by Jenny Baxter
“All odds were against us, we had no money, no equipment and only a handful of supporters. It would have to be a miracle if we were given a Licence.”
Many of our listeners may not realise that ultra106.5fm began 35 years ago, with two people who had a vision and a bit of room in a suburban house, and that their vision would end up being one of the first Christian radio stations in Australia.
Neville and Joan Brown and a friend of theirs had the initial idea for a Christian radio station in Hobart immediately after a time of prayer. It was 1974, and Neville had just left his job as a supervising engineer at the ABC. They were praying to see what God had for them next. Joan says, “We got up from our knees and all thought about [Christian] radio at the same time.” After doing some initial enquiries, they discovered that no radio licenses were being offered at that stage, so they left for an overseas trip thinking they had missed it.
Funny thing though – the idea just wouldn’t go away! While overseas Neville and Joan travelled to all sorts of communities and everywhere they went they came across Christian radio. Even upon arrival back home when people asked them what they were going to do next, Joan says, “We covered our mouths and mumbled ‘radio’.” It seemed like the impossible dream.
Finally the opportunity came to apply for a public licence in 1978. The Browns were due to go overseas in just a few days when they heard about the opportunity. Quickly they gathered together their meagre resources to apply. Joan remembers it was a “very basic application, with Roneo’d pages.” There were Christian licences being offered in every state and each group had to go before a tribunal to present their case. “In the end,” Joan says, “only two licences were offered. One in Sydney to Vern Taylor, who already had a studio running – and us!” The Sydney radio station became what is now known as Hope 103.2, who celeberated their 30th anniversary in 2009.
It was a little longer before Neville and Joan could get their brainchild up and going. It sounds like it was a bit of a roller coaster ride! Joan remembers the next few years “were like driving blindfold with the foot hard in the accelerator and trusting God would come through.” There were troublesome moments as well. “It was difficult to enthuse people about a vision with no substance to it. We had a licence and a call but nothing else.” However, it wasn’t long before Nev’s networking skills came to the fore. “He kept letting it be known in Christian circles and people just came out of the woodwork!” After a while a corner of the Brown’s home in Cross Street New Town was set aside for a radio studio.
“It was such a miracle that it happened – it gave people hope.” Hope Foundation Communicators began transmitting in March 1980 as 7HFC FM with the call sign “This is the hope”.
The newsletter that went out to supporters in April 1980 reported:
At 2pm on Sunday March 30, 1980 A Christian Radio Station went to air in Hobart according to schedule
In the 1990s Neville developed Parkinson’s Disease and he then began to concentrate on training. In 1996 he handed the station over to others. He died in 2004. “We believed until the end for a miracle,” Joan recalls. “We had seen a miracle take place with the radio and we knew he could do it again. God certainly used Nev’s sickness to hone our faith to a greater degree.
“God has been faithful all the way through – I don’t think you’d ever choose to be stretched like that.” These are the foundations which give ultra 106.5fm its stability right up to the present day – and its message of hope to Hobartians. Reflecting on the character of the station these days Joan says, “The radio station is very different today to what it was 30 years ago…and so am I! I would be worried if it wasn’t different.” The hard work and sacrifice have paid off. Joan says, “We concentrated on laying the foundation – God can build on a strong foundation.”
Joan passed away in 2012, but her and Neville’s legacy lives on in a thriving radio station listened to by 33,000 people each month.
Thanks to the Browns, and all who came after them, for the incredible legacy you’ve left for Hobart.
Below: Neville and Joan Brown and the early studio days.