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On The Hill

From the early days when locals talked about 2AD, they always gave its location as ‘On the Hill’.  The station’s own advertising material referred to 2AD as The Voice of the North at the Top of the Hill.

The station’s studio and transmitter site was located on what is now the corner of Jeffrey and Jessie Streets, but back in 1936 there were very few houses and even fewer roads in this part of Armidale. The photo on the right is an aerial picture of the north hill area in 1943, some seven years after the start of 2AD.

Today, the Armidale Apex Memorial Lookout is just to the west of the original site occupied by 2AD from 1936 until the station moved down to the CBD and into a new purpose built two storey building in Rusden Street in 1957.

When Northern Broadcasters Ltd. the company formed by the Armidale and Inverell Newspapers, was granted the radio licence for Armidale in 1935, the Directors had intended extending their newspaper offices in Beardy Street to accommodate the radio station.

However, the company was advised by the Postmaster-General’s Department (P.M.G.) that the station could not be housed in the premises of the newspaper, some an approach was made to the Armidale Lands Board seeking their support in applying for a lease on land at Drummond Park, in north Armidale. The Minister for Lands endorsed the recommendation and the company was granted a twenty-eight year lease on two acres of crown land at north hill.

Tenders were called for the construction of a purpose built building for the station with one studio, a record library, transmitter room and technical work area. 

Some of the foundation bricks of the front of the building are still visible today. Locals tell the story that while the construction was under way, the builders had difficulty transporting the timbers up the steep hill towards to site, because they kept sliding off the back of the delivery truck.

Of the seven companies that tendered for the construction of the transmitter and broadcast equipment for 2AD, it was announced in August 1935 that Standard Telephones & Cable (Aust.) Ltd. (S.T.C.) had been successful. For the erection of the transmitter mast, the tender went to A. Howarth & Sons of West Maitland. The station mast was made of wood and stood 120 feet (36.5 metres) tall. It was stated at that time 2AD was the highest radio station in the Commonwealth.

Before 1936, the New England region was poorly served by radio, particularly in summer when atmospheric conditions made listening almost intolerable. The only stations operating in this part of the state at that time were in Gunnedah (2MO), Tamworth (2TM) and Lismore (2LM).

So there was a great deal of excitement in the week before the official opening of 2AD, when locals were invited to take a tour of the building and studio. The first voice to be heard over 2AD was that of junior announcer Peter Macgregor, during test announcement prior to the open of the station.

The Station was officially opened by David. H. Drummond MLA, Minister for Education at 7.30 p.m. on Wednesday 5th February 1936.

At the opening, Armidale Mayor Ald. M H. O’Connor, made the following comment – “From the front of this station is to be seen one of the finest panoramas that could be pictured. Away in the distance can be seen some of the blues hills of the New England range, whilst in this valley below us nestles our Cathedral City with its galaxy of beautiful ecclesiastical and educational establishments, as well as the many fine private and public buildings, the Teachers College away on the southern hill being the crowning feature and the whole forms one of the most beautiful scenes that one could picture. Tourists passing through our city should call at 2AD and admire this beautiful setting and splendid view from its front door”.

When 2AD opened, of the original five staff, only two had had previous experience in broadcasting.  John Creighton - Manager and chief announcer, had been an announcer with 2CH and 2GB Sydney.  Lindo Taylor – Engineer, had been employed as an engineer with 2GB Sydney, at 2AD he also undertook some announcing duties. Peter Macgregor – an ex-Armidale School (TAS) student was the Morning announcer, from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. Keith Robson – was employed as an Apprentice engineer. Peggy Gordon - typist and Miss V Moore – book keeper, both girls worked from the station’s office in the Armidale Express building in town. Peggy also did some announcing on 2AD.

John Creighton was the evening presenter from 6p.m. to 10p.m., Peter Macgregor was the morning announcer from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and lunch program from 12noon to 2 p.m., occasionally the station’s engineer Lindo Taylor would present the lunchtime session, his also presented a regular Sunday Evening program which was very popular.

With the introduction of the 2AD service to Armidale and district, sales in wireless sets (radios) increased, one Armidale outlet selling 30 new sets in just two weeks. L W Burgess, J R Sparks and C A Simmons were some of the local suppliers.

Armidale local John Davies, remembers that many boys at the time made crystal radio receivers which were a very cheap and effective means of receiving the new station. While others having purchased a radio receive would place two wooden poles about 25 metres apart with a single wire between them connected to the radio receiver.

Stan Frazier of Arding, about ten kilometres from Armidale, recalls how as a young boy his father had sent him up the paddock with a horse to pull the longest stringy-bark pole back to their house to be put up to be used for their radio aerial so they could listen to 2AD. He remembers their first radio being an AWA set bought from L.W. Burgess in Armidale, the radio had three large dry ‘B’ batteries, a small ‘C’ battery and a 2 volt wet battery that needed charging from time to time. It was a short wave radio and they could pick-up stations all over Australia and around the world.

From Wednesday 12th February 1936, 2AD offered listeners free Birthday Calls broadcast between 7.30 a.m. and 8.30 a.m. to receive a free Birthday Call you needed to send in three consecutive coupons from the Armidale Express along with the birthday details to the station. The Station also offered Birthday Calls in the evening between 6 p.m. and 6.30 p.m. for a fee of 2/- (two shillings/20cents). During the first year of broadcasting more that 1,500 birthday calls went to children in the New England, North West and the mid North Coast.

As there were no recording devices available, everything went to air “live”. A big part of the service provided by 2AD from the very early days was broadcasting from various part of town, this was done by using a landline connected from a venues back through the telephone exchange to the station's studio on north hill - locations that were used regularly included the Town Hall, Cathedrals, Churches and the Capitol Theatre.

The Station, in conjunction with the J. K. Capitol Theatre Co., presented what was claimed to be the first joint Radio and Movie Ball ever held in the State at the Armidale Town Hall on Tuesday 2nd March 1937. Between 450 and 500 danced to music of the Gloomchasers ‘Swing Time’ Dance Band, proceeds of the night £150, going to the Armidale and New England Hospital. A running commentary of the whole evening was broadcast over 2AD by announcers John Creighton and Peter Macgregor.

When George Sorlie and his troupe of professional performers where in town for the 1936 Armidale Show, 2AD arranged for George and some of his best-known artists to perform on air on Monday March 16th, Wednesday 18th and Friday 20th between 1.00 p.m. and 2 p.m. This was the first live performance by professional artists to be broadcast over the station. Here's George Sorlie with a recording from 1936.

“Amateurs On The Air” was one of the most popular session broadcast live on 2AD each Thursday evening from 9.00 p.m. to 9.30 p.m. The program was sponsored by the New England Butter Factory then owned by Brisbane businessman Mr A R Petersen.

Radio Drama played a large role in the attracting and entertaining listeners to the station. One of first radio serials broadcast on 2AD was the George Edwards Production, “The Count of Monte Cristo” – which ran each night, Monday to Saturday at 7.30 p.m. from Monday 30th March 1936. At the time, it was stated that it was the most colourful and magnificently produced radio drama in Australia. Many will remember George Edwards as the voice of Dad in ‘Dad & Dave’.

From May 11th 1936, another popular program was “Ports of Call” sponsored by Vacuum Oil, started on 2AD, the program highlighted the history, arts, music and literature of various countries.

Music played a major role in the entertainment of listeners, the Station’s Library held thousands of records – all 78’s.

In the AWA “Broadcaster” publication of late 1936, the following were mentioned as new advertisers on 2AD, William Angliss, Modern Engineering Motor Services (Guyra), McRae’s Big Store (Walcha), Burgess’s Motor Engineering (Guyra), Enterprise Stores (Port Macquarie),Munro Brothers Motor Engineers (Uralla), H L Blair Newsagent (Port Macquarie) P L Langley Motor Engineer (Walcha). The station was well supported by local businesses in other early days of broadcasting.

A ‘Shirley Temple Doll Competition’ was conducted in conjunction with W Curtis Ltd. and the Capitol Theatre. Entries closed on Thursday May 14th 1936, with the winners announced over 2AD. Winners were:  Sybil O’Brien, Armidale 10 years; Monica Pullen, Armidale 9 years; Barbara Brydon, Armidale 8 years; Barbara Curtis, Armidale 7 years; Joyce Walker, Armidale 9 years, Sadie Champion, Hillgrove 9 years; Ruth Johnson, Armidale 10 years; Gloria Shorten, Uralla 7 years; Jean Cave, Yarrowych 8 years and Gwen Earl, Armidale 8 years. Winners were presented with their Doll at a live broadcast in the Capitol Theatre.

Following the resignation of John Creighton, Peter Speight was appointed Station Manager in August 1937, having previously worked at 2UW in Sydney and 3DB Melbourne. He increased 2AD’s operating hours each weekday afternoon by thirty minutes from 5.30 p.m. to 6 p.m. to include a Women’s Session and a Children’s Session broadcast Monday to Friday on alternative days.  

The Women’s Session was presented by Eileen Speight, wife of the Station Manager, and the Children’s Session, known as ‘The Busy Bees’ was presented by ‘Aunty B’ Phyllis Taylor, wife of the Station Engineer Lindo Taylor.

In May 1938, Roy Blake Manager of the Armidale Express replaced Peter Speight as Station Manager. That month the Women’s Session moved to a new broadcast time, Monday to Saturday from 9.00 a.m. to 10.00 a.m. with a new presenter Marion McArthur, who used the on-air name ‘Dorothy’, she was sister of the 2AD Board Chairman Alan McArthur. Marion would present the program for the next five years.

At that time the Session had a name change becoming the 2AD Women’s Correspondence Club, with a membership fee of one shilling (10 cents) per year, with members taking on a pen-name and agreeing to contribute one letter each month to the program. Here is a list of club members

In September, following the popularity of the program with both listeners and advertisers, the Women’s Session was extended by an extra thirty minutes each day to 10.30 a.m.  By mid-1939 the 2AD Radio Correspondence Club had almost 500 listeners as members.  

Just like many businesses and industries, Radio 2AD was affected by the Second World War as many of the announcing and technical staff enlisted, and finding replacement staff was difficult. In 1940, a local lad Jack Ames joined the technical staff of 2AD.

Armidale resident John Davies, remembers one of the morale-boosting exercises during the Second World War being Community Singing, held in the old Capital Theatre in Beardy Street each Saturday from 12 noon to 1.00 pm and broadcast over 2AD, with one of the announcers at the time Cliff Dodd (pictured on right) as compare, the words of the songs were displayed on the theatre’s screen.

Jack Ames, a 2AD apprentice technician at the time, remembers taking the broadcast equipment down to the Capital and connecting it to the broadcast line back to the studio where the Engineer Arch Mitchell would make sure all was in order for the afternoon event, these sessions were always well attended, with the Theatre packed.

In June 1942, following the difficulties of securing technical staff for 2AD, technical support was provided by 2TM’s technical staff under the control of Tom Whitcomb a part owner and chief engineer of 2TM. 

2AD staff at this time included – Cliff Dodd, Wally Frewin, Peter Poggioli, Roy Staude, Lois Kesteven and station manager Roy Blake.

Peter Poggioli would leave radio and move into the real estate industry and would also become Mayor of Armidale 1975 -1977

During the War Years, it was hard to get and keep announcers, as young men left the industry to enlist in one of the three services. Just like other businesses at that time, radio was also doing it tough. Station Manager Roy Blake was a regular voice on 2AD, using the on-air name ‘Glen’.

Through the early 1940’s,  2AD was an important link to New Englanders, helping keep them informed on the War and providing a welcome release to those troubled times with the music and entertainment segments. Even after the end of WWII, business was slow.

However, 2AD continued to be a part of community life, in 1945 the station broadcast 4,666 paid Birthday Calls.

By the late 1940's, 2AD was being asked to increase its broadcast power, the Australian Broadcasting Control Board had for several years been pressing the Company to increase the power of 2AD from 200 watts to 1,000 watts.

For 2AD to increase its broadcast power to 1,000 watts, a new transmitter and aerial would be required. It would be necessary to re-locate the transmitting equipment from north hill to a site further removed from the residential area. This moved would come at considerable cost.

It was decided that the company make an approach to the operators of 2NZ Inverell and 2TM Tamworth, offering a half share in 2AD.

On December 9th 1952, a new company New England Broadcasters Pty. Ltd. was formed with the Tamworth owned Broadcast Amalgamated Limited taking a fifty-percent ownership. The following year Roy Brislan replaced Roy Blake was Station Manager.  Roy Blake became Chairman of the Board of New England Broadcasters Pty. Ltd. holders of the 2AD licence.

In August 1953, a new  transmitter was officially opened by Sir Earle Page, Federal Minister for Health.  The transmitter building and 160 foot steel tower were situated to the south of Armidale just past the airport on the New England Highway. This increase in power allowed for 2AD’s signal to be heard further across the New England region.

During the early to mid 1950’s, many Armidale school children made the trek up north hill each weekday afternoon to be part of the after school “Children’s Session”. Students took part in quizzes, singing and other entertainment segments broadcast each afternoon. 

The old studio ‘on the hill’ saw many staff come and go, among them John Godson, part of the 2AD announcing staff in 1953 - 54. John would go on to deliver the first words ever spoken on Australian Television, when in September 1956 he’s voice was heard shortly before the first program – Bruce Gyngell (who spoke and was seen) is regarded as the first person to "appear" on TV, but our John Godson was there first with the audio!

On July 6th 1957, 2AD moved from the ‘on the hill’ to Broadcast House, a new two story brick building designed to provide the most up-to-date studio and office facilities and a roomy auditorium at 123 Rusden Street in the city centre.

2AD’s old studio building would stand on the hill until the following year when the company offered the building for sale and removal from the Jeffrey Street site. A tender of £850 pound was accepted and the building moved down the hill to be re-born as a rental property in Donnelly Street.

Bringing to a close this chapter of 2AD’s time on North Hill.