloit, giving listeners high-quality sound from Nhill to the South Australian border.
As far back as 1937, the then Lowan Council petitioned for a broadcast radio station at Nhill. They wanted the ABC’s 3WV transmitter close to town, but it ended up at Dooen, near Horsham, for a number of practical reasons.
What you might call Nhill’s first local radio station was 3HS which was based in Horsham and began broadcasting in 1933.
Prior to that, amateur radio hobbyists were able to drag in the signals of distant stations for special occasions.
One of those amateurs was Herbert Brown from Yanac, who set up an experimental station with the callsign 3NN.
Broadcasting in earnest didn’t begin until 1924 with what were called A and B class licences. A for the ABC and B for commercial stations.
Horsham’s commercial 3HS was heard for the last time in 1936 after it was taken over by Melbourne’s 3DB to become known as 3LK and, in effect, a relay station. The LK comes from the transmitter site at Lubeck. 3LK became 3WM in 1977.
In the beginning, radio stations were referred to as “wireless” stations, a British term that eventually went out of fashion during WW2 when we adopted the American “radio” moniker. However, advertising during the Golden Era reveals both terms were common.
If A.C. Everett of Warracknabeal had his way, Nhill wouldn’t have radio at all. The conspiracy theorist claimed the radio waves from Broadcasting since 1924 had stopped the rain in the Wimmera. The Weather Bureau said it was bunkum and refused to recommend to wireless stations that they shut down for a month to test the theory.
Nhill’s big introduction to radio came in 1927 when a wireless was set up in the picture theatre for a broadcast of the Duke of York officially opening the new Parliament House in May. The Nhill Free Press published the following:
“All seating accommodation in the Theatre Royal was occupied by the local school children, and town and country residents, from 10.30 a.m. until noon today, when the historic ceremony of the opening of the Federal Parliament by the Duke of York at Canberra,
The instrument used was a United Distributors Udisco 8 valve wireless set, of which the Nhill Co-operative Society are the local agents, and was specially installed for the occasion by the Lowan Shire Council.
The aerial was lent by Mr. G. Jordan. The set was in charge of Mr. S. N. Stagg, the wireless firms representative and Mr. L. Landers.
The broadcasting was somewhat marred by local electric motors, which were working, and other sets tuning in, but this also applied to private sets. One Brown model Q. horn loud speaker was used.”
In December of that year, the first broadcast made from Nhill was conducted by the Melbourne ABC station 3LO.
It was part of a special series of long-distance broadcasts and featured the Nhill Brass Band and other local artists providing the musical items.
It was the first of many broadcasts to originate from Nhill. In 1954 the Nhill Caledonian Ball was broadcast on 3LK, and since the ABC and 3WM have, at various times, broadcast from the town doing what is known in the trade as an “OB” (outside broadcast).
To encourage Nhillites to buy a radio set, Bongiormo Brothers were offering free joy flights in the Astor Aeroplane that visited Nhill in May 1928.
Before there were any radio stations in the Wimmera, the “Travelling Broadcaster” visited the region in the early 1930s.
Ballarat’s 3YB was unique in the annals of Australian radio. It was the brainchild of Jack Young, who was the first announcer on the station who thought it would be good business to provide a radio service to towns outside of Ballarat.
So, he came up with the idea of a travelling radio station setting up temporary operations in towns that were beyond normal radio range.
3YB toured the country towns in mobile studios that included an A-model Ford and a railway carriage.
A company was formed, and a licence was granted to operate a radio station anywhere in Victoria outside a radius of 30 miles from any existing station.
3YB (after Young of Ballarat) eventually found a permanent home in Warrnambool.
Radio at the time held such a fascination that basic wage earners bringing in around 6 pounds per week were prepared to painstakingly save up some 25 pounds for a two-valve wireless set.
As time progressed, the people of Nhill had the choice of listening to the ABC, commercial stations 3DB/LK and Swan Hill’s 3SH, which was some distance away but had a good reach into Nhill and Kaniva on a good day.
(Boomers will remember the popular request programs on 3SH in the ‘60s)
Up until 1974, you had to have a licence to listen to the radio. And many locals were fined for tuning in without one.
The “Golden Age of Radio” lasted until TV arrived, and during that period, one of the most popular programs was the serial which often featured sagas of courtship and country life.
A personal memory. I was ready to be frightened, amused, amazed and delighted:
(In my dressing gown, sitting in front of the stove in a Nelson Street house, eating a supper of dripping fried bread and vegemite. Above on the mantlepiece, a Healing Bakelite radio emanating the voice of Roland Strong…..”And now another authentic story from the files of the Victoria Police, only names and place names and dates have been altered ..D24 produced in the studios of Hector Crawford (pause) by Dorothy Crawford”)
The 3DB/LK news theme Heart of Oak is another stirring memory. As for the radio serials, among the hundreds produced, a few that come to mind are: When a Girl Marries, Dr Paul, Life with Dexter, The Navy Lark, The Glums, Hancock’s Half Hour, Dragnet, Dad and Dave, The Goons, Around the Horne, Yes What, Dan Dare, Dossier on Demetrius, Address Unknown… to name just a few.
There were quiz shows, Pick A Box, Ask the Oracle, Cop the Lot and Strike it Rich.
Variety shows included the Happy Gang, Lux Radio Theatre, the Minstrels and Mobil Quest.
Since the so-called “Golden Years” of Radio” there have been many changes to the broadcasting landscape.
The number of listening options has sharply increased with the advent of FM, digital broadcasting and the internet.
With Nhill only just getting access to FM radio, we can assume it will be some years before DAB arrives in town (Digital Audio Broadcasting). At the moment only available in capital cities.
These days the only “LIVE” radio broadcasting is “talkback”. The digital era has allowed radio announcers on music stations to record their show in a few minutes with a computer inserting the music and commercials.
Long gone are the days of an announcer playing records live from a desk with up to 4 turntables.
And the young ones today may well ask…” What is a record, a cassette or now even a CD for that matter”.
They may also ask the oldies what they “looked at” when they listened to the wireless.
We didn’t look at anything… “It was theatre of the mind”. Low-power community or religious radio stations are not included in this story which is about mainstream broadcasting.
This article appeared in the Nhill Free Press & Kaniva Times, 5 April 2023.