The Australian 1970 Radio Ban or 1970 Record Ban was a “pay for play” dispute in the local music industry that lasted from May until October of that year. During this period, a simmering disagreement between commercial radio stations – represented by the Federation of Australian Radio Broadcasters (FARB) – and the six largest record labels – Festival, EMI, Phonogram (later known as Polygram),and the three large US labels RCA, CBS and Warner, represented by the Australasian Performing Rights Association (APRA) – demanded payment for pop records played on commercial radio claiming they were providing free programming for radio stations.
The 1970 Radio Ban had its origins early in 1969, following the enactment of the new Copyright Act 1968, when a group of recording companies, comprising the heavy hitters of APRA – decided to scrap a long-standing royalty agreement with commercial radio stations that dated back to the 1950s.
APRA now demanded that a new royalty should be paid on all tracks played on air, but the radio stations, not surprisingly, balked at the idea of a new levy, which was to be set at 1% of the total annual revenue of the entire commercial radio industry.
Record companies traditionally supplied stations with free promotional copies of new singles, and the commercial radio lobby – represented by FARB argued that they provided a large amount of free promotion for the records they played. The government-owned Australia Broadcasting Commission (ABC) – had its own copyright and royalty arrangement with recording and music publishing companies – and did not take part in the dispute.
After negotiations between the parties broke down in late May 1970, the recording companies imposed a six-month embargo on the supply of promotional records to radio stations, in retaliation, FARB members boycotted all new major label releases by UK or Australian artists, but not American artists, and refused to include records from these companies in their weekly chart surveys.
This was a serious matter as there was only one Australian national pop chart at the time, published by Go-Set magazine, and most Top 40 charts were collated locally by individual radio stations in major cities and towns. It became clear that charts would be seriously compromised as artists’ record sales were dependent on being included on radio playlists, many local artists simply shelved their plans to release new material until the ban was over, two notable records that were held over until 1971 after the ban was lifted, were Spectrum’s I’ll Be Gone and Daddy Cool’s Eagle Rock.
Some radio disc jockeys, such as Melbourne’s Stan Rofe (see below), defied the ban by playing songs according to their personal tastes, the success of the Masters Apprentices Turn Up Your Radio, a #8 hit in April 1970, was a notable exception to the effect of the blanket ban on original local records.
British label EMI, then the market leader in Australia, was the hardest hit and many UK hits from 1970 were only heard in Australia via local cover versions, as pop stations were denied free access to new major label recordings during the ban. Instead they turned to new independent labels like Fable, Image, Chart, Du Monde and Sparmac, which had mushroomed in the wake of the dispute and refused to take part in the Ban.
For a short period, the ban had the inadvertent effect of putting more local musicians to air than ever before, and opened the door for unknowns to record cover versions of UK hits on the new labels, who all enjoyed varying degrees of success exploiting the absence of competition from overseas artists.
Ron Tudor’s (see above) Fable Records in Melbourne was easily the most artful appropriator of banned songs during this period, Tudor was being sent regular packages of new UK releases from London by his friend, former EMI house producer David Mackay, and he optioned songs he thought would be suitable for his Fable acts. These included Liv Maesson (see below) (Knock, Knock, Who’s There), Jigsaw (Yellow River), The Strangers (Melanie Makes Me Smile), The Mixtures (In The Summertime), Frankie Davidson (Gimme Dat Ding) and The Fourth Estate (Wild World), which were all top 20 hits nationally. In Sydney Chart Records released a version of Yellow River in competition with Melbourne’s Jigsaw as well as a great cover of the Rotary Connection’s Teach Me How to Fly by Jeff St. John and the Copperwine, the Du Monde label released Flake’s cover of the Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger and Trinity hit This Wheel’s On Fire, while Sparmac simply ignored the ban and issued such local songs as the Healing Force prog rock classic Golden Miles, (#31) and several minor hits by Robie Porter (formerly known as Rob EG), including Gemini (#28)
When the ban was lifted in December 1970, in time for the crucial Xmas sales period, APRA had dropped their proposed levy, and it was once again business as usual. Ron Tudor’s Fable label continued to prosper with hits by John Williamson, Drummond, Hans Poulsen, Frankie Davidson and others, but the other minor labels simply wound up. Local chart success, measured by the number of local records in the top twenty best-selling hits of the year, nosedived from seven in 1970 to three in both 1972 and 1973, but had quickly recovered by 1975, when eight local records held down spots on the best-selling annual charts, fuelled by the success of such local groups as Sherbet and Skyhooks.