John Worcester's four decades at 3MBS | radioinfo

John Worcester's four decades at 3MBS

Saturday 04 November, 2017

John Worchester was there from the beginning of 3MBS.

Now, four decades later, he is planning to move to Canberra, but will not be hanging up his headphones yet.

He shares his radio journey with radioinfo.

Growing up in the 1940s, I was lucky to have been given a “crystal set” with headphones which enabled me to listen to radio (Melbourne and interstate) at night in the dark under the bedclothes. 

I remember in Grade 6, my teacher asking me what school I’d like to go to after finishing that year.  My reply was “The Vincent School of Broadcasting” but I went on to do my 6 years at Camberwell High School. 

At weekends I’d set up our lounge room as “3SG” (South Glenferrie) having planned for the music, but didn’t have a microphone.  At 15, at a Homes Exhibition I was interviewed by Danny Webb of 3DB and was presented with a 7” recording of our interview.  I still have it but I sounded very inarticulate despite having appeared on 3KZ’s”Junior Information” (school quiz for secondary students) at the age of 13 (five sessions) and still have my book prizes (Biggles and Hopalong Cassidy). 

At 12, I was a walking-talking encyclopaedia of pop music but by 15 I’d become hooked on classical music.

Some ten years later, teaching at Braybrook High School, I proposed that I broadcast a daily program of mostly classical music to the school grounds.  The Principal approved and so I did – for two years.  The kids were somewhat bemused by the music but could note the program from a large portable blackboard I set up in the main corridor.  50 years later they still talk about it and it got into the school history.  The toughest lady from the team of inspectors loved it.

In 1968, I was struck by a letter in The Age suggesting there was a good case for music lovers to be able to hold a licence to broadcast classical music.  I replied straight away to Brian Cabena, founder of the “Music Lovers Broadcasting Society”, with my support.  Brian was an inveterate lobbyist for his brainchild. 

The ABC used to play classical music but took it off when broadcasting Parliament or the Cricket. In 1974, the Federal Government decided to permit such broadcasting – three licences issued as an experiment, two for classical music (Sydney and Melbourne) and one for educational purposes (Adelaide).  Insider feedback indicated these were “safe” options that would appease backbenchers.

Our new station in Melbourne was 3MBS (standing for Music Broadcasting Society of Victoria). 

Brian Cabena asked me to join the Programming Committee in preparation for going to air – which we did on 1st July 1975.  We were a subscription model station, with very little information given out on air, expecting listeners to subscribe to a monthly program guide – which they did. 

When I was first on air there was no other FM station, but the ABC came on air about 7 months after we had. 

After enormous initial interest and success, our subscription numbers tailed off for 9 years and we were heading for a crash, but a small committee I’d set up in 1983 did a programming revamp and “humanised” the presentation and we doubled our subscription numbers in 18 months.

Up till then, I’d gone on air on a roster and put together very general programs.  But now I could do “my own thing” with programs called Idiosyncrasies and Offbeat with everything in segments from choral music to bell-ringing, folk-music and oddities such as “Eight Songs for a Mad King”.  I explored individual composers – symphonies of Havergal Brian, works by Olivier Messiaen and “Six Decades of Vaughan Williams” over 16 programs for which I received an Honourable Mention in the HiFi Awards in 1984. 

In the middle of winter in 1984 I broadcast “A Mid-Winter Christmas” and have now done so every year since, presenting joyful Christmas music to relieve the bleakness of mid-winter.

I was a member of the Board of the “Unincorporated Society” in 1976, took a little time off (children!) and returned to the Board in 1980 (now a Company Ltd) as President.  I’ve had various spells on the Board – 1985 to 1988 as President – and more recently from 2011 to 2014.  I’ve run many committees over the years, including Production Committee and Broadcasting Committees, the Board’s Policy Committee and more recently “Quality & Standards”.

Other regular programs over the years have been the afternoon drivetime program Intermezzo and also Music In Melbourne and Concert Rostrum featuring local performances and concerts recorded in Melbourne.  For something like 25 years, I’ve presented Organ & Choral Music as part of a team, sharing the time-slot, and for nearly 20 years a late-night program (10 till midnight) called A Little Night Music From Around the World.  That allows me to choose music suited to later evening with a wide variety of styles, music periods, instruments and performers – and I only play music I like, mostly from my own collection.

We have a weekly two-hour program called Illuminations where our presenters focus on one topic or one composer.  I enjoyed presenting a two-part series covering the operas of Ralph Vaughan Williams.

I get invited to the Ocean Grove U3A Music Group two or three times a year to give talks – about 3MBS, community radio, groups of composers or specific ones, so the wheel in a sense has turned full circle from my schoolyard broadcasts.

3MBS has flourished - mostly – with some ups and downs. 

More recently we’ve been located in wonderful premises at the Abbotsford Convent in a heritage-listed old school. 

After some “’downs” about 7 years ago, we’ve re-built all our operating systems and structures and the station is performing very nicely (music, presentation, finances). 
We’re on FM at 103.5, we are delighted with the signal quality from our digital platform and we’re streaming both our FM programs and our digital ones.  As a community-funded station, we rely on our listeners for subscriptions (annual radiothon plus on-air fund-raising, donors and sponsors).  And we invented a completely new vehicle for music, entertainment, performance and fund-raising with an annual “Marathon” each February to sold-out sessions across one day, and all of it broadcast here and on a sister fine music station interstate.  Next February’s Marathon features music of the Bach family.

In 42 years, I’ve had a great time at 3MBS, look forward to each visit, and always learning something new there. 

I’m delighted to see lots of young people take interest in classical music and in broadcasting it: we have some wonderful youthful voices presenting on 3MBS which is a pleasure to hear.

I broadened my outlook with some 35 years active involvement with the Community Broadcasting Association of Victoria, a managerial stint at Melbourne’s ethnic community station 3ZZZ where I also present their “Irish Program” every second  month, and 20 years at the Box Hill-based local station 3WBC. 

I’ve also managed to squeeze in 20 years of activity in community television at “Channel 31” from weekly production to Board level where I’m Deputy Chair. 

I’m planning on a sort of “retirement” soon. My children and grandchildren live in Canberra and that seems a good place to ‘downsize” to, in the first quarter of 2018 – with periodic trips back (to keep my hand in).  I’m already an active member of ArtSound-FM in Canberra, part of our Fine Music Network and which also plays jazz, blues, folk and world music, spoken word.


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