25 July 2021

Those D.J. Shows: country radio in late 60s Victoria

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That joyous early Supremes song Those D.J. Shows strikes a chord with me. It's about getting out of school and racing home to listen to a Top 40 record show. YouTube Spotify

Even in country Victoria, where I grew up, it wasn't unusual to find a late afternoon radio show aimed at teenage pop fans. Maryborough station 3CV even had one called DJ Show.  

Further north, in Swan Hill, it was the 1330 Show on 3SH (1330 kHz) which held phone-in polls that seem quaint from this distance: Are you a rocker or a jazzer? or Mods versus surfies! Remarkable, considering that this was around late 1963, when the afternoon and evening highlights on 3SH included 4pm Back to the Bible, 6:45 Dad and Dave, and 8:30pm Old-time Dance.

The 1966 ad for 3CV (above) is from the teenage pop magazine Go-Set, showcasing 3CV disc jockeys Rod Batchelder, John McPhee and Graham Lever. It reflects how I remember some country radio from the late 1960s. The graphics are groovy, and the music format is Top 40. 

Like some other commercial country stations in the late 1960s, 3CV was following the big city trend of programming Top 40 music hosted by disc jockeys. I was a teenager who was picky about both music and radio, but I never hesitated to listen to 3CV Maryborough or 3SH Swan Hill as alternatives to the capital city Top 40 stations. (One or the other was always nearby, depending on whether I was away at school or back home at my parents' place.) A bonus was that you could hear some great songs that weren't being played on the big city stations.

My memory of a golden era of country pop radio might be a little selective, though, as I saw when I looked up some of the Country Radio guides in Melbourne's Age newspaper. 

At that time, in 1966, traditional content still dominated across the 13 commercial stations* in regional Victoria. Listings like these hardly suggest wall-to-wall Top 40: 11:40am Friendship Club (3SR), 10:15am Singalong (3SR), 3:15pm Variety Fair (3BO), and 8:30pm Bible Speaks To You (3HA).

Several serials were still on air across the state, including Dr Paul (3BO, 3CV, 3HA, 3NE, 3SH, 3TR). The serials were disappearing from Australian radio, and in the capital city Melbourne by this time only 3DB was still airing them. The networked radio quiz shows - Quiz Kids, Winner Take All, Pick-a-Box  and all - had already folded or migrated to TV which came to Australia in 1956.

When I looked at 3CV's schedule in the Country Radio guide around the time of the  Go-Set ad, I was surprised to see that it doesn't mention deejays Batchelder, McPhee and Lever, nor does it name the programs from the ad. 

Batchelder's Big Breakfast Show is easy to spot - 6am Breakfast Show - and you can guess that McPhee's Big 100, or Lever's Go Go Show fitted in somewhere to 2pm Hits, 4pm Teen Beat, and 7pm Music. Not as exciting as the THE GREATEST SHOW IN VICTORIA the Go Go Show, though. (3CV's DJ Show came later.)

In the capital city radio guide in the same paper, top-rating Top 40 station 3UZ had for some time listed most of its programs as deejay shows - DON LUNN - Breakfast session, STAN ROFE SHOW, KEN SPARKES SHOWso I had expected something similar.
 
In fact the only on-air name to appear in the 3CV schedule is 11:30am Binnie Lum, the notable women's broadcaster who had been dropped by Melbourne station 3XY in 1964 but survived on the regional Victorian Broadcasting Network (VBN).

Certainly, there's nothing much in the Guide to suggest that 3CV was THE STATION THAT'S GETTING THE COUNTRY GO-GOING From Victoria's Swingin' Centre. Perhaps it was a lack of space, or perhaps the writer of the Go-Set ad didn't coordinate with whoever typed up the schedule for The Age. Even so, I do remember listening to deejay shows on 3CV, but I suppose I would have twiddled the dial when anything else came on.

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Up on the Murray River at 3SH Swan Hill in 1966, some of the station's on-air personalities were starting to appear in the printed schedule. The ubiquitous 10am Dr Paul serial is still there, and so is 11:30am Binnie Lum (VBN again) along with networked cooking celebrity 11:15am Graham Kerr. But there are also some local names: 9am Alan Kidd Ladies' Show, 12pm Mal Sutton and 4pm Bob Taylor. Still hanging on were early evening serials 6:45pm Dad and Dave and 7:15pm Three Brothers, and that country radio fixture from the USA, 9:30pm Back to the Bible

By 1968, though, it was wall-to-wall disc jockeys at 3SH. (The 3SH ad above is from Go-Set in June 1967). No serials, no specified "ladies" show, and no American evangelism (not in the program guide, anyway); just 5am Denis O'Kane Show, 9am Mal Sutton Show, 12pm Barry Bissell Show, 4pm Bob Taylor, 7 pm John Browne, with news at least hourly. This looks a lot like the DJ oriented schedule of 3UZ. The entry for 3SH in the Australian Radio Almanac (1967) uses the phrase strictly top 40 format.

3SH's Barry Bissell became a legend of Australian radio, best known through his years at FOX-FM in Melbourne and as founding host of the national Take 40 Australia

In a 2019 Swan Hill Guardian interview, Barry recalls the change from “very old school” programming to a "hits format" soon after he joined 3SH in 1967 when he was still a teenager. He says, “There was a box of 45s (records) in the studio, and an A, B and C list, but I cheated all the time and played my favourites; which everybody did.” This sort of personal input might help to explain my impression that the records on a country station could depart from what was heard in the big city. 

In 1968, 3TR Traralgan was also listing deejays' names as program titles: 5am Laurie Miller, 9:30am Sam Gales, 2:30pm Keith Wells, and 5pm George Danes.  

Other stations list only one or two on-air names, but to be fair there are programs scattered throughout the Country Radio schedules that were probably filled with Top 40 music. Apart from the generic 2pm Music (3NE but common across the board), they include the aforementioned  5pm DJ Show, plus 7 pm Top 40 Hits in DJ Show to Midnight (3CV), 6pm Teentime (3HA), and 5:45pm Latest Hits from the Charts (3UL). There could even be some pop hits behind the neutral 7:30pm Evening Show (3HA), and although 4pm Music for Moderns (3CS) is an ungroovy name, the timeslot is right for an after-school deejay show.

Other examples don't really scream "Top 40": 10:30pm Jazz Club (3YB), 10:40pm Armchair Melodies (3BA), 7:15pm Light and Lovely (3GL), and 8:30pm Serenade (3SR), so the trend wasn't unanimously followed. 

Although I remember the music, country radio was full of other content. Country stations served their local communities in the way that the local newspapers did. As Barry Bissell says, it was "market reports, funeral announcements, dedications to those in hospital". They aired networked content and syndicated shows distributed on records, but they had a full roster of local announcers from opening to closing.

There were shows for children such as 4:35pm Children (3NE) and (I'm guessing) 4pm Sunshiners' Club (3MA); and women's shows 2pm Women's Corner (3BA), 9am Women's Mag (3GL). In their heyday, some women's shows had active clubs with an off-air presence, as the 3SH Women's Club had with its own club-rooms. A surprising number of religious programs were aired, especially but not necessarily on Sundays: 3:45pm Christian Science (3BO), 5:30pm Religion (3BA), 9pm Salvation Army (3NE).

These days, it's sad to see multiple stations carrying identical lineups from a distant hub, sometimes with only one or two local announcers. Increasingly, this happens in a town where the local paper is struggling or has closed down. On the bright side, many country towns now have a thriving community radio station, including 99.1 SmartFM in Swan Hill and Goldfields FM in Maryborough Vic.

Back in the day, regional commercial radio could even do proper local news coverage. One night in Swan Hill in 1963, when it seemed half the town turned out to see a fire that had broken out in a timber yard, we were joined by 3SH's Ken Guy with a portable recorder, covering the story for the next day's News. 

I shared that with Ken on a Facebook thread not long ago. He said he didn't remember it, but it sounded right. It's good to know that not all my memories of country radio are faulty.

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Those D.J. Shows
Right now, I'm in school
But as soon as the homebell rings
I'm gonna run to my locker
And gather up all my things
Then out the door
Running home I'll go
Faster than a new jet plane
And then turn on my radio
I'm gonna listen to those D.J. shows
I'm gonna be diggin' that rock 'n' roll
If I don't I'll go insane

This was an early Supremes track written and produced by William "Smokey" Robinson. It didn't make their first album Meet The Supremes and remained unreleased until an expanded edition of the album in 2010. [Also on Spotify]

Patrice Holloway also recorded a version, also unreleased until years later. YouTube

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3SH was clearly serious about promoting its on-air personalities, as seen in the Go-Set ad for 3SH (above, in text). Of all the Victorian country stations listed in the 1967 Australian Radio Almanac [view here], it has the biggest entry. Note the phrase strictly top 40 format. .

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Click here for all posts at this blog about 3SH (or mentioning it).

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VBN: the Victorian Broadcasting Network, 1965 trade ad.

 

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The Victorian commercial country stations listed in the Country Radio guide in The Age in the 1960s, with their call-signs and frequencies at that time:

3BA Ballarat 1320 kcs (kHz)
3BO Bendigo 960
3CS Colac 1130
3CV Maryborough 1440
3GL Geelong 1350
3HA Hamilton 1000
3MA Mildura 1470
3NE Wangaratta 1600
3SH Swan Hill 1330
3SR Shepparton 1260
3TR Sale 1240
3UL Warragul 530
3YB Warrnambool 1210

*3LK Lubeck 1090, near Horsham (now 3WM), was mainly a relay station for 3DB Melbourne and wasn't listed in the Country Radio guides.


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