Written at 07:25:54 on Saturday, 9th December, 2017.
Have you ever wondered what has happened to all those Australian owned radio manufacturers who made their products here at home instead of importing them? Here is the 'tale of the tape'. Here is a list of those companies that still exist and what their current business activities are. Companies are listed in alphabetical order using their full name rather than the abbreviation, if any, and do not include the terms Proprietary Limited or Limited in the name.
Airzone began life as a maker of crystal radios in 1925 in Dalley Street, Sydney, New South Wales. In 1926 development lead to their first valve radio, a four valve 'portable' which sold 10,000. I use the word portable in inverted commas because a portable radio in the 1920's was a hefty beast due to the non-existence of miniaturisation or small batteries. After tariff protection was introduced by the Commonwealth Government in 1930, Airzone, along with most radio manufacturers boosted production to allow for the falling numbers of imports, mainly from the United States of America. Airzone shifted to new premises in the inner Sydney suburb of Camperdown to allow for greater production output in 1931 and floated the company on the Sydney Stock Exchange in the same year becoming known as Airzone Limited.
Airzone began making receivers for other manufacturers from 1937 onwards and Mullard, Peal, Malvern Star and Philco, an American brand. In 1946 the Electricity Meter Manufacturing Company (EMMCO) bought Airzone and continued to make receivers under the Airzone name until the production of valve radios started to wind back in favour of transistorised sets in the 1950's. EMMCO was a division of the giant Electricity Meter and Allied Industries Limited (EMAIL Limited) Company. EMAIL was privatised when it was taken over by Southcorp, a company better known as a leading wine producer and subject to a current takeover bid by Foster's Brewing. EMAIL's divisions continued to perform poorly and were split up and sold off. Airwell, an Israeli company, purchased Emailair which catered for the air conditioning market, the appliance division was dissolved into Electrolux, a Swedish company who already had a significant Australian manufacturing presence and the Westinghouse power control business was sold to Cutler Hammer, an American company.
Amalgamated Wireless Australasia
Amalgamated Wireless Australasia (AWA) was the largest and most comprehensive manufacturer of radio receivers, valves, military equipment, transmission equipment, radio station studios, public address systems, piped music systems and telephony equipment in New South Wales and generally, the whole of Australia. If it ran on valves then AWA was sure to be able to provide an adequate solution. AWA was set up by the Commonwealth Government in 1913 to research and develop valve related technologies and to assist with providing the Commonwealth with an electronic means to communicate with London.
After the relaxation of import tariffs by the Whitlam Government in 1974 Australian companies like AWA faltered because Australia's labour costs are too high to compete in many areas of manufacturing. It was then a case of import branded equipment or the company would collapse. AWA eventually left the domestic appliance market and sold industrial businesses like Defence, Traffic Signals and their Integrated Circuit manufacturing business to other companies. AWA is now owned by Tabcorp Limited which operates casinos in New South Wales and Queensland, runs club gaming systems such as Keno and manufactures gaming equipment for the various state Totalisator Agency Boards including those that are privatised. Current brands include Star City Casino, TAB Limited, Tabcorp, Jupiters Casino, Keno and Taberet.
Astor was the largest manufacturer of radio receivers in Victoria and was founded in 1926 where their product line was in the fixed value condenser business. In 1926 Astor merged with a number of other smaller companies to form Radio Corporation Limited. Radio Corporation started making radio receivers under the Astor brand. Astor was an innovative company that experimented with the market by offering receivers in many different colours rather than sticking to the conservative line adopted by many of their competitors. Such receivers are highly collectable now.
Radio Corporation got into a brawl with Walt Disney (a US entertainment company and owner of the trademark 'Mickey Mouse') for branding one of their sets the 'Mickey Mouse'. These sets sold in great numbers before legal action forced Astor to remove 'Mouse' and the image of Mickey Mouse from their sets. Such sets that survive and are in good condition can fetch over $1,000 and are highly sought after, simply because of the controversy they attracted. Radio Corporation advanced far enough to swallow most of their Victorian competitors, namely Eclipse and Essanay. In the early 1960's, Radio Corporation was taken over by Pye Electronics of the United Kingdom, which in turn was swallowed by Royal Philips Electronics of Holland. Philips is a world leader in the manufacture of lamps and luminaires, some of which are made in Australia.
Breville is one of the sole survivors of the appliance business from the early days of radio. The brand is an acronym derived from the founding partners, Messrs Bill O'Brien and Harry Norville, who opened the company for business on Melbourne Cup day in 1932. Breville made a suite of popular and high quality receivers and during the war years, whilst radio production in Australia had virtually ceased, Breville made mine detection equipment which, no doubt, lead to the saving of lives on the Allied side.
In 1951 the radio manufacturing business was acquired by A W Jackson Industries who continued to produce receivers under the Breville name as well as rebadged sets. Breville itself turned to making televisions under the Precedent brand though the business was sold to Radio Corporation in 1968. Breville then turned to the manufacture of kitchen appliances, a market for which Breville is a leader today. Sadly though, manufacture is done off-shore but Breville is still a brand with a big presence in Australian kitchens and the corporate slogans "Eventually? Why not now?" and "Better ideas sooner" are representative of Breville's ultimate desire to remain a viable force in appliance making. Today, Breville is a subsidiary of Housewares International Proprietary Limited, an Australian company.
Eclipse Radio, based in South Melbourne, Victoria, made receivers under the Eclipse, Eclipse-Croyden, Monarch, Croyden and Peter Pan brands. Eclipse also marketed brandless and badge-engineered models for sale by department stores. During the war Eclipse made mobile radio transmitters for the Royal Australian Air Force and telephone amplifiers for the United States Signal Corps. In 1939 Eclipse was sold to Electronic Industries Limited, which was later acquired by Philips Industries Limited. Philips remains in business as a Dutch based domestic appliance maker.
Electricity Meter Manufacturing Company
The Electricity Meter Manufacturing Company Limited (EMMCO) responded to the situation where all watt-hour meters were imported from Great Britain during the early 1920's by setting up a local manufacturing base for the devices essential for billing electricity consumers for the power they consume. After becoming a dominant player in their chosen field, EMMCO moved to making radio parts and their most popular product for a long time was the famous battery eliminator, which allowed battery operated receivers to be run from the 240 volt mains supply.
EMMCO later moved into receiver manufacturing and sets were made under the EMMCO, Westinghouse, Gulbransen and Philco brands. During the late 1930's EMMCO cut back on production of their own brand but still made many badge-engineered receivers. In 1934 EMMCO merged with New Telephones Proprietary Limited to form the Electricity Meter and Allied Industries Limited (EMAIL) company. A massive expansion campaign began and EMAIL was soon an employer of 7,000 people. During World War II EMAIL made transmission and reception gear as well as power control equipment for the Australian Armed Forces.
After the war, manufacturing was shifted to Orange, New South Wales and products included fridges, freezers, energy metering equipment, stoves and air conditioners. EMAIL brands included Email, Emailair, Westinghouse, Carmichael, Elcon, Metters and Weatherall. Later takeovers of competitors such as Simpson, Malleys, Frigidaire and Kelvinator added to the production stable. EMAIL was recently taken over by Electrolux Appliances after a brief ownership by wine maker, Southcorp. Electrolux also owns and produces appliances under the Electrolux, Flymo, Vulcan, Rheem and Hoover brands.
Essanay is a name taken from the first letters of the surnames of the company founders, Messrs Walter Sweeney and Ernest Austin. Essanay was incorporated in 1928 after the founders served in the Royal Australian Navy and the Australian Imperial Forces, respectively. By 1930 Essanay were producing receivers, the quality of which, made the brand quite renowned. In 1934 their domestic product line was available as a fully manufactured unit with warranty and support or as a kit and these included broadcast band and shortwave receivers running on mains or battery power.
Essanay had close relations with AZ Radio and Zenith and all these manufacturers were dissolved and the assets sold to Electronics Industries Limited in 1937.
Originally known as the British Ever Ready Electrical Company Limited, Eveready started importing and limited manufacture all kinds of battery cells for radio receivers and torches at a small building in Rowe Street, Sydney during 1901, the year of Federation. In 1919 the company moved to Marshal Street in the inner suburb of Surry Hills where full scale manufacture began.
Eveready was absorbed by National Carbon, an American company, in 1932, who previously was a major competitor. In 1937, further rationalisation took place when Union Carbide, also an American company, took over Eveready. Radio receivers were sold under the Eveready brand in the United States but they were never sold here. Today, Eveready is one of the leading producers of cells in Australia though most production has shifted to China.
Alfred George Healing started making receivers in 1922 when commercial broadcasting commenced. The heyday for the company began when they started making receivers with the 'Golden Voice' brand in 1925. In 1930 the Commonwealth Government introduced import tariffs which virtually prohibited the mass-importation of sets.
At the time Healing was an importing agent of Atwater Kent receivers and cone speakers from the United States but in response to the new tax, Healing began making Atwater Kent sets in Australia under licence. The sets carried the Healing brand. During World War II Healing manufactured radar equipment for the various armed forces throughout the British Empire. Healing expanded into television in 1956 but in 1975 when the Commonwealth started relaxing tariff protection, manufacturing ceased and Healing was eventually wound up.
Kriesler began as a small company based in Sydney in 1926. Kriesler initially used many imported components in the manufacture of their sets but the production runs were quite small for the time. In 1933 the momentum of expansion and progress wasn't enough to keep Kriesler afloat and the company was liquidated. The new owner gave the company a slight name change and then Kriesler Australasia Limited underwent a restructure to effect some cost savings. Kriesler went on to produce a 10 valve receiver in 1935 that they claimed to be the most powerful receiver ever made.
They also became known for producing their own loudspeakers, which not many manufacturers were able to do because of the tooling up costs. Most manufacturers, including AWA who also had extensive ability to make loudspeakers preferred to outsource production to companies like Amplion, Magnavox and Rola.
During World War II Kriesler made transmitters and various electrical components for aircraft in the Royal Australian Air Force. Whilst most radio manufacturing had ceased between 1941 and 1945, Kriesler still made limited runs of models, mainly 6 volt vibrator models to cater for those wanting to listen to news about the war containing either six or seven valves.
It was 1950 and Kriesler was taken over by Philips Industries Limited but production remained largely autonomous and for years after, new radios and televisions were sold under the Kriesler brand. Kriesler became generally synonymous with producing upmarket television and stereo radiograms and floor models had many speakers and considerable size. For some odd reason Kriesler equipment was distributed in all states except Tasmania. At the end of the valve era Kriesler produced many solid state radios with the new germanium transistors and diodes though televisions maintained a valve compliment until colour was introduced in 1974.
In 1983 Kriesler was wound up after pressure from imports and the advent of the video cassette recorder. It is believed that Philips still owns the brand as a trademark.
Lekmek was one of the lesser known companies, set up by Norman Gilmore in 1931 after retiring from a job he held with the Postmaster General's Department. Lekmek specialised in kitset radios but also produced many fully made receivers and if you see a receiver with octagonal knobs then it will invariably be a Lekmek.
Lekmek began manufacture of studio equipment and transmitters in 1937 and many rural stations were fitted out with Lekmek equipment. However Lekmek's run of luck came to an abrupt end in 1940. Rather than taking on government projects the company folded during the war years when radio manufacturing stopped to cater for the war effort.
Unlike most radio manufacturers of the time, Philips is still a thriving company who participates in most electrical and electronics markets around the world. Philips began in Australia as an importer of lamps from Holland where the parent company, Royal Philips Electronics, is based. Philips began producing valves in 1920 but these were also initially imported. Local manufacture was introduced in 1923 to cater for very strong demand. For the first years Philips confined themselves to the manufacture of lamps, valves and radio parts.
Manufacture of fully built receivers came, and stayed, as Philips earned a reputation for producing components of the highest quality available. The first receivers were imported from Holland but local manufacture was inevitable when the Commonwealth introduced heavy tariffs on imports to help expand secondary manufacturing in Australia. However a few bad decisions both in design and specification and some mediocre marketing techniques, Philips closed their assembly facility in 1931.
In 1934 local production restarted and for the next six or seven years Philips produced many models including the legendary 'Theatrette'. Production was scaled back during World War II though at the same time, Philips assumed the role of manufacture of all models bearing the 'Mullard' brand. Philips also started making alot of hardware for the Armed Forces. After the war, radio manufacture picked up and Philips also spent time developing cathode ray tubes (picture tubes) for the start of Television in Australia. By 1956, Philips had earned the title for the first Australian made cathode ray tube.
In the 1960's Philips scaled back radio production in favour of television. To this day, brands owned by Philips include Mullard, Marantz, Astor, Pye and Kriesler. Philips is the largest manufacturer of commercial lighting in the world and is still a major brand in the domestic appliance industry. Most manufacturing, however, is done offshore today because of the lesser effect of the current import tariff regime.
Radio Corporation began life as Louis Coen Wireless in Melbourne, Victoria in 1922. By 1924 there'd been a series of amalgamations and the name 'Radio Corporation' came into being and ended up being one of the largest radio companies in Australia. Radio Corporation manufactured 'Astor' brand receivers but also imported a number of 'Crosley' brand sets from the United States until imports were restricted in 1930. They also made radio components carrying the 'Advance' brand and these items were well patronised by home constructors.
In 1939 Radio Corporation was taken over by Electronic Industries Limited (EIL). Between 1939 and 1945 EIL was a heavy contributor to the Allied war effort, producing equipment for the Royal Australian Air Force and the Royal Australian Navy. In 1945 EIL kick started their manufacturing of domestic equipment again with the introduction of new models. Among these were consoles, mantels and even car radios! In 1960 though and despite there still being a restrictive import tariff policy in place, imports were becoming cheap enough to sell in Australia and Japanese companies like National and Sony were trading at a loss to compete, relying on Japanese consumption to absorb the losses. EIL was acquired by Pye and in 1970, Pye was acquired by Philips which survives today as a lighting and appliance manufacturer.
Radio Components Sydney
Radio Components Sydney (RCS Radio) was founded by Mr Robert Bell, and electrician, in 1932 and the company became a manufacturer of high quality radio components and went on to manufacture receivers and kits which were put together largely with their own branded components. During the war, RCS Radio didn't participate directly in the manufacture of equipment for the war effort but they did supply a lot of parts to companies that did.
After the war RCS Radio relocated to Canterbury, New South Wales. Their business in making components continued to thrive. At the end of the valve era RCS Radio started making printed circuit boards for radio manufacturers that produced solid state radios and today, RCS Radio still exists as a family owned company and are the largest producer of printed circuit boards in Australia, catering for many manufacturers as well as the hobbyist market, making printed circuit boards for almost all the electronic kits described in magazines such as Electronics Today International, Electronics Australia and Silicon Chip. It's good to see that there are companies like this that have survived the test of time and foreign competition.
Standard Telephones and Cables
Standard Telephones and Cables (STC) was a division of Western Electric in the United States which was owned by Bell, a US producer of telephony equipment. STC set up a manufacturing facility in Great Britain in 1922, which catered for the transmitter market for the British Broadcasting Commission. In 1895, STC came to Australia to assist with setting up the new telephone services which were to link the Colonies by voice networks for the first time. As with most things, British equipment, rather than American was supplied.
In 1923 STC started importation of radio components into Australia. Complete broadcast receivers were made in Great Britain and sold under the Western Electric brand. While AWA was given the contract to install radio transmitters at the new A Class stations and also to fit out the studios, they used AWA transmitters but invariably used STC studio equipment such as basic mixing consoles and microphones which were imported from the United States. Later, STC was producing transmitters and winning tenders to install them in their own right. STC eventually became one of AWA's major competitors and remained that way throughout the rest of the valve era.
From 1930 onwards STC was producing a range of receiver models in Australia along with a line up of automatic telephones and telephone exchange switchgear. STC was a major supplier of manufactured equipment for the Australian Imperial Forces, the Royal Australian Air Force and the Royal Australian Navy. Apart from the war years, STC went on to remain a major manufacturer of domestic receivers until 1961, when they made the decision to withdraw completely, remaining in the telephony industry. STC was acquired by the French company 'Alcatel' in 1987 and still produces communications network equipment though most, if not all, production is done outside Australia.
Apart from an initial controlling financial interest, Stromberg Carlson was an autonomous operation in Australia and beared very little resemblance to it's American parent. The company began its presence by importing receivers from the United States in 1927. In 1928 Stromberg Carlson began local manufacture of receivers and most of the components that went into them, including loudspeakers, a component not made by many radio manufacturers. The companies biggest event was in 1936 when production bottlenecks forced the construction of a new factory which, in much fanfare, was officially opened by the Prime Minister of the day, The Right Honourable Andrew Lyons. Stromberg Carlson made receivers and components both for their own receivers and sets made by other companies. Brands included their own plus Audiola and Crosley.
Between 1939 and 1945 Stromberg Carlson continued with radio manufacture, though as a much slower rate. To make up for the shortfall, they produced telephones and telephone switchboards for the Australian Army. After the advent of televisions in Australia Stromberg Carlson tried to participate in the market but failed to excite. Their lack of working capital to make the investments in developing the required technologies forced Stromberg Carlson onto the back foot. Brief manufacture of electronic organs led to Stromberg Carlson closing for business in 1961.
The Gramophone Company
The Gramophone Company of Great Britain started life as a maker of acoustic players for 78 RPM disc records. These were typically a small square wooden box with a stylus and large brass horn mounted on top next to a turntable for the record to spin on. These were sold under the 'His Master's Voice' (HMV) brand and the logo included the well known dog called Nipper. In 1930, The company started importing receivers from the United States, marketing them under the same brand. These receivers were extremely expensive and would have only ever appealed to the higher classes in society. However shortly after this, local manufacture of receivers was begun in earnest and a factory to achieve this goal was built in Homebush, New South Wales, not far from the present Olympic Park precinct.
The models which stood proud in drawing rooms, known as consoles, sold very well and more so than table models, opposing trends elsewhere in the world. Aussies liked their radios bigger and better and HMV receivers didn't disappoint. During World War II, The Gramophone Company devoted time to manufacture of RADAR equipment for the Allied forces due to dwindling receiver sales. After the war, receiver making resumed and HMV was one of the best selling brands right up to the end of the valve era.
In 1949 EMI Sales and Service Proprietary Limited bought out The Gramophone Company and continued to manufacture receivers under the HMV brand, as well as producing records and moving into television during the 1950's. In 1975 local manufacturing of HMV televisions and radios stopped forever in response to the Commonwealth Government relaxing import tariffs. EMI has since been acquired by Thorn, a British company which still manufactures compact discs but deals mainly in the manufacture of luminaires and lamps. Some of the luminaire production is carried out in Australia but all lamp production is off-shore.
Thom And Smith
Thom and Smith Proprietary Limited was founded by Fred Thom and John Smith in 1929. They started manufacturing two models, each containing three valves, the same year in a fairly small factory in Woolloomooloo, New South Wales. These sets were made under the Tasma brand but were not badged as such. In 1931, the demand exceeded the ability to supply which meant shifting to a larger factory. Thom And Smith Proprietary Limited then started to brand their receivers.
Tasma became one of the first companies to mark the tuning dials with states and station call signs rather than the frequency range. This was quickly adopted by all other Australian and New Zealand manufacturers but appears to be unique to these two countries. Tasma also introduced sealing of tuning coils to repel moisture from the sets in the tropical areas of Far North Queensland.
During World War II, Thom And Smith digressed into building receivers and transmitting equipment for the Royal Australian Air Force. This equipment was used extensively throughout the Pacific War and proved to be very reliable. Despite the shrinking market, they were able to remain as a domestic receiver manufacturer up until the end of the war. In 1953 Thom and Smith was taken over by another company called President, who made fridges, and receivers made after this merger were branded 'President-Tasma'. It was not a lasting relationship though as the radio business ran into financial troubles. Thom And Smith was then sold to Pope Industries. Pope was later bought out by Simpson, which then was bought out by EMAIL, which was then sold to Southcorp and then sold to Electrolux. After the sale to Pope, Fred Thom left the company and started a business called Thom Electronics which was later sold to James N Kirby Limited, a large manufacturer of electric motors carrying the 'Betts' brand. Under the Kirby ownership, Thom Electronics manufactured televisions carrying the 'Crosley' brand. General Electric then bought Thom Electronics off Kirby's and then wound up the business as pressure from imports started to take hold. No televisions ever carried the 'Tasma' brand.
Zenith (no relation to a US radio manufacturer by the same name) came into being in 1934 after a Mr H Coles decided to get into receiver making. Zenith made a number of battery powered sets which were well patronised by farmers as there was no municipal electricity supply outside the major cities at the time. Zenith also made receivers under the Ambassador and the Adventurer brands.
During World War II domestic receiver manufacture gave way to making two-way radio equipment for the Armed Forces. After the war there was a break in Zenith's activities until 1947 when they started making receivers under the 'Calstan' brand. The last model was released in 1953 then Zenith seemed to have disappeared from radar screens, so to say.