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Radio Days, When Wireless Was King.

“In the days before TV, South Australians were spellbound by radio”. I wrote that column in Boomer magazine in the Advertiser March 3rd last year.

Stan James of Aldgate wrote a few weeks later with his own wonderful memories of those halcyon days.

Here’s what Stan wrote;

“Bob Byrne’s comprehensive cover of radio days before TV was a reminder of the rich talents heard but not seen before the “box’’ arrived.

An early model valve radio. We called it 'the wireless' when we were kids

An early model valve radio. We called it ‘the wireless’ when we were kids

A few very popular shows were not mentioned, and the South Australian success in national programs.

While the nearly 2000 15-minute episodes of When a Girl Marries were spinning around from giant 78rpm discs (before national electronic networking), it was partnered with Courtship and Marriage, another romantic tearjerker.

The two enormously popular evening serials were Martin’s Corner, centred on the activities of the owners and customers of a corner grocery store, and Hagen’s Circus – The Show of Shows.

Big evening hit shows were Australia’s Amateur Hour, which was hosted until his sudden death by national star Dick Fair, then Terry Dear stepped in.

Other dominant evening programs came from the Colgate Palmolive radio unit Bob Byrne mentioned, which was created in Sydney duplicating an American radio network with full-time writers, producers, orchestra, singers and comedians.

The whole of Australia stopped each day at lunch time to tune in to the next episode of Blue Hills

The whole of Australia stopped each day at lunch time to tune in to the next episode of Blue Hills

It broadcast on the Macquarie network based in Sydney’s 2GB where dramas and serials were also produced.

Colgate-Palmolive searched Australia for a star host for their two classy variety shows, ‘Calling the Stars’ and the ‘Cashmere Bouquet Show’, and chose Jack Burgess, then the chief announcer at Adelaide’s 5AD. He moved to Sydney with his family on then colossal money.

I worked with his daughter Mardi Fay, who was social editor at The News and Sunday Mail in the ‘60s and she told many wonderful stories of life and the stars in Sydney in radio’s top days.

Burgess died suddenly at the peak of his career and announcer Hal Lashwood took over.

Jack Davey, a Kiwi who arrived in Sydney as a crooner, added comedy to his portfolio and played a confused “New Australian’’ Jacques Daveysburg on the CP shows. Then he tried quiz shows and triumphed with Give it a Go.

Simultaneously Bob Dyer was doing slapstick quiz shows Cop the Lot and It Pays to Be Funny. His announcer was Charles “Buddy’’ Tingwell, who went on to international success.

As variety faded on radio and TV arrived in 1956, Davey and Dyer moved their quiz shows to TV. Dyer refined himself for TV and boomed. Davey struggled and died at age 49.

In the early ‘50s, Adelaide station 5DN created Saturday night variety program Radio Canteen, compered by Alan Sanders and Mel Cameron, which featured comedy, music, the Glenlea Singers and drama segments with Ron Haddrick. This all-SA triumph was picked up by 2GB and broadcast direct “on landline’’ to Sydney.

Photo from State Library of SA. Mel Cameron, one of great Adelaide radio personalities of those early years of the wireless

Photo from State Library of SA. Mel Cameron, one of great Adelaide radio personalities of those early years of the wireless

Another SA success, around the same time was Yes What? and The Air Adventures of Biggles, both from 5AD, with Keith McDonald as the famous air ace Biggles.

McDonald was 5AD’s manager and was the first manager of ADS7 when TV hit Adelaide in ‘59.

The evening programs would cut out by 9.30pm. Radio stations closed at 11pm until 1954 when 5KA became the first to go 24 hours. They brought out an American to host all night but he did not last, went home and KA’s chief announcer Jack Fox filled in”.

Thanks Stan, they were great years and who can ever forget how entertaining those old radio shows really were?


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15 Responses to Radio Days, When Wireless Was King.

  1. Rex Leverington January 15, 2015 at 8:14 am #

    On the local scene at 5KA there was Lionel Williams Breakfast,Ian Sells mornings,Doreen Govett at the piano lunchtimes and her afternoon ladies program,Rex Heading,Bob Moore and Tony Phillips,along with Uncle Jack and Aunty Margaret Baker and the Smilers Club.
    5AD had Bob Fricker,Roberta Russell,Charles Norton, and Dick Moore, and at 5DN as mentioned by Stan Mel Cameron and his tea pot bashers club.Radio was king and these wonderful people were Stars.

    • geoffrey nottage September 2, 2018 at 2:25 pm #

      Hello Rex,
      As a child, I was obsesssed by a group of radio serials that (I think) went between 5.00 – 6.00. Forget which sation, and struggle to remember them all, but Hop Harrigan, adventures of the Sea Spray were 2. Also, later in evenings, Larry Kent, and Missing Persons Bureau. Years later, as a TV Director, I worked with actor Ken Wayne, who was Larry Kent. Another favourite? Mel Cameron’s Sunday night show Under the Stars. You mention all thoses above who worked radio in those early years. One of them, Rex Heading, gave me my first job in Television. 50 years later, I’m still directing Drama for Channel7 in Sydney.

      • Ian Charlton February 12, 2019 at 12:58 am #

        Hi Geoffrey – can you remember the name of the theme music to Under The Stars? Thanks.

        • Lyndon July 13, 2020 at 4:42 pm #

          Hi Ian, did you ever get an answer re the theme music. Have parts of it stuck in my head and would love to hear the real thing again.

      • Anne Larkins August 1, 2022 at 12:02 am #

        Hi Geoffrey.Alan Sanders was my grandfather.I never got to meet him unfortunately.Thanks for this article

    • john Sanders April 1, 2024 at 11:19 pm #

      Hello Rex,

      Hoping you may be able to help with information about Tony Phillips who sadly passed in 2011. His uncle Jim (BEM WW2) died 1943 and father George were early pioneers and from Glenelg (Somerton). Tony married Yvonne who is still with us I think and I would like to contact her if possible.

  2. Geoff August 29, 2015 at 3:11 pm #

    Quote: “Big evening hit shows were Australia’s Amateur Hour, which was hosted until his sudden death by national star Dick Fair, then Terry Dear stepped in.”

    Bit confused to the reference to Dick Fair’s “sudden death”. Dick Fair resigned from Australia’s Amateur Hour in 1950. I worked with Dick at 2CH in the 60s.He left 2CH in 1971 to join 2GB as night announcer replacing Allan Toohey. Dick died on 20th July 1982 aged 75.

  3. Graham August 29, 2016 at 5:20 pm #

    The reference to “Courtship and Marriage” brought back memories. In Melbourne where I grew up it played on 3DB mid afternoons. I would often arrive home from school to find my mother engrossed in it. I think a family called O’Keeffe was predominant in it. I was more fascinated by its wonderfully dramatic theme music, which later in life I discovered was called London Fantasia, written by pianist/composer Clive Richardson. The version used was by the Columbia Light Orchestra conducted by Charles Williams. Clive himself played piano on both that version and the one by Sidney Torch’s orchestra. Great old days.

    • Colin Butcher January 31, 2022 at 11:55 pm #

      Hello Graham,
      I am a grandson of Allan Sanders . Can you give me more of an idea of his life ? My mother was estranged from the family and he passed the year I was born.

  4. Phill Chinner February 18, 2017 at 1:54 pm #

    Fond memories of watching my father Ken Chinner produce and announce on 5DN. I was just old enough to remember meeting most of those great people. He kept a scrapbook which covered a lot of events on 5DN, including the war years.

  5. graham bone May 6, 2017 at 9:58 am #

    I have fond memories of night baseball in the sixties on Wednesday nights at Norwood Oval hosted by Mel Cameron; always kicking off with “take me out to the ball game”. Some nights it was hard to find a seat. That’s when “the Duke” Kingsley Wellington was the king of SA baseball. I played for Adelaide University and also knew Murray & Barry Young, and Bernie Bent, all who played for the Goodwood Indians.

  6. Jamie Kelly March 8, 2018 at 12:06 am #

    I wonder where Jack Burgess Mardi Fay, is today? She’d be great to chat to. I have some 5DN transcriptions of Radio Canteen looks like it ran for an hour over 2 discs.

    • Jonathan March 30, 2019 at 1:36 pm #

      Hi Jamie, my name is Jonathan Burgess and Mardi Fay was my Aunt. My father was Robert Burgess and one of four children. Mardi, Jack, Robert and Ann. My grandfather was well known in the days of Radio here in Adelaide and later in Sydney working as a high profile radio presenter and beyond. Unfortunately Mardi passed away in 1982 or 83, we all loved her.

      • Alexander Salomon December 8, 2022 at 10:09 am #

        Hi Jonathan,
        My name is Alexander Salomon. I’m from Adelaide and knew your aunt, Mardi when she lived in Glen Osmond, and North Adelaide. I was friends with her son, Steven.
        I’d love to catch up with Mardi’s daughter, Annabelle.
        Alex Salomon

      • John Sanders April 1, 2024 at 4:44 pm #

        Hello Jonathon,

        I’d like to be able to get some information on Tony Phillips career and family background if anyone out there has anything at all eg age upringing and parentage.etc.

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