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TOP 40 TURNS 60. HOW MUSIC CHARTS SAVED AUSTRALIAN RADIO FROM TELEVISION

I love radio. I’ve been lucky to work in radio most of my adult life, thriving on its spontaneity and the intimate connections it makes with people and communities. But it has competition on an unprecedented scale, from music streaming and podcasts, and all the other Web-based media apps. Pundits say radio has had its day, and won’t be around much longer.

AUSTRALIAN RADIO SERIAL I HATE CRIME
POPULAR 50s RADIO SERIAL I HATE CRIME

I hope they’re wrong. And it’s not the first time experts were ready to perform radio’s last rites. 60 years ago, this month, Australian radio had lost its biggest stars and most popular programs, to television – which had arrived in 1956. Radio then was a mix of dramas, soap operas, quiz and talent shows, with actors and orchestras, sound effects men, featuring the biggest stars. TV bought the shows and the stars, and took the advertisers with them. Radio, it seemed, was doomed.

But on March 2 1958, Sydney station 2UE fought back, with a new format its owners had “borrowed” from the U.S.A  – top 40. The station played the most popular songs of the day in a countdown format pitched at younger listeners. It very quickly caught on, other stations adopted the format, and within a few years, the old drama and quiz shows were gone, and music ruled the Australian radio airwaves.

There’s a good account of the 2UE move to top 40 at the National Film & Sound Archive website

There had been “hit parade” and music chart shows before this, but the idea of a Top 40 was new. Like most radio formats, it originated in the U.S – an Omaha station manager by the name of Todd Storz is regarded as the creator of Top 40

I’m not sure how that first Australian top 40 was compiled. It seemed to included A and B sides of some records, so this playlist is not in the right order, and a couple of songs are missing. Enjoy this Spotify of Australia’s first radio top 40 chart, March 2, 1958.

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