Sir John Beals Chandler arrived in Australia in 1907 as a near penniless 20-year-old English immigrant.

Eking a meagre living cutting cane in Mossman North Queensland, he saved a small amount of capital, allowing him to put his entrepreneurial flair to work. First opening a Brisbane hardware store in 1913, he graduated to selling radios and radio parts to ride the wave of progress that flowed from the availability of electricity and rapid take up of radios in the earlier 20th century. The business was further propelled by the formation of a hire-purchase business in 1932 to make his products more affordable to the wider public during the depression years.

Sir John established Brisbane’s first commercial radio station, 4BC, to enable his retail business to be widely promoted: it proved to be a strategic masterstroke. It was the forerunner of a major radio empire including the State’s number 1 station 4BH together with a chain of country stations. As they flourished, due in large part to Chandler’s programming innovation, so too did his retail sales. Franchises for iconic brands such as Sunbeam, AWA, and Radiola followed on the back of retail success and the promotional power of the radio network.

The AWA agency facilitated yet another opportunity for Sir John when, during World War II, Chandlers in partnership with AWA installed and serviced radio, radar, and echo-sounding equipment on allied and Australian ships. Chandlers stores, which grew to 25 across Queensland and Northern New South Wales following the War became Queensland’s number 1 electrical retailer. Following Sir John’s death in 1962, the family-controlled business continued to thrive under the leadership of his son Frank, before being sold in 1977 to cover Queensland death duties following Frank’s death.

Despite the extent of Sir John’s commercial activities and even at their height, he served with distinction as Brisbane’s Lord Mayor from 1940-1952 including the challenging years of the Second World War. He was also a Member of the Legislative Assembly from 1943-1947.

Self-assurance and tenacity enabled Sir John Chandler to succeed on many levels from being an early adopter of technology, to pioneering commercial radio, building a major retail network, providing outstanding civic and political leadership and generously contributing to the community. A committed Anglican, Sir John lived out his belief that capitalism should operate in the interests of the many rather than the few.

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