Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Law, Francis Michael (1921–1994)

This article was published online in 2018

Francis Michael Law (1921–1994), community radio pioneer, was born on 24 May 1921 at Purley, Surrey, England, elder son of Irish-born Alexander Henry Law, electrical engineer, and his English-born wife Isabel Norton, née Marshall. Michael was educated at Wellington College, Berkshire, and then at New College, Oxford, where he read engineering. His studies were interrupted by World War II, during which he served in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. Appointed as a temporary acting sub-lieutenant on 10 November 1941, he was employed as a radar officer in the cruiser HMS Scylla (1942) and the battleships HMS Nelson (1943–44), HMS Duke of York (1944), and HMS Rodney (1944–45). He was promoted to temporary lieutenant in 1943 and to temporary acting lieutenant commander in 1945. In May that year he was posted back to the Duke of York, which was then at Malta, en route to Australia to join the British Pacific Fleet.

While on shore leave in Sydney, Law met Isabel Sheila Moorhouse Cameron, a New Zealand-born student. They married on 28 November 1945 at St Mark’s Anglican Church, Darling Point. After his demobilisation, the couple lived in England. He continued his course at Oxford, gaining a fourth-class pass in his final exams (1947). In the 1950s the family moved from the village of Sandon in Essex, to London, where Law probably worked in engineering. An avid seaman, he operated a boat charter business in the West Indies during the 1960s. By 1970 his first marriage had ended in divorce and he settled in Australia. On 17 July that year he married Pamela Merle Norine Oettle (née McAuley White), a university tutor, at the Registrar General’s Office, Sydney. The marriage would not last. He worked as a carpet cleaner and as a journalist for a yachting magazine and the Australian Consumers’ Association publication Choice.

A ‘radar “boffin”’ (Keogh 1994, 15), Law became involved in a movement to introduce FM radio in Australia. This in turn evolved into a call for a public broadcasting sector that was led by four distinct groups: fine-music enthusiasts, universities, ethnic communities, and left-wing political groups. Initially Law was associated most closely with the first of these. He was a founding member of the Music Broadcasting Society (MBS) of New South Wales and helped to establish its Sydney-based fine-music station, radio 2MBS-FM, which first went to air in December 1974. As a lobbyist, he was politically adept, persuasive, and able to communicate with both bureaucrats and radio technicians.

During 1974 Law was elected inaugural president of the Public (later Community) Broadcasting Association of Australia. With a fellow advocate, Max Keogh, he also established the Sydney Broadcasting Study Group to determine the nature of and demand for small stations within the metropolitan area. In 1976 their work culminated in the release of an influential report demonstrating significant support for further development of the sector. An indefatigable leader, he chaired (1977–79) the State branch of the MBS and was appointed (1978) to the paid, part-time role of executive director of the PBAA. Outside radio he found time to attend the theatre, concerts, and opera.

In recognition of his role as a pioneer of public broadcasting, Law was appointed OBE in 1979. He published regularly in trade and academic periodicals throughout the 1970s and 1980s on the benefits of community radio. Having been prominent in many of the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal hearings for new public radio licences, he also helped to establish Liverpool-Green Valley’s 2GLF-FM, in the outer suburbs of Sydney, in 1983. Suffering ill health, he returned to live in England in 1988. There he campaigned for the expansion of community radio in the United Kingdom. Survived by his daughter and two sons, he died on 2 June 1994 at Swanage, Dorset. The Community Broadcasting Association of Australia named the Michael Law award for sustained and outstanding contribution to the sector after him.

Research edited by Nicole McLennan

Select Bibliography

  • Jarvie, Trevor. ‘Michael Law as I Knew Him.’ 2MBS-FM Stereo FM Radio 102.5MHz: Program Guide 20, no. 8 (August 1994): 10–11
  • Keogh, Max. ‘The Voice of Community Broadcasting.’ Australian, 24 June 1994, 15
  • Robertson, Rosanne. ‘Public Radio Picks Up Steam.’ Sydney Morning Herald, 20 March 1980, SMH 7-Day Guide 6
  • Sydney Morning Herald. ‘Pioneer Served Community Radio.’ 4 June 1994, 13
  • Sydney Morning Herald. ‘Reception in Duke of York.’ 28 November 1956, 6
  • Thornley, Phoebe Neva. ‘Broadcasting Policy in Australia: Political Influences and the Federal Government’s Role in the Establishment and Development of Public/Community Broadcasting in Australia—A History, 1939 to 1992.’ PhD diss., University of Newcastle, NSW, 1999

Additional Resources

Citation details

'Law, Francis Michael (1921–1994)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2018, accessed online 20 September 2019.

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