Michael Law's Contributions to Community Broadcasting


The CBAA's Michael Law Award is given as part of the annual CBAA Community Radio Awards and named after the late Michael Law, who is recognised as the ‘father of community broadcasting’ in Australia.

Michael LawBorn in the United Kingdom in 1921, Francis Michael Law studied engineering at Oxford University. He served as a radar officer in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve during World War II, after which he worked in engineering and commercial roles with Marconi Electronics and Decca Radar. Although he used his full name on official documents, and initialed notes as FML, he was known to all as “Michael”.

During the 1960s he ran a boat charter business in the West Indies. In 1967, Michael delivered a yacht from Granada to Sydney and decided to stay. He managed a small maintenance company and worked as a journalist for a yachting magazine and later as the editor of Australian Consumers’ Association publication Choice.

In 1970, Michael Law became involved with a group of people who founded the NSW Music Broadcasting Society and who, in December 1974, launched Australia’s first stereo FM community broadcasting station: 2MBS-FM.   Whilst he was originally drawn to the emerging community broadcasting movement through his passion for things technical, Michael’s personal interests also extended to the structure of organisations, meeting procedure and the development of policies.  It was an unusual and perfect confluence of interests and skills.

In July 1974, the sector’s peak body, then named the Public Broadcasting Association of Australia, was formed.  Michael Law was elected as PBAA chairperson in 1976. Two years later, first as a volunteer and then employed on a modest salary, he became the PBAA’s first Executive Director.

Michael was a key driving force behind the Association during the critical formative stages of community broadcasting. He actively monitored and made suggestions on the development of the Broadcasting Act that first legalised the new community broadcasting licences. He was the philosopher of the sector. Through his numerous papers, speeches and lobbying he articulated what public and community broadcasting was about, and how it was distinct from the commercial and government broadcasting sectors.

Michael Law - in group

Trevor Jarvie, one of the founders of 2MBS, remembered Michael in the station's August 1994 Program Guide as:

“...sharp, witty and personable, he gave ‘polish’ to those occasions when we were asked to argue our case in public.” 

Another 2MBS colleague, Max Benyon recalled:

“He had the ability to pull us all together: some leaders are obvious in their ways: Michael was subtle.”  

An early 2MBS-FM manager, Chris Tapperesaid:  

“Michael? He was a powerhouse; a single-minded, clear-seeing powerhouse.”

A man of boundless energy and inspirational enthusiasm, Michael Law travelled extensively, advising new stations and aspirant groups throughout the country, participating in licence hearings, developing policy papers and making or assisting with submissions. A frequent visitor to the Department of Communications (under its ever-changing formal title), Michael was a common sight, perched on a bureaucrat’s desk, expounding on the next round of legislative or regulatory changes that community broadcasters needed to see enacted.

Bruce Gyngell, first chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal described Michael’s strengths:

“He was a realist. He possessed a great understanding of what the commercial imperatives of broadcasting were and of what was politically acceptable at that time.”

His drive, charm and energy, underpinned by an enormous work ethic and ability to effectively advocate the cause, were of fundamental importance in the early years of Australia’s community broadcasting sector.

Michael Law was awarded an OBE in 1979.  He returned to England in 1988 due to ill health, but remained active in supporting community radio development in the United Kingdom.  He died in  1994, survived by his daughter and two sons.

In honour of his extraordinary contribution to Australian community broadcasting, the CBAA created the Michael Law Award, to be presented annually to an individual in recognition for services to the sector as a whole.