John Bennett, ABC radio announcer, at work in 1939 (AOT,
Radio arrived in Tasmania in 1912, when one of Australia's first two radio stations was opened in Hobart, to aid shipping. Public radio arrived in 1923, with a licensing system on two levels: 'A' stations were funded largely from licence fees, and 'B' stations relied on advertising. In 1924 the Associated Radio Company of Australia chose the Mercury office in Hobart as the site of Tasmania's first station, 7ZL, approved as an 'A' station in 1927. Programmes included news supplied by the Mercury.
Launceston could receive 3LO from Melbourne, and in 1926 businessman Norman Findlay, who loved the new medium, was experimenting with 7BN, in a small room hung with blankets and containing only a piano, stool and microphone. This became 7LA, opened in 1930, and Findlay assured people that 7LA stood for respect, decency and plain dealing in a city suffering from the Depression. The station could transmit from a moving car, and once interviewed cyclist Hubert Oppenheimer while he was taking part in a bicycle race. Meanwhile, in 1928 the Australian Broadcasting Company, a consortium of film exhibitors, theatre owners and music publishers, had opened 7NT in Launceston.
The 1930s saw great expansion in radio stations, with both advertisers and the public gaining confidence in the new medium. In 1932 the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) was established, comprising twelve former 'A' stations from across the country, including 7ZL. The first programme was an address by the Prime Minister, Tasmanian Joseph Lyons. Later the ABC took over 7NT in Launceston. As well, many commercial stations were opened. In 1930 7HO began in Hobart, and was proud of its modern studio and equipment. In 1934 the Jehovah's Witnesses began 7UV in Ulverstone, to spread their message.
Radio was important in the Depression, and in Launceston 7LA sponsored concerts at the Princess Theatre and ran public concerts in lunchtimes and holidays to provide cheap entertainment. Broadcasts of cricket matches were particularly popular, and in 1934 commentators started to use simple special effects to pretend that they were actually at matches. In 1936 the ABC established its own orchestra of eleven players, paid for by the flood of new licences after cricket broadcasts were introduced. The ABC opened a second Hobart station, 7ZR, in 1938. There were then two government stations in Hobart, 7ZR and 7ZL, and two commercial stations, 7HO and recently established 7HT. Launceston had the ABC's 7NT and two commercial stations, 7LA and 7EX, which was operated by the Examiner from 1938; there was great rivalry between the two.
The 1940s and 1950s were the golden years of radio, which was extremely important during the Second World War. Correspondents brought up-to-date war news, and at home stations assisted community activities. In Launceston, 7EX's Margot Parker, who ran the women's programme for many years, organised fund-raising for comforts for soldiers, and raised enough money to buy a Spitfire fighter for the Air Force. Radio stations were often involved with community activities; for example, in Hobart, 7HO sponsored Carols by Candlelight, first in 1949. By 1952 there were two ABC and nine commercial radio stations in Tasmania: 7BU in Burnie, 7AD in Devonport, 7DY in Derby, 7HT and 7HO in Hobart, 7LA and 7EX in Launceston, and 7QT in Queenstown, Australia's smallest radio station in money terms. By now commercial stations were grouped in national networks, with Macquarie Network including 7HO and 7LA, and the Major Network 7HT and 7EX.
From 1960, television challenged radio, which slumped. Mergers and closures occurred, but gradually new methods and stations emerged and radio regained some of its position. Talkback radio began in 1967 and proved popular. FM radio with its higher quality was available from the 1970s; the ABC opened its national classical music station, ABC Classic FM, in 1976, and later a news station and its youth station, Triple J. Established in 1976 at the College of Advanced Education, TCAE was the first community stereo radio station (now 7THE FM). 7RPH, Radio for the Print Handicapped, began transmitting in Hobart in 1982, and there were local stations like Tasman FM, Huon FM and Launceston's City Park Radio. A second government broadcaster, SBS, provided programmes for cultural groups.
More change came from the 1990s. In 1990 ENT, which owned 7EX and 7HT, sold them to the Totalisor Agency Board and they became sports stations. Edge Radio, a youth station, was begun by students and staff at the University of Tasmania in Hobart in 2002. National companies moved in, and SeaFM brought local stations such as Hobart's Triple T and several country stations. There was even a pirate station, Energy, though this later gained a licence. In 2006 Tasmanians could hear a variety of ABC stations, national and local; many commercial stations, such as 7LA, HO FM and Magic 107; community stations; Christian stations such as Ultra 106FIVE and Way FM; and sports stations like Tote Sport Radio.
Further reading: C Jones, Something in the air, Sydney, 1995; J Potts, Radio in Australia, Sydney, 1989; I Smith, Australians on the air, Canberra, 1975, information from Lindsay mcCarthy, Sound Preservation Association.