With news that AWA has entered administration, the Australian electronics industry is mourning the demise of one of Australia’s most iconic brands and a company that has spent more than 100 years as part of the Australian technology landscape. While AWA is now largely a service and warranty provider, the company as it now stands has a much longer history as a manufacturer and broadcaster in Australia. 

Kevin Poulter — formerly of PYE Telecommunications, a member of the Historical Radio Society of Australia and himself a veteran of the radio and electronics industry in Australia — shares his thoughts on the history of AWA and the loss that will be felt across the industry if it is to close its doors.

AWA (Amalgamated Wireless of Australia) became Australia’s largest radio company, manufacturing radios for homes, huge transmitters for radio stations and wireless communications for cross-country to cross-continent communications, as well as for ships and the military.

Radio was huge in the ’20s, ’30s, ’40s and ’50s as one of the few entertainment sources, and it seemed every other home in Australia had an AWA ‘Radiola’ Console or Mantel Radio, plus many homes had a powerful AWA Radiogram. The radios were well-made and became the hub of entertainment for the family. Many had very attractive cabinets, so they became a talking-point when visitors arrived and the owners showed off their ‘best furniture in the house’. As rumours of war hovered, the shortwave versions became important for listening to the sabre-rattling in Europe.

The head of AWA, Sir Ernst Fisk started with Marconi Wireless UK, spending time in Canada, before coming to Australia to sell overland and marine transmitters. When the Titanic sank, a Marconi transmitter saved many lives, by hailing ships in the region for assistance — this convinced many marine operators to purchase a transmitter. Australia’s massive distances were also being bridged by radio at the time.

Fisk was also good at politics, convincing governments that the future was in radio. The public agreed and purchased millions of AWA radios. When Bakelite became available for the radio cases, AWA was the first to release a magnificent radio case in 1932, with superb mouldings, textures and patterns to enhance any home.

AWA radio staff celebrated 100 years of AWA last year (though the AWA company website says AWA has been here for 105 years, it depends on whether you count an earlier iteration of the company in the total). Many of the staff from the ’50s onwards now collect, restore and display the fine AWA radios, with most being members of the Historical Radio Society of Australia (HRSA).

I have a number of the AWA-brand vintage radios, and used AWA and Marconi test equipment in a number of companies, including PYE and Philips.

AWA enthusiasts feel a sense of sadness and empathy for the current employees — though they worked at the earlier AWA Radio Company — as this mighty company again is in difficulty.

All images copyright Kevin Poulter.

AWA Marconi transmitter
This Marconi transmitter in Carnarvon, northern Wales, was used to communicate with Australia
AWA equipment was used to send a broadcast of street noises on St Paul’s corner in Melbourne in 1920.
This ad spruiks a radio “encased in a handsome imitation granite cabinet” created by “expert designers and skilled workmen”.
A vintage ad for the AWA portable Radiola.
Another beautifully designed ad that harkens back to AWA’s heyday.
Made in the 1930s, this ‘Empire State’ radio had a casing made from the newest plastic, Bakelite, and is now highly collectible.
A Woodwards Electrical mobile service van, packed up for a job, promises “speedy service”.
The AWA Radiolagram, a combination record-player and radio.
1947 AWA Radiola B510M 5-valve
The 1947 AWA Radiola B510M 5-valve, dual-wave Mantel Radio in a Bakelite case.
AWA also manufactured telephones, such as this blue Wallfone, for many decades.
The AWA Transistor 7 Radiola. Says Kevin Poulter: “The transistor was my first radio at age 14 and it changed my life, with the freedom of having music whenever I wanted and sparking a lifetime interest in radio.”
AWA still has a place in Australian homes today, with avid collectors relishing the retro aesthetic.