Gippsland’s 90 years of radio

By Greg Allen Pretty*

The residents of Gippsland were among the first in regional Victoria to have radio and television services.

Television station GLV 10 (later GLV 8) was opened on 9 December 1961 from new purpose-built studios in Traralgon. Two years later, the ABC came to Gippsland when channel 4 opened on 30 September 1963 as a relay of ABV 2 Melbourne. It was an exciting time for Gippsland residents who were saving madly to afford that new piece of lounge room furniture with a cathode ray tube inside.

However by that time, entertainment had already been beaming into their homes for almost 30 years by way of electric wireless sets. They didn’t have moving pictures for us to see, but the sounds of concerts, plays and quiz shows conjured up lively images in the listener’s mind.

3FB Trafalgar, owned by the Trafalgar Radio Club and operated by Frank Berkery, went to air on 27 May 1929 via a rather weak 7.5 watt transmitter. However with almost no interference in those days, its signal carried some distance. 3FB was classed as an ‘experimental’ station, operating for only limited hours with entertainment from local groups and singers, and records borrowed from listeners.

However it wasn’t long before the amateur service developed into a fully licenced commercial radio station, relaunching on 29 September 1930 as 3TR, or ‘Trafalgar Radio’, with a stronger 30 watts signal. Members of the radio club were led by Archibald Gilchrist from Melbourne station 3DB in this new endeavour. Its on-air hours increased to cover the late morning and lunch period, then back for some evening entertainment from 6pm.

At this time, West Gippsland homes could also pick up Melbourne’s first four stations – 3AR, 3LO, 3UZ and 3DB. 3TR was the third station in the bush, preceded only by 3WR Wangaratta (which later became 3SR Shepparton) and 3BA Ballarat.

Australian Old Time Radio photo: 3YB’s mobile radio service came to Gippsland

From 1931, Gippsland listeners were also treated to some visiting broadcasts by mobile station 3YB. Because there were so few stations in Victoria, Ballarat pair Vic Dinenny and Jack Young travelled the state in Ford vehicles, a car and a truck, which housed their studio, a 50 watt transmitter, and masts that were erected at each location.

3YB, which stood for ‘Young of Ballarat’, later moved around in a specially fitted-out railway carriage. They would spend three weeks in each town after pre-selling advertising ahead of their scheduled visit. Records show their Gippsland stops included Yarram, Traralgon, Bairnsdale, Warragul, Leongatha, Wonthaggi and Korumburra.

3YB also came to Trafalgar, which would have been after 1932. Gilchrist bought 3TR from the Trafalgar Radio Club and, because of the station’s financial difficulties, moved it to the larger town of Sale. 3TR commenced broadcasts there with a 50 watt signal on 12 May 1932. 3TR also established a studio in Bairnsdale during the 1930s.

3TR in Stawell Street Sale. Photo contributed by Peter Gray.

By 1935, with more stations emerging around the state, the concept of a mobile station was less practical so two commercial licences for fixed stations were granted. 3YB found a new permanent home in Warrnambool in 1936 and another was to be established at Wonthaggi. However with 3TR having left Trafalgar, the second licence was instead used in Warragul for a station called 3UL, which went to air on 18 May 1937. Dinenny sold 3UL to the Argus newspaper, to become the third station in a network that already included 3YB and 3SR Shepparton.

Before that however, another station had emerged in Gippsland. 3GI, operated by the ABC, commenced broadcasting in Sale on 31 October 1935. It was initially a relay of Melbourne station 3AR, with several local programs presented in a studio in the town’s Post Office building. The reach of 3GI was extended into the Gippsland high country in February 1973 when programs were re-transmitted through 3MT Omeo. By this time, 3GI had many more local program hours each week.

Heading into the 40s and 50s, all the best programs were at night.

“There was no television in those days so the wireless set was in the middle of the loungeroom and everybody listened to all the shows at night,” according to long-serving 3UL announcer Max Taylor, speaking before his death to the Gippsland Heritage project.

“We had Australia’s Amateur Hour, Lux Radio Theatre, Dad and Dave, John Turner’s Family and all the serials.

“When a Girl Marries was one of the most popular, and they all came on 16 inch transcription discs,” Max said.

Radio stations often had their own auditorium for live entertainment programs. In 3UL’s case its move after the war from Brooks Hill to Victoria Street put the station directly opposite Warragul’s RSL hall, from which they had a permanent link back to the studio.

3UL at 43 Victoria Street, Warragul

Newly emerging television stations looked to radio to find on air talent. Melbourne’s HSV 7 did just that in 1956 when they discovered that Madeleine Burke and Ron Bond were presenting a highly successful childrens’ session on 3UL. The station lost the popular presenters of its Cheerio Club to the glamorous new medium of television.

In 1961, Gippsland’s GLV 10 was also looking for photogenic radio presenters. 3TR announcer Don Ewart was the first person to be seen on the station’s opening night. Ewart went on to anchor a nightly 15 minute local news bulletin. Meanwhile, Australian radio legend Keith McGowan, who landed his first announcing job at 3TR, also presented GLV’s Teen Time.

3TR’s Keith McGowan in 1961. McGowan went on to have a long and distinguished radio career that finished with his retirement from 3AW 50 years later. Photo contributed.

From the 1960s to the late 70s 3UL also broadcast for various hours a day from a shop-front studio in the former Railway Arcade in Morwell. However that ceased when 3UL went to a fully automated operation in 1977. An office was maintained there for a few more years. The arcade ran under the rail lines, connecting Commercial Road and Princes Drive. Dubbed “Radio Arcade” at the time, it attracted high levels of foot traffic between Morwell’s two main shopping areas, giving 3UL good exposure. That arcade is now gone.

By the 1980s, both 3TR and 3UL had increased power from 2000 to 5000 watts. Broadly speaking, 3TR serviced the Central and East Gippsland areas, while 3UL covered West and South Gippsland. However both stations overlapped in the highly populated Latrobe Valley, setting up a very competitive radio environment. Meanwhile the ABC’s 3GI was pushing out 10,000 watts ERP to cover most of the large Gippsland region.

Gippsland radio has had its share of quirky and irreverent breakfast announcers, including 3TR’s Steve Mummery, aka Mummery in the Morning, and 3UL’s Andrew Ogilvie and Glenn Knight.

One morning in the early 70s, Knight popped out the back of 3UL’s studios for a smoke while a record played. However panic ensued when he found he was locked out. The record had come to its end, clicking away in the end groove, while Knight ran through the streets looking for a business that was open early from where could make an urgent phone call to the nearest staff member. It wasn’t his best day’s work.

While 3GI remained in Sale, transmitting from Longford, there were more changes to come for the two commercial stations.

3UL enjoyed a long period of stability under the ownership of the Argus Broadcasting Service then, with the demise of the Argus newspaper, Associated Broadcasting Service. However new owners closed 3UL as a Warragul station, and re-opened it in Traralgon as 3GG, on 29 November 1989.

A sticker campaign in 1989 promoted 3UL’s name change to 3GG as the station moved from Warragul to Traralgon.

Reacting to 3UL’s move, 3TR also established new studios in Traralgon. However, while 3GG returned to Warragul around five years later, 3TR stayed in Traralgon. Despite the studio moves though, 3UL’s transmitters remained at Buln Buln (near Warragul) and 3TR’s at Myrtlebank (near Sale).

With 3TR’s purpose-built York Street, Sale studios now vacant, and 3GI needing to expand from its Raymond Street studios, the ABC bought the building and commenced broadcasting from there in March 1991.

For many years, 3TR was operated by the Victorian Broadcasting Network which initially included stations at Hamilton and Swan Hill, with a program supply affiliation with the Macquarie network. Subsequent ownership changes ended in 1995 when current owners ACE Radio purchased 3TR from Southern Cross which, at the time, also had GLV 8 (aka TV8). Despite becoming separately owned, the radio and television stations continued to operate from the same building on Coonoc Road, Traralgon.

Gippsland radio listeners were to be given more choice with the arrival of FM broadcasting.

The national station ABC FM (now ABC Classic) was extended to Gippsland in the early 80s with a mix of classical and jazz music programs. Similarly, Triple J came to Gippsland in the 90s as part of a national regional expansion of the ABC’s youth music station.

Local ABC service 3GI became known as GI-FM when it began broadcasting on 100.7 FM and translators in the east. The plan was for the AM signal on 828 kHz to then carry the ABC’s Radio National network. However listeners in remote, hilly areas where the FM signal couldn’t reach, successfully mounted a campaign to also keep GI-FM on 828 AM. The station was later renamed ABC Gippsland in line with a new naming convention for ABC radio stations.

Gippsland was the last region in Victoria to get commercial FM stations due to the Australian Broadcasting Authority’s slow region-to-region process of determining commercial licencees.

3TR was eventually granted a supplementary FM licence and 3TR-FM commenced operating on 15 April 2002. Having moved the 3TR name from AM to FM, a new station called 3GV was launched on the AM frequency of 1242 kHz. It was later changed to Gold 1242, and 3TR-FM was later shortened to TRFM.

Three weeks after 3TR-FM hit the air, 3GG’s owners RG Capital used their new FM licence to launch Sea FM. Subsequent ownership changes saw 3GG divested to Resonate Broadcasting, and name changes for the FM station to Star FM then Hit FM.

While 3GG and Hit FM are now separately owned, by Capital Radio and Southern Cross Austereo respectively, Gold 1242 and TRFM are still owned as a combo by the ACE Network. Both ACE stations also have FM translators at Bairnsdale to improve their reach through to Orbost.

Current Gold 1242 announcer Julie Strini has been with the station since its 3TR days.

Over the last 20 years the FM band also became home to a number of Community-licenced stations in towns including Drouin, Morwell, Bairnsdale, Omeo, Leongatha and Mallacoota.

The style of broadcasts has changed enormously over the last 90 years, beginning with gramophone recordings, live concerts from local halls, and in-studio performances by singers, bands and orchestras. Then came radio dramas, quiz shows and news services, at first being read from newspapers. There were also local ball broadcasts, football matches, hospital appeals and request programs.

How we listened to the broadcasts changed too, from wireless sets that were often large pieces of loungeroom furniture to small, portable transistor radios.

Among the national personalities to start out in Gippsland was celebrated race caller Bill Collins. After working at 3TR in the early 50s, ‘The Accurate One’ went on to call countless Melbourne Cups and other major horse races in Australia and overseas.

Legendary Australian race caller Bill Collins began his career at 3TR

At ABC Gippsland for 54 years, until his death in 2019, was sports broadcaster Kevin Hogan. Popular on and off the air, Kevin came to radio after playing football for South Melbourne, then cricket in Sale. The colourful broadcaster believed an involvement in sport was beneficial to a person’s overall wellbeing. Speaking on ABC Gippsland, Kevin once said “The problems that you face in sport help you to overcome the problems that you face in life.”

As television took a stronger hold, 3TR and 3UL began to play more recorded music, including a mix of past and current Top 40 hits. From the 1960s, both had outside broadcast vans with announcers live to air from local events, swimming pools and beaches.

A write-in Sunday morning request program that ran from the 1950s to the 70s called Popular Choice was one of 3UL’s most popular programs ever, as was Radio Market with Vern Haycroft then Max Taylor and Tony Osler.

3UL’s Vern Haycroft & Max Taylor, “Morning Tea with Max and Vern”, 1963. Photo contributed.

By 1981, Gippsland radio became more audacious with its promotional stunts. To promote a science fiction film at a local cinema, 3UL had a life-size UFO constructed. The breakfast show was interrupted for reports by Promotions Manager Alistair Doherty of a UFO that had landed in Apex Park, Moe. As large crowds gathered, police played along by cordoning the area off. The big reveal came just before 9am when a man appeared through an opening at the top, with a sign promoting the movie. So convincing was the stunt, that competitor 3TR was broadcasting a story of a UFO in Moe in its local news bulletins.

Before television, prime time for Gippsland’s stations was in the evenings. Broadcasting hours were gradually extended over the decades, from just a few hours after 6pm each day to 24 hours by the late 80s. Radio services that began with just 3TR, 3GI and 3UL have multiplied, changed locations, increased power, moved dial positions, changed in programming style, flirted with AM Stereo, and weathered challenges like the war, the arrival of television and now the onset of music streaming. It is probably because of its adaptability that radio is still popular after 90 years.

As for the future, digital radio will eventually extend to Gippsland but first there are hurdles to overcome. Digital radio is easy for Melbourne which has Mt Dandenong from which to blanket the suburbs. However Gippsland’s large size and hilly topography makes digital broadcasting greatly problematic.

Analogue broadcasting on AM and FM has served Gippsland’s radio listeners well for almost a century, and probably will for some time yet.

*Author’s note:
This is a brief history of Gippsland radio and is by no means complete. Many details have been omitted or skimmed-over for brevity, like Community radio, studio locations and more detailed ownership and network arrangements. And television in Gippsland is a whole other story, perhaps for another time. This article comes from research via multiple official and anecdotal sources and from personal conversations and recollections, having worked at 3UL, 3GG, 3YB, TRFM/Gold and elsewhere between 1976 and today.