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Talk Back Radio

Today, most AM Radio Stations such as 2AD include “talkback” or “openline” programs in their daily format. These programs and their presenters are extremely influential in times of crises, disaster and during elections, listening patterns show a strong swing to talk radio.  By far the best known talkback program over the years has been the John Laws Morning Show, now heard on 2AD from our sister station in Sydney 2SM.

Australian commercial radio has had some great talkback personalities including - John Pearce, Brian White, Derryn Hinch, Steve Liebmann, Brian Whilshire, Alan Jones, Steve Price, Ray Hadley, just to mention a few.

Talk Back Radio started in Australia back on April 17th 1967. Actually, back then it was called “2Way Radio” when introduced by Mike Walsh (right) on 2SM.

2SM's early efforts were timid at first, devoting only two hours a day to the new format in the belief that listeners would get bored if the session went any longer.

On the other hand, Melbourne's 3DB dived in boots and all. Billing itself as The Conversation Station, it kicked off with the then quiz champion and later Labor powerbroker, Barry Jones. His shift was followed by Pat Jarrett, who had as her guest the then Victorian Premier, Sir Henry Bolte who agreed to take listeners' calls – a first for an Australian politician.
So successful was the 3DB launch that it caused a meltdown at the local phone exchange as it shot 3DB to the top of the ratings. Although 3DB no longer exists, Melbourne's MIX 101.1 FM is founded on its original AM licence.

By the following year 1968, twelve metropolitan stations were broadcasting more than 250 hours a week of talk between them. Stations began dial-in quizzes, music requests and programs on controversial social topics.  John Laws (left) would become the “King of Talkback” – while at 2UW he syndicated his show across Australia, with the daily highlights of the Show produced into a one hour program and sent to stations on tape for replay, a day or so later.

Talkback listeners tend to be very loyal. The biggest group of commercial talkback listeners are the baby boomers with 45 percent of all talkback listeners aged over 55 years.

Radio stations had to meet regulations under the Post and Telegraph Act. This required the installation by the Post Master Generals(PMG) Department of a device known as a Record-Connector, which connected the telephone line to the studio equipment. It also generated a burst of tone every 15 seconds to warn callers that they were being recorded. In later years when a caller phone the talkback show phone number he was warned his call was to be aired and the annoying tone could be dispensed with.

Along with the dedicated equipment needed for live talkback, it also required the ability for the conversation to be delayed for seven seconds before being broadcast, this allowed the announcer/presenter to terminate a conversation if the caller defamed someone or used bad language. The 'dump button' became an important part of every studio console.

In the late 1960’s, this equipment was expensive and some Stations devised ways of putting calls to air ‘live’ by using a series of reel-to-reel tape recorders, using loops of tape to record and then broadcast the call, some systems were rather innovative.

One of our sister stations set up three reel-to-reel tape recorders in a row, by running the supply spool of tape on the first machine where the audio was recorded, then the tape passed through the second machine and used the third to replay the recorded audio, some seven plus seconds later as it wound the tape onto the take-up spool.

When 2AD renovated its studio complex in 1973, provision was made to incorporate equipment that would allow the station to undertake talkback programs by using an old RCA tape cartridge machine as the delay device.

Greg Byrne (right) was one of a number of station announcer to present an open-line program between 9 a.m. and noon on 2AD in the early ‘70’s.

The original telephone recording system 2AD used was of poor sound quality, so in 1977 the station's technician, Andrew Kollosche designed and built a new open-line system which improved the caller sound quality with filtering and to maintain the higher studio sound quality by automatically reducing (ducking) the caller level when the announcer spoke. Both signals were then processed by an automatic level control before passed/connected to the on-air studio equipment for broadcast.

He also modified a new CEI Cuemaster 753 tape cartridge machine (left), swapping the record and play heads around and used a cartridge tape of seven seconds in length. The audio was first recorded onto the tape then wound through the delay before playback, and then the cycle was repeated. However, this could only be use for hour or so as the tapes high rotation caused excessive wear and therefore loss of sound quality.

In 1982, the tape cartridge machine delay device was replaced by a Eventide Digital Delay unit. This equipment converted audio into digital samples and then stored them into a memory bank for seven seconds, the samples were then converted back to audio for broadcast, this unit allowed for much higher sound quality and could be used continuously. In mid-1983, the Open Line system out tech built back in 1977 was replaced by a manufactured unit call a Telephone Hybyrd System (TC-2). The old system was moved to the second studio and used for phone interviews and the like for many more years.

Today there are very few, if any, topics that don’t get coverage on talkback programs – sport is one of the most popular, particularly football. Today it is possible to tune across the radio dial any time of the day or night and find a talkback program.