|MILESAGO: Australasian Music & Popular Culture 1964-1975||Radio|
TOP 40 RADIO AND THE POP CHARTS
"Top 40 is a radio format based on frequent repetition of songs from a constantly-updated list of the forty best-selling singles. The term is also used to refer to the actual list of hit songs, and, by extension, to refer to pop music in general." - Wikipedia
Books and articles about Australasian popular music scene regularly cite the chart-topping" achievements of artists like Johnny O' Keefe and refer to landmark hits like Daddy Cool's Eagle Rock and famous disc-jockeys (DJs) like Stan "The Man" Rofe and Bob Rogers. But there is very little detailed information and even less in-depth analysis about the two related subjects that underlie such statements -- commercial pop radio programming and the Top 40 charts.
Although American and British radio and chart history is already well documented on the Web, there is as yet little substantial information available about this facet of the Australasian music scene. Debbie Kruger's superb 2SM website and Ash Long's exhaustive history of 3AK (not currently online) are probably the first web resources to extensively document the history of Australian commercial radio stations and look behind the scenes at how the stations were programmed, staffed and managed. Brief references to various people, records and events are scattered across the web. and there are some excellent academic resources available about radio praxis, but to my knowledge no-one has yet undertaken a comprehensive survey of this subject with specific reference to the history and development of the continuous pop music format and the Top 40 charts and their introduction and development in Australia.
Radio broadcasting went through a dramatic transformation in the 1950s, and only those over the age of 50 will have any personal experience of what radio was like before rock'n'roll stormed the airwaves. Although we hear them almost every day, the structures, practices and content that evolved in the early 1950s to replace the previous formulae are largely taken for granted. Outside of academia, these subjects are rarely analysed in any depth, or viewed within the context of the local social, economic and musical developments of the period.
Those of us who grew up in Australia or New Zealand in the late Fifties, Sixties and early Seventies lived through a time when TV, tape recorders and transistor radios were still new inventions. Talkback radio was still in its infancy and commercial radio was dominated by pop music stations that pumped out the latest hits 24 hours a day, only in mono and only on the AM band. There was no FM radio, no colour TV, no mobile phones, no VCRs, no video games, no CDs.
There are many fascinating aspects of this subject and many questions to be asked about the structures, functions and effects of continuous-music programming, the Top 40 and the pop charts. Why did radio have to abandon its old programming styles and move to the format that now predominate? Who devised, developed and implemented the new formats that became so popular and successful in radio around the world in the 1950s? What was the relationship between record companies and radio stations? How, where and by whom were the pop charts compiled? How and by whom were records selected for airplay?
I hope that the following article will provide a useful overview of the subject, and a starting point for further discussion. As always, I am indebted to the writers and researchers whose work forms the basis of this survey.
PART ONE: THE EVOLUTION OF THE TOP 40
The Jukebox Boom and The Hit Parade
The direct ancestor of the Top 40 concept was the Hit Parade, which developed in the American music industry in the late 1930s. This phenomenon was created by the interaction of a number of social, technological and economic factors -- the development and expansion of the broadcast radio, phonograph record and jukebox industries in the 1920s and their impact on society, and the global impact of the Great Depression in the 1930s.
Records had been 'leisure purchases' in the 1920s, but by the 1930s they were luxury items that were longer affordable for many people, and although mass-production lowered record prices considerably, the world economic crisis resulted a major drop in record sales after several decades of growth. The expansion of broadcast radio in the 1920s, which offered 'free' music programming -- often performed live by the top music stars of the day -- also had a significant impact on the once-booming phonograph industry.
But one area of the music business that provided a life-saver was the introduction of the jukebox. Jukeboxes evolved from the coin-operated amusement machines, nickelodeons and automatic pianolas of the late 1800s; these pay-for-play machines were adapted for the phonograph record when it came onto the market around the turn of the 20th century, and coin-operated phonographs were a major factor in popularising the new medium.
classic American jukeboxes from the Forties.
(Left) the Seeburg Concertmaster, 1940 (center) the spectacular Rock-Ola 1420 Commando (1942)
(Right) one of the most successful of all jukeboxes, the famous Wurlitzer 1015, 1946-47 -- over 56,000 units of this model were manufactured.
In 1933 American engineer Homer Capehart sold his Simplex automatic record changer mechanism to the Wurlitzer company, which was renowned for its famous theatre organs. In competition with with rival firms Seeburg and Rock-Ola, Wurlitzer began placing coin-operated jukeboxes in taverns, bars, malt-shops, drug stores and diners all over America. Typically costing just a nickel (5c) per play, jukeboxes proved an affordable and convenient alternative to buying records for the average worker, and they proved immensely popular -- by 1939 there were 300,000 jukeboxes installed across America -- Wurlitzer alone had sold over 100,000 machines by 1937 -- and the number one selection was Bing Crosby.
Manufacturing jukeboxes and supplying them with records proved to be a lucrative new market during the Depression --it was a godsend for the beleaguered recording companies, who were hit hard by the expansion of radio, not to mention saving Wurlitzer from the catastrophic effects of the introduction of talking pictures. The jukebox -- which was in essence the direct precursor of Top 40 radio -- also created a novel space for recorded music and marked another major step in the transformation of music from art to commodity.
Jukeboxes were located in public spaces like bars and diners; they presented customers with a small selection of the latest recordings -- typically between ten and thirty double-sided 78 rpm discs -- and unlike radio, jukeboxes played only music. Listeners could hear their favourite selections over and over and jukeboxes also provided an inexpensive way to 'preview' new or unfamiliar recordings. During World War II, Rock-Ola led the industry with the introduction of telephone-line music transmission systems, which proved very successful because kept the jukebox going at a time when non-essential manufacture was severley restricted because of wartime rationing, and the record industry was hit hard by the scarcity of shellac, which was obtained from South East Asia.
By the mid-1930s the jukebox boom had developed to a point where radio began paying close attention to which recordings were most popular with customers. The growing phenomenon of jukebox 'hits' undoubtedly influenced another key milestone in the evolution of the Top 40 -- the premiere of the American popular music program Your Hit Parade on 20 April 1935. Billed as “an accurate, authentic tabulation of America's taste in popular music”, it quickly became one of the most popular programs on network radio and ran until 1959; in later years it was made into a TV program which was 'simulcast' on NBC radio. Every Saturday night, Your Hit Parade presented the ten top songs of the week, saving the top three for the end of the show -- the first version of what became the "Top 40 Countdown". As a nod to their long-time sponsor, Lucky Strike Cigarettes, Your Hit Parade occasionally featured a favourite oldie, billed as a “Lucky Strike Extra.” Although the show’s advertising agency were secretive about the methods used to determine the top songs, it is understood that that the statisticians used sheet music sales, jukebox data, requests to orchestra leaders and radio performances in order to determine the weekly playlist.
The American music magazine Billboard published its first music hit parade listing on 4 January 1936; its first "Music Popularity Chart" appeared on 20 July 1940. The phrase 'hit parade' was also used for programs that featured hit tunes, such as Your Hit Parade.
The key difference between the Hit Parade and the Top 40 is that, until the late 1940s in the USA (and even later in other countries) the term 'hit parade' referred to a 'generic' list of songs rather than a list of particular recordings. This reflected the nature of popular music production at the time.
Prior to the 1960s, it was rare for top recording artists like Bing Crosby to write their own material. Mainstream popular songs were usually written by professional composers, who were usually not recording artists themselves. In many cases such songs became hits through regular concert performances, or their inclusion in stage musicals or films.
Interestingly, although stage shows and films were a major means of popularising and promoting new songs, before World War II it was rare for record companies to release original film soundtrack music or original cast stage recordings. It was record producer Jack Kapp who in 1943 came up with the idea of releasing a full set of 78rpm recordings featuring all the major songs from the hit musical Oklahoma! performed by the original Broadway cast. The resulting set of 78rpm records was the world's first complete "original cast recording". At the time, multi-disc sets came in a large folder, not unlike a family photo album, and this is the origin of the term "album", which is still applied to LP records and long-form CDs.
Record sales in the years 1920-1950 were considerably lower than today on a per capita basis, and songs were mainly promoted by their publishers, because it was much more common for songs to be recorded many times; unlike today, sheet music sales were also a major source of royalty income. As new songs became more popular, or older songs were revived, they would commonly be recorded by a wide range of different performers, in both vocal and instrumental versions. Many of Frank Sinatra's early hits were new recordings of songs that were already well established -- standards by Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, the Gershwins and Rogers & Hammerstein that had already been recorded by many other artists.
From the late 1940s on, the influence of performers like Crosby, Sinatra and Nat "King" Cole and the rapid improvements in recording technology made it increasingly common for a particular recording of a new song to become established as the definitive version and the yardstick against which all other versions were measured; often it proved to be the first version released, but this was by no means always the case. The act of re-recording a popular song became known as "covering", and rival cover versions often battled it out in the market place.
This process was sometimes immediate, but it could also take several years. Although Bing Crosby's 1941 recording of Irving Berlin's "White Christmas" quickly became the classic rendition, Frank Sinatra scored a Top Ten hit with his own version in 1944, although it is rarely heard today. Conversely, many artists before and after Sinatra recorded versions of Berlin's "How Deep Is The Ocean?", but it was Sinatra's 1952 version that is now considered the definitive interpretation.
Radio in "The Golden Age"
The Top 40 format was developed in America in the early 1950s as a direct response to the economic crisis that followed the introduction of television, which threatened to destroy the market dominance of radio and cinema. Both media had enjoyed unrivalled popularity and continuous growth from the early Twenties to the early Fifties. In 1919, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt advised that, in the interests of national security, the radio business should be organized and standardized. In the 1930s, with Roosevelt now president, his government undertook a massive nationwide electrification program, and as a result radio exploded into the US market. Within twenty years it had become one of the most popular and successful consumer products of all time.
The figures on the penetration of radio into American society are staggering, even by today's standards. One hundred thousand radios were sold in 1922, at an average cost of $50 each. As other manufacturers came into the industry, prices fell considerably, leading to a boom in the sale of battery-operated portable radios between 1923 and 1927. By 1924, the annual factory dollar volume of radios had multiplied tenfold to $50 million. By 1923 there were already more than 500 radio stations in America, and by the early 1930s this had increased to over 600. By 1937 an around 24,500,000 families owned a radio, adding up to an estimated 80 million individual listeners -- over 62% of the total 1937 population of 128,961,000. Four million families reported owning more than one radio and an incredible 4.5 million automobiles were equipped with radios; by the end of the 1930s, 20 percent of new American cars had built-in radios installed at the factory. In all, it was estimated that by the end of the Thirties, Americans owned 33 million radios -- around half of all the radios in the world at that time, and equal to the total number of automobiles and telephones in America combined. It's estimated that 90 percent of American homes had a radio by 1940.
As the first electronic mass communication medium, broadcast radio benefited from crucial differences and unassailable advantages over its predecessor, the newspaper. As the newspaper did before it, radio transformed society, culture and the economy rapidly, in many ways and at many levels. Radio was the first instantaneous mass-communication medium; it could be broadcast over great distances; remote stations could be (and very quickly were) linked together into national networks to broadcast common programming over vast areas, whereas newspapers were mostly focussed on the cities in which they were produced.
Another especially powerful and often overlooked advantage that radio enjoyed was that it was able to speak directly to millions of Americans who had literacy and/or language difficulties -- a very significant portion of the total U.S. audience in those days (and still estimated to be around 10-15% of the population today) and a major segment of the market into which, for obvious reasons, the print media was largely unable to penetrate.
Like movies, radio was primarily a static medium, but unlike cinema (or jukeboxes) radio was located and mostly listened to in the home, usually by individuals or by small family groups. There was a brief boom in battery-powered portable radios from 1923 to 1927, but by 1930 most household radios ran from AC mains power and receivers became larger, heavy and non-portable. The primary restriction on their mobility was that they needed to be connected to mains electrical power; although dry-cell batteries had been available from the late 1800s and were widely used in flashlights and other small appliances, the fragile vacuum tubes in radio circuits required high voltages and operated at high temperatures, and it wasn't until after the invention of the transistor in the late 1940s that the manufacture small, truly portable radios became practical.
Radio created a fundamental division between the information it could provide and the medium through which that information was distributed. The information printed in newspapers and books was, for all practical purposes, physically inherent to the medium itself -- the print was indivisible from the paper on which it was printed. Printing was a relatively simple and well-understood process that employed everyday materials; newspaper distribution involved unambiguous physical labour.
But the content of radio -- the programs -- were physically distinct from the means by which they were distributed. Radio broadcasts emanated invisibly, seemingly by magic, from mysterious and complicated transmitters which were usually many miles away from the sets that received them. Although many people built their own radios from kits, few would have fully understood how they worked or comprehended the scientific principles that made them possible.
Radio occupied an intimate 'psycho-social' niche, with its ability to reach into homes and cars and speak directly and intimately to listeners. Its strategic and security importance was immediately recognised by governments and business alike. Not surprisingly, private radio broadcasting was completely banned during WWI and by the early 1930s radio had been co-opted as a powerful propaganda tool bt the totalitarian regimes in Germany, Italy, Spain and Russia.
Radio also occupied a new and significantly higher position in the consumer economy. Newspapers cost only a few cents and were completely disposable. The first consumer radio sets were extremely expensive -- in the early 1920s, RCA's original Radiola receivers retailed at a whopping US$75. With increased competition, mass production and the introduction of DIY radio kits, prices fell considerably, but top-quality ready-made radio receivers could still cost the equivalent of several weeks' wages for the average worker, Alongside the automobile, the telephone and the phonograph, the purchase of radio sets became one of the major consumer items that powered the rise of the booming hire-purchase credit economy.
Like newspapers, radio in America between the wars developed rapidly into a commercially-based mass-market broadcast medium. Like newspapers, radio earned revenue and generated profit by charging advertisers for the broadcast of advertising material and/or the sponsorship of programming. The commercial radio sector was (and still is) principally concerned with creating content that would attract adult listeners with disposable income, so that broadcasters could expose listeners to these revenue-earning advertising messages placed in and around the "free" entertainment. In order to attract as wide and general an audience as possible, AM radio programming, during the "Golden Age" in the 1930s and 1940s, was multi-focal and heterogeneous.
Variety was the keyword. Music was certainly an important feature of daily broadcasting, but it was only part of a broader format -- in 1938 just over 50% of mainstream airtime in America was filled by music. Radio also played a much wider variety of music -- it's been estimated that the average number of songs heard across the various American networks on a typical evening was greater than 350. Live performance and presentation predominated, and this was reinforced by the fact that radio lacked the means to make high-fidelity, long-duration recordings. Until the late 1940s the main commercial and professional recording medium was the 78rpm shellac disc, and its fragility, relatively low fidelity and short duration -- even the largest discs ran only about 10 minutes -- made it difficult to pre-record programs in the way we take for granted today. Indeed, some American radio networks regulated against the use of records on air, citing their inferior sound quality, and the majority of musical content on radio in this period was performed live-to-air.
Until the 1950s the major American radio networks generally resisted broadcasting significant amounts of pre-recorded music, partly on the grounds that the sound quality of 78rpm records was too poor, but it's likely that they were also keen to avoid paying royalties unless they had to. This cut both ways, however -- in the 20s, as radio made big inroads into record revenues, recording companies began signing artists to exclusive contracts in an attempt to prevent them from working on radio. As a rule, shows that included significant amounts of music, such as Your Hit Parade or The Bing Crosby Show, featured live performances.
A typical broadcast day was structured in blocks of pre-scheduled programs, sponsored by advertisers. Individual programs blocks varied in content, covering a broad range of genres including serials, 'soap operas', radio plays, news, sports, drama, comedy, quizzes and variety shows. As broadcasting and networking developed in the USA, program blocks were scheduled to attract targeted segments of the total audience who listened at different parts of the day. Women's programs consisting of talk, 'soap operas' and serials, were typically scheduled in the morning, lunch-hour and early afternoon. Programs with broader family appeal such as news, talks, music, comedy, quiz shows and radio dramas were scheduled in the late afternoon and evening. Popular music recordings were played only occasionally, often slotted in between program segments.
Music programming choices were generally made within the station or network, generally by company executives, producers or the performers themselves. As exemplified by Your Hit Parade, these choices took into account factors such as sheet music and jukebox sales, radio airplay and feedback from performers, but a key agent in the process was the music industry song-plugger. Song-pluggers were sales representatives employed by music publishing companies or recording companies who acted as the go-between between the music companies and the radio programmers. Radio airplay was recognised as a major factor in gaining as much exposure for a song as possible, but unlike today, where record sales are the benchmark, in the 1930s it was sales of sheet music (which was considerably cheaper than a record). A 1940s study estimated that a song needed at least ten performances on Your Hit Parade in order to become a hit.
The Crooner and The Boffin
The biggest star of American radio, films and recording, and the number one artist on American jukeboxes in the Thirties was Bing Crosby. His success was a mixture of talent, luck, hard work and astute management, but an important factor was that he was one of the first performers to take an active interest in shaping the sound of his broadcasts and recordings, by using new audio technology to create the maximum impact on listeners. It's not widely known that the legendary crooner was instrumental in fostering the commercial development of magnetic audio tape recording in the late 1940s, which transformed radio and recording practices in the 1950s.
Under his avuncular exterior, Crosby was a shrewd and far-sighted businessman. From the beginning of his career he was acutely aware of the importance of audio technology and production techniques and he was a prime mover in many developments that have since become industry cornerstones. The introduction of electrical recording in the late 1920s, just as he was launching his solo career, proved vital to Crosby's success and he was one of the first singers to exploit the possibilities of the newly-developed RCA ribbon microphone, which was crucial in creating his trademark warm, 'crooning' vocal sound.
Around the same time, engineers of the German company AEG, working with the chemical giant I.G. Farben, were creating the world's first practical magnetic tape recorder, the K1, which was first demonstrated in 1935. During WWII, almost by accident, AEG engineers discovered the AC biasing technique, which radically improved sound quality and enabled them to develop their recorders to new heights of technical excellence. As early as 1943 the AEG engineers had working stereo recorders.
From their monitoring of Nazi broadcasts, the Allies knew that German radio studios had some revolutionary new kind of high-fidelity recorder that could reproduce top-quality sound in segments of unprecedented length -- up to 15 minutes duration. But for several years, they didn't know what it was or how it worked. As Germany fell to the Allies during 1944-45, the victorious Americans discovered the revolutionary machines. But the development of these remarkable devices might have taken a very different path had it not been for an enterprising American soldier and his meeting, two years later, with Bing Crosby.
John T. Mullin was a gifted electronics engineer who served in the U.S. Army Signal Corps. He was posted to Paris in the final months of WWII, and his unit was assigned to find out everything they could about German radio and electronics. They had soon collected hundreds of low-quality magnetic dictating machines, but it was a chance visit to a radio studio at Bad Neuheim, near Frankfurt, that yielded the real prize.
Mullin had been assigned to investigate a Nazi radio facility near Frankfurt, where it was said that the Germans had been experimenting with using high-energy radio beams as means of knocking out the electrical systems of Allied aircraft. When he arrived he found that the site had been heavily bombed and the Germans had removed or destroyed any equipment that had survived, so on a whim he decided to stop in at a nearby radio station which had just been captured by American forces.
When he arrived at the station, Mullin was given an astounding find -- two portable, suitcase-sized AEG 'Magnetophon' high-fidelity recorders and 50 precious reels of Farben recording tape. After returning to Paris, he had them shipped home to America. He recovered them at war's end and over the next two years he worked on the machines constantly, modifying them and improving their performance.
Mullin's main hope was to interest the Hollywood movie studios in using magnetic tape for movie sound recording. He gave two public demonstrations of his machines, and they caused a sensation among American audio professionals -- many listeners literally could not believe that what they were hearing was not a live performance. By luck, one of those who attended Mullin's second demonstration at MGM studios in Hollywood was Bing Crosby's technical director, Murdo Mackenzie. He arranged for Mullin to meet his boss, and in June 1947 Crosby was given a demonstration of Mullin's magnetic tape recorders.
Bing was no technician, but like the audiences at Mullin's first two demonstrations, he was amazed by the remarkable sound quality of the new recorders, and instantly saw the huge commercial potential of the new machines. As noted above, live music was the standard for American radio at the time and the big networks didn't permit the use of records in many programs because of their comparatively poor sound quality. Moreover, Crosby hated the regimentation of live broadcasts, preferring the relaxed atmosphere of the studio. He had already asked NBC to let him pre-record his 1944-45 series on transcription discs, but the network refused, so Crosby had withdrawn from live radio for a year and had returned for the 1946-47 season only reluctantly.
Mullin's tape recorder came along at precisely the right moment. Crosby realised at once that the new technology would enable him to pre-record his radio show with a sound quality that equalled live broadcasts, and that these tapes could be replayed many times with no appreciable loss of quality. Mullin was asked to tape one show as a test and it was such as success that he was immediately hired as Crosby's chief engineer and assigned to pre-record the rest of the series.
Armed with Mullin's new tape recorders, Crosby became the first major music star to 'master' commercial recordings on tape, and the first to use tape to pre-record radio broadcasts. The shows were painstakingly edited to give them a pace and flow that was wholly unprecedented in radio. Mullin even pioneered the use of "canned laughter" -- at the insistence of Crosby's writer Bill Morrow, he inserted a segment of raucous laughter from an earlier show into a joke in a later show that hadn't worked well.
Keen to make develop the new technology as soon as possible, Crosby invested $50,000 in a local electronics firm, Ampex, and the tiny six-man concern quickly became the world leader in the development of tape recording, revolutionising radio and recording with its famous Model 200 tape deck, developed directly from Mullin's modified Magnetophones. Working with the brilliant Mullin, Ampex engineers rapidly developed two-track stereo and then three-track recorders. Spurred on by Crosby's move into TV in the early Fifties, Mullin and Ampex made more and bigger breakthroughs -- they had a working monochrome videotape recorder by 1950 and a colour recorder by 1954, both created to tape Crosby's TV shows.
Crosby's innovations rapidly spread throughout the industry and tape completely transformed both radio and recording. Programs, commercials, station IDs and other messages could now all be be pre-taped, mixed and edited to create a seamless flow of programming. Audio from a wide range of sources could be taped, edited, mixed and manipulated in previously unheard-of ways. Actors, presenters and musicians could now do multiple ' takes' of a performance and then select and keep the best, and mistakes could be edited out. Pre-taped programs could be copied and distributed anywhere in the world with ease. Within only a few years Spike Milligan (with the assistance of the famous BBC Radiophonic Workshop) was using tape to create hilariously radical new soundscapes, speeding tapes up, slowing them down and even playing them backwards. Tape also provided a new and inexpensive means of creating echo and reverberation, which totally transformed the sound of radio and recordings -- it became commonplace for DJs in the Sixties and Seventies to add echo to their voices, and tape echo provided the famous "slapback" reverberation that was the hallmark of Elvis Presley's breakthrough recordings for Sun Records.
The development of multi-track tape recording, invented by guitarist Les Paul and commercialised by Ampex, led to the widespread adoption of three-track and then four-track tape, which totally transformed the recording industry and the sound of recorded music. Again, Crosby was a major force -- three-track was developed primarily as a means of improving the vocal sound of his recordings, since it enabled his engineers to record lush backing tracks in full stereo and still have a discrete third track to carry his vocal.
In the mid-60s, as Top 40 radio was undergoing further format developments, the introduction of the endless-loop tape cartridge provided the industry with another tape-based tool that completely transformed the way that advertising messages and station IDs could be inserted into programming. By the early 1960s, many radio stations were recording some or all of their music, spot announcements, and station IDs on 'carts' that could be quickly inserted, played repeatedly and which would stop automatically at the beginning of the recording, ready for immediate replay. It soon became standard practice for advertisements -- which were previously read out live on air -- to be pre-taped, and they were often elaborately produced, recorded on multi-track tape, using echo and multiple sound effects. Indeed, commercial advertising work soon dominated the daytime business of independent recording studios, leading to a long-standing industry practice, where rock groups -- who were usually not the biggest-paying clients -- commonly had to record during studio "down time" in the late evening and the early hours of the morning.
Radio, Rock and 'The Box'
Radio ruled supreme for over twenty years, but by the early Fifties in America, with television being taken up at an astonishing rate, it became increasingly obvious that radio's old programming formats could not hope to compete. Audiences and advertisers defected to the new medium in droves, ratings plummeted and revenues fell for the first time in the industry's history. The more telegenic stars immediately moved into the new medium; Nat King Cole, the first African-American to host his own network radio show, became the first to have his own TV program. Behind the scenes a "brain drain" of talent saw many of the radio's top programmers, managers, technicians, producers, directors and writers cross over to TV.
TV posed a multifaceted threat to radio's previous dominance of U.S. home entertainment. Most importantly, television supplanted radio's role as the family home entertainment medium and it appropriated all of radio's major program genres -- variety, drama, serials and quiz shows. TV schedules today are the direct descendents of the radio block programming formats devised in the 1930s. Radio was compelled to find new program formats that could not be easily duplicated by TV.
Fortunately, two new formats came to radio's rescue in the Fifties and Sixties, and these two styles still predominate. The first was the continuous music/Top 40 format, in its many variations. The second format, which arrived somewhat later but which has proven to be the 'killer application' that radio executives had long dreamed of, was talkback.
By a fortunate coincidence, the emergence of rock & roll in the mid-Fifties gave the new continuous music format an entirely new musical genre that could provide exciting new content with which to attract listeners. The new music style and the new radio format evolved in synergy, and both were given a unique "leg up" by the two post-war booms -- the so-called "long boom" in western post-war economies, which lasted from the late Forties to the early Seventies, and by the the post-war baby boom, which led to a new and unprecedented demographic distribution.
In many Western nations, people under 18 years of age now comprised as much as twenty percent of the total population, giving rise to another novel social phenomenon -- the teenager. Equally importantly, the economic boom, the and the record high levels of employment meant that families and teenagers in the United States, Western Europe and Australasia were enjoying a tremendous rise in living standards and, for the first time, this new block of under-18s had access to significant amounts of disposable income.
The post-war technology boom also gave radio vital assistance in the form of a suite of new audio technologies -- full-frequency recording, the vinyl 7" single and 12" LP, magnetic audio tape (as noted above) and, in the 1960s, the tape cartridge. But above all, it was the invention of the transistor and the development of cheap, robust and portable personal and car receivers that enabled radio to simultaneously transform both the way it was presented and the milieu in which it was heard.
Rock & roll music and Top 40 radio evolved together, but despite the emergence and eventual dominance of the "rock" genre (especially after the ascent of Elvis Presley) there were still many "out-of-genre" hits that broke into the charts on a regular basis. Examples include gospel songs such as Oh, Happy Day! by the Edwin Hawkins Singers, the execrable pro-Vietnam War propaganda dirge "Ballad of the Green Berets" by Sgt Barry Sadler, the innumerable novelty songs like "Daddy Cool" by Drummond that regularly infested the charts from time to time, instrumental numbers (e.g. "Telstar", "Bombora", "Popcorn") and sentimental, middle-of-the-road ballads like Englebert Humperdink's lugubrious "Release Me", which famously kept The Beatles' epoch-making "Strawberry Fields Forever" / "Penny Lane" out of the top spot on the British charts in early 1967.
Top 40 also spawned the phenomenon of the personality disk jockey, whose between-song patter and active cultivation of young listeners became as important as the songs themselves. In Australia, pioneering rock DJs like the late, great Stan "The Man" Rofe, John Laws and Bob Rogers became major stars. They exerted a huge effect on listeners through their style and presentation, and also had a huge influence on the charts, because they were able to exercise a high degree of control over what went onto the playlist -- a latitude that is unheard of today -- and they also routinely championed new artists from Australia and new records from overseas.
It's important to note the influence of the co-called "Personality DJs" in the emergence of rock'n'roll as the dominant genre in continuous music programming. Racism was still rampant in postwar America, and it was as prevalent in the music industry as in any other area of society. Radio programs and recording company catalogues were dominated by Anglo-European performers, many of whom -- like Bill Haley, Elvis Presley and Pat Boone -- became famous by covering original recordings by black musicians. Even the charts were segregated -- records by black performers were categorised as "race" records and they were rarely if ever played on network radio, being mainly relegated to co-called "race" stations which catered specifically to black audiences. Equally importantly, song pluggers gave 'race' records little if any promotion.
But as radio began experimenting with the new continuous music format, a new kind of radio personality was needed to present it. Many of these new "Disc Jockeys" (or DJs) were hired for their specialist knowledge of current music styles, and they were given unprecedented freedom in choosing material for their shifts. A prime mover in the emergence of rock'n'roll on radio was Alan Freed, a disc jockey on WXEL in Cleveland, Ohio. Freed had been presenting much the same playlist as other jocks, a mixture of jazz, rhythm & blues and popular songs -- but that changed when local record store owner Leo Mintz told Freed about a remarkable shift in his sales patterns. Mintz reported that it was not the white cover artists but the 'race' originals that were selling best, and he convinced Freed to present a shift of black R&B on station WJW. Freed agreed to program the 'race' records (against the wishes of the song-pluggers) and his now-legendary Moondog Show premiered on 11 July 1951. It was the opening salvo in a musical revolution and it was Freed's program that popularised the term "rock'n'roll" as the name for the new music style.
The Moondog Show also initiated a fundamental shift in the dynamic of radio music programming -- Freed began playing what he knew the audience wanted to hear, rather than following his own taste or the dictates of a station program director. Listeners could also suggest a song by either purchasing it (which would be fed back to DJs by retailers) or by calling the radio station to request favourite songs or ask for replays of new material that they liked. For the first time, the interests and choices of the audience became a major force in music programming decisions. Disc jockeys of the Fifties -- especially Freed -- were famous for holding dances and introducing talent from the local area, and Freed's rock'n'roll dances became the most famous (and controversial) musical events of their day.
Freed's legendary "Moondog Coronation Ball" at the 10,000-seat Cleveland Arena in March 1952 drew nearly 20,000 fans (almost all of them black) who crashed the gates, causing the dance to be cancelled. This event is now considered to be the first "rock" concert and it brought Freed great notoriety, marking the point at which his program began to cross over to an increasing number of white listeners. In September 1954 Freed was hired by WINS in New York. The following January he held a landmark dance there, promoting black performers as rock & roll artists. Within a month, the music industry was advertising "rock & roll" records in the trade papers. Freed also hosted a string of legendary stage shows at the Brooklyn and New York Paramount Theatres; his show was heard nationally via CBS radio and he starred in several rock & roll movies. In 1957 ABC-TV gave Freed his own nationally-televised rock & roll show, but it was here that his luck began to desert him -- on one episode, black singer Frankie Lymon was seen dancing with a white girl. The 'transgression' enraged ABC's affiliate stations in the racist heartlands of America's southern states, and the show was cancelled.
DJs like Freed actively researched the music tastes of their listening audience, but a record's popularity was not the only motivation for airplay. It didn't take long fore song pluggers to realise that the rock'n'roll trend was becoming a national movement and they began offering DJs gifts, bribes and other incentives in return for programming their records. This led to the infamous payola scandal, which broke in 1960. Freed was by now the most visible figure in rock'n'roll radio and he became a prime target of the investigation. It ruined his career (he died penniless in 1965) and it brought the era of the personality DJ to an end in the United States -- although they continued to be very popular in other countries, especially Australia, into the late 1960s -- and his fall marked the end of the brief period in which DJs, rather than program directors, decided what was played on air.
Rock'n'roll music provided the exciting new 'fuel' for continuous music programming, but the central reason for its lasting success of the this and the subsequent success of talk-talkback was that neither format was at all conducive to presentation on TV. Talkback TV, while technically feasible, is excruciatingly dull to watch. TV pop shows came and went, and many pioneering programs such as American Bandstand and 60s classics like Shindig and Hullaballoo were enormously popular. But for the most part, pop music on TV was merely one small component in the larger schema of block programming that TV had inherited from radio. And there were major technical, logistical and aesthetic problems that limited television's ability to present a viable televised version of Top-40 radio for many years. 'Live' appearances --usually mimed to a pre-recorded track or to the performer's current record -- were the norm, and it would be years before purpose-made promotional film-clips became a reasonable substitute. Pop TV was also vastly more expensive to produce than a Top 40 radio show, and it wasn't until the advent of cable TV and the music video in the early 80s that continuous music Top 40 television became a useful option for television broadcasters. With no effective competition from TV, and with a new ability to be taken anywhere (thanks to the transistor), Top 40 radio soon became the saviour of the industry
As American radio historian Woody Goulart has noted, it is difficult to pinpoint precisely where, when and by whom the new continuous music format was developed, but several names can be safely listed as being key innovators in the field. The current consensus credits the invention and naming of the Top 40 format to American radio executive Todd Storz; other essential elements of and variations on the formula were developed by Gordon McLendon, the Bartell Group and Rick Sklar.
Todd Storz (1924-1964) and his father bought radio station KWOH in Omaha, Nebraska in 1949, just as TV was taking off in the USA. Within a short time, TV was decimating radio's ratings and revenues and radio executives like Storz began a desperate search for new program ideas that might lure audiences back. There was also significant shift taking place in the long-standing relationship between radio and records -- radio was in dire straits, but record sales had never been higher and they were growing all the time.
Storz knew that the average jukebox at that time now held about forty 78rpm records; they were also well aware of the strong response that certain songs got from the public when played on air, and the fact that this airplay translated directly into sales at retail outlets. According to legend, the key insight was provided by a jukebox during a long evening at a bar across the street from the KWOH studio. The story goes that as Storz and Stewart talked through the evening, they were struck by the way that certain selections were being played over and over by patrons and staff. By the time they left, they had realised that they could feature far more music than was currently being played on radio, and that listeners would be more than happy to hear their favourite songs over and over again.
But recent research suggests that the fabled jukebox story was really just a fable. Radio historian Richard Fatherley has recently compiled a comprehensive audio history of the Storz format, Radio's Revolution and the World's Happiest Broadcasters. According to Fatherley, Storz had long been aware of the significance of the jukebox, an observation he had made while serving in the US Army during WWII.
The direct inspiration for Storz's new format was in fact a 1950 University of Omaha research project which indicated that listeners rated music as a major reason for listening to radio. Storz acquired the research, then, drawing on the models such as New York station WNEW (one of the only all-music stations in America during the 'Golden Age') and the music shows Your Hit Parade and Lucky Lager Dance Time, he axed all network programming and switched to an all-music format, giving the Top Ten songs heavy rotation.
After buying WTIX in New Orleans, Torz heard about a rival station there, WDSU, which had a successful Top 20 show. He scheduled his own hit parade show on WTIX, at exactly the same time as WDSU's, but Storz extended the show for an extra hour, and added another twenty records, thereby creating the world's first Top 40 program.
Storz's innovations laid the foundation for the Top 40 format -- one that was relatively homogeneous, which featured a previously unheard-of amount of music and which concentrated on the repetitive playing of a small playlist of hit records (based on jukebox and record sales) rather than emphasising specific genres or particular artists.
As Storz expanded his stable of stations he gradually converted them to the all-hits format, and he also pioneered the practice of surveying record stores to determine the best-selling singles each week. In 1954, Storz purchased WHB-AM, a high-powered station in centrally-located Kansas City, which could be heard throughout the Midwest and Great Plains regions. He switched it to the all-hits format, and dubbed the result "Top 40". Shortly thereafter WHB premiered the first "Top 40 Countdown", a reverse-order playing of the station's top-ranking of hit singles for that week.
Within a short time years, Top 40 stations had sprung up all over the country with tremendous success, fuelled by the explosive popularity of rock'n'roll music and focussed by the emergence of Elvis Presley. Radio stations in other countries soon followed suit. Britain's first pop chart had already begun back in 1952 and Australia's first Top 40 chart appeared in early 1958.
Storz's innovations were quickly picked up and developed by others. Another major figure was Gordon McLendon (1921-1986) who developed other key elements that quickly became essential features of the format for years to come. McLendon was program director at KLIF in Dallas; according to Richard Fatherley, McLendon had in fact visited Storz's station in Kansas City, listened to the format, returned to Dallas and put it into action there. He spiced up the format with his personal combination of presentation features, which he nicknamed "sparkle" -- a polished and pacy mixture of contests, games and jingles, disc jockey 'patter' and fast-paced news. His polished format, featuring 'personality' disc jockeys, quickly made KLIF the top-rating station in the city. McLendon maintained KLIF’s high profile by spending thousands of dollars every month on headline-grabbing stunts and contests. This success led him to explore other formats. In 1959, he created the "Beautiful Music" format for KABL San Francisco, which soon spread all over the country and around the world, the same format adopted by Australian stations like 2CH Sydney and 3AK Melbourne in the early Seventies. In the early Sixties, he pioneered the first "all-news" radio station at WNUS Chicago.
One of the most influential and innovative radio companies in this period was the family-run Bartell Group, based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Beginning in 1947, the Bartell family acquired a string of stations in the south and Midwest and implemented an objective and systematic approach to programming. Whenever they entered a new market, they attempted to find a niche audience that was not being served by the existing stations. The Bartells, who all had musical training, quickly adopted the new continuous music format that had been pioneered by Storz, but developed a unique blend of elements that was based on an hourly program or 'hot clock'. This included locally-oriented news, DJ patter, public service announcements, singing commercials, pre-recorded station IDs and jingles, and contests and special promotions, in addition to the top tunes. The Bartell stations were among the first local operations to produce and record singing commercials and station jingles (common on network radio but rare on local stations at that time) and they also experimented with echo chambers, filters and other new technology to help create a unique on-air sound. Their original Milwaukee station, WOKY, was the first in the world to broadcast traffic reports from a helicopter. As a result, the Bartell group became known as one of the leaders in the development of format radio.
As Woody Goulart notes, it was a comment by Lee Bartell on the formula radio 'philosophy' which pointed the way for other programmers to follow in the 1960s and 1970s:
"There is no pat formula which can catapult a radio station to the top and keep it there. Programming is a total occupation. It is the development of a more highly refined concept which must make the difference, and predetermined pattern is a necessity. Psychological aids must be developed and pursued. The use of words and phrases -- even predetermined inflections -- are a part of the implementation and the development of the pattern. Music is selected with design. Each of the elements is merely a tile in the mosaic."
Rick Sklar was another highly influential American programmer. Sklar was in at the beginning of Top 40 rock & roll radio in New York, where he got his start working at WINS with the legendary Alan "Moondog" Freed and Murray "The K" Kaufman. He developed his own version of the Top 40 format for New York station WABC (part of the American ABC radio and TV empire) in the early Sixties, slashing the playlist from over 77 records to just 24 and hiring 'personality' DJs, notably Bruce "Cousin Brucie" Morrow. Sklar's innovations greatly improved the the station's ratings, and after ABC abandoned network-wide programming in 1968 and gave Sklar complete control, he implemented his famous "Musicradio" format which soon made WABC the #1 station in the city, a position it maintained well into the Seventies. Sklar's methods were successfully imitated copied by many other stations, particularly in the eastern and mid-western United States.
Two other noteworthy figures who contributed to the development of the format were Steve Labunski and Ruth Meyer, one of the few female programmers working in radio at that time. Labunski, a former employee of Todd Storz, became general manager of WMCA New York in 1958. He had previously worked with the talented Meyer in Kansas City, where she had become the city's Top 40 expert. Against stiff resistance from the station's owners, Labunski hired Meyer as program director and together they implemented their own version of the Storz Top 40 format. Meyer consolidated the format in mid-1960, focussing on a "team radio" approach in which all the on-air personalities -- who were dubbed "The Good Guys" -- worked together and were actively promoted as a cohesive, unified group. Other U.S. stations took up the concept, and within a couple of years it had even reached Australia, where it was first implemented by 2SM in 1962 and quickly copied by 3AK, 5KA and 6PR.
Meyer did not coin the "Good Guys" slogan, and the idea was used by other stations, but it was Meyer who perfected the concept and no other station promoted the idea so vigorously or enjoyed such success with it. WMCA's "Good Guys", "Dandy" Dan Daniel, Harry Harrison, Gary Stevens, Frankie Crocker, Dean "Dino" Anthony, Mitchell Reed, Jack Spector, Ed Baer and Frank Stickel, became inextricably linked with the station and the concept. Notably, WMCA also regularly 'broke' new records that had not been played elsewhere, in contrast to its major competitor, WABC, which only played records that already had a proven sales success. On 29 December 1963, WMCA fired the opening shot in a cultural revolution when Jack Spector played "I Want To Hold Your Hand", the first Beatles record ever broadcast on New York radio.
Continuous music Top 40 programming proved hugely successful for a decade, but by the mid-60s, the formula was becoming stale. At this point, a new generation of innovators began to reshape and refine the format. The most important innovators were undoubtedly Bill Drake, (real name Philip Yarbrough) and his colleagues Gene Chenault and Ron Jacobs, who jointly developed the now-famous "Boss Radio" format, which put many features taken from the earlier regional variants together into one powerful new package.
Drake and Chenault met while working in radio in Fresno, California, around 1964, and soon after joining forces they were selected to overhaul the ailing Los Angeles AM station KHJ, part of the RKO radio network. The third member of the team was Honolulu-born Ron Jacobs, whose career began at Honolulu's KPOA in 1958 where he became Hawaii's youngest program director. It was there he began his friendship with Bill Gavin and pioneer programming consultant Mike Joseph. Gavin went on to publish the influential Gavin Report, an industry [rogramming service which included a regular section that alerted programmers to records that might be potentially offensivw. The Gavin Report was responsible for the banning of many recordings in the Sixties, notably The Byrds' "Eight Miles High", which was banned due to its perceived drug references -- which were (and still are) hotly denied by the group.
In 1959, Jacobs joined another new station, KPOI, Hawaii's first Top 40 outlet, which he took to the top of the ratings in less than a year. In 1962, he left for the mainland, to take up the post of Vice President of Programming for the Colgreene Corporation. Jacobs refined his programming concepts and applied them to two of Colgreene's stations in southern California, KMEN in San Bernadino and KMAK in Fresno, California. Within months, both stations were number one in their respective cities.
Not surprisingly, Jacobs' success came to the attention of Bill Drake, who was then working for a rival Fresno station. When Drake and Chenault were hired to overhaul KHJ in Los Angeles, Drake hired Jacobs as program director. Within six months the new team had turned KHJ around and it was the top-rating AM station in Los Angeles. The format was then adapted for use throughout RKO's chain of AM and FM stations, and it enjoyed success far beyond LA. The list of cities that had Drake-Chenault consulted stations grew to include San Francisco, New York City, Boston, Memphis, and Windsor, Ontario. While at KHJ, Jacobs also produced the 48-hour special, The History of Rock And Roll, radio's first "rockumentary," a term Jacobs coined to describe the much-imitated epic broadcast.
There were many elements to the Boss Radio 'formula', but several key features can be identified. Drake heavily promoted the concept and slogan "Much More Music", which involved playing more records per hour than the competition. One of the 'tricks' used to achieve this was speeding up the rotation of the turntables from 45rpm to about 47rpm -- not fast enough to be obvious, but enough to make a difference in the time it took the record to play. This 'tweaking' also made the records sound brighter and created a subconscious impression that the station was more 'happening and lively' than its competitors.
Another key part of the Drake format was a drastic paring-back of the amount of DJ 'patter'. Drake and Jacobs laid down strict guidelines both on what DJs could say and how long they could say it for -- usually no more than 8-10 seconds! Notably, Drake also reduced the number of commercials per hour, based on the premise that, as ratings went up, the station could raise its advertising rates and would earn more money from fewer spots.
Drake, Chenault and Jacobs then formed an independent consultancy, originally called American Independent Radio (AIR) but best known by its later name, Drake-Chenault Enterprises (DCE). They took the role of the independent radio programming consultant to new heights, packaging, promoting and selling their winning format to other stations, and DCE's format became the most popular form of broadcasting in the western United States until the early 1970s.
DCE also pioneered the concept of radio station automation, a trend that had its origins in Bing Crosby's pre-recorded broadcasts of the late 1940s. DCE made in-house recordings of entire program shifts, using top DJs. Utilising the latest computer-controlled technology, they created a system that could automatically play their fully pre-recorded programs, eliminating the need for live presentation and giving small stations access to the winning DCE formula at a fraction of the cost of using live DJs and consultant programmers.
In America, the Top 40 format on AM radio reigned supreme for around twenty years, and only began to wane in the 1970s with the expansion of FM radio, which offered superior sound and more varied programming. Much of the American audience moved to more sophisticated and targeted formats such as "Album Oriented Rock". Many AM stations converted to a talk/talkback format, and as in Australia, this proved to be hugely successful. Radio formats diversified; many stations began specialising in particular styles or genres of music such as jazz, classical, country or progressive rock, rather than playing current hits regardless of genre. Others opted for new permutations on the old Top 40 format (many of them devised by DCE) such as "Golden Oldies" or "Hits & Memories ".
British Pop Radio: The Beeb vs The Pirates
Britain's adoption of the Top 40 continuous music format took place in a substantially different radio environment to that which existed either in America or Australasia. Broadcast radio in America was overwhelmingly owned by private companies and large corporations; there was a public broadcasting network, but it was nowhere near as large as the BBC or the ABC. In Australia our two-tiered system led to a sharp division, with Top 40 pop radio confined almost exclusively to the commercial sector; the government-funded ABC radio and TV networks avoiding any serious engagement with contemporary popular music until the early Seventies. In Britain, the government-owned British Broadcasting Corporation had a total monopoly over radio and there were no commercial stations until the early Seventies.
Pop music radio in Britain in the Fifties and early Sixties consisted of just a few hours every week on the BBC. The only other sources for popular music were the nigh time transmissions from stations in Europe. The most popular was Radio Luxembourg, which had begun its own Top Twenty back in 1948. It was the only European station playing non-stop rock in the early Sixties and every Sunday it broadcast an English Top 20 which gained faithful fans all over the UK and beyond. British listeners were able to hear stations like Radio Luxembourg thanks to the phenomenon called "ionospheric skip", which allowed the powerful AM radio signals to bounce off the ionosphere and travel great distances, but this was only possible after dark because solar radiation disrupted the effect in daylight hours. The only other (limited) outlets available to UK listeners were the American Armed Forces Network, broadcasting from Germany, and the CIA-funded Voice of America network.
But all that changed on Good Friday 1964 when the first illegal offshore ("pirate") radio station, Radio Caroline, began broadcasting a high-powered signal from a ship moored just outside the British territorial limit, beyond the reach of British law. Radio Caroline -- named in honour of JFK's daughter -- was soon joined by other pirates including Radio Atlanta (which later became Radio Caroline South), Radio Scotland and the famous "Big L", Radio London, transmitting from ships and other marine structures scattered around the coast. Pirate radio proved hugely popular -- within three weeks Radio Caroline had seven million listeners and, to the dismay of radio bureaucrats, surveys showed that the pirates routinely out-rated the BBC by a nautical mile. Adding to the Establishment's aggravation, it was all funded by advertising.
Pirate radio was brash, slick, fast-paced, exciting, adventurous and vastly more interesting than anything the BBC had to offer. The pirate stations played the Top 40 and much else besides, including many records forbidden by the BBC, such as Pink Floyd's "Arnold Layne", which had been banned because of its subject matter, 'snowdropping' (i.e. stealing women's underwear from clothes lines).
There are some excellent websites (see below) detailing the history of British pirate radio and most of these include some sound files of contemporary broadcasts. A idealised sample of how pirate radio sounded can be found on The Who's classic 1967 LP The Who Sell Out, which was edited and arranged to imitate a pirate broadcast; the songs are linked by actual station IDs sourced from Radio London.
A little-known fact is that Australians played a significant role in the history of British offshore pirate radio. The strong support that the pirates gave to Australian acts such as The Twilights, The Easybeats, Lynne Randell and Johnny Young, owed much to the largely unsung efforts of this small band of DJs and other staffers.
Australian-born Allan Crawford was a major figure. He had been the managing director of the American music publishing company Southern Music between 1955 and 1959 and by the early Sixties he had formed his own independent music company, Merit Music, as well as several recording labels. He established Radio Atlanta in 1964 mainly as a way to promote his labels, Rocket, Canon and Sabre, in the European market and he was also responsible for hiring most of the Aussies who worked at Atlanta and Caroline.
Other Aussies who feature in the pirate radio Hall of Fame include:
The pirate radio stations flourished for three and a half years until the government moved to shut down the entire sector by drafting the Marine Broadcasting Act 1967. The new Act was specifically designed to silence the pirates, and provided stiff penalties for transgressors -- as much as two years in prison and fines of up to £1000. It worked -- on 14 August 1967 the Act became law and all the illegal offshore stations were forced to close.
The defeat of the pirates proved very unpopular in the UK -- even George Harrison publicly bagged the government's attitude -- so to fill the vacuum, the BBC quickly created a new pop music channel, Radio One, to placate the millions of disgruntled music fans who had been robbed of their favourite music, stations and DJ's. Launched on 30 September 1967, less than two months after the pirate shutdown, it worked surprisingly well, and during its halcyon early years, Radio One provided an eclectic mix of MOR, pop, rock, psychedelia, R&B and progressive music and many other genres. Shows like the legendary Perfumed Garden and presenters such as former pirate DJ John Peel helped Radio One provide a much-needed replacement for the pirates, and its programming in this period had a significant influence on the ABC's youth station 2JJ (Double Jay). The final irony was that many of the 'rebel' DJs who got their first on-air experience working in pirate radio -- people like Tony Blackburn, John Peel, Terry Wogan, Kenny Everett and Dave Lee Travis -- went on to become doyens of British broadcasting.
Although there was a short resurgence of offshore radio in the early 1970's, it was not until 1973 that the government legislated to create commercial radio. The early stations, based in the major populated centres of the UK, struggled to recreate the excitement and interest that had attracted listeners in the mid 1960's.
The UK Charts
The first British popular music singles chart appeared quite soon after the format was devised in the USA. The first UK chart was published by the British music journal New Musical Express (NME) in November 1952. It was a 'Top 12', based on sales figures given to NME by a few record stores. It expanded to a Top 20 chart in 1954 and to a Top 30 chart in 1956.
One particularly fascinating aspect of this subject is the interface between pop music and radio in the UK and Australia/New Zealand. Like the records themselves, the Top 40 charts occupied a peculiar position in the political economy of British broadcasting. The American charts were devised by and for a predominantly private-sector industry -- but, as noted above, Britain had no commercial radio whatsoever until the mid- Sixties and no legal commercial broadcasting sector until 1973. Yet Top 40 charts were a permanent fixture by the early Fifties.
The charts were explicitly created as a tool for the promotion of commercial pop recordings -- mass-produced industrial products that were manufactured by private industry. But the BBC, like Australia's ABC and New Zealand's NZBC, was owned and funded by the government. Advertising was not permitted and the BBC had (and still has) strict guidelines that forbid the advertising or promotion of commercial products and services. But the demand for musical content to fill radio airtime -- especially during the transition to the new continuous-music format -- led to a situation in which commercial pop records and the charts that promoted them were, to a degree, exempted from the 'no-ads' rule, and were in fact actively promoted by the government broadcaster.
It was not open slather, however. The BBC did have strict regulations about how much commercial recorded music could be played -- the so-called "needle-time" rule -- so to get around this restriction, Radio One produced and broadcast a significant amount of live concert recordings and live-in-the-studio sessions, many of which have subsequently (and somewhat ironically) found their way onto commercially-available LPs and CDs. There were also many 'rockumentary' features and interviews. This great diversity of programming would also have a strong influence on Double Jay.
When BBC Radio One started in 1967, they used the existing 'BBC Top Thirty', although only the Top 20 singles were run down on the chart show each Sunday. From its inauguration in 1960 until 1969, the BBC Top Thirty was collated from the the charts of the four major British music magazines of the time -- Record Mirror, Melody Maker, New Musical Express and Disc & Music Echo. This also dictated the chart for the popular BBC Light programme Pick of the Pops.
The collating method was changed in February 1969 because of growing concerns about 'chart fixing' by unscrupulous promoters, producers and record companies, who would sometimes artificially inflate a record's sales by buying large numbers of singles at key shops in the survey group, thus 'boosting' its chart position. The British Market Research Bureau, backed by the music industry and the BBC, devised a new computer-assisted method. Under this system, every sale at 300 different UK shops was recorded, and the computer then made a chance selection, creating a sample group of 150 shops that changed randomly each week, thereby making dishonest 'chart boosting' far more difficult.
The new method revealed wide discrepancies when compared to the older chart and also demonstrated that some top-selling records probably charted lower than they should have. For example, the BMRB ranked Amen Corner's hit "(If Paradise is) Half As Nice" at #1 in February 1969, but a comparison charting revealed that the old method would only have placed it at #16!
PART TWO: AUSTRALIAN POP RADIO & THE TOP 40
The Top 40 Downunder
The first Top 40 chart in Australia appeared in March 1958 when radio station 2UE in Sydney published its first giveaway charts, which were printed as leaflets, distributed to record stores and given away free to customers.
As in the USA, the introduction of television initiated drastic changes to radio programming. Revenues dropped for the first and only time since the industry was established and the obvious success of their American counterparts led a number of stations around the country to introduce continuous Top 40 music programming. Within the year, Top 40 charts were being published by radio stations in every capital city. Before long, most capital-city commercial pop stations were compiling and publishing their own charts. These included:
- Sydney: 2UE, 2UW, 2SM
- Melbourne: 3XY, 3DB, 3UZ, 3AK
- Brisbane: 4BC, 4IP, 4BK
- Adelaide: 5AD, 5DN, 5KA
- Perth: 6PR, 6PM, 6KY
- Hobart: 7HO, 7HT
The radio Top 40 charts were primarily a promotional tool for stations that had begun to change their programming to the new Top 40 format. The early charts were researched and published by radio stations around the country, based on sales reports from retail stores. The stores would be contacted by telephone and they would rank their top-selling titles. Using a points system, the results would be manually tallied and a chart produced. In some instances the rankings were also influenced by other factors, such as the opinion of the music director of the radio station.
This method of chart research and publication continued throughout the 1960s. A number of publications issued their own charts separately from the radio stations and one or other of the capital-city daily papers would generally also publish their own charts, either solely or in conjunction with a local radio station.
The Go-Set Chart
From 1958 to 1966 there was no national Top 40 chart, but in October 1966, the new Melbourne-based pop magazine Go-Set began developing its own national survey. In February 1967, it started publishing its new chart, compiled by music analyst and architecture student Ed Nimmervoll. The chart was compiled from a combination of sales figures from retail stores and data collated from various state radio station charts.
Go-Set was created as a fan magazine targeted at teenagers, but when Nimmervoll joined he brought with him a more intellectual approach to the music scene and added a critical sensibility that had not been evident in the magazine until then. He took the Top 40 charts seriously, studying the progress of songs in the English and American charts through the overseas magazines to which he subscribed. According Go-Set historian David M. Kent, Nimmervoll's commentary on the songs and artists in the charts, through the notes he included, gave the magazine a more sense of purpose. From 1967 to 1973 he contributed record reviews, articles, interviews and critical analysis of the music scene, and played a major part in Go-Set's transition from teen fan-mag to serious music paper.
The Kent Music Report
During the early 1970s Sydney music fan David Kent starting using the charts he was collecting from radio stations around the country to prepare a national chart for both singles and albums, in a similar fashion to the Go-Set chart. Kent, a music fan and chart enthusiast, had spent a several years in the music industry working for EMI and Phonogram.
After eighteen months of research and numerous experiments with tabulating the data into a workable chart, the Kent Music Report (KMR) was formally launched as a commercial publication in July 1974 and made available by subscription. Kent's timing was fortuitous -- by this stage, Go-Set was on its last legs and the magazine folded less than twelve months later, leaving the KMR as the only national chart.
The KMR achieved two aims -- it exploited both the commercial opportunity to produce a nationwide chart (and have the music industry pay for the information), and it fulfilled Kent's personal wish to see this chart information documented for the historical record. Financial restrictions meant that, originally, the Kent charts were compiled only from the various radio station charts; retail sales were not incorporated until some years later.
Kent used a proportional points system to calculate the final result. When the KMR first started its charts they were calculated in a similar fashion to the radio charts. Kent received radio station charts from around the country and applied his own points-based formula in calculating his results.
Kent's points system was weighted according to the population ratios of the capital cities. The number one single in Sydney would be given 100 points. The number one single in Melbourne would be allocated 87 points, based on the fact that Melbourne's population was 87% of that in Sydney. The number one single in Brisbane would be given 75 points on the same basis, and so on.
Later, the KMR began to incorporate sales figures from the retail stores to supplement the radio stations charts. Retail stores were sent survey forms to record their weekly sales. Each Monday, the staff at Kent Music Report would call each of the stores and write down the sales figures. The sales totals would be tallied and a chart for each state would be produced. At day's end the state charts would be used to compile the national chart using the same points based system that was employed during the days of the radio station charts.
This was of course was long before personal computers became available, so Kent and his staff did the whole job with pen and paper (later assisted by electronic calculators). After the final results were calculated, the charts were typed up on a typewriter. In later years, the introduction of personal computers enabled Kent to carry out the chart calculation and production using word processing and spreadsheet software, but data collection was still primarily done by telephone. The advent of the facsimile machine greatly assisted this process, and stores could then send in their survey forms by fax.
In later years, Kent was able to employ a number of staff to assist with the research. Record companies began using the data and within five years the Kent Music Report had become recognised as the leading national chart publication, with a subscriber base that included record retailers, radio stations, record companies, chart enthusiasts (individuals), music industry bodies such as publishing companies and promotion companies, other media groups like television stations and magazines, and overseas music publications.
As subscriptions increased, more funds became available for research and the number of retail stores contributing sales data increased. In 1982 the Kent Music Report switched from radio station charts to retail sales figures as the principal data source, although the reports still incorporated some radio chart information.
David vs Goliath: ARIA Takes Over
In the early 1980s the major record companies in Australia at the time -- EMI, Festival, CBS, RCA, WEA and Polygram -- joined with some of the smaller companies (such as Mushroom) to form a new industry peak body, the Australian Record Industry Association (ARIA). It was primarily established to manage music industry issues such as copyright and piracy, but one of its secondary goals was the establishment an industry-published chart.
Rather than start from scratch, ARIA recognised that the KMR was already well established, so it entered into a business agreement and provided provided direct funding to Kent to further expand his research base, making for an even more accurate chart. In return, ARIA were given the licence to publish the KMR charts under their own banner.
This licensing arrangement lasted for five years, but in 1988 ARIA decided to take total control of chart research and publication. They terminated the KMR agreement, established their own sales and chart research and publishing arm and started publishing their own give-away chart. The Kent Music Report -- which changed its name to The Australian Music Report (AMR) in 1987 -- continued to conduct it's own research, leading to the situation where two competing national charts were being published each week.
Both charts had similar research bases and were compiled using similar methods but the results often varied considerably. In most cases the Top 10 on each chart would be fairly similar, but often the data in the rest of the chart differed quite significantly. Despite the split, record companies themselves, whose contributions to ARIA were funding it's own chart research, continued to subscribe to the Australian Music Report.
But during the 1990s most larger record stores and retail chains installed fully computerised barcode sales systems. Beginning in February 1997, the ARIA charts were compiled from this electronically gathered data and the chart system was renamed ARIAnet. Point-of-sale data captured from cash registers by scanning the bar-code of each record sold replaced the older and more cumbersome survey forms. Stores could now simply transmit their weekly sales records electronically to ARIA for analysis and tabulation.
The introduction of electronically-captured sales data allowed ARIA effectively monopolise chart information and its supply to the music industry. A number of contracts held by AMR (most notably the Austereo Radio Network and the record companies themselves) were lost to ARIA, based on the claim that it could provide more accurate data that was faster and cheaper to compile. With the consequent drop in commercial support from the music industry and a falling subscription base, the AMR charts ceased publication at the end of 1998, leaving the ARIA charts as the only nationally-recognised Top 40 chart.
Australian Top 40 Radio
Australian Top 40 radio appeared several years after its American and British counterparts, mainly because TV did not begin in Australia until 1956. The first Top 40 programs began in 1958, coinciding with the first TV rock'n'roll shows, Bandstand and Six O'Clock Rock.
During the Fifties the first 'personality' DJs began to emerge on Australian radio, although some were already well-established. Victorian radio star Clifford "Nikki" Nicholls (Clifford Whitta) ruled the roost on Melbourne radio for many years. He became famous for his hilarious saTirical live readings of advertisements and audiences lapped it up -- according a contemporary report, a staggering 73% of the Melbourne morning radio audience tuned in to his show in early Fifties. After Nikki's sudden death in 1956, his young offsider Graham Kennedy switched to television, becoming Australia's first true TV star, but it was his years with Nicholls that allowed him to hone his quick-witted, irreverent style to perfection.
In Sydney, DJ John Hudson caused a stir when he told listeners that a truck had overturned in Martin Place (still open to traffic back then) and that hundreds of sheep had tumbled out and were running around free. Thousands of people poured into the city centre to view the spectacle, only to discover that it was an April Fool's prank. Around the same time, a young announcer called Gary O'Callaghan began what was to become a record-breaking 27-year run as the host of the 2UE breakfast show. O'Callaghan also has a fascinating footnote in Australian political history -- in 1954 cub reporter O'Callaghan was "Johnny on the spot" with his microphone during the climax of the famous Petrov Affair, filing a breathless despatch from Mascot Airport as KGB operatives forced the wife of Soviet defector Vladimir Petrov onto a Moscow-bound plane. 2UW's Allan Toohey was the first Aussie DJ to survey record shops to find out the top-selling singles, and he launched a successful Wednesday night hit parade show in which he also surveyed listeners for their top seven tunes.
Because of Australia's restrictive broadcasting regulations -- and constant pressure from the commercial AM radio lobby to maintain the status quo -- FM radio was not introduced into Australia until 1975. But in the late Fifties, Australian radio stations were faced with the same challenge from television that had confronted American radio a decade earlier; sooner or later, most converted to one or other of the new continuous music formats and it paid off handsomely. Well into the Seventies there were at least two or three commercial AM stations in each of Australia's state capitals broadcasting continuous Top 40 music, and it proved just as successful here as it had in America.
Rock'n'roll music was first aired in Australia on the old 'Hit Parade' shows, and it took a couple of years after the boom took off in 1955-56 before before local stations began to switch to all-music formats. The greatest (and the most durable) of Australia's first generation of rock DJs was the legendary Stan "The Man" Rofe, who pioneered Top 40 rock'n'roll on Melbourne's 3KZ with his famous show "Platter Parade". Stan was so well respected and so popular that he was beaten in the ratings only twice in more than twenty years on air. He was also renowned for his vast record collection and his adventurous but always impeccable taste in music. Over the years, Stan was routinely the first to play many major new artists, such as Jimi Hendrix.
A generations of musicians revere Stan as an adviser, critic, mentor, guru, friend and supporter. He helped start Johnny O'Keefe's career -- he was the first DJ to play O'Keefe's debut single "You Hit the Wrong Note Billy Goat" and he recommended that O'Keefe should cover the Isley Brothers' "Shout", which became JOK's signature hit. Stan also discovered and/or advised artists such as Normie Rowe, Merv Benton, Johnny Chester, The Thunderbirds, Ronnie Burns and Russell Morris. Stan also stood apart from his American counterparts because he was never tainted by any whiff of payola corruption. Indeed, he was famous for having at one stage imposed a personal ban on all records from Sydney, because he felt the major labels (based in Sydney) were trying to dominate the the local music scene.
Rofe had a tremendous impact, but in the early years, his show was still only a small part of the station's old block program format. The first continuous music Top 40 station in Australia was 2UE in Sydney. In 1958 it was acquired by a consortium based in Newcastle who converted the station to the Top 40 format. The very first Sydney DJ to present a Top 40 show was the renowned Graham "Spider" Webb, who late became well-known for his TV work, hosting of '70s the game show Blind Date and who was the producer (and original host) of the TV rock show Sounds:
"I was there doing the Midday show before even Bob Rodgers came down from Brisbane and Tony Withers came across from 2SM. Lawsie was reading the news and moved to 2NX to do a 30-minute show from Newcastle because he would not work with Bob Rodgers. Margaret Christianson was doing the morning show and Garry O'Callaghan was on Breakfast. I did not leave until 1960 when I moved to 4KQ Brisbane. I returned to Sydney in '61 to do the Breakfast Session on 2GB until 1964 when I went overseas to work in European Radio and on the Pirate Radio ships."
Alongside Webb, 2UE put together a new team of presenters including Brisbane's Bob Rogers, Tony Withers (ex-2SM), and a young newsreader who the management thought "had some potential", John Laws. The new experiment was a big success for a while, but it soon unravelled -- Laws moved to Newcastle, and Rogers and Withers defected to 2SM the same year. 2UE's time in the sun as a Top 40 station was short, but it opened the way for many others.
LEFT: Bob Rogers spins some hot trax on wax. Note subtle product placement of Cottees soft drink.
Things were afoot in Melbourne too, and in August 1960 3UZ turned its entire Saturday morning shift over to the Top 40. But even then not all stations were convinced that the new format and the new music were the way to go. Only one month later, 2UW Sydney overhauled its entire schedule and excluded rock'n'roll entirely in favour of 'middle of the road' (MOR) music. The change was made on the orders of the then station manager, who had just returned from an overseas jaunt where he had discovered that MOR music was rating better than pop in both the UK and the USA. As Marius Webb observed in his 1980 overview of Australian rock radio, it was the symbolic start of "a trend that rapidly (and some would say alarmingly) became a tradition".
Such 'genre switching' persisted over the years. Melbourne's 3AK began playing rock'n'roll in the late Fifties, but in 1962 the management banned "raucous rock'n'roll and twist records". The station switched back to pop later in the Sixties, but then switched again to the "Beautiful Music" format in mid-1973. Nevertheless, such 'see-sawing' really only represented a change of genre in the content, rather than a fundamental shift in format.
In 1962, 2SM began broadcasting 24 hours a day, implemented a continuous Top 40 music format and put together up a new on-air team based on the Meyer-WMCA "Good Guys" concept. 2SM's Good Guys included Bob Rogers and Tony Withers (both poached from 2UE), Phil Haldeman, John Mahon, John Fryer, future talk show king Mike Walsh, John Brennan, Phil Hunter, Tony "Murph The Surf" Murphy, resident loon "Mad Mel", and a young DJ who a few years later would become the station's director, Rod Muir. Much of 2UE's young audience jumped ship to the revamped 2SM and the new format made it enormously popular -- according to Rogers, the ratings shot up 4 to around 26. Tony Withers hosted the Jantzen Hit Parade every Sunday, which was regularly played over loudspeakers at many Sydney beaches. A couple of years later he went to the UK, joining pirate station Radio Atlanta in 1964 and later becoming the senior DJ at leading pirate radio station, Radio London.
Stations in other states quickly followed suit, including 3AK, 5KA and 6PR. 3AK's Good Guys included Graham Bond, Lionel Yorke, legendary announcer Pete "Copperart" Smith, Bill Howie, young musician and DJ Grantley Dee (who was also visually impaired), Gary Man and Paul Jennings, the renowned voiceover artist, comedian and impressionist of 'Rubbery Figures' fame (and not the renowned Australian children's author). Future game-show host Garry Meadows on 6IX Perth was another popular DJ of the period.
For all but the most conservative stations, any lingering resistance to Top 40 music was swept away by the rise of The Beatles in 1963-64. 'Beat' singles became the hot new genre virtually overnight, and while some established DJs viewed the new music with disdain, others -- like Stan Rofe -- embraced it with open arms and ears.
2UW Sydney valiantly held on to its old mixed format for a few more years, but in 1964 it abruptly dropped all serials and drama shows and became the "New 2UW" with 24-hour pop music and its own version of the Good Guys, dubbed "The 11-10 Men" (from the station's frequency at 1110kHz). The 2UW team included Ward "Pally" Austin, "Baby" John Burgess, future Sounds host and sometime pop star Donnie Sutherland, John Thompson, Rod Christopher, John Melonney, Greg Stewart, Tony McLaren, Rod Christopher, Roger Petit and John Ringwood. Other popular jocks of the period on included Ken Sparkes (who worked at 2GB, 2UW, 3AK, 3UZ and many more), Bandstand's Brian Henderson (2GB), Bill Gates (4BH Brisbane) and Bob Francis (5AD Adelaide).
In 1965 2SM's conservative owners, the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney, scrapped the pop format and replaced it with a middle-of-the-road style called "King Radio", which was supplemented in 1967 by the country's first regular talkback show (dubbed "Two-Way Radio"), which was hosted by former Good Guy Mike Walsh. With 2SM out of the running, its arch-rival 2UW reigned as the top pop station in the city for the rest of the decade.
In 1969, another former Good Guy, Rod Muir, was appointed as 2SM's new music director and he oversaw a spectacular rise in the station's fortunes. Muir had travelled to America to study current radio trends and programming styles, and there can be little doubt that Bill Drake's 'Boss Radio' and Rick Sklar's 'Musicradio' formats were high on Muir's study list. He came back armed with raft of ideas which he implemented vigorously and as a result, 2SM rapidly rose the top of the ratings; within a a couple of years, it had become the most profitable station in Australian radio history. (Note: It is almost certainly no coincidence that former Double-Jay presenter Holger Brockmann (now with ABC NewsRadio) used the pseudonym "Bill Drake" when he was a DJ at 2SM in the early '70s.)
Free from any effective competition on the FM band until the early Eighties, 2SM ruled the roost for over a decade. Cashing in on this success, Muir and his partners set up a consultancy business called Digamae, and they made a considerable fortune selling their programming expertise to stations around the country with great success. Thanks in large measure to Muir and his colleagues, Australian radio was by the mid-70s dominated by the Digamae programming hegemony, which enforced tight programming, promoted extremely narrow playlists -- often as few as fifteen songs in the top-rating shifts -- and replaced the old 'personality' DJs with presenters who were assiduously schooled in the "Boss Jock" method, a smooth, pacy, unobtrusive, inoffensive on-air style which deliberately varied very little from presenter to presenter. This was in marked contrast to the situation in the USA, where Drake-Chenault's programming dominance ended in 1973 when the RKO network abruptly cancelled their contract.
Besides the obvious programming and presentation features, commercial radio station employed many other less obvious techniques to give them that all-important edge. In his forthcoming book on Australian Top 40 radio, historian Wayne Mac identifies several of the most common 'tricks' used by radio stations. One of the most common was sound processing; this was achieved by feeding the audio signal through a specially-constructed device that included compression and equalisation circuits. Compression had long been in use in the recording industry; a compressor (also called a limiter) evened-out the dynamic range of a recording by boosting low-volume signals and lowering high-volume signals, producing an even volume level. This was an important technical consideration for 45rpm and LP recordings, because a recording that was cut with strong 'peaks' in the sound might actually cause the needle to jump out of the groove. Compression was also be used selectively on certain instruments to give a tight, even sound -- e.g. the classic Ringo Starr drum sound of the Beatles' late Sixties recordings was achieved by using compression.
Radio also soon realised that compression could do the same for its signals and it became commonplace for commercial pop stations to have compressors installed to process the signals going to the transmitter. The overall effect was to tighten the sound and create an even dynamic profile, where low-volume passages of music were automatically boosted to almost the same level as the high-volume sections. Echo was another very common addition; at first it was used only on voices, but later it was used on music as well. A third and very sneaky tactic, and one that was crucial in creating the "More Music" format, was the fractional speeding up of studio turntables. In the days before varispeed decks, station technicians achieved this by slightly increasing the voltage to the platter motor. The difference was only about two revolutions per minute -- from 45rpm to about 47rpm -- but it was enough to reduce the overall playing time of a group of records thus enabling more records per hour to be played. Another advantage, as recording engineers and musicians like the Beatles had already discovered, was that 'tweaking' the speed also made music and voices sound brighter, and on radio it had the subtle effect of making the whole broadcast sound pacier and more lively.
There were pitfalls, however -- according to Wayne Mac, it was common in Australia in the Sixties and Seventies for major advertisers to send pre-produced commercials to radio stations on 7" singles, which were then transferred to a cartridge for airplay. But obviously, when played on the 'tweaked' turntables, the ads would run slightly faster than normal. Eventually the advertisers tumbled to this, and they quite fairly took umbrage at the fact that they were not getting all the airtime they paid for, so stations (such as 2SM) were obliged to install standard turntables which were used exclusively for dubbing off these commercials.
"Shoestring Pirates" - New Zealand Pirate Pop Radio
The structure of the broadcasting industry in New Zealand developed quite differently from those in the United States, Australia or Britain. In 1925 the NZ government founded the Radio Broadcasting Company (RBC), a government-funded operation that replaced the existing subsidised stations. This, for a time, created a two-tiered model similar to Australia, with the RBC's "A-class" stations operating in competition with privately-owned commercial "B-class" stations. In 1932 the RBC's assets were acquired by the newly established New Zealand Broadcasting Board (NZBB); two years later, with commercial radio struggling to survive, the NZBB acquired and closed most of the private “B” stations. Then, in 1936, the NZBB was abolished and the National Broadcasting Service (NBS) was established as new government department. It also had a rather peculiar two-tiered structure: one tier was the national network, the New Zealand Broadcasting Service (NZBS), equivalent to Australia's ABC or Britain's BBC. The other tier -- also government-owned -- was the new commercial network, the National Commercial Broadcasting Service (NCBS), which was established with the purchase of Auckland’s 1ZB in 1936 and then gradually acquired all the remaining commercial stations. The Broadcasting Act, 1937, cemented these changes and determined the shape of New Zealand radio for the next thirty years.
Whilst the NZBS dramatically increased the total amount of broadcasting, it was apparent by the Sixties that its policy of appealing to the widest possible audience had led to a conservative program policy that neglected large segments of the market -- notably the emerging youth market -- and that local talent was being ignored. The byzantine NZBS bureaucracy was another major problem and local dramatists and composers routinely had to deal with mountains of paperwork when applying to get original material broadcast.
In 1960 the new National Party government of Keith Holyoake was elected. They recognised the need for change in NZ broadcasting -- they facilitated the introduction of TV in 1960 and undertook a complete overhaul of radio in 1962. On 31 March 1962 the NZBS was abolished and replaced by an autonomous authority, the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation (NZBC). To counteract the effects of television, the NZBC established the National programme, the Overseas Programme Exchange, a Maori programme section and NZ’s first talkback show, a full two years before talkback began in Australia.
But despite a genuine desire in the Holyoake government to reform the national broadcaster, hopes for any major change in NZ radio proved groundless. The NZBC was given the power to issue new private licences, and many applications were received, but none were approved -- mainly because the Corporation simply didn't want any competition. In defending its unwillingness to open up the industry, the NZBC offered up the same disingenuous excuses that were being touted by the commercial radio lobby and the Broadcasting Control Board in Australia -- that there was supposedly not enough room on the AM band for more stations and that it was trying to ensure that the airwaves didn't become 'clogged up' with additional stations. The NZBC's institutional resistance to new licences took on an almost farcical "Catch-22" character. For licence applications to even be considered, the NZBC had to effectively rule against itself and find that its own transmission areas were being "inadequately served by existing broadcast services"; those few applicants lucky enough to get through the first phase then had to gain approval from the Minister of Posts and Telegraph.
With the NZBC steadfastly refusing to approve privately-owned radio stations, it was not surprising that a growing number of Kiwis were unhappy with the status quo. In mid-1965, a young journalist called David Gapes began to make plans for an illegal NZ pirate radio station. Gapes had been inspired by the exciting pirate radio developments in Britain, and had just spent two years in Sydney working for the Daily Mirror, where the commerical radio sector was booming. On his return home, Gapes was appalled by the dull and insular nature of New Zealand radio:
"We had inflicted on us radio of the Thirties. There was no pace, no liveliness. In fact it was just deadly dull."
He began to formulate plans for a pirate station that could be installed on a ship, which could be moored outside the three-mile territorial limit. He found support from Bruce Baskett, a fellow journalist who generously offered to invest $1000 dollars in the project. This was no wild gamble: there was little doubt that there was money to be made and no shortage of potential advertisers -- Auckland's 1ZB alone had a two-year waiting list for clients!
Neither Gapes nor Baskett had any technical knowledge of radio, so Gapes brought in Dennis 'Doc' O'Callahan, another journalist, who was also a ham radio enthusiast. Conveniently, 'Doc' was also an experienced 'boatie'. In mid-March they decided on to broadcast on a frequency of 1480kHZ because it was well away from any frequency currently being used by the NZBC or any Australian broadcasters. They surveyed one possible vessel, the Hokianga, but not long after finding the ship, Baskett was forced to pull out of the venture.
On 9 April 1966 the public learned of the plan from a story in the New Zealand Herald, under the headline "PIRATE RADIO STATION IN GULF PLANNED". The article 'outed' two former NZBC employees, Derek Lowe & Chris Parkinson, who had been planning their own pirate station. After a tense initial meeting, the Lowe and Parkinson joined forces with Gapes' group and the team began put the station together, dubbing the enterprise "Radio Hauraki". They initially tried to get an official private broadcasting licence, but the NZBC & the NZ Government turned their application down.
On 1 May 1966 Radio Hauraki was given editorial support by the Wellington-based Dominion Sunday Times which published a leader strongly critical of the government's control of radio, headlined “BREAK THIS MONOPOLY”. Over the next few months news emerged of three other possible rivals, Radio Ventura, Radio Southern Cross and Radio International. By August the Hauraki team had decided on a vessel, the M.V. Tiri, but it required considerable work before it would be ready for the wild waters of the Hauraki Gulf.
Government regulations forbade radio broadcasting from any motorised vessel, but the team planned to neatly sidestep this obstacle by removing the Tiri's propellor and registering her as a barge. However, government shipping inspectors were aware of the ploy and they attempted to prevent the Tiri from leaving port on the grounds that she was not seaworthy. Tiri was scheduled to set sail on 17 September 1966, but the on the 16th the ship was detained. Over the next two months a comical game of cat-and-mouse was played out between the government and Radio Hauraki.
On Sunday 23 October, after two months of stalemate, the Hauraki crew decide to set out, but things quickly went amiss. First the Tiri ran aground. After being pulled free she then became stuck under a drawbridge, which police were trying to close to prevent her from leaving, so Gapes and others then sat under the bridge mechanism to stop the police from closing it. With help from the 200-strong crowd lined up along the wharf, the Tiri was freed and it headed out of the harbour. But before it could leave, police boarded the vessel; the captain locked himself in the wheelhouse, but police finally stopped her by pulling out the fuel line, shutting down the main engine. The Hauraki crew was arrested and the Tiri towed back to its berth. The crew were set free on bail in the early hours of Monday morning.
The following Wednesday, 26 October, a public meeting set up by Hauraki was held in the Auckland Town Hall with the Government representatives invited to speak. Over 2,000 Hauraki supporters jammed the Town Hall with banners reading: “LICENCE RADIO HAURAKI”; “WE WANT PIRATES”; “SURFIES SUPPORT HAURAKI”; “FLAT EARTH SOCIETY SUPPORTS RADIO HAURAKI”; “DOWN WITH THE NZBC”. Even Keith Holyoake attended, telling the crowd, "I like pirates. I think we all do." On 2 November the Radio Hauraki directors appeared court over the detaining order, but they emerged victorious -- the court ruled that the Government had detained the Tiri to stop it being used as a pirate radio station, not because the ship was unseaworthy.
Finally, at 10pm on Thursday 10 November 1966, the Tiri set sail again, watched by three teenage fans who had been asked to keep the departure a secret for at least an hour; they were unaware that Jack Scott, Minister Of Broadcasting, Marine & Postmaster General, was also at the harbour, watching the Tiri slip away. To his credit, Scott had taken no serious action to prevent the Hauraki project; he and the Holyoake government were frustrated by their inability to reform on the NZBS, and its clear that they tacitly endorsed the Hauraki experiment as a means of breaking the monopoly. At 6:30am on Friday 11 November she anchored in the Hauraki Gulf at what would be her home, for the next three and a half years.
On Monday 21 November Hauraki started test transmissions on 1480AM. The signal was weak and distorted, but Hauraki was on the air for the first time. On 1 December 1 Radio Hauraki began regular transmissions from the Hauraki Gulf just after 8pm. The station jingle rang out: “Radio Hauraki, Top Of The Dial”, followed by the voice of Hauraki DJ Bob Lahey’s:
“You’re listening to Radio Hauraki, Top of the Dial, and we’re broadcasting a test transmission on 1480 ... We’ve done some modifications to the transmitter and we’ve erected our full antenna, so we’re expecting to be putting out quite a good signal tonight. We’d like to know how well you are receiving us. So, drop us a line: Radio Hauraki, Post Office Box 2964 in Auckland - 2964, and let us know how you’re picking up Radio Hauraki. (Pause) Twelve minutes past eight now, Top of the Dial…”
Trouble struck soon after -- 30-35 knot winds knocked the huge transmitter mast off the deck and Hauraki went off the air -- but by week's end at 9am on Sunday 4December, on-air tests recommenced. At 11am listeners who were tuned in to 1480AM heard the sound of seagulls at the start of a documentary ( produced weeks before) about Radio Hauraki. With this programme Radio Hauraki reintroduced private commercial broadcasting to New Zealand after a gap of almost thirty years. Radio Hauraki was officially on the air and the first song played was -- appropriately -- "Born Free" by Matt Munro.
Over the next two years Hauraki transformed New Zealand broadcasting, giving Kiwis their first taste of the same vibrant Top 40 format that was winning huge audiences for the UK pirates. There were constant hazards, however -- Post Office inspectors monitored the station constantly, flying over its position in light aircraft, hoping to catch the ship broadcasting from inside the territorial limit; as a result, the directors were eventually charged with three counts of illegal broadcasting. Nature posed a constant threat too -- on 28 January 1968, as DJ Derek King gave a running live commentary, a fierce storm drove the Tiri onto rocks at the entrance to Whangaparapara Harbour, damaging her hull beyond repair. Hauraki was back on air within a month, but three months later, her replacement Tiri II was again grounded by gale-force winds and the 160-foot transmitter mast damaged. This was the same terrible storm, Cyclone Giselle, that capsized the ferry Wahine in Wellington Harbour, with the loss of 51 passengers. The Tiri II was grounded twice more, in May and June, but the Hauraki team persevered and in December 1968 Hauraki became the first NZ station to broadcast 24 hours a day.
In September 1968 the NZ Parliament passed new legislation that permitted the licencing of private commercial radio stations. In October 1969 the Hauraki directors applied for one of the first two licences and finally, on 24 March 1970, the Broadcasting Authority announced that Hauraki would be granted one of the two Auckland private licences. Radio Hauraki made its final marine broadcast on 1 June 1970, finishing at 1pm with the first song it had played back in 1966, Matt Munro's Born Free, but in a tragic postscript, announcer Rick Grant was lost overboard as the Tiri II returned to Auckland Harbour on 2 June.
Finally, at 6am on 26 September 1970, Radio Hauraki began broadcasting as a legal land-based commercial radio station. After four years of effort, the Hauraki team had at last succeeded in their dream of breaking the state broadcasting monopoly and introducing modern commercial radio to New Zealand.
Seasons of Change
Back in Australia, commercial radio's thirty-year hegemony was also coming to an end. The first major challenge to the dominance of commercial pop stations like 2SM came from an unlikely source -- an experimental 'youth' rock music station called 2JJ (Double Jay) in Sydney, which commenced broadcasting on 19 January 1975. It was set up as unit of the ABC's Special Projects division, and licenced as part of the Whitlam government's initiatives to open up the radio spectrum, including the long-delayed introduction of FM radio and community broadcasting.
It's easy to forget what a significant change this was at the time. Double Jay (and its short-lived sister station 3XX in Melbourne) were the given the first new radio licences issued in any Australian capital city since 1932; Double Jay was Australia's first non-commercial rock music station, and the first ABC station to broadcast 24 hours a day; we also believe that Double Jay was the first professional rock music radio station anywhere in the world to employ a female DJ (Gayle Austin).
At first, Double Jay's impact was restricted to Sydney and environs, because of heavy budget cuts made to the ABC budget by the newly-elected Fraser Liberal government, which took power at the end of 1975; this prevented the other stations and relay transmitters in the ABC's planned 'youth network' from opening for many years. In and around Sydney, Double Jay's reach was hindered by inadequate transmitter facilities. But in spite of these handicaps, and a shoestring budget, Double Jay quickly made significant inroads into 2SM's target audience by adopting a very broad and adventurous variation on the continuous music format, playing local and overseas recordings that in many cases had never been heard on Australian radio before, reintroducing the "Personality DJ" and adding comedy, documentaries and other special features. Above all, Double Jay operated with the singular advantage that it was government-funded and did not need advertising to earn revenue.
Double Jay's rebellious stance was famously encapsulated by the choice of the first song played on the first day of broadcasting in January 1975, the Skyhooks' song "You Just Like Me Cos I'm Good In Bed", which was one of six tracks from their record-breaking debut LP which had been banned by the commercial radio industry body, the FACB, because of their supposedly 'obscene' content. Double Jay rubbed salt into the wound by choosing former 2SM jock Holger Brockmann -- who had to use the name "Bill Drake" during his SM days -- as their inaugural DJ. Over the next five years Double Jay and 2SM were engaged in a sometimes tense, sometimes comical battle of wills, and although 2SM ended the decade as the top-rating station in Sydney, the writing was on the wall.
Double Jay was licenced to move onto the FM band in 1980, becoming Triple J. Gradually, as FM penetrated the market and new commercial FM stations opened, listeners migrated to the new band and the former top-rating AM pop stations began a slow, inexorable ratings decline. AM radio was now faced with a challenge similar to the one they faced when TV was introduced. Some AM stations halted the slide very successfully by adopting Gordon McLendon's middle-of-the-road "Beautiful Music" format; others converted a mix of news, talk and talkback, and this formula proved to be both a long-term ratings winner and a revenue goldmine.
Those stations, like 2SM, that tried to go head-to-head with their FM competitors were eventually relegated to the ratings scrap heap. But the continuous music format did not die out. It was simply transplanted to FM, and it continues to thrive there, though seldom explicitly marketed as "Top 40" these days. Nevertheless, the tightly-programmed style and sound that originated with American Top 40 radio in the early 1950s is still dominant across all genres, and it is perpetuated in many variations, such as the local "Golden Oldies" or "Hits and Memories" stations -- many of them owned by American broadcasting behemoth Clear Channel -- that rehash an ever-narrower selection of the supposed "hits" of yesteryear in a format that has changed little since the 1950s.
Where radio will go in the 21st century is difficult to predict. Talkback continues to hold an lasting fascination for Australian audiences -- the major commercial AM talk stations win ratings and attract revenues that would be the envy of any pop station and the leading talk 'jocks', John Laws and Alan Jones, are among the highest-paid radio personalities anywhere in the world. For the immediate future, the talk format looks secure, but the future for continuous music radio more difficult to predict.
Newer stations such as Sydney's Nova FM have been remarkably successful, although it has to be noted that they offer little more than a re-worked version of the proven "2SM-via-Double Jay" format, and both Nova and its "over 40s" sister station Vega have relied heavily on the expertise and profiles of former Double Jay staffers. The various "Hits and Memories" stations currently enjoy good ratings, but this is largely thanks to their continual fine-tuning of the old formulae and its predictable appeal to the aging 'Baby Boomer' generation. One can only wonder how much longer this demographic group will tolerate standing in front of the virtual jukebox, hearing the same 100 songs repeated over and over, and the continuing struggle of Sydney's Vega FM to perfect a format and find a solid audience base is indicative of the long-term challenges faced by continuous music stations.
Community radio offers some refreshing alternatives, and a new group of licencees -- such as FBi and Skid Row in Sydney -- are winning many listeners bored and disillusioned by the tired formats, clichéd presentation, narrow playlists and intrusive advertising content on commercial radio.
Internet radio has been hailed as a likely successor to Top 40 broadcast radio. It certainly offers the possibility of catering to just about any audience segment one could imagine, and there is a staggering variety of music on offer, but in physical terms, internet radio effectively takes the medium back sixty years, destroying the portability that played such a crucial part in radio's revival in the 1950s.
By far the most significant development in the early 21st century has been the meteoric rise of the MP3 music file format, made possible by the development of sophisticated file compression algorithms. The MP3 has created a massive boom in the sale and use of digital music players, exemplified by the iconic digital music device, the Apple iPod, the true successor to the transistor radio. The advent of the MP3 has already had a major impact on the music industry -- chart surveys have recently been amended to include sales via digital download, several countries have recently listed songs which have gone to #1 entirely on the strength of the number of digital downloads, and radio stations have rushed to create alliances with digital music providers like iTunes in order to attract listeners who might otherwise simply rely on their iPods.
The advent of CD burners and file sharing have also taken their toll, and it is becoming increasingly obvious that a large segment of the audience, from Baby Boomers to the so-called 'Generation Y', is no longer interested in the narrow, formulaic playlists that commercial radio offers.
Non-commercial popular music broadcasting in Australia is also at a crossroads. The bold Double Jay experiment, which delivered so much in its early years, has gradually been watered down in favour of a proven, commercially-derived format and an ultimately fruitless pursuit of ratings. What began as a radical alternative to the domination of commercial Top 40 radio has been reduced to little more than a vacuous, fashion-driven, "indie Top 40". In pursuing this goal, the original Double Jay and early Triple-J audience has largely been left behind. After a decade or so of sometimes radical and controversial experimentation, the ABC has kept Triple J focussed on its original target audience, the 18-30 age group, but its original audience, who were in that age group when Double Jay opened in 1975, and who came on board with hopes of something better for radio, have been largely abandoned, and they are not properly catered for by either the ABC or by any of the commercial networks.
Who will succeed in capturing the attention of this aging, educated, affluent audience in the future remains to be seen, but it is clear that for many of them -- this author included -- the current state of continuous music programming represents a dead end.
Addendum: Accreditation and Record Awards
In the context of popular music, the term 'accreditation' (or 'certification') is generally thought to refer to the official recognition of large-scale record sales. However, unlike the charts, these awards are not based on over-the-counter sales, but on the number of records ordered by and shipped to retailers by record companies.
Originally artists were given awards by their own record companies, but the basis for the awards was not consistent -- for example, a Gold Record might be awarded for sales of one million units, or for sales in excess of $1 million.
The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) took over the certification process for American recordings in 1958, and other countries have since adopted local versions of this model. Australia's music industry industry peak body, ARIA, confers the familiar Gold and Platinum Record Awards to audio and video recordings that have shipped more than a specified number of units from the record distributor to retail stores.
Because of our small population relative to other countries, the sales figures needed to earn Gold or Platinum awards in Australia are considerably lower than in the USA or the UK. In the Seventies, a Gold Record was awarded for sales of more than 25,000 units, and a Platinum Record for more than 50,000 units. The figures were revised in recent years to take account of the increase in the Australian population, and currently, the accreditation system for audio recordings is ranked as follows:
- Gold = 35,000 units
- Platinum = 70,000 units
- Double Platinum status = 140,000 units
- Triple Platinum = 210,000 units
Remarkably, while Australia accreditation benchmarks have been changed as our population grows, the RIAA certification benchmarks for sales in the USA have not altered since 1975. In America, a Gold Record is awarded for sales in excess of 500,000 units.
It is important to stress that accreditation/certification is not a recognition of how many units have been sold by retail stores to consumers. This is partly because it is as yet impossible to track every single copy of a given release that is sold across the counter, since there are many smaller retail outlets that do not use computerised point-of-sale systems and so their sales are not immediately captured in the data collected by ARIAnet. The only figure used for accreditation purposes in Australia is the total number of copies shipped to retail outlets.
Like the old radio station chart systems, accreditation has been criticised and the system is clearly wide open to abuse. Although the awards are conferred by ARIA, they are based entirely on figures supplied by the record companies. Being able to announce a Gold or Platinum award has obvious public-relations value for recording companies. The current system clearly encourages record companies to overproduce and over-ship, and there appears to be nothing to prevent them from rorting the system by shipping artificially large numbers of records to stores. Indeed, it appears that this happens a good deal more frequently than record companies care to admit.
Such releases may never sell, but that problem has been dealt with by offering retailers an irresistible deal in which unsold records can be returned to the company on a 'sale or return' basis, a system which could clearly be used to encourage retailers to order some records in greater quantities than they otherwise might.
Perversely, if the initial shipping figures are high enough, the record can earn an award even if it the total number of units that is eventually sold to customers turns out to be well below the threshold figure. Equally worrying is the fact that, in such instances, ARIA has no reconciliation system in place for the cancellation of an award if the number of copies sold turns out to be lower than the number required for certification.
A recent example of this shonky practice was the Guy Sebastian single "All I Need Is You", which was breathlessly declared a platinum record (70,000+) soon after its release. However, the online music journal Undercover reported on 8 March 2004 that while Sebastian's label BMG had shipped enough of the single to claim the Platinum award, the single had sold less than half the number of copies required for platinum certification. In fact, Sebastian's single had sold only about 26,000 units in the first two weeks of release -- not even enough to get a Gold Record if the awards were judged strictly on retail sales.
Another anomaly in the relationship between chart position and accreditation is that it is entirely possible for a release to ship sufficient copies to receive sales accreditation, even though it might be out-performed on the charts (i.e. in actual over-the-counter sales) by another release that has not shipped sufficient copies to get accreditation.
For example: if a major act such as silverchair was to release a new album, retail stores around the country would expect it to sell strongly. Based on the band's previous success, let's say that stores nationwide order a total of 45,000 copies in the first week of release. This would mean that the new silverchair album would be immediately accredited with a Gold Record award.
But let's say that (like the Guy Sebastian single) retail sales prove to be far slower than expected, perhaps due to to poor reviews, and it sells only 20,000 units in the first week. Now imagine that, in the same week, a new album by another act -- say Powderfinger -- is released, and that it ships 30,000 copies in the first week. This would not be enough to earn a Gold Record. However, if the Powerderfinger album performed above expectations and achieved retail sales of 25,000 units, this would mean that the their album would receive a higher chart placing than silverchair, because it had sold more copies -- even though it had not shipped enough copies to stores to receive accreditation.
On the basis of such evidence, one could be forgiven for concluding that the objective value of the entire accreditation system is highly questionable, and that the validity of some accreditations may be at best dubious and at worst completely fraudulent.
References / Links
Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia
BBC - History of Vinyl
The National Jukebox Exchange
Wurlitzer Jukebox Museum
Radio Hall Of Fame: "Your Hit Parade"
American Studies @ the University of Virginia:
"American Popular Music of the 1930s"
"A Day In Radio - 1939"
On 21 September 1939 WJSV-AM in Washington, D.C. recorded the entire 19 hours of its broadcast day, presented here in RealAudio format.
"The Visitor In Your Living Room: Radio Advertising in the
United States of America: population growth
"John T. Mullin - The Man Who Put Bing Crosby On Tape"
"The Creation and Following of Public Opinion:
A History of Music Choice in Radio Programming"
The Official Alan Freed website
"Todd Storz and Radio's Revolution"
Boss Radio Forever
Musicradio WABC Rick Sklar page
Gerald A. Bartell
Radio Hall Of Fame
Unofficial History of the BBC Singles Chart
email to the author, September 2007
The Australian Music Charts
WMCA Good Guys History
New York AM Radio History
British Pirate Radio of the 70s and 80s
"The history of Sydney talk radio" by 'Alan Laws'
ABC Radio National
Lines of Comunication
Program 8: "Policy"
Who's Who in Pop Radio - Radio London
Pirate Radio Hall Of Fame
Sixties City: Offshore Pirate Radio
"The Great Survivor"
Sydney Morning Herald, 28 October 2003
History of New Zealand Broadcasting
History of the 8-track Tape
ketupa.net media profiles
TVNZ & RNZ History