In 1944 the late Miss Adelaide Miethke made a trip to Alice Springs as a member of a delegation looking at the Royal Flying Doctor Service. The RFDS radio network provided people living in extreme isolation on vast cattle stations, hundreds of kilometres from the nearest town, with direct access to medical services. It allowed them to send and receive telegrams and, through special broadcasts such as the irreverently named "galah session", to keep informed and in touch with one another. Miss Miethke recognised that children living in the outback were very shy and lacked social contact and she felt that the radio could be used to provide a social aspect to the school life of bush children. She saw the transceiver as a potential teaching aid which would enable the children of station families to participate in lessons conducted by trained teachers, and to communicate with fellow students. Although written correspondence had been a standard means of education since 1920, the idea of oral lessons for 'invisible' pupils, making use of air waves, was completely original. The idea caught the imaginations of local educationalists and the South Australian Education Department.
By mid 1950 experimental lessons were in progress and on 8 June 1951 the Alice Springs School of the Air (ASSOA) was officially opened. There were three sessions per week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10 to 10.30 am and teachers from the Alice Springs School took turns in presenting sessions such as stories, word building and social studies, with the radio under the control of an RFDS operator. The lessons were scripted by the teachers and "rehearsed" before they went to air. Initially they were planned for one way transmission but they soon became two-way, incorporating ideas such as "Trouble Corner" for anyone having difficulty with their correspondence work (at the time coming from Adelaide). Students could call in and ask a teacher for help.
It wasn't long before other Schools of the Air started up, all of them, like Alice Springs, using the Flying Doctor radio to reach students in remote locations, who were working on correspondence lessons mailed from some distant city.
Tom Kissell was appointed head of the broadcast team in 1950 and continued in this role until 1951. Miss Molly Ferguson was the first full time teacher appointed in 1952 and continued until 1955. The school moved from its original location in a staffroom at the Alice Springs School to a bigger room at the Anzac Hill High School, and then into a building at the Flying Doctor base.
However, until 1973 the role of the Alice Springs School of the Air continued to be supplementary to that of the South Australian Correspondence School. All courses were produced in Adelaide, and all lessons sent back there for marking. In Alice Springs teachers simply provided a 20 minutes radio lesson to each grade, and occasionally visited 'on air' students on patrol.
While that educational service was certainly effective, it suffered many shortcomings. The correspondence material was impersonal and sometimes quite irrelevant and compounded feelings of isolation from the school (on the part of both students and supervisors). There were many delays in the return of corrected lessons and there was little allowance for individual differences in needs, interests or abilities.
In 1974 the Alice Springs School of the Air became completely autonomous and took on the role of correspondence school for the Central Australian (NT) region. Immediately the school's enrolment doubled and for the first time all students had access to a transceiver and were able to participate in radio lessons.
By 1975 the school had 123 students and three administration staff. A new school building was needed to accommodate them all and work began on the current premises at Head Street in 1976.
In 2001 the school celebrated 50 years of providing education to students in isolated locations.