3AK is the call sign of SEN 1116 and earlier the on-air name of a former Melbourne talk-back radio and music station, which, in 2003, leased its licence to sports network SEN 1116. A number of unusual events and precedents throughout the station's history make its story of unusual interest.
The station's call-sign came from the name of its operating company, the Akron Broadcasting Co. Pty Ltd (a subsidiary of the Akron Tyre Co). The owner of the Akron Tyre Co and of 3AK was George F. Palmer, the father of Clive Palmer.
At the time of its formation there were three types of broadcasters in Australia, A Class stations (most of which later evolved into the Australian Broadcasting Corporation); B Class stations, which are now known as commercial stations; amateurs. There were also government plans for a set of C class stations which were intended to be used by businesses to exclusively advertise their products. However it was decided not to proceed with this type of license before 3AK was actually granted its licence. Akron and the Postmaster-General's Department had originally discussed the issuance of such a license, but in lieu, a B Class licence with a number of restrictions, was issued to Akron.
From the outset, 3AK was only permitted to broadcast for limited hours when other Melbourne stations were off the air. 3AK originally broadcast from 11.30 pm to 2.00 am daily; 5.00 to 7.00 am Monday-Saturday; 1.00 to 2.00 pm Saturday; 12.30 to 2.30 pm Sunday. The three hours of weekend afternoon broadcasting were shared with amateurs on the MW (medium wave) band. 3AK also had limited power, which although frequently altered was usually about 20% of that given to other B Class stations in Melbourne. 3AK's wavelength of 1500 KC could also be seen as a third limiting factor - it was at the very end of most contemporary radio dials; there were still some radio sets that were unable to receive it.
Most of 3AK's early broadcasts consisted of live concerts from its studio in Queen Street. These were provided free of charge by a number of progressive Melbourne music teachers who believed that radio would help promote both them and their students. These concerts were occasionally interspersed with broadcasts of recordings (both 78 rpm/80 rpm discs and piano rolls).
Melbourne Broadcasters Pty. Ltd.
On 2 May 1934, the name of the company was changed to Melbourne Broadcasters Pty. Ltd., a name that persisted throughout many major changes of management and was still being used as late as the 1980s. At this time Palmer changed the style of the station by introducing a format that mainly consisted of dance music, then very popular.
A listing of all Melbourne radio announcers published in February 1936 shows that George Palmer gave himself announcing duties, as well as managing the station. He was assisted by only two other announcers, F. Bibby and T. Lelliott. This small announcing staff puts 3AK's lowly status in the 1930s and 1940s into context - the same list of Melbourne announcers shows that each of the five other commercial stations had either nine or 10 announcers each and the ABC is shown as employing 13 announcers in Melbourne to cover its two local stations (although this would have been supplemented by interstate announcers, because of the number of relays that were then taken).
In 1937 3AK was allowed to extend its hours of broadcast to 11.30 pm-7.00 am, however the station still closed at 3.00 am on Sundays. It still broadcast for three hours on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, even though amateurs were no longer permitted to do so after 1939. 3AK's hours of broadcast remained unaltered until 1954.
1937 also saw the commencement of 2BS Bathurst on 1 January. Because of 3AK's low power, 2BS was given the same wavelength (1500 kHz) and, within a few years, both stations suffered from interference during the few hours when they were simultaneously on the air.
One of 3AK's major personalities in the late 1930s/early 1940s was Alfred (Alf) Andrew who began broadcasting from 3AK in March 1937. Although a controversial character, Andrew had been a pioneer broadcaster at 3LO, commencing there in 1925 before going to 3UZ and then 2UW and a few other stations.
During the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, the station's slogan was "3AK - The Voice of the Night". However, unsubstantiated rumours about both drunkenness and the poor wages of the staff, led to some referring to the station as 3AK - The Voice of the TIGHT.
In the 1930s, the Postmaster General gave one station in the Canberra, Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide markets a licence to broadcast 24 hours a day. Because 3AK broadcast at night, Melbourne did not get any such 24 hour licences until as late as 1 February 1954 when 3UZ, 3DB and 3XY all began continuous broadcasting. This was concurrent with 3AK changing its hours of broadcast  (see below). Within six months 3XY had become Melbourne's only 24 hour station.
In this same era, 3AK moved its studio from Queen Street to Bourke Street, Melbourne. By the 1950s it had again been resited and was to be found in the upper storey of a bank in Grey Street, St. Kilda.
In the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s 3AK provided an alternative to country radio, then the accepted place to commence a broadcasting career, many of 3AK's early staff going on to become well-known at major stations, e.g. Stan Rofe, Mike Williamson, Hal Todd, John Worthy, John Eden, and John Hart.
At the time very few stations had newsrooms and most relied on newspapers for their news. Due to its poor financial situation, 3AK is believed to have devised a novel system of getting its news – the station had a rope dangling from their studio into the adjoining lane-way and the first newspaper firm to tie their morning edition onto the rope had it read on air.
By the late 1940s, 3AK had been purchased by Mack's Furnishing Company. At this stage, both the Directors, the station's manager, Vernon Margetts and the studio manager, Ray Benn, held conservative Christian beliefs that were reflected in 3AK's program schedule.
For many years, 3AK management had been lobbying the Postmaster General's Department and, then, the Australian Broadcasting Control Board for an increase to its permitted broadcasting hours. Eventually, 3AK was allowed to broadcast during those daylight hours when it was thought that it would not interfere with transmissions from 2BS. From 1 February 1954, 3AK was permitted to broadcast from 6.00 am-7.00 pm daily. However, 2BS still experienced difficulties during the Summer and, so, for 4–5 months per year, 3AK was forced not to open until 7.00 am and to close as early as 5.00 pm. Until the introduction of television into Australia in 1956, the peak hours for any radio station were 7.00 pm-10.00 pm - 3AK was never able to take advantage of this peak listening period.
When 3AK became a 'daylight' station, its very first breakfast team was Lennie Holmes and Shin Berinson. Holmes went on to become a well-known radio and television comedian. (His daughter, Jane Holmes, later became a prominent radio personality.) After changing his first name to Jim, Berinson became one of the most sought-after and well-paid voice-over men. The breakfast program was later compered by Lou Carr. Another important announcer during this era was Graham Madison.
In the early 1960s Australian Consolidated Press, owned by the Packer family, took over both television station GTV-9 and, a little later, 3AK. 3AK moved from its small St. Kilda studio into GTV-9's premises at Bendigo Street, Richmond, broadcasting a revised format as from Easter Monday, 3 April 1961. GTV's major television personalities were forced to broadcast from 3AK. Therefore, overnight, 3AK changed from a station with a young and virtually unknown announcing staff, to one featuring some of Australia's best-known television personalities, including Philip Brady, Geoff Corke, Tommy Hanlon Jr., Geoff Hiscock, Graham Kennedy, Jack Little, Bert Newton, Eric Pearce, Brian Taylor, Hal Todd, Eric Welch, Arthur Young, and Frank Zepter. In talking about the use of high-profile celebrities on 3AK, Philip Brady is quoted as saying: "They expected us to do it for nothing". Even so, it should be noted that Philip Brady was one of the few GTV personalities without previous radio experience. Despite his claim that he had always loved radio, his first job in the media was with GTV, as from 1958.
Frank Zepter was actually more of a GTV-9 back-room person than a TV personality. He presented a weekend Italian language program on 3AK. Arthur Young was also heard on 3AK at weekends - he was the leader of GTV-9's studio orchestra and presented a classical music program on 3AK. (This was an era when commercial radio stations were easing out of broadcasting classical music, but a small amount of it was still usually considered de rigueur at weekends. Prior to the Consolidated Press takeover, 3AK had broadcast quite a bit of classical music.)
Former 3AK manager, Bill Bowie, resigned and formed his own radio/television school. Former 3AK announcers (Ron Alderton, Terry Calder, Peter Cavanagh, John Print) were redeployed with the GTV organisation; only former Chief Announcer, Ron Alderton, retaining any on-air work at 3AK, albeit only at weekends. Alderton later made his name as a TV newsreader, particularly at ATV-0/10. Peter Cavanagh was to make a name for himself as a TV actor, particularly in a number of Hector Crawford Production's police dramas.
During the mid-1960s, 3AK's program format shifted to Top 40 music with the slogan "the Good Guys".
ACP was always keen to solve the problem of transmission hours caused by 2BS and 3AK sharing the same wavelength. Technology in the form of a directional antenna (at 2BS) seemed to be the answer, but this small country station was deaf to ACP's continuous requests, leading to ACP's purchase of 2BS, allowing them to install such an antenna. By October 1968 permission which enabled 3AK to commence 24 hour transmission had been granted. 3AK officially launched 24-hour broadcasting at 7.00pm on Friday, 8 November 1968. The station's first overnight announcer was Grantley Dee
In the early 1970s "The Good Guys" slogan was replaced by "Where No Wrinklys Fly". During this period, there was a head-on battle for the lucrative Top 40 market between 3XY (managed by Rod Muir) and Rhett Walker's 3AK. The fact that 3XY won the battle is reflected in 3AK's rapid change from Top 40 to Beautiful music, a predecessor to today's Easy listening music format. The last announcer to work under the "Wrinkly" format was Mike Nicholls. The last song played was Aussie Rock Band Spectrum's "I'll Be Gone"
The new format paid dividends for 3AK as it took them to the top of the ratings where they remained for over a decade.
An interesting feature of the early days of 3AK's Beautiful Music format was that it stopped advertising the names of its on-air personalities, claiming that the format was important but not the announcers. (Sister Beautiful Music station 2CH [Sydney] had a similar policy).
3AK continued with slight variations of a broadly easy listening sound well into the 1980s. Some changes were also made to the promotional aspects of the station. Use of the words "Beautiful Music" was finally discontinued after marketing research indicated that a high percentage of the male audience wasn't entirely comfortable with the term. Around 1985, the playlist underwent a major update. Most of the instrumental cover versions of Top 40 vocal hits which had always been a key component of the format were abruptly deleted and substituted with "original songs by the original artists". The revamp led to the establishment of a more mainstream soft gold type of sound. However, despite this successful transformation and solid ratings, another much more dramatic change of course took place early in the following year when the station went adult contemporary. Ratings plummeted as rival station 3MP decided to pick up the Easy Listening concept and the relevant audience simply switched from 3AK to 3MP.
After just one disastrous ratings period, 3AK and Sydney's 2UE embarked on a networked talk-back format called CBC where talk programs were broadcast across both stations. The experiment was yet another short lived failure. The John Blackman breakfast program came from the 3AK studios but everything else was transmitted from Sydney.
1988 - 1990 saw 3AK again become a purely talk format station, with such high-profile names as Darren James (with Bruce Mansfield as Uncle Roy), Margaret Peacock, Don Chipp (a former Federal Liberal Party Minister and later the founder of and Senator for the Australian Democrats), Peter O'Callaghan (an ex 3XY and EON FM DJ), Keith McGowan and Bill Howie (a former 3AK Programme Director).
1987 saw Kerry Packer sell all of Australian Consolidated Press's radio and television interests to Alan Bond for A$1 billion. 3AK was, of course, included in the deal, even though Bond made no secret of the fact that he wanted the TV stations but wasn't really interested in radio. (Because of Bond's insecure financial position, in 1990 Kerry Packer was able to buy back the Nine Television Network for half of what he had sold it for. By this time, Bond had already sold 3AK [see below].)
In 1989 the Federal Government invited bids from all capital city AM commercial radio stations for a number of FM licences. Six of the seven Melbourne commercial AM stations bid for the two licences being offered in their market. (3AW was the only station that didn't bid, on the grounds that its mature adult audience were not really FM listeners.) The two highest bidders were 3KZ with a record bid amongst all Australia-wide bidders of A$32 million, and 3AK with a bid of A$22 million. Because of the dire fnancial position of Alan Bond (he was soon to be declared bankrupt), 3AK defaulted on the payment for its FM licence, which then went to the third highest Melbourne bidder, 3TT who paid only A$11 million.
In 1990 the station was sold to businessman Peter Corso who sacked most of its workforce in preparation to relaunch 3AK as Australia's first commercial Italian-language radio station. There was a brief transition period in which Beautiful Music was played continuously without any advertisements, studio announcements, news broadcasts, etc., but interspersed with recorded announcements about the starting dates for the Italian broadcasts. Nevertheless, the station was not able to get out of its obligations to broadcast the football and, so, at 12 noon on Saturdays football was still broadcast.
Only two other former 3AK employees, Technician Ralph Knight and Producer Warren Koglin were to be re-hired by the new owner. Interestingly, 3AK continued to broadcast from within the GTV9 complex for about 12 months, before moving to new studios at West Melbourne. There was talk of potential advertisers being warned off from 3AK.
At one stage, Corso contemplated moving away from the unsuccessful Italian format and was in talks with Bert Newton and his partner to sub-lease the station and provide an old-fashioned personality format. The Australian Broadcasting Tribunal knocked back the application, firstly on the grounds that it could not allow the leasing of stations, and secondly because of questions raised as to the suitability of Newton's partner. The former reason is interesting in the light of 3AK/SEN's present situation.
The Italian format continued until 1994 when Corso sold the station to Southern Cross Broadcasting who took the station back to easy-listening music.
Corso was keen to sell 3AK because he had just obtained one of the first of the new narrowcast licences then being offered by the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal. Therefore, 3AK's Italian programming was transferred to the new narrow-cast station, 3BM, which transmitted from 1116 KC (ironically a wavelength that was later to be used by 3AK itself).
By 1996, Southern Cross had found itself owning 4 radio stations in Melbourne; 3AW, 3AK, 3EE, 3MP; whereas the legal limit is two stations in a single market. They sold 3AK to a Christian organisation, Fusion Media, who switched the format to a mixture of talk-back and magazine programs and easy listening music. The station was moved to studios in St. Kilda Road that had originally been built for 3EE (later Magic 693/Magic 1278); later moving again to Swan Street Richmond.
After more years of low ratings and financial troubles, 3AK was sold again, to a small media and data company Data and Commerce Limited (DCL). In 2001, DCL transferred 3AK from 1503 kHz to 1116 kHz and relaunched 3AK once again as a talk back station in direct competition to top rating stations 3AW and 774 ABC Melbourne.
Some careless programming decisions and lack of promotion led to 3AK failing to lift from the bottom of the ratings ladder. In late 2003, DCL announced it had leased the running of radio 3AK to a new organisation Sports Entertainment Network (SEN) who were to convert 3AK to a 24-hour sport radio station. In January 2004, 3AK became known on-air as SEN 1116 although the official ACA/Australian Communications Authority callsign remains 3AK, a fact that is probably not appreciated by the majority of listeners. As of the April 2004 ratings, the new format had already managed to lift 3AK's profile as well as the number of listeners.
While initially, ratings were steadily rising, the station's financial position took a turn for the worse in early 2005, with several employees, including Dermott Brereton, Mark Doran, and Robert Shaw not being paid. This eventually led to Brereton walking out on the station. This dour financial situation could not have come at a worse time, since SEN had recently begun broadcasting into Adelaide. Unfortunately, Adelaide broadcasts were short-lived because of the poor financial situation, and the station's heavy Melbourne focus.
- The Magic Spark. 50 Years of Radio in Australia. Walker, R.R. Hawthorn Press, Melbourne, 1973.
- Carty, Bruce (2011). Australian Radio History. Bruce Carty. ISBN 978-0-646-55581-2.
- Clive Palmer Having It All
- The Magic Spark. 50 Years of Radio in Australia.
- The Broadcast Year Book and Radio Listeners' Annual of Australia. 1934. Editor: Faulkner, C.C. "The Harbour" Newspaper and Publishing Co. Ltd, Sydney, 1934.
- Radioprogram (a weekly magagazine) 15 February 1936, The Premier Printing Co. Pty. Ltd., Melbourne. (In the collection of Albert Isaacs [Melbourne])
- Note: various contemporary copies of Listener In, Radioprogram, Radio Times, Wireless Weekly and A.B.C. Weekly in the collection of Albert Isaacs (Melbourne).
- The Broadcast Year Book and Radio Listeners' Annual of Australia. 1939 Edition. Edit: Faulkner, C.C. New Century Press Pty. Ltd, Sydney, 1938.
- The Broadcast Year Book and Radio Listeners' Annual of Australia. 1934. & The Broadcast Year Book and Radio Listeners' Annual of Australia. 1939 Edition.
- Australian Broadcasting Control Board. Various Annual Reports. Commonwealth Government Printer, Canberra. (In the collection of Albert Isaacs [Melbourne]).
- Australian Broadcasting Control Board. Annual Report. Year Ending 30th June 1954. Commonwealth Government Printer, Canberra, 1954.
- 3AW is Melbourne. 75 Years of Radio Campion, Margaret, Melbourne, 2007. Published interview with John Worthy.
- Radio 140, Edited - Ballestrin, Dianne, Melbourne City Mission, Melbourne, 1994.
- Something in the Air. Jones, Colin. Kangaroo Press Ltd., Sydney, 1995. Based on an interview with Hal Todd.
- Something in the Air. Jones, Colin. Kangaroo Press Ltd., Sydney, 1995. Based on an interview with Hal Todd.
- Australian Broadcasting Control Board. Annual Report. Year Ending 30th June 1954.
- The Age Radio & Television Supplement, 30 March 1961. The Age & Leader, Melbourne.
- 3AW is Melbourne. 75 Years of Radio. Campion, Margaret, Melbourne, 2007.
- The Age Radio & Television Supplement, 7 November 1968. The Age newspaper, Melbourne.
- Something in the Air. Participation in the Benefits of a Licence, Radio 3AK (report - Australian Broadcasting Tribunal), April 1991.
- Diversity between official ACA callsigns and station marketing names has now become widespread throughout Australia. As well as 3AK/SEN, the following Melbourne examples currently exist:
ABC 774 Melbourne = 3LO
RSN = 3UZ
MAGIC 1278 = 3EE
myMP = 3MP
KIIS 101.1 = 3TTT
GOLD 104 = 3KKZ
NOVA = 3MEL
VEGA = 3PTV
Classic Rock = 3TSC