The Historic Radio Society of Australia Silver Jubilee
Melbourne, Australia -- April 2007
BY RICHARD BEGBIE
The following report shows that the radio folks "Down Under" know how to put on a great show. As our Australian correspondent Richard Begbie describes it, this 25th anniversary was a significant milestone for Australian vintage radio enthusiasts. (Editor)
It was April 2007, and they came from all over the country -- the tropical north and the deep Tasmanian south, from the bush and the cities, from Sydney and Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide, Hobart and Canberra. Gathered in suburban Melbourne was probably as representative a group of our society as has ever come together. Over a magic weekend around 200 society members celebrated the Historic Radio Society's 25th birthday, with activities dear to every vintage radio heart.
U.S. readers may be surprised to learn that from a population base less than a tenth of the USA's, our premier society has a membership close to 1,100. Local meetings are well attended, and for this event, members thought nothing of driving a thousand miles down the eastern coastline to our southern-most mainland city.
The weekend began convivially on Friday evening at a nearby hotel ("pub," in Aussie parlance). Weary travelers were soon engrossed in nonstop conversation over a drink or three, and a festive air augured well for what was to follow.
The Historic Radio Display
Saturday morning introduced most of us to the main venue, a magnificent conference centre with terrific facilities. Just to walk in was an experience. Contributors had laboured long and meticulously to produce a magnificent display of historic radios in almost every conceivable aspect. Fine examples of virtually every phase of period radio were laid out in logical timeline and intelligent groupings.
A re-creation of a typical "Down Under" radio and battery shop from the past with brand names that are familiar to U.S. collectors as well.
Provenance and ephemera were often as fascinating as hardware. In almost every case clear and vivid interpretive text brought to life some of the finest historical material from around the country. Wartime and communications sectors were not neglected, and some of the specialist displays were simply absorbing.
Along one wall adjacent radio and battery "shops" had been expertly set up, with a wealth of period material and some of the more eye-catching Australian Bakelites of the 1930s. Nearby, Ian Johnston's display of spark era technology took us back to the beginning. A fine display of 1920s broadcast gear was complemented by Dick Howarth's stunning array of Deco cone speakers of that period. Buford Chidester would have been proud.
The Bakelite, plastic, portable and transistor eras were well represented by fine exemplars, many of which brought nostalgic gasps from visitors. The adventure of outback radio was another crowd-puller, with Brian Lackie's well-presented Traeger outfit a real feature. And just when you thought you'd seen it all, you discovered the "Sound Lounge," a display celebrating the era when the console ruled in Aussie living rooms. Continuous period programs, courtesy of an in-house transmitter, lent authenticity.
A well-organised, brisk auction in the centre's main theatre attracted nearly 150 bidders for the 300-plus items on offer. Cameras in the pre-auction display room threw giant images of each item onto a screen behind the auctioneer, saving the time-consuming business of bringing every item to the auction table, as well as providing clear images for even the most shortsighted among us.
A full house saw most items make reserve, though the day's top bid of $2,750 ($2,475 U.S.) on a rare Kriesler grandfather clock radio did not. It was sold privately after auction, while auction sales totaled $21,000 ($18,900 U.S.). The event owed much to auctioneers Arthur Courtney and Mike Eager, as well as the camera operators in the display room.
Saturday evening brought around 80 together for the dinner, which for all who attended was a real highlight of the weekend. The menu was first class, the company congenial, and the entertainment terrific.
Old-time ventriloquist Ron Blaskett, an early star of Australian television, shared highlights of his career and his brushes with famous names in the Australian entertainment industry. His alter ego Jerry Gee finally appeared, and to everyone's delight was joined briefly by another "dummy" (HRSA President Mike Osborne) for a tour de force to end Ron's performance.
Next morning saw stallholders setting up early for a flea market which offered something for everyone. This was opened to the general public, who surprised everyone by buying up big, before moving on to the various displays on offer. People's nostalgia, enthusiasm and even astonishment at just what had survived were palpable, and led to quite a few new memberships.
An Australian Navy Crystal set, ca 1914, from a large prewar radio factory in Sydney.
Meanwhile, in the auditorium, our New Zealand life member Peter Lankshear headed a Q & A session, along with Mike Osborne and restorer Mike Justin. The fluency and lack of hesitation Peter showed in answering the most arcane of technical questions was, to say the least, breathtaking.
The entertainment for the public, as well as for members, rolled on with a Tony Maher-inspired "Portables on Parade" event. If not quite the Christian Dior catwalk, it was a fun hour of nostalgia, with a string of portables from the 1920s to the 1950s playing manfully to a light-hearted crowd. Some wonderful film footage from radio's Golden Age brought what had been a truly memorable and fitting celebration to a close.
Younger members, as well as optimistic older ones, are already anticipating our 50th!
Richard Begbie lives on a farm near Canberra, Australia, where he divides his time between merino sheep, writing, and a fascination with unusual broadcast receivers, from crystal sets to consoles. He is a columnist for the "Canberra Times," which he describes as Australia's nearest thing to the "Washington Post."