The first public radio station in Australia opened in Sydney on 23 November 1923 under the call sign 2SB. Other stations in Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and Hobart followed. A licensing scheme administered by the Postmaster-General's Department, was soon established allowing certain stations government funding, albeit with restrictions placed on their advertising content.
In 1924 the licensing system was changed. The Postmaster-General's Department collected all licence fees and broadcasters were funded as either A-Class or B-Class stations. A-Class stations received government funding and were able to take limited advertising, while B-Class stations received no government funding but could carry more advertising. By 1925 many of the A-Class stations were in financial difficulty.
A 1927 Royal Commission into wireless broadcasting recommended that radio licence fees be pooled to fund larger A-Class stations. The government established the National Broadcasting Service to take over the 12 A-Class licences as they came up for renewal from 1928. The original legislation permitted advertising, but this was removed from the Act before it came into effect. At the same time, the government created the Australian Broadcasting Company to supply programs to the new national broadcaster.
Initially the Postmaster-General's Department, which operated postal and telephone services, was responsible for operating the National Broadcasting Service, although this arrangement did not have universal political support. As a result, the Australian Broadcasting Commission was established on 1 July 1932 to take over the Australian Broadcasting Company and run the National Broadcasting Service. The ABC was to be based on the BBC model, funded primarily from listener license fees with some direct government grants.
The Australian Broadcasting Commission's original twelve radio stations were:
These formed the basis for the present-day ABC Local Radio and Radio National networks.
The opening-day program included the first ‘Children's Session’ with ‘Bobby Bluegum’, the first sports program, ‘Racing Notes’, with WA Ferry calling the Randwick races, ‘British Wireless News’, received by cable from London, weather, stock exchange and shipping news, the ABC Women's Association session (on ‘commonsense housekeeping’ and needlecraft), a talk on goldfish and their care, as well as ‘Morning Devotions’ and music. Conductor Sir Bernard Heinze was appointed part-time musical adviser to the ABC in 1934, while in 1937, the network was further expanded with the purchase of Brisbane’s 4BC. Two years later, the Commission began publishing the ABC Weekly - a radio magazine promoting the ABC's local radio, and later television, programs.
Over the next four years the stations were reformed into a cohesive broadcasting organisation through regular program relays, coordinated by a centralised bureaucracy. The Australian broadcast radio spectrum at the time was made up of the ABC and the commercial sector.
During the broadcaster's first decades, programs generally consisted of music, news and current affairs, sport, drama, children's educational supplements and school broadcasts. Because recording technology was still relatively primitive, all ABC programs (including music) were broadcast live until 1935, when the first disc-based recorder was installed at the Commission's Sydney studios. For this purpose, the ABC established broadcasting orchestras in each state, and in some centres employed choruses and dance bands.
Amongst the other early programs were the stations' famous 'synthetic' cricket broadcasts - when tests were played in England, commentators in the ABC's Sydney studios used cables from London and sound effects to recreate the match in play. In addition, all 38 of Shakespeare's plays were performed live between 1936 and 1938. Local drama was produced, with a competition for plays and sketches from Australian authors held in 1934. Talks from prominent figures of the time such as King George V, Pope Pius XI, British Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald, Adolf Hitler and H.G. Wells were broadcast.
By 1933 regular program relays were in place between the ABC's stations in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth - it was not until 1936 that Hobart was connected with the mainland, through a cable under the Bass Strait. News bulletins, however, continued to be read in each state from local newspapers (by agreement with the Newspaper Proprietors Association). It was not until 1934 that the ABC hired its first journalist - the service continued to be expanded, with the appointment of a Federal News Editor in 1936, and in 1939 a Canberra correspondent to cover national politics.
During the Second World War, the ABC continued to recruit staff, including a greater proportion of women to replace men who had joined the armed forces. The organisation established reporting and recording facilities in a number of overseas locations, including the Middle East, Greece and around the Asia-Pacific region. An early challenge to its independence came in June, 1940 when wartime censorship was imposed, meaning that the Department of Information (headed by Sir Keith Murdoch) took control of the ABC’s 7 p.m. nightly national news bulletin. This lasted until September, when control of the news was returned to the ABC after listeners expressed a preference for independent news presented by the Commission.
On 7 January 1941 the ABC revived the Children's Session as a national program, including the "Argonauts Club", which was first broadcast in 1933-34 in Melbourne. The Argonauts Club proved hugely popular with young Australians - by 1950 there were over 50,000 members, with 10,000 new members joining each year through the 1950s. The Club encouraged children's contributions of writing, music, poetry and art, and became one of the ABC's most popular programs, running six days a week for 28 years.
In December, 1945 rural affairs program "The Country Hour" premiered. Legislation passed in 1946 requiring the ABC to broadcast Parliament when in session. The broadcasts were put onto the interstate network; however the Commission frequently commented on the disruption this caused to its programming in its annual reports. The ABC was also required to 'secure its news for broadcasting purposes within the Commonwealth by its own staff, and abroad through such overseas news agencies and other overseas sources as it desired' (along with its own foreign correspondents). The news department continued to expand, and was inaugurated on 1 June 1947.
Changes made in the post-war moved 'serious' programming such as news, current affairs, and features — early forms of what became known as documentaries to the Commission's national network, with lighter entertainment programming left for the metropolitan stations. A Light Entertainment department was formed, to produce programs such as ABC Hit Parade, The Wilfrid Thomas Show, Bob Dyer's Dude Ranch and The Village Glee.
Long-running regional affairs program The Country Hour began in December, 1945. The ABC's coverage of rural affairs was significantly enhanced by the deployment of journalists and 'extension officers' to major country areas. The increasing availability of landlines and teleprinters allowed the organisation to gather and broadcast news and other program material with much greater efficiency than in the previous two decades. By this time, as many as 13 national news bulletins were broadcast daily.
In 1975, the ABC introduced a 24-hour-a-day AM rock station in Sydney, 2JJ (Double Jay), which was eventually expanded into the national Triple J FM network. A classical music network was established a year later on the FM band, broadcasting from Adelaide. It was initially known as ABC-FM - referring both to its 'fine music' programming and radio frequency.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act 1983 changed the name of the organisation from the "Australian Broadcasting Commission" to the "Australian Broadcasting Corporation" effective 1 July 1983. At the same time, television and radio operations were split into two separate divisions, with an overhaul of management, finance, property and engineering undertaken.
In 1981 ABC Radio began carrying Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander broadcasts in Alice Springs and later Northern Queensland, while at the same time comedy and social history units were set up, and news and current affairs output expanded.
A new Concert Music department was formed in 1985 to coordinate the corporation's six symphony orchestras, which in turn received a greater level of autonomy in order to better respond to local needs. Open-air free concerts and tours, educational activities, and joint ventures with other music groups were undertaken at the time to expand the Orchestras' audience reach.
ABC Radio was restructured significantly in 1985 - Radio One became the Metropolitan network, while Radio 2 became known as Radio National (callsigns, however, were not standardised until 1990). New programs such as The World Today, Australia All Over, and The Coodabeen Champions were introduced, while ABC-FM established an Australian Music Unit in 1989. Radio Australia began to focus on the Asia-Pacific region, with coverage targeted at the south west and central Pacific, south-east Asia, and north Asia. Radio Australia also carried more news coverage, with special broadcasts during the 1987 Fijian coups d'état, Tiananmen Square massacre, and the First Gulf War.
A government initiative undertaken in 1987 known as the Second Regional Radio Network established nineteen new studios in regional areas (with an additional sixteen upgraded), as well as approximately 300 additional transmitters. At the same time, Radio National and ABC-FM were expanded into these areas. A year later, the Parliamentary and News Network was established to carry the ABC's mandatory Parliamentary broadcasts on eight transmitters in each state capital as well as Newcastle, Canberra, and Darwin.
Increasing pressure throughout the 1980s led the ABC to divest its orchestras in 1990. They formed Symphony Australia, an umbrella organisation that coordinates the now independent state-based orchestras (still owned by the ABC). The Sydney Symphony Orchestra was the first to be corporatised in 1996 when Sydney Symphony Orchestra Holdings Pty Ltd was formed.
During this period, the ABC set in motion plans to consolidate its properties and buildings in Sydney and Melbourne into single sites in each city. It was not until 1991, however that the corporation's Sydney radio and orchestral operations moved to a new building built by Leighton Holdings on a single site in the inner-city suburb of Ultimo. In Melbourne, the ABC Southbank Centre was completed in 1994, and now houses the radio division in Victoria as well as the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.
By the early 1990s, all major ABC broadcasting outlets moved to 24 hour-a-day operation, while regional radio coverage in Australia was extended with 80 new transmitters. Live television broadcasts of selected parliamentary sessions started in 1990. ABC NewsRadio, a continuous news network broadcast on the Parliamentary and News Network when parliament is not sitting, was launched on 5 October 1996.
Trials for digital radio began in the 1990s, using the popular Eureka 147 standard. At the same time, the majority of operations were upgraded to fully digitised systems for program playout and storage, as well as a word processing system adapted specifically for the needs of the division's news services.
ABC-FM relaunched in 1994 as ABC Classic FM, accompanied by major changes to the station's music and programming. In 1995, D-Cart digital technology developed by ABC Radio attracted worldwide interest and was sold to European, North American and Asian markets. The ABC used D-Radio, the first fully digital audio system, for Triple J.
Throughout the 2000s, ABC Radio continued to upgrade its studio and transmitter facilities. The ABC attracted large audiences for its non-commercial radio coverage of the 2000 Summer Olympics, with a range of programming across its various networks. All networks celebrated 100 years of radio in 2001 with special broadcasts marking the event and a limited edition CD released, with highlights of the ABC's output since 1932.
ABC NewsRadio began to continue its news programming online while its radio network broadcast parliament in 2002 - amongst the first of the corporation's radio networks to offer live, exclusive, streaming online. The service also expanded into the Gold Coast - the first new coverage area for the network in five years.
A high incidence of breast cancer in female staff working at the ABC's offices in Brisbane led to the closure of the site, based in Toowong, on 21 December 2006. Fourteen women were diagnosed with the disease in a period spanning 1994 to 2007. A progress report released in March, 2007, by an independent panel formed to investigate the occurrences found that the rate of occurrence for breast cancer at the offices was 11 times higher than elsewhere.
Since the closure of the site, the ABC's Brisbane television and radio operations were moved to alternate locations around the city. Managing Director Mark Scott announced in August, 2007 that new studios would be built on the site, following the final release of the Review and Scientific Investigation Panel's report.
The ABC operates several national radio networks within Australia:ABC Local Radio
ABC Radio National
ABC Classic FM
ABC Classic 2 (streaming only)
ABC NewsRadio (parliamentary and standard feeds are available on some platforms)
Triple J Unearthed (digital only)
Double J (digital only)
ABC Jazz (digital only)
ABC Country (digital only)
ABC Grandstand (digital only)
ABC Extra (digital only)
Radio Australia is available on shortwave within the country, however it is targeted at audiences in the Asia-Pacific region. It falls under the International division.
In addition there are several ABC Local Radio stations - the main metropolitan and regional stations are:702 ABC Sydney (2BL)
774 ABC Melbourne (3LO)
612 ABC Brisbane (4QR)
891 ABC Adelaide (5AN)
720 ABC Perth (6WF)
936 ABC Hobart (7ZR)
666 ABC Canberra (2CN)
105.7 ABC Darwin (8DDD)
1233 ABC Newcastle (2NC)
999 ABC Broken Hill (2NB)
92.5 ABC Central Coast (2BL/T)
ABC Central West (2CR)
ABC Coffs Coast (2MMR)
97.3 ABC Illawarra (2ILA)
ABC Mid North Coast (2KP)
ABC New England North West (2NU)
ABC North Coast (2NNR)
ABC Riverina (2RVR)
ABC South East NSW (2BA)
ABC Upper Hunter (2UH)
ABC Western Plains (2WPR)
107.9 ABC Ballarat (3CRR)
ABC Central Victoria (3ABCRR)
ABC Gippsland (3GLR)
ABC Goulburn Murray (3MRR)
ABC Mildura Swan Hill (3MIL)
97.7 ABC Shepparton (3GVR)
ABC South West Victoria (3WL)
ABC Western Victoria (3WV)
ABC Northern Tasmania (7NT)
ABC Capricornia (4RK)
91.7 ABC Gold Coast (4ABCRR)
ABC Far North (4QCC)
ABC North Queensland (4QN)
ABC North West Queensland (4ISA)
ABC Southern Queensland (4QS)
90.3 ABC Sunshine Coast (4SCR)
ABC Tropical North (4QAA)
ABC Western Queensland (4QL)
ABC Wide Bay (4QB)
ABC North and West SA (5CK)
ABC Riverland (5MV)
ABC South East SA (5MG)
ABC West Coast SA (5LN)
ABC Goldfields-Esperance (6ED, 6GF)
ABC Great Southern (6WA)
ABC Kimberley (6BE)
ABC Midwest & Wheatbelt (6GN)
ABC North West WA (6KP)
ABC South Coast (6AL)
ABC South West WA (6BS)
783 ABC Alice Springs (8AL)
106.1 ABC Katherine (8ABCRR)