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PBS History: Ten Years Live from Studio 2

An article by Cameron Paine first published in Static Magazine (Issue minus 1) December 1989

SINCE 3PBS BEGAN BROADCASTING, live music has been a consistent item in its repertoire. The official launch of the station was broadcast live from the Prince of Wales hotel in St. Kilda on 9 February 1980. This ambitious project took place only three months alter Melbourne listeners first started tuning their radios to 3PBS. It established a practice that has continued unabated for the last ten years.

Flushed with the success of the premiere event, a small group of PBS volunteers dedicated themselves to the task of presenting Melbourne's live music to a broader audience. This group, which had no formal charter, was motivated as much by a love of music as by the technical challenges presented by Outside Broadcasts. They became known as the O.B. Group.

Presenting live music is an expensive business, a fact that was brought home strongly by the financial failure of the “Big Broadcast of l980”. Modelled on the original “Saturday Night Live" shows, the Broadcast was the station’s first attempt at a return to the halcyon days of radio. For three hours. listeners were treated to a diverse range of music and stand-up comedy direct from the stage of Dallas Brooks Hall. In spite of its financial problems the show was a technical and entertainment triumph.

Towards the end of the first year on air. it became apparent that if live broadcasting was to continue, PBS would need to acquire some of the essential equipment, which up until that time had been borrowed and hired. To this end, the O.B. Group cast about for financial assistance. A government grant was applied for and Yamaha Australia offered a generous discount on the purchase of the most expensive items. After months of hard work, the Group had assembled a core of the most-needed components. When required, additional equipment has been provided by organisations such as the Troy Balance Corporation and ARC Music who have always been sympathetic to the 3PBS cause.

Armed with the new equipment and an abundance of enthusiasm, the O.B. Group was now able to regularly produce quality broadcasts and recordings. This was done with a vengeance. PBS's home for the first six years was the Prince of Wales hotel. 'The Prince' as it became affectionately known, boasted a showroom that could seat 300 patrons (occasionally it would stand twice that many). In the early eighties, the room was barely used and the hotel management were enthusiastic when a proposal to promote the room as a live music venue was advanced. Thus was born the "3PBS Radio Theatre" which played host to many of the bands and solo performers who were recorded during the early years.

A regular feature of PBS programming was the live segment of the "Mainly Acoustic" show. On many Sunday evenings, the PBS hunchbacks could be found squeezed into a Kombi van in the lane outside One-C-One, an acoustic music club in Princes Hill. The van, and so many of the places that the O.B. Group set up their equipment -- kitchens, dressing rooms. the backs of trucks. and publican’s living rooms - were remarkable for two reasons. They were unusual locations for broadcast control rooms and they spawned some of the best live music ever to be heard on Melbourne radio.

The move to PBS’s new premises in 1986 opened new possibilities for live broadcasting. Although ready access to the "Radio Theatre" had been lost, there was sufficient space in the new home to accommodate small groups of performers. Some of the station’s presenters took advantage of this and offered their listeners a taste of live performance during their regular shows. This style of presentation led to "Live Music Week" when fifty local groups played live to air during one week of April 1988.

Since February this year, old-time radio has made a comeback every Saturday afternoon, when compere Elroy Flicker, the Swinging Sidewalks and their musical guests rock. swing and stomp their way through the "Moovin‘ and Groovin' Hour". Aside from its entertainment value, this show represents quintessential public broadcasting with ten or so people collaborating each week to produce an hour of fine radio.

With the possible exception of the ABC, 3PBS records and presents more live music than any other radio station in the country. Listeners are often curious about the motivation behind this obsession with live music. One of the station’s aims is to make under-represented music accessible to the broadest possible audience - with a particular emphasis on Australian content. Unfortunately, so much good music goes no further than the venues where it is performed. By capturing the music as it happens, 3PBS ensures that some of this material gets a wider hearing. The forthcoming "Australian Music Week," which is set to coincide with the station’s tenth-anniversary celebrations. will give. the radio audience a chance to hear again some of the great Australian music that has been recorded by 3PBS in the last decade.

Looking back, the O.B. Group has much to be proud of. Their recordings have been acclaimed by listeners and the music industry alike. Some of the artists whose performances have been taped have gone on to release them on records and cassettes. The compilation album “One Night at the Prince" (as its name suggests, this was a collection of music recorded one evening at the Prince of Wales) has found its way into many record collections.

It is most gratifying to step into the PBS tape library. Arrayed on the shelves are ten years of Melbourne's music history - over 500 hours of every music style conceivable. When you consider that this represents around two and a half thousand hours of effort by the members of the O.B. Group, this achievement can be seen as nothing short of monumental. To those who have contributed, we must offer our heartfelt thanks. To the listeners who have enjoyed the fruits of this labour, we can only say: stay tuned - there's plenty more to come.

Cameron Paine

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