The Golden Years of Radio with John Pickup OAM

Here on AnArt4Life we know the remarkable John Pickup OAM predominantly as an artist - and one of our most treasured contributors to the blog and a dearly loved friend and advisor. We also know him as the last of the famous Brushmen of the Bush - a group of five men who together spent 17 years of their spare time from 1972-1989 having art exhibitions in Australia, the UK, Europe and the USA. From the sales of their paintings they donated close to $2 million to charities.

John's career however was in broadcasting and in 2020 he received the Order of Australia Medal in the Australia Day Honours for his contribution and service for over 57 years in radio and television.

The chance of a career in broadcasting for John Pickup all started at school when he was about 17 years old. Before this day John had decided to take up a career in photography but his journey through life was to be altered when a few of his friends approached him in the school yard and asked if he would like to come with them to visit the studio where the new teenage radio program Rumpus Room was being produced on Sydney Radio 2UE.

Although he knew nothing about the program John said "yes" and this decision changed the direction of his career.

John recounts:

"It was a teenage program, mainly music but part of the deal was people reading commercials and one was handed to me. I read it and thought nothing more of it."

However at the end of the show it was announced that John was the "male voice of the night" and subsequently he progressed through winning semifinals to become Radio 2UE's Young Voice of the Year when he won the grand final.

John Pickup winning 2UE "Young Voice of the Year" with the winner of the "Female Voice of the Year" Betty Sallaway (Credit: (1) Photo provided by John Pickup)

John was offered a contract with 2UE. It was decision time - photography or broadcasting? And John's life changed forever when he chose the latter and signed a 3 months contract doing sound effects (with no training) plus also working in the recorded music library.

At the end of his contract John chose to join 2GB Macquarie (the premier network in Sydney) where he worked in what he describes as "the golden years of radio".

The photo below was taken in the Macquarie Auditorium, Sydney in 1949 showing the cast in evening dress with John Pickup second from the left, standing at the effects table for the production of the Jack Davey Dulux show.

Macquarie Auditorium 1949 showing a young John Pickup (second from the left) standing at the effects table for the production of the Jack Davey Dulux show (Credit: (1) Photo provided by John Pickup)

John stayed with Macquarie for just under two years and then decided to join the ABC sacrificing pay for security. At first he worked on the mail desk which was soon followed by an appointment as a sound effects officer.

In the photo below, Producer Max Afford (R) sits with John in the Big Dipper at Luna Park (the large amusement park in Sydney) prior to recording sound effects for the closing sequence in the serial "Murder is not for Middle Age.

Producer Max Afford (R) sits with John Pickup in the "Big Dipper" at Luna Park prior to recording sound effects for the closing sequence in the serial "Murder is not for Middle Age" (Credit: (2) The ABC Weekly October 24 1953 p29)

In 1956 John was seconded to go to Melbourne to learn to present outside broadcasts on the soon to be established national television. They trained from March until October and John was one of the production crew on the opening night for ABC Television in Melbourne: a truly memorable occasion.

The Melbourne "Pye Outside Broadcast Van" at Showgrounds Training area May 1956 This van has been reserved as part of The National Historical Collection to be part of the new National Museum (Credit: (1) Photo provided by John Pickup)
Training Telecast Fashion Parade, wool Pavilion Melbourne Show Time 1956 (Credit: (1) Photo provided by John Pickup)

Television arrived in Melbourne just in time for the Olympic Games which were held in November-December 1956 and John was there - at the coal face.

The ABC used two mobile vans (one for Sydney and one for Melbourne) to transmit the games - one van in the main stadium with just 3 cameras and the other moving to various sites also with only 3 cameras. John was the Floor Manager for the Sydney broadcasting team.

Main Commentary Position, 1956 Melbourne Olympics - John Pickup (Floor Manager) next to the camerman (Credit: (1) Photo provided by John Pickup)

After the Olympics John continued working in Sydney with the outdoor broadcasts van as Floor Manager heading the team who produced the screening of the first opera seen in Australia on television - The Telephone by Menotti. It was Christmas 1956. There were other firsts for John including showing the first computer to be installed in Australia at the Sydney University - he recalls the computer took up more than two normal sized rooms.

But his true passion was radio and in 1962 he returned to work on sound effects for the ABC until he was appointed Regional Manager ABC Broken Hill.

Pye TV camera with 4 lenses in front turret. The second camera at rear is equipped with a bulky zoom lens. Taken about 1956 before cameras were fitted with 'ABC TV' transfer lettering (Credit: (1) Photo provided by John Pickup)

John remains active, even though now in his 90s, and has recently made a video describing his early years as a sounds technician with the Australian Broadcasting Commission.

The video The Golden Years of Radio was produced by John with the assistance of his daughter Susan Pickup for the Kucom Theatre with post production on the video being carried out by Bronwyn Grannall (Kucom Theatre Vice President and Public Relations Officer).

The Kucom Theatre (based in Mackay, Queensland) was producing a selection of one act plays specially written for a presentation which reconstructed how a radio play would have been produced 50 years ago. John was asked if he would give an introductory talk (via a video) on the background to this period of time in radio productions to be shown in the theatre before the one act plays.

The Kucom Theatre and John Pickup have given us permission to show the video on our blog. So please sit back and listen to John's account of working in an industry that in spite of the advent of television flourishes to this day.

You will be amazed at John's delivery of his information all without notes!!

Please note that at the end of the video the One Act Plays introduced by John are not available for us to view on this video.

If you would like to read more about John's broadcasting career please follow the bookmark link below.

John Pickup OAM
Bringing you the news that John Pickup received an Order of Australia in the 2020 Australia Day Honours. The award was granted in recognition of John’s service to the world of broadcasting. Here is a summary of his broadcasting career.

A special thanks to John Pickup OAM for sharing his video with us and to Susan Pickup for recording the video.

Bronwyn Grannall, Vice President and Public Relations Officer for the Kucom Theatre edited the video and assisted in providing it to be shown on the AnArt4Life blog. Thank you Bronwyn for your help.

The Kucom Theatre has been in existence in in Mackay, Queensland since 1947.

1. Photo provided by John Pickup
2. The ABC Weekly October 24 1953 p29