This article was written and spoken by Richard Brown, former staff member of ABC Access Radio 3ZZ, at a commemoration event for George Zangalis, held at 3ZZZ on 5 August 2023.
Thank you for the opportunity to say a few words about George Zangalis’ contribution to the development of ethnic broadcasting in Australia. I think it is fair to call George the ‘father of ethnic broadcasting in Australia’ – let me tell you why I say this.
First, a little background. Until the 1970s, broadcasting in Australia, both radio and television, was mainly run by and for the English-speaking majority, with virtually no acknowledgement of the needs of the many migrants and refugees who had come here, particularly since the 2nd World War.
There were a few token attempts to cater for non-English speaking members of the community, via occasional radio segments on local commercial radio, usually funded and presented by community volunteers. The tax-payer-funded ABC, which was supposed to cater for the whole community, was limited to things like bushfire warning announcements in a handful of community languages. The management of both commercial and ABC radio, and the majority of broadcasters, were drawn from the dominant Anglo-Australian elite.
When the Whitlam Labor government came to power in 1972, it was determined to shake up the broadcasting establishment. Though lacking control of the Senate, which meant they couldn’t push through changes to the broadcasting laws, they nevertheless set about enabling a series of broadcasting initiatives to open up the airwaves to new players.
One of these initiatives involved the Government offering the ABC the use of one of its local radio transmitters in Melbourne as an experimental ‘community access station – this was 3ZZ, which went to air in 1975.
At the same time, the then Minister for Immigration, Al Grassby, set up two radio stations in Sydney and Melbourne, 2EA and 3EA, initially to publicise the new Medibank service in a handful of community languages.
While the ABC itself didn’t really have any idea what ‘community access’ could mean, there were a few younger ABC broadcasters, including me and my wife Alex Butler, who were looking for opportunities to shake up the established way of doing things. After a series of meetings with representatives of ethnic and other community groups, an elected management committee was established, with George Zangalis, a long-time activist for migrant workers’ rights and a prominent member of Melbourne large Greek community, as the Chairman.
Initially, four of us ABC broadcasters were seconded to the station to provide the technical and production support for the volunteer broadcasters. With George’s encouragement, a number of bi-lingual people, who had Greek, Italian, Arabic, French, German, Spanish, Latvian and Czech language skills, were added to the ABC support staff, a first for the ABC. Ilias Diacolabrianos was one of these new recruits.
George continued to lead the station though out its development. He oversaw the establishment and running of the various program committees, which organized the language programs presented by the community volunteers. He was involved in the complicated negotiations over the allocation of air-time between the various language groups. He was a strong supporter of the principle of community access, by which any person could apply for air-time to broadcast in their preferred language. And he was in the forefront of the community protests which followed the station’s forced closure by the Fraser Government in 1977.
Although short-lived, the 3ZZ experiment provided a model of community access which was later picked up by many community stations. And many of the community broadcasters who got their start at 3ZZ, went on to work at other stations, including 3ZZZ.
Following the end of the 3ZZ experiment, George worked tirelessly to secure a community broadcasting licence, which led to the establishment of 3ZZZ, arguably the most successful ethnic community radio station in Australia – and you know the rest.
Of course, I have omitted much of the detail of George’s contribution from this account, which is covered in George’s excellent book: ‘From 3ZZ to 3ZZZ: A short History of Ethnic Broadcasting in Australia’. And I should also mention his continuing influence on Australian broadcasting, through his work on the SBS Board, the National Ethnic and Multicultural Broadcasters’ Council and the ABC Advisory Committee. Vale George Zangalis!