Listening to radio plays sounds like a nice way to pass a few hours, but for the next eight weeks, it’s Dr Toni Johnson-Woods’ full-time job.
The University of Queensland Faculty of Arts academic has been granted a fellowship with the National Archives of Australia in Canberra to research Australian radio serials of the 1950s.
Focusing on detective serial Carter Brown Mystery Theatre, Dr Johnson-Woods said she was looking forward to discovering more about a time when the Australian entertainment industry was making its mark on the world.
In the 1950s, American imported material had been banned to protect Australian business, allowing Australian radio to come into its own by making American-style programs, she said.
“Of course there was no TV in the early 1950s – so people tuned in to listen to their favourite shows much as we turn on the telly today,” Dr Johnson-Woods said.
“It sounds like many of them (the serials) are made and produced in America but they weren’t, they were made in Australia and we exported them overseas.”
Not only did Australia export its American-sounding radio plays to countries like the United States, Canada, South Africa and New Zealand in the 1950s, but the industry was ahead of its time in other areas as well, Dr Johnson-Woods said.
“Radio was choc-a-bloc with women: women producers, women writers and women voice artists and they were on equal pay and I’d pretty much say it was unprecedented,” she said.
Dr Johnson-Woods pointed out that many well-known Australian television actors, such as Bud Tingwell, Ruth Cracknell, June Salter and Leonard Teale, made their foray into the entertainment industry through 1950s radio.
Dr Johnson-Woods’ main role in Canberra will be to reorganise the radio archive to make it more accessible to researchers.
Her time in the archives will also form the basis of a chapter on radio serials for her forthcoming book on Australian writer Carter Brown.
Dr Johnson-Woods hopes her work at the National Archives will encourage academics to consider the Australian radio era as a subject for future work, as there has been very little published on the topic.
This project is part of her examination of Australian popular culture of the 1950s and a follow up to her book Pulp, published by the National Library of Australia.
Media: Dr Johnson-Woods (0402 422 112) or Tegan Taylor at UQ Communications (07 3365 2339)