The day the music died

Sydney Radio 2CH tunes out

Another one bites the dust. The day the music died. Today is a sad day in Sydney Radio. Tonight at 6pm the transmitter on one of Sydney’s formerly great radio stations will be turned off.

This is a photo of me in the studio of Radio 2CH taken about ten years ago, during a season when I fairly regularly filled in as host of the Sunday night three-hour Christian talk program.

2CH started as a venture of the Protestant Churches of Sydney under the auspices of the NSW Council of Churches. The Roman Catholics had 2SM. The Protestants had 2CH. CH stood for Church.

Years later the churches worked out they weren’t great at running radio stations, and sold the ownership of 2CH to AWA, but kept a caveat over the licence, which provided for a certain number of hours of Christian broadcasting each week.

For me, listening to 2CH growing up, while 2SM had the young rock and roll audience, 2CH had the beautiful music crowd. When the competition hotted up for the rock audience (and it was divided between 2SM, 2WS, 2JJ and 2UW), 2CH sailed past them all, and for a golden era, was Sydney’s number one radio station, playing ‘easy listening favourites.’

It’s hard to describe, but there’s something about the feel of a station when it’s genuinely working.

AWA sold to Wesley Mission. Wesley Mission sold to John Singleton. John Singleton sold the 2GB/2CH combo to Nine. Somewhere along the line, someone acquired 2UE, and there is (quite rightly) a limit on the number of radio stations one owner can own in each radio market, so 2CH was offloaded.

There was a lovely era when Glen Wheatley owned the station, and 2CH really felt like it was going somewhere. It’s hard to describe, but there’s something about the feel of a station when it’s genuinely working. The announcers sounded fantastic. It was out-rating 2DAY-FM and several other former stations (quite remarkable for what really now was an AM-battler). If they could just hang on and successfully make the switch to DAB and streaming, then there was a potential future in the much more diverse and challenging market.

Then SEN took over. Their interest was sport. They didn’t care about the history of 2CH. They moved the music station off its traditional 1170 frequency, ran 2CH on a shoestring on DAB, and alienated all the old audience. It was one of the most disastrous change management exercises I’ve seen. It was almost as if they intentionally set out to fail.

SEN put a network sports program on the 1170 frequency. 2CH went from an acceptable 5-6 per cent rating on AM, to scoring just 0.5 per cent on DAB. If SEN had prospered, perhaps this would be acceptable, but SEN on 1170 has been rating almost as badly.

My memory is hazy, but Rev Bernard Judd was a key figure in 2CH’s history. He was really the father figure of the radio station for a number of decades (maybe four decades).

Somehow 2CH had owner John Singleton’s heart. It was his jukebox.

I remember I was reading the Macquarie 2CH/2GB news around 1997 when Rev Judd died. I remember warm tributes to Rev Judd being paid that afternoon by both the then radio station owner John Singleton and former Anglican Archbishop of Sydney (and President of the NSW Council of Churches) Harry Goodhew.

Years later (ten-12 years ago) when I started as a Sunday night program announcer at 2CH, while it was clear that 2GB was the real money-spinner in the Macquarie stable, somehow 2CH had owner John Singleton’s heart. It was his jukebox. People knew ‘the boss loved it.’

I really loved hosting the Sunday night three-hour talk program. There’s a wonderful dynamic in talk radio of being able to talk and listen to a wide audience, answering the phone on air, not quite sure what someone is going to say. I always think of it as ‘walking a tightrope, requiring enormous concentration, and the possibility of falling off and making a mess.’ What a privilege it was to host a talk radio program with an explicit mandate to talk about Jesus.

I reflected many times and gave thanks for the sacrifice and initiative of people like Bernard Judd who provided that radio platform for Jesus’ ambassadors like me to stand on and broadcast from decades later.

I presume the platform continues through the NSW Council of Churches on SEN-1170. But as hardly anyone listens, it’s not as strategic. Anyway, a sad day. Especially for my friends like Matt Pardy, Tim Webster, Gareth McRae and Trevor Sinclair.

Dominic Steele is senior minister of Village Church, Annandale, NSW, and works at Christians in the Media. He was formerly a radio journalist and presenter on radio stations 2UE and 2WS as well as 2CH.


2CH – a special place in this radio fan’s heart

I fell in love with radio as a teenager. And while I listened to 2SM, the only station allowed in the kitchen or the car was my mother’s favourite, 2CH. Mum loved listening to Howard Craven and the young John Poole and heaven forbid if anyone changed the channel! How do I remember those names? Well, I actually pursued a career in radio, and when I finished school, I put together a very extensive CV (😊) and trooped around the various radio stations in Sydney looking for a holiday job.

Very early in my door-knocking, I walked into 2CH and managed to have a chat with the then Community Services manager, Roger Pettit. He was a lovely kind man, and he took pity on this keen as mustard 17-year-old. He gave me a holiday job. I started in the records library. I mean, I had just completed a two-week typing course straight out of Year 12, and I was tasked with typing up little cards with record details. Boring as…. And my typing wasn’t very good then.

But I was in radio. In York Street. Fun factoid: The antenna of 2CH made it the tallest building in the city in the 1940s, I think.

And I was paid! I remember my first pay slip. $79 for a week’s work. Unbelievable.

I sometimes walked into the studio to hand the announcer some piece of information. Over the course of my university degree, I worked in promotions, had a brief taste of the newsroom, handed out carnations with gold leaves (and lucky numbers) at the various ferry stops around the Harbour, sat on the phone and any other job that needed doing. It was fabulous.

If someone believed in you when you were starting out … let them know – they will be thrilled.

I also managed two weeks’ work experience in the newsroom at 2WS before starting my first radio job in the newsroom of 2CA in Canberra. It disappeared many years ago. Perhaps it was the advent of FM that started the decline of AM radio such as 2CH (my next job was at EON FM, the first FM station in Australia), and now we are overwhelmed with content options – radio, podcast, TV, YouTube, streaming, web, etc, etc, etc.

There is something remarkable about radio. And until Podcasting came along, it was unique. Why? Its intimacy. Every member of a family could have their own favourite station playing in their rooms or as they walked in the park, drove, etc. And why is it intimate? Well, you, the listener, invite your favourite station into the most private places of your life – your bedroom, bathroom, lounge room, kitchen, car. And no presenter/radio host should ever take that for granted. It is a place of privilege sitting in front of a microphone and speaking into those private places!

I am still involved in radio voluntarily – Christian radio. But I have never forgotten the kindness of a man who gave an opportunity to an eager young thing. My regret is that I never went back to him to thank him and tell him what I had gone on to do. Roger Pettit died a few years ago. Can I encourage you, if someone believed in you when you were starting out, don’t do what I did, and forget them. Let them know – they will be thrilled.

It is a sad day for broadcasting, but the Christian churches who established 2CH all those years ago would praise God, given what is happening across Australia with Christian media now. Large cities and small towns have Christian radio stations speaking words of hope and playing inspirational music all day every day. Australian Christian musicians can earn a living. People’s lives are being changed as God’s word is broadcast into the atmosphere across our nation.

Penny Mulvey (interim editor of Eternity) is chair of Christian Media and Arts Australia and a former chair of The Light, Melbourne.