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Tuning in to the ABC

Video clip synopsis – The archival clip shows the ABC network as it was in the 1955. Tim Bowden reflects on the power of ABC broadcasts to unify states and cities across Australia.
Year of production - 2005
Duration - 2min 54sec
Tags - ABC, communities, icons, identity, media and society, popular culture, radio, script writing, television, television programs, see all tags

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Tuning in to the ABC

How to Download the Video Clip

To download a free copy of this Video Clip choose from the options below. These require the free Quicktime Player.

download clip icon Premium MP4 tuningabc_pr.mp4 (21.4MB).

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Additional help.

About the Video Clip

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This is the ABC is an excerpt from the film This is the ABC produced by the Film Division of the Department for the Interior for the Australian Broadcasting Commission in 1955. This video clip is included in the website From Wireless to Web produced in 2005.

The interview with Tim Bowden was recorded for the website. Tim Bowden is a broadcaster, radio and delivision documentary maker, oral historian and author. You can view his full biography at From Wireless to Web

The website is a selective history of broadcast media in Australia. Decade by decade, from radio and newsreels to TV and the internet, this history shows how the Australian broadcast media developed and shaped the way Australians see themselves.

From Wireless to Web is a Film Australia production in association with Roar Film.

Curriculum Focus

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In this Digital Resource students will:

  • discuss and reflect upon the relevance and importance of the Australian Broadcasting Commission/Corporation (ABC) historically, and to Australians today
  • draft a short radio play about an aspect of the history of radio broadcasting in Australia
  • in groups rehearse and deliver a play reading to the class

Reading Standard: students view, analyse and discuss a wide range of informative and persuasive texts and identify the multiple purposes for which texts are created. They compare and contrast the typical features of particular texts and synthesise information from different texts to draw conclusions.

Writing Standard: students write sustained and cohesive narratives that experiment with different techniques and show attention to chronology, characterisation, consistent point of view and development of a resolution. They plan and deliver presentations, sequencing and organising complex ideas. They proofread and edit their own writing for accuracy, consistency and clarity.

Speaking and Listening Standard: students compare ideas, build on others’ ideas, provide and justify other points of view, and reach conclusions that take account of aspects of an issue. They draw on a range of strategies to listen to and present spoken texts, complex issues or information imaginatively to interest an audience.

The activities in this unit are relevant to the Interdisciplinary Learning strands of Level 6 Communications (Listening, Viewing and Responding standard; Presenting standard), and Thinking Processes (Reasoning, Processing and Inquiry standard; Creativity standard).

The activities are also relevant to the Physical, Personal and Social Learning strand of Level 6 Interpersonal Development (Building Social Relationships standard; Working in Teams standard), and Personal Learning (The Individual Learner standard; Managing Personal Learning standard).

This material is an extract. Teachers and Students should consult the Victoria Curriculum and Assessment Authority website for more information.

Background Information

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At 8.00pm on 1 July 1932, the Prime Minister Joseph Lyons inaugurated the ABC. The ABC then controlled twelve stations – 2FC and 2BL in Sydney, 3AR and 3LO in Melbourne, 4QG in Brisbane, 5CL in Adelaide, 6WF in Perth, 7ZL in Hobart and the relay stations 2NC in Newcastle, 2CO at Corowa, 4RK in Rockhampton and 5CK at Crystal Brook.

Opening day programs included the first Children’s Session with Bobby Bluegum, the first sports program, Racing Notes with W.A. Ferry calling the Randwick races, British Wireless News received by cable from London, weather, stock exchange and shipping news, the ABC Women’s Association session (topics were ‘commonsense housekeeping’ and needlecraft), a talk on goldfish and their care, Morning Devotions, and music. (ABC)

Initially all shows went live to air, and each state ran its own programs. By the end of 1933 there were regular program relays between Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth. Hobart joined the network once the Bass Strait cable was laid between Tasmania and the mainland in 1936.

Classroom Activities

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  1. Getting started
    As a class view the Broadcaster interview with Tim Bowden and the Archival video clip from This is the ABC then discuss and write notes on the following:
    1. Define the ways in which the ABC has been important and relevant to Australians over many decades (Bowden interview)
    2. Comment on whether you think the ABC (both radio and television, and even the internet) plays an important and essential role within the Australian community today
    3. List the number and the types of ABC radio stations transmitting throughout Australia both to the nation and to overseas countries in 1955, at the time This is the ABC was produced
    4. Research then list the number and types of ABC radio stations transmitting today. Compare this to the situation in 1955, and comment on whether the ABC has expanded and developed or not since then.
  2. Drafting a short play for radio
    Unlike commercial radio stations, which could be owned by private individuals and were funded by paid on-air advertising, the Australia-wide network of ABC radio stations was set up by an act of federal parliament, requiring the ABC to be funded by the Australian government. This was done by the introduction of licences, a form of government taxation on those owning a radio receiver.
    In the same way that anyone driving a car today must have a driver’s licence (unless learning to drive under supervision), those owning a household radio had to buy a radio listeners’ licence. If you owned a radio but ‘forgot’ to buy or renew a yearly licence, you ran the risk of being fined, because specially appointed radio licence inspectors had the power to knock on your door and ask you to provide evidence that you had a current licence. This licensing system operated until the 1970s.
    Plan, draft, edit, revise and proofread a play for radio (i.e. sound only) of 5–10 minutes, titled When the Inspector Calls. Your play will be about what happens the day or night a radio licence inspector knocks on your front door asking to see your current radio listeners’ licence. (Remember that until the 1970s all households owning a radio required a licence. This also applied to owning a TV set.)
  3. Producing a play reading
    In groups select one script of When the Inspector Calls then prepare, practise and deliver a play reading to the class. One of your group may need to act as a director to oversee all facets of the production. Another may be responsible for sound effects or music. An announcer may be required as well as ‘voice’ actors.

Further Resources

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Go to From Wireless to Web for more about the history of broadcast media in Australia.

Go to The Birth of the ABC, About the ABC, Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Dr Jeff Langdon, The History of Radio in Australia, 1995

KS Inglis, This is ABC: The Australian Broadcasting Commission 1932–1983, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 2006.