The station's call-sign came from the name of its operating company, the Akron Broadcasting Co. Pty Ltd (a subsidiary of the Akron Tyre Co.
At the time of its formation there were three types of broadcasters in Australia, A Class stations (most of which later evolved into the Australian Broadcasting Corporation); B Class stations, which are now known as commercial stations; amateurs. There were also government plans for a set of C class stations which were intended to be used by businesses to exclusively advertise their products (however it was decided not to proceed with this type of license before 3AK was actually granted its licence). Many radio historians believe that Akron and the Postmaster General's Department had originally discussed the issuance of such a license, and that the B Class license issued to Akron, with a number of restrictions, was issued in its place.
From the outset, 3AK was only permitted to broadcast for limited hours when other Melbourne stations were off the air. 3AK originally broadcast from 11.30 pm to 2.00 am daily; 5.00 to 7.00 am Monday-Saturday; 1.00 to 2.00 pm Saturday; 12.30 to 2.30 pm Sunday. The three hours of weekend afternoon broadcasting were shared with amateurs on the MW band. 3AK also had limited power, which although frequently altered was usually about 20% of that given to other B Class stations in Melbourne. 3AK's wavelength of 1500 KC could also be seen as a third limiting factor - it was at very end of most contemporary radio dials; there were still some radio sets that were unable to receive it.
Most of 3AK's early broadcasts consisted of live concerts from its studio in Bourke Street. These were provided free of charge by a number of progressive Melbourne music teachers who believed that radio would help promote both them and their students. These concerts were occasionally interspersed with broadcasts of recordings (both 78 rpm/80 rpm discs and piano rolls).
On 2 May 1934, the station was purchased by George F. Palmer who changed the name of the company to Melbourne Broadcasters Pty. Ltd., a name that persisted throughout many major changes of management and was still being used as late as the 1980s. Palmer changed the style of the station by introducing a format that mainly consisted of dance music, then very popular.
In 1937 3AK was allowed to extend its hours of broadcast to 11.30 pm-7.00 am, however the station still closed at 3.00 am on Sundays. It still broadcast for three hours on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, even though amateurs were no longer permitted to do so after 1939. 3AK's hours of broadcast remained unaltered until 1954.
1937 also saw the commencement of 2BS Bathurst on the 1 January. Because of 3AK's low power, 2BS was given the same wavelength (1500 kHz) and, within a few years, both stations suffered from interference during the few hours when they were simultaneously on the air.
One of 3AK's major personalities in the late 1930s/early 1940s was Alfred (Alf) Andrew. Although a contraversial character, Andrew had been a pioneer broadcaster at 3LO in the 1920s before going to 3UZ and then 2UW.
During the 1930s, '40s, and '50s, the station's slogan was 3AK - The Voice of the Night. However, unsubstantiated rumours about drunkedness led to some referring to the station as 3AK - The Voice of the TIGHT.
In the 1930s, the Postmaster General gave one station in the Canberra, Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide markets a licence to broadcast 24 hours a day. Because 3AK broadcast at night, Melbourne did not get any such 24 hour licences until as late as 1st February 1954 when 3UZ, 3DB and 3XY all began continuous broadcasting. This was concurrent with 3AK changing its hours of broadcast (see below). Within six months 3XY had become Melbourne's only 24 hour station.
In the 1930s, '40s, and '50s 3AK provided an alternative to country radio for those wishing to begin a career in radio, many going on to become well-known, such as Stan Rofe, Mike Williamson, Hal Todd, John Worthy and John Hart.
At the time very few stations had newsrooms and most relied on newspapers for their news. Due to its poor financial situation, 3AK devised a novel system of getting its news - the station had a rope dangling from their studio into the adjoining lane-way and the first newspaper firm to tie their morning edition onto the rope had it read on air.
By the late 1940s, 3AK had been purchased by Mack's Furnishing Company. At this stage, both the Directors and the station's manager, Ray Benn, held conservative Christian beliefs that were reflected in 3AK's program schedule.
When 3AK became a 'daylight' station, its very first breakfast team was Lennie Holmes and Shin Berinson. Holmes went on to become a well-known radio and television comedian. (His daughter, Jane Holmes, later became a prominent radio personality.) After changing his first name to Jim, Berinson became one of the most sought-after and well-paid voice-over men. Another important announcer during this era was Graham Madison.
In the early 1960s Australian Consolidated Press, owned by the Packer family, took over both television station GTV-9 and 3AK. 3AK moved from small studios above a bank in Grey Street, St. Kilda, into GTV-9's premises at Bendigo Street, Richmond, broadcasting a revised format as from Easter Monday, 3 April 1961. GTV's major television personalities were forced to broadcast from 3AK. Therefore, overnight, 3AK changed from a station with a young and virtually unknown announcing staff, to one featuring some of Australia's best-known television personalities, including Philip Brady, Geoff Corke, Tommy Hanlon Jr., Geoff Hiscock, Graham Kennedy, Jack Little, Bert Newton, Eric Pearce, Brian Taylor, Hal Todd, Eric Welch, Arthur Young, and Frank Zepter.
Former 3AK manager, Bill Bowie, resigned and formed his own radio/television school. Former 3AK announcers (Ron Alderton, Terry Calder, Peter Cavanagh, John Print) were redeployed with the GTV organisation; only former Chief Announcer, Ron Alderton, retaining any on-air work at 3AK, albeit only at weekends.
In the late 1960s, Gary Mac moved to Melbourne and was employed by 3AK for 6 years. For most of 1971 he was the highest rated Announcer in Australia. (It is believed that his ratings figures have not been surpassed by anyone else).
ACP was always keen to solve the problem of transmission hours caused by 2BS and 3AK sharing the same wavelength. Technology in the form of a directional antenna (at 2BS) seemed to be the answer, but this small country station was deaf to ACP's continuous requests, leading to ACP's purchase of 2BS, allowing them to install such an antenna. By October 1968 permission which enabled 3AK to commence 24 hour transmission had been granted.
The new format paid dividends for 3AK as it took them to the top of the ratings where they remained for over a decade.
An interesting feature of the early days of 3AK's Beautiful Music format was that it stopped advertising the names of its on-air personalities, claiming that the format was important but not the announcers. (Sister Beautiful Music station 2CH [Sydney] had a similar policy).
In 1985, 3AK abruptly abandoned Beautiful Music in favour of the Adult contemporary format; ratings plummeted as rival station 3MP took the opportunity to relaunch itself as Easy Listening and the listeners simply switched from 3AK to 3MP.
Six months later, 3AK and Sydney radio station 2UE embarked on a networked talk-back format called CBC where talk programs were broadcast across both stations. The experiment was short lived and a ratings disaster. The John Blackman breakfast program came from the 3AK studios but everything else was transmitted from Sydney.
1988 - 1990 saw 3AK again become a purely talk format station, with such high profile names as Darren James (with Bruce Mansfield as Uncle Roy), Margaret Peacock, Don Chipp (a former Federal Liberal Party Minister and later the founder of and Senator for the Australian Democrats), Peter O'Callaghan (an ex 3XY and EON FM DJ), Keith McGowan and Bill Howie (a former 3AK Programme Director).
Only two other former 3AK employees, Technician Ralph Knight and Producer Warren Koglins were to be re-hired by the new owner. Interestingly, 3AK continued to broadcast from within the GTV9 complex for about 12 months, before moving to new studios at Craigieburn. There was talk of potential advertisers being warned off from 3AK.
At one stage, Corso contemplated moving away from the unsuccessful Italian format and was in talks with Bert Newton and his partner to sub-lease the station and provide an old-fashioned personality format. The Australian Broadcasting Tribunal knocked back the application, firstly on the grounds that it could not allow the leasing of stations, and secondly because of questions raised as to the suitability of Newton's partner. The former reason is interesting in the light of 3AK/SEN's present situation.
Corso was keen to sell 3AK because he had just obtained one of the first of the new narrowcast licences then being offered by the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal. Therefore, 3AK's Italian programming was transferred to the new narrow-cast station, 3BM, which transmitted from 1116 KC (ironically a wavelength that was later to be used by 3AK itself).
By 1996, Southern Cross had found itself owning 4 radio stations in Melbourne; 3AW, 3AK, 3EE, 3MP; whereas the legal limit is two stations in a single market. They sold 3AK to a Christian organisation, Fusion Media, who switched the format to a mixture of talk-back and magazine programs and easy listening music. The station was moved to studios in St. Kilda Road that had originally been built for 3EE (later Magic 693/Magic 1278); later moving again to Swan Street Richmond.
In 2006 it was announced that SEN had acquired rights to broadcast five Australian Football League matches per weekend.