Music and voices – David Rumsey was first (part one)

In February 1975, to coincide with its official opening, 2MBS-FM published its first program guide. Its name proudly announced a novelty for Australia: stereo FM radio. This was just and true, but the cover image, while just, was misleading [this can be seen in a previous post on this site]. It showed a photo of the Secretary of the Music Broadcasting Society, Trevor Jarvie (in many ways the prime mover). He may not have wanted that kind of prominence, but his fellow pioneers were willing, even determined to give it to him. Yet it was misleading to show Jarvie seated in front of the microphone, manipulating levels – the reader might assume he was broadcasting. Jarvie is seen cueing an LP record, and looks as if he may just have spoken, telling the listener what was about to be heard.

However, Trevor Jarvie’s self-appointed and delineated role was not to present music himself and speak on air– his role was grander: to bring into being and shape a radio station on which others could broadcast music, the music he loved and wasn’t hearing enough from radio as it was then.

Up front in MBS’s name was the word ‘Music’. And music came first in the minds of the founders. But music is not self-identifying, as anyone knows who has waited breathlessly, after happening on music on the radio, for someone to tell them what it was. On the day of 2MBS-FM’s official launch, 1 February 1975, David Rumsey was interviewed for ABC TV news about the station, and how listeners could receive FM broadcasts [the photo above was taken then]. In the interview, music was not mentioned- what was newsworthy was that Australia had its first officially licensed FM station. David Rumsey was an appropriate spokesman. When test broadcasts began at noon on 15 December 1974 the first voice heard was Rumsey’s – presenting a program of recorded Christmas organ music. With pardonable exaggeration, he said ‘virtually all of Sydney was listening’. David Rumsey recalls he was just about the only person in the founding group who had experience of microphone presentation and music programming.

On the official opening day some months later David Rumsey was heard again, with Vincent Plush. They had devised a historical account of what had led up to the fateful day. Called ‘From Static to Stereo’, it covered the history of the broadcast medium, radio, with a message: how much better Stereo-FM radio could be for music. This feature was ‘a radiophonic history’. The title was introduced in sound, not words, beginning with static, then music in sound of limited frequency range, morphing before the listeners’ very ears into glorious wide-range stereo. A policy was implied: on 2MBS the sound of music would always come first. Had not NSW Premier Tom Lewis, opening the station a few minutes earlier, declared that music lovers had been longing for uninterrupted music broadcasts?

‘Uninterrupted’ meant no talk only to out-and-out purists, but there was lively debate from the beginning how far talk should go beyond identifying the music and the performers. The MBS stations in Sydney and Melbourne diverged over the issue and the outcome in Sydney was unexpected. Reducing the talk seemed to some of the planners of the new stations an economic imperative. Remember, in 1974-5 all radio was ‘free to air’ (the Whitlam Government abolished licence fees in 1972). MBS, to finance its operation, was introducing subscription fees (initially $25 per annum). In return subscribers would receive the printed program guide, which would give full details of works and performers. But if those same details were spoken by a presenter when the music was presented, it could dispense with the need for a printed guide. Until there were enough subscribers, of course, fuller announcement would be necessary. But if the same information was available for free…

Listeners were used to hearing music with announcements, notably from the ABC. MBS aspired to be like a ‘real’ radio station, staffed by volunteers, but as professional sounding as possible. Another consideration is hinted at on the front cover of the first magazine, which calls itself the ‘official programme guide’. MBS, like other radio stations, had its programs listed in outline in the newspapers (‘unofficially’). Some at 2MBS wanted these listings stopped, but there was no consensus that announcements should be reduced to a minimum.

‘Tune in’ again next week for part two of this post.

 David Garrett

David Garrett has been associated with Fine Music 102.5 since before it hit the airwaves 40 years ago. A regular on-air presenter, he is also a former Board member and Treasurer of the organisation. David is well known as a writer and speaker on music and history. His Ph.D. from the University of Wollongong explored how the Australian Broadcasting Commission became a presenter of concerts and builder of orchestras. David has taught history at Monash and Sydney Universities. For thirty years he was a music administrator and programmer, for Sydney Philharmonia, then for the ABC and Australia’s six symphony orchestras.

The research and writing for Fine Music: Forty Years of FM Broadcasting are made possible through a generous donation from station volunteer and former Chairman Ron Walledge.

For information on how to donate or subscribe to Fine Music 102.5 click here.

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