The development of radio in Queensland during the 1920s and 1930s saw many amateur radio enthusiasts broadcasting their own material on narrow and selective bands. But it was John Beals Chandler, a remarkable self-made man who was also Lord Mayor of Brisbane during the war years, who brought commercial radio into our living rooms.
In 1930 Chandler set up 4BC, the first commercial radio station in Queensland – the “BC” stands for Beals Chandler. As he sold radios and distributed British and American radios in Australia, he wanted a local station for his customers to listen to, enabling him to advertise his product and enhance his retail business.
Born in Norfolk, England in 1887, the son of a bricklayer, Chandler left school at the age of eight and immigrated to Queensland in 1907 to work as a cane cutter. After two years in Mossman, and having worked off his debt to the Queensland Government, he moved to Brisbane and gained employment as a commission agent for an industrial company. In 1912 he married Lydia Isabelle (Lil), and in 1913 opened his first hardware store in Elizabeth Street, moving to larger premises in Adelaide Street in 1923.
Chandler aggressively marketed electrical household appliances, and his company obtained the franchise for Sunbeam Corporation in the 1930s. Chandler advertised the new electrical household goods, which “combined the usefulness of electricity with the charm of plated ware” – coffee percolators, waffle irons, toasters, electric kettles and electrically heated water jugs. Even more exciting was the Copeland electrical refrigerator, which maintained a temperature 10 degrees below that of the ice box!
However, his cleverest move was to establish hire purchase facilities through his company, making these items affordable to a wider market. Chandler was so successful that he opened branches in Sydney, Melbourne and set up distributors for his products in other states. Chandlers was a family owned company, operating until 1977.
As well as an electrical enthusiast, John Beals Chandler was a radio enthusiast. He was an agent for Amalgamated Wireless and Radiola, and sold everything to do with radio, from crystal sets to grand radiograms in wooden cabinets. He also sold radio parts and assembled his own brand of radio, called the Gloriola. He attended the Amalgamated Wireless conferences in Australia, reporting on the advances in broadcasting, including wireless telephony – the use of wireless to link the telephone systems of Australia with those of other countries, including America and Indonesia.
While 4BC was the first commercial radio station, 4QG was already in operation as a non-commercial government station. At 4BC’s opening in 1930, it was reported that it would be good for broadcasting to have an alternate station and that, in the previous three months, more than 1,100 radio licences had been purchased in Brisbane. Chandler sold the station to the Australian Broadcasting Commission for a reported £50,000 in 1937, when a change in federal licensing laws prevented him from having a monopoly. Chandler also owned 4BH and was instrumental in establishing radio networks of stations throughout the state, a new concept in the 1930s. His network had stations in Rockhampton, Maryborough, Toowoomba and Kingaroy, and he helped to establish stations in Ayr, Atherton and Gympie. 4BC opened with an announcer, a salesman, a technical operator, a secretary and a business manager – a total staff of five.
During World War Two, the Chandler firm was associated with AWA in installing and servicing radio, radar and echo-sounding equipment in ships, profiting greatly from this venture.
In 1940 Chandler was elected Lord Mayor of Brisbane, a position that he held for four consecutive terms until 1952. As Lord Mayor he attempted to revitalise the administration of the Brisbane City Council, but was frustrated by wartime restrictions, which did not allow major expenditure on city services.
Chandler and his wife had four sons, two of whom were lost in World War Two. This was an enormous personal sadness for Chandler, who wrote many letters to the government trying to have the motor launch, which his sons had built, returned to the family. The launch was requisitioned for the war effort in 1941 and was never reunited with the family, but has recently been found and is being restored in Brisbane.
In addition to this incredible wartime workload, in 1943 Chandler won the seat of Hamilton in the Queensland Legislative Assembly as an independent, holding it until 1947. He began his own party, the Queensland People’s Party, which later became the Queensland division of the Liberal Party of Australia. He retired from the Legislative Assembly to concentrate on his passion, the development of the city of Brisbane.
As Lord Mayor, he considered it his duty to repay society for the opportunities it had afforded him to become a successful businessman. He never wore the Lord Mayor’s robes of office and, by waiving his salary and reducing his expense account, saved the city an estimated £25,000. He was known for bringing efficiency to the running of the Brisbane City Council. Historian John Laverty wrote that Chandler was “an idealist, with the acumen, energy and courage to achieve many of his goals, he had, as well, the necessary balance and sense of humour to take success and failure in his stride.” Although he was just five feet and three inches in height, Chandler was a giant in the history of the city of Brisbane.
In addition to his successful business, holding the position of Lord Mayor and being a member of the Legislative Assembly, Chandler was twice president (1938-1940) of the Brisbane Chamber of Commerce, and treasurer (1939-1940) and life member of the Royal Automobile Club of Queensland. He founded the Australian Federation of Broadcasting Stations, and was a foundation member and president (1928-1929) of the state branch of the Electrical Federation. A member of the Rotary Club of Brisbane and of the Young Men’s Christian Association, he was president of the Queensland Patriotic and Australian Comforts Fund during World War Two. John Beals Chandler was knighted in 1952, and has been commemorated by the name of the Brisbane suburb, Chandler. He died in 1962.
Sir John Beals Chandler achieved a great deal of success in his life, but the story of the motor launch built by his sons and named for him and his wife (LilJohn) demonstrates that he endured his own sadness and sacrifice during the war years, although he never allowed it to deter him from working for the greater good of his city.
Christina Ealing-Godbold, Senior Librarian