12 Nov 2002

The 1980’s

Once the 1980’s arrived, technology as we now know it was birthing. Those double 4 way PAs were the breeding ground for more compact composite boxes. Moving lights came in the middle of the decade.



A new decade dawns. Everyone is using double 4-way PA’s loaded with JBL 2220, 2225 and with 2482 or 2441 horns and ring radiators! Electro Voice Australia is established. Lighting is basically the same components utilised in standard formations with truss sections supported by ‘trees’. Rock Industries built a memory board for lighting based on the Commodore 64 computer!



In 1981, Altec launch ‘Main Air’, an attempt to take on JBL in the PA market. It fails. The Space Beacon is the most sophisticated lighting effect available, until Vari*Lite is first used at a ‘Genesis’ concert in Spain.


A local Sydney genius, Winton Morrow, designed his famous WRM-V4 PA system which is still in existence, some boxes owned by L&W Technical Services. An amazing design, which could be argued by some to be a basic ‘line array’ formation, this system had huge power from BGW amplifiers driven by specially-doctored BSS crossovers. Clients included The Church and The Sunnyboys.


Lighting in the eighties saw UK manufacturers, Avolites become the Rolls Royce of control and dimming systems with Celco a close second.



In 1982, the first Meyer sound system arrived in Australia, heralding the start of the composite PA era. The Sound on Stage warehouse burned down in Sydney in mysterious circumstances. The Compact Disc player was launched onto the world market. Coemar made the ‘Robot’, arguably the first ‘waggly’ mirror moving light. Powerful competitors Jands and ACT merge to form a new company, ACT/JANDS, with offices in Sydney and Melbourne.


In 1983, Etone formed an alliance with a John Busst and decided to import Renkus Heinz. The sound system was a success but blighted with quality control problems that cost the importer dearly, and eventually hobbled the Renkus Heinz brand in Australia.


In 1985, Jands made Ron Blackmore an offer he couldn’t refuse and ACT was purchased by JANDS.


New Zealand theatre lighting manufacturer Selecon made inroads into the Australian market, where they are today market leaders. DMX 512 is introduced. LSC introduced the ‘Precept’, a small lighting board with memory, which went on to become a great success.


In 1986, Yamaha introduced the SPX-90, a digital multi-effect unit that would herald a new era of FX units. Sydney road case maker, Ian Stewart (Bonza Boxes), contracted Glenn Leembruggen to design the ‘Cobra’ speaker box. A pretty basic effort, the Cobra used two EV DL15M speakers and Peavey 22A horn driver to produce a useful cabinet that enjoyed good sales and proved that really nothing much had changed from the sixties and seventies. Front-loaded boxes worked!


In 1987, ARX and Australian Monitor started exporting Australian pro audio equipment to the world. Australian Monitor went on to lose one million dollars for its original investor Julius Grafton. The first DAT recorder was released. Lee Conlon at Revolver releases his version of the popular colour ‘Scroller’, a rolling-gel colour-change system for lights. His Showcraft brand goes on to win export sales, and continues today.


John ‘Ossie’ Vasey releases the first Australian technical book for rock touring technicians, now in its third edition.


In 1988, Colin Baldwin toured the first Vari*lite VL-1 spot luminairs in Oz, as leased by Jands from Vari*Lite in the U.S.


Expo 88 and the Bi-Centenary produced the busiest year yet for Australian production companies. Turbosound sold hundreds of TMS-3 boxes into Australia, with most going to Mick Privitera in Brisbane, who does big hire business at Expo. Jands sold their Concert Production business to Samuelsons of the UK for a rumoured 7 million dollars.


By 1989, the BOSE 802 is the best selling speaker system in Australia. The Golden Scan is the first commonly available DMX moving-mirror automated light.


Pro Sound Hire in Brisbane changes its name to Australian Concert Productions with a huge inventory of Turbosound equipment. ACP run by Rob “Fatcat” Eastick has grown to be one of the country’s largest audio hire companies, boasting quality equipment and staff.


Denis Braham sets up Arena technical Services (funded by Arena management the operators of the Sydney Entertainment Centre) by purchasing huge amounts of lighting equipment from Expo 88 and First State 88. ATS soon became a thorn in Jands side, who made Arena Management an offer to good to refuse. ATS was sold to Jands in the early ’90’s.


Denis Braham unfortunately passed away in 1996 after a heart attack.


The eighties ended on an unreal note, with monsterously high interest rates approaching 17% and inflation exceeding 10%. The cost of finance was astronomical. Against this background the stockmarket was still an interesting place despite the crash of 1987. A Perth entrepreneur formed Star Capital and imported 2 concert PA systems consisting of Martin RS 1200 speakers and Turbo TMS 3 speakers, plus Soundcraft consoles, along with a huge lighting inventory including Avolights dimmers QM 500 desk and 300 fixtures, trussing, chain motors and rigging. Needless to say, the local market didn’t respond to prospectus expectations, and the gear went to auction.


Trevor Lloyd’s CLS imported at great cost a large Morpheus Pan Command moving light system, which produced competition against Vari-Lite – at the time the only moving head moving light system available worldwide. CLS enjoyed moderate success with the system, as some overseas acts chose Pan Command instead of Vari-Lite. But, the Vari-Lite juggernaut prevailed, and Morpheus fell by the wayside.



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