Switched on to Radio

Rhonda Byrne

Radios were a fact of life when I was a pre-schooler. The one we had stood about 3ft. high and was about 2 ft wide. There was a rather small round face where the stations were selected by turning a knob, which moved a hand like one on a clock. The cabinet was stained timber with an intricate cut out design at the front backed with very pretty fabric, which hid the workings inside. It was turned on for the 8.00 am, mid-day, and 6.00 o'clock news at night. I don't remember it being on at any other time – but then, I would have been in bed by 7.00 PM.

My grandparents had a radio similar to ours. When we returned from Sydney, where my father worked with the C.C.C., we stayed with my grandparents while waiting for the tenants to vacate our home. After tea, we would sit in the dining room and listen to the radio. My grandfather sat in a lounge chair beside an open fire, with his ear almost glued to the radio. He fiddled with the knobs trying to tune it in and adjust the level of sound and tone amid much crackling and whistling. "It will be all right when it warms up," he would say – and sometimes it was.

We listened intently to the war news, which seemed to take a long time. My grandfather was also keenly interested to hear how a couple of racehorses, called 'Burnborough' and 'Phar Lap' fared at the Saturday afternoon races. Though I doubt very much that he would have had a bet.

It was here that I first heard 'Dad & Dave', 'Mrs. 'Obs', and 'Ada & Elsie' – we were in the age of slapstick comedy. These shows followed the news in 15 minute episodes. Later I remember hearing 'When a Girl Marries' (for all those who are in love and those who can remember!) Roy Rene Mo starred in McCackie Mansion, and we had game shows such as 'Pick-a-Box' with Bob & Dolly Dyer and the 'Jack Davey Show', and one with a group of bright youngsters called 'The Quiz Kids'. On Sunday night we listened to The Lux Radio Theatre or The Australia Amateur Hour, where ten contestants strutted their stuff – many of whom went on to very successful musical careers.

When we visited my father's mother who lived with his brother and my cousin Elizabeth in Sydney, Grandma's greatest passion at that time was 'Martin's Corner'. Her evening meal was served on a tray, which she took to the lounge room so she could listen in peace. I don't think she appreciated my attempts at conversation when I sometimes slipped away and crept into the room to sit at her feet.

As I grew older and stayed up later, I caught other shows, and during school holidays sometimes heard day time serials while helping my mother around the house. It was difficult though, as Mum didn't listen, and didn't like the radio on for such rubbish. I only remember 'Dr. Paul', and one in which the stars were Chichi and Stephen. I can't remember its title. 'Smokey Dawson' had a session, and there was a 'Hillbilly Hour' with much yodeling. There was 'The Lone Ranger' and, of course, 'Blue Hills' by Gwen Meredith was on each day at 1.00 pm.

Saturday afternoon radio was devoted to horseracing, so we didn't listen. Children were well catered for on Radio 2GZ Orange. Every weekday afternoon was a children's hour and once a week there was a live audience crammed into the little studio. I was allowed to attend occasionally. Stories and poems written by children were read and awarded prizes, birthday calls given, sometimes a story or short play was presented by the compares, Dick Hunt and Joy Chambers. The studio audience took part in community singing and some children sang or recited poetry while others took part in a quiz. There was no greater joy then, for many children, than to hear their name on the radio, or to be heard on the radio. This programme was followed by 'The Search for the Golden Boomerang', but it was a bit old for me.

In high school we were allowed to bring a potable radio to school, (they were available then) to listen to the Melbourne Cup, and barrack for our horses drawn earlier in the class sweep.

On Saturday mornings we had a programme introduced with the music 'Come away with me Lucille, in my merry Oldsmobile' called "Happiness Highway" It was presented by the local motor car distributor Cameron's Garage, who, until very recently sold cars in the Orange district. On Sunday mornings, there was no loitering after Mass with all the children rushing home to listen to Charlie Chuckles read the Sunday Comics which had appeared in The Sunday Telegraph.

Sometimes at night we would tune in to listen to the broadcast of a ball taking place. With chatter, laughter and an orchestra playing in the background, the comperes would strive to capture the atmosphere for the listeners, who were rather more interested in hearing who was there and what they were wearing. "And there's our Lady Mayoress looking absolutely stunning in a gown of…" and so it went on, for about 3 hours.

Radio brought the world into our homes. Sometimes it was old news by the time it reached our radio sets, but it was always welcome news, particularly for those who had loved ones in the war zones overseas. We heard news of bargain sales and special offers at our local stores, with wonderful programmes of music in between. Of course, even back then, we were bombarded with advertisements for a whole range of products. "It's ten o'clock and the Commonwealth Bank is now open for business" was heard each weekday. Singing commercials and jingles didn't start until much later.

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