Theme Radio

Written by Nikki Henningham, The University of Melbourne, with the National Film and Sound Archive

In late 2013, Robin Bailey, a Brisbane commercial radio announcer with more than twenty years radio industry experience across Australia, congratulated Donna Puechmarin on her recent appointment as program director of Southern Cross Austereo's Sydney radio station 2Day FM. Responding to questions from the audience at the Commercial Radio Australia conference, Bailey reminded them that what this actually meant was that there was now one female program director in capital-city radio commercial FM, and only three female program directors in metropolitan commercial radio in total. 'That's appalling', she said. But what was really interesting was the follow-up comment from a male executive who said 'the great thing about Donna was she got the job despite her gender' (Bodey). Sadly, the industry is still over-populated by men who think women are ill-equipped to take leadership roles in radio, simply because they are women.

Majella Marsden, one of the three program directors to whom Bailey referred, believes the lack of women in commercial radio production and management is a consequence of the standard radio industry career progression. Triple M presenter Rachel Corbett refers to it as 'a bit of a boys' club'. On-air announcers ('jocks') become assistant production directors who then become production directors. Given that the medium has only recently got over the notion that listeners do not want to hear women on air, the changes will take a while to filter through. Indeed Marsden was the focus of controversy in 2001, when station management of Brisbane commercial station 4BC told Peter Dick, whose program she was producing, the she should not be heard on air. In that context, it was hard to progress in the industry. But things have improved, according to Bailey: 'I've been doing radio for nearly 25 years and I will tell you it is so much better than it used to be' (Bodey). And, indeed, there are now many more women on air, women are successful in sales and there is a female presence in management. Cathy O'Connor is CEO of DMG radio, which broadcasts as NOVA on FM radio around Australia.

The situation for women in public broadcasting, although lopsided, is not as dire, reflecting, perhaps, their important role in public broadcasting in the early years of the radio industry. From the first licensed 'wireless' broadcast in Australia (out of Sydney) on 23 November, 1923, women played an important role in establishing a burgeoning broadcast media industry during Australia's early years of radio. Radio had become a central domestic and social event in Australian society by the mid-1920s and the Australian Broadcasting Commission, the national broadcaster, was inaugurated on 1 July 1932 with twelve stations dispersed throughout Australia. Entire family groups would gather around a radio set for communal listening. Indeed, during the Great Depression, when many people could not afford radios, whole communities met together at centres like the Glebe Wireless House in Sydney.

By the mid-1930s, women were on the air as announcers and were working in radio production. The radio became an essential household item, providing hours of background entertainment to housewives fulfilling their day-to-day duties. Some of the program slots were also taken up by women's organisations such as the Housewives Associations, the National Councils of Women and the United Associations of Women to provide serious information about national and international issues of significance to a female audience. Programs such as Women's Session and Banish Drudgery, created especially for the 'women's market', dominated morning slots, while long-running family dramas, like Blue Hills, were produced, directed, written and performed by women. These women were pioneers in media production techniques and were integral to the shaping of Australian cultural identity. During the years of World War II, many women joined the workforce as part of the 'all-in' war effort. By this time, women in Australian radio were contributing to the production of shows such as: Leave It to the Girls, Aunt Jenny's Real Life Stories, When a Girl Marries, and Portia Faces Life. These shows were key to boosting the morale of working women nation wide.

Women like Queenie Ashton (who starred in Gwen Meredith's Blue Hills (Heywood, AWR)), Grace Gibson (founder of Grace Gibson Radio Productions Pty Ltd (Henningham, AWAL)) and Dorothy Crawford (co-founder of Crawford Productions, radio announcer and radio/television producer) were key figures in the industry throughout the 1940s and 1950s. The National Film and Sound Archive special exhibition, Women and Radio, highlights the important role these and other trailblazing women played in establishing radio as an important domestic and social activity and a powerful and crucial information and communications medium.

Archival Resources

National Film and Sound Archive

  • Gibson, Grace : Documentation, 276617; National Film and Sound Archive. Details
  • Gibson, Grace : Interviewed by Jenny Anderson: Oral History, 1986, 817755; National Film and Sound Archive. Details

Published Resources


  • Griffen-Foley, Bridget, Changing Stations: The Story of Australian Commercial Radio, University of New South Wales (UNSW) Press, Sydney, New South Wales, 2009. Details
  • Lane, Richard, The Golden Age of Australian Radio Drama 1923-1960: A History Through Biography, Melbourne University Press, Carlton South, Victoria, 1994. Details
  • Moran, Albert and Keating, Chris, The A to Z of Australian radio and television, Scarecrow Press, Lanham, Maryland, United States of America, 2009. Details

Book Sections

  • Griffen-Foley, Bridget, 'Modernity, Intimacy and Early Australian Commercial Radio', in Damousi, Joy and Deacon, Desley (eds), Talking and Listening in the Age of Modernity: Essays ion the History of Sounds, Australian National University (ANU) Press, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, 2007, pp. 123 - 132. Details

Journal Articles

  • Heap, Amy and Pymm, Bob, 'Wagga Wagga Women's Wireless and the Web: Local Studies and New Technologies', Australian Library Journal, vol. 58, no. 1, February 2009, pp. 5 - 16. Details
  • Johnson, Lesley, 'Radio and Everyday Life: The Early Years of Broadcasting in Australia, 1922-1945', Media, Culture and Society, vol. 3, no. 2, 1981, pp. 167 - 178. Details

Newspaper Articles

Resource Sections

Online Resources