Chapter 3: Making Various Waves on Radio

In 1936, I quit the Castlemaine High School, where I was studying what was then known as Leaving Honours Physics and Leaving Honours English, left Moodanong in Castlemaine and moved to Melbourne.

My parents remained in Castlemaine.

I boarded with a Mrs Goode at 30 Sutherland Road, Armadale. She was an old family friend. In fact her sister Matilda was married to my father’s brother, Frank. Uncle Frank had been a farmer, but when I knew him, he had retired and was living with his wife somewhere in a flat in East St Kilda.

He wasn’t short of a quid — as they say.

30 Sutherland Road, Armadale and Aunt Millie (Mrs Goode) became my new base. I came to Melbourne to take up a job with Howard Radio in Vere Street, Richmond. I was in charge of a piece of equipment known as an Inductance Bridge on which components like condensers and coils were tested before they were wired into the chassis of a new radio set.

Howard Radio sets were of a high quality. The cabinets especially were very well constructed. They were mostly wooden cabinets, manufactured in the adjoining Howard Piano Factory, and all the expertise that went into their pianos went into their radio sets and cabinets.

It was the quality of Howard Radios that was their undoing. They cost so much to make that the company couldn’t compete with the inferior mass-production-line radios — the Astors, Monarchs and Mickey Mouse Mantel Sets that were pouring out of the Radio Corporation Factory in South Melbourne.

At lunch break on my first day at Howard Radio, the door of my little cubicle was flung open, and a young fellow about my age said, “I thought you might like a bit of company for lunch”.

I invited him into the tiny space.

He introduced himself. “I’m Reg Hazelden!”

At the same time as I began work at Howard Radio, I enrolled in a radio engineering course at the Melbourne Technical College. The “Melbourne Tech” had acquired that name fairly recently. Prior to that it was known as “The Working Men’s College”. Anyway, irrespective of the name, eventually (I think it was a three year course) I obtained the Broadcast Operators Certificate of Proficiency. That meant that I was qualified to operate the transmitter of any broadcasting station — but of course I was woefully short on experience.

At the same time, during those three years, Reg Hazelden became my best friend. At weekends we used to hurl ourselves around the countryside on a very antiquated motor cycle which I had purchased for £8.00. It was a bit of a death-trap. For one thing, the clutch didn’t work, and you had to change gears by slamming them through.

Around the same time, Reg purchased a 1926 Essex Tourer, which was fairly light on petrol, but very heavy on oil.

To be certain of a successful journey, you had to warm it up for about 20 minutes before moving off. This was to partially charge the ancient battery — otherwise if you stopped anywhere during your journey, you couldn’t use the self-starter to get it going again. (Initial starting was by crank-handle.)

When Howard Radio realized that I was a drain on their resources, owing to my lack of ability, we parted company, and for a few forgettable weeks I worked as a radio serviceman at a Bourke Street radio repair business. Then I obtained a position in the “Final Test Department” at Radio Corporation in South Melbourne, almost on the site of the present A.B.C. complex.

Their two brands were “Astor” and “Monarch”.

Their advertising induced the radio-buying public to believe that the Astor sets were vastly superior to the Monarchs, which sold at a lower price — or rather the profit margin on the Astor sets was much higher than on the Monarchs. Actually the two brands were identical. It wasn’t until the name was affixed to the cabinet that they became Astors or Monarchs.

So much for “truth in advertising”!

But, if the truth be known, I didn’t want to be building radio sets.

I wanted to be a radio announcer — like Norman Banks or Terry Dear or Walter Pym.

My Broadcast Operator’s Certificate was the piece of paper that enabled me to place my foot on the first rung of the radio announcers’ ladder of fame.

I didn’t realize at the time that “fame” comes in a number of different degrees, and the lowest degree was very low indeed — as were the wages.

I’ll explain more in the next chapter.