Radio Australia: Women in Radio

Today women are prevalent in the media as newsreaders, reporters and producers. In the early days this was a male domain, mainly coming from show business and theatre backgrounds. All used to dress formally in dinner suits, just to read the news.

Article by Bright Spark”. This series is being repeated in memory of Max Gibson.

Radio’s first woman on the air was an Adelaide housewife, Mrs Hume. The Hume family was famous for inventing the spun-cement pipe, now used world wide in irrigation schemes, street drainage and sewerage. Mr Walter Hume was a keen radio hobbyist, and built his own amateur radio station. This station was the nucleus of one of South Australia’s leading radio stations today. To help fill in with the announcing duties, Mrs Alice Louisa Hume was co-opted, thus becoming Australia’s first female on the air. Their studio was set up in the lounge room, and often listeners could hear the rattle of cups of tea or the washing up.

Melbourne radio soon saw the future for a women’s radio session, with a large listening audience of housewives (most women stayed at home, and were avid radio listeners). Morning was the time. The radio serial came into vogue, with several fifteen minute shows per morning, from 9am to noon. The name soap opera came about because most of the serials were sponsored by multinational washing powder companies such as Velvet Soap, Lux, Rinso and Persil.

Radio 3UL Warragul began on the airwaves in 1937, from studios on Brooks Hill just south of Warragul. Mary Corby was the first female announcer at Warragul, and commanded a big audience of female listeners. Her typical morning session would include many segments. Often guests were invited to tell what was on in West Gippsland. Recipes were another feature, with the the recipe being read very slowly so the housewife could write it down for future use. Baby Health Centres were developing in the country and the local nursing sister from Warragul came on air to give advice on infant welfare and health. The 3UL Friendly Circle was another segment, when listeners sent letters to the station. All writers had a nom de plume or nickname, and were known as such on air, but it was often easy to guess who the author was. Mail came from all sections of the area, with quite a lot from Ellinbank and Lardner. The 3UL Family Circle issued a lapel badge. I guess there are still some in top drawers of dressing tables.

The CWA program began in the early days of 3UL, and the tradition is now carried on by 3BBR FM, including the same theme. Two keen country women presented the weekly show, Mrs Tyrrell of Cloverlea and Mrs Kingston of Ellinbank (Kingston’s farm was later purchased by the Ellinbank Dairy Research Station). All the branch news and happenings were covered, including state and group conferences, branch birthday parties, flower shows and craft exhibitions.

Another task for the female announcer was to run the children’s session after school hours, and often assumed the name of ‘Aunty’. Country Victoria’s first children’s hour was conducted by ‘Aunty June’ on 3TR Trafalgar. She was the daughter of the Trafalgar Presbyterian minister. When 3TR shifted to Sale, ‘Aunty June’ retired, and later in life went to Swan Hill to live, taking part in programs at 3SH and amateur theatre group performances.

During the 1930s and 40s, many towns featured gala balls. 3UL often broadcast direct from these events. Night time was the prime listening time before TV. The ever-popular Max Taylor, with Mary Corby, would describe the atmosphere, and we would all hear the Old Time dance music playing in the background – such bands as Jack Rogers, The Top Hatters, Bunny Hunter, and the Brock Brothers often provided the music. During the lull between dances, Mary would often describe the ballroom frocks worn by the girls, interviewing the Belle of the Ball and any dignitaries that were present that night.

Finally one must mention another 3UL initiative – the Christmas Morning Hospital Broadcast, Vern Haycroft was the instigator and presenter of the show. Patients sent cheerios to their families and friends and the doctors and nurses also got a mention. It took a team behind the scenes to put this show to air, travelling from ward to ward. Today, with minidiscs and radio microphones it would be much easier to produce. Then it was done through landlines connected by wire, and cables to the microphones. Mr Tony Pettit, editor of the Warragul Guardian, and a member of the hospital Board of Management took care of all the cable distribution, and many times Tony untangled yards of wire to get to air.

With the coming of TV, many expected radio to die, but instead it changed, with instant news services, current affairs, talk back, the Top40 and sports broadcasts, holding listeners. Today the average house has more than three radios, including one in every car, so wherever you go there is radio.

(PS: Those who have been at 3BBR since the beginning were trained by Max Taylor.)

A note from 3BBR secretary Lynn Wells: The 3UL Christmas broadcast was the first time I went to air on radio. Aged 9, I was in hospital over Christmas, and clearly remember Vern Haycroft coming around with the microphone, asking me a few questions, and then inviting me to deliver a Christmas message to my family, dogs, cats, cows etc, becoming mildly upset when I realised after he moved on that I’d forgotten to mention Bess the draught horse. But she probably wasn’t listening anyway.