The ARCIA Industry Gala Dinner — how did this unique event happen?

Australian Radio Communications Industry Association

By Ian Miller*
Friday, 17 November, 2023

The ARCIA Industry Gala Dinner — how did this unique event happen?

We’re now one month on from the annual ARCIA Industry Gala Dinner & Excellence Awards in Melbourne — but do you know where the event originated from, and just how much it is interlinked with the development of our wireless communications industry in Australia?

The event can be traced back to the very start of the industry in Australia, back to the early 1960s when things were so different, back when most radio systems were VHF and single-frequency simplex operation. At that time many radio systems were located onsite, with a base station and an antenna on the building; however, the business location could impact the radio coverage.

To overcome this obstacle, the radio companies developed communal radio sites on a high location and the base station and antenna would be located there with remote control from the customer’s premises. This remote operation was over leased lines, basically a telephone line between the two locations. Obviously this format pre-dated the use of repeater systems; it was all remote control.

The Postmaster-General’s Department (PMG) controlled the leased lines and applications had to be submitted through a central office for installation of the lines, and often it was difficult to get suitable lines to the locations required. In addition to the leased line applications, the PMG through its Radio Branch also controlled the allocation of licences to operate the radio systems, so having good relationships with the PMG personnel was critical to being able to supply radio systems to the clients.

To facilitate this close relationship, each quarter the industry would get together at a hotel in South Yarra and then invite the PMG Radio Branch and Lines Office to join them for a few drinks and meet in a social environment. This went on for many years until repeater systems were finally approved by the Radio Branch and so the need for leased lines no longer existed. During this time the PMG had been renamed several times and eventually Telstra was created.

With the removal of reliance on the PMG personnel for business support, the industry then moved to having an annual get-together rather than the quarterly one of earlier years. All of this happened in Victoria and the decision to have an annual dinner back in the early 1980s also gave the opportunity for the Jonathan Livingstone Award to be presented on the same night, and so the dinner became a more regular event. From the 1980s through to around 2003 the dinner was held on the last Friday in November and at several function centres, with around 80 to 100 people attending.

Two of our industry forward-thinkers, Martin Cahill and David Cox, felt that if it was promoted properly and became a bit more upmarket, more people would attend, and indeed that did happen. However, the major impetus for the growth to the present status was the efforts of Westwick-Farrow Media in running Radio Comms Connect (Comms Connect), and by moving the dinner to run in conjunction with the conference we have now seen the Industry Gala Dinner grow to become a major event, with attendances of around 500 each year.

The Industry Gala Dinner is unique. Our international visitors are all amazed that we have every industry supplier sitting down with their competitors and enjoying a great night mingling together, and our guests from the Americas and Europe often tell us that there is nothing like this in their market. Only in New Zealand is there a similar dinner and our friends across the ditch are just as proud of their event as we are of ours. Perhaps now you can understand how the dinner is integral to the development of our industry in Australia.

*Ian Miller is the Convenor of the Spectrum & Technical Sub-Committee at the Australian Radio Communications Industry Association (ARCIA).

Top image: Just over 400 people attended the sold-out Industry Gala Dinner in 2010. Photo from ARCIA — 2010 ARCIA Industry Gala Dinner and Awards.

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