WE all take for granted these days that footy games right across the board will be broadcast on local radio.
Major city stations, commercial as well as Government-funded ABC outlets, cover the AFL in the southern states while community radio has largely taken over with previews, direct calls and round-ups in rural and regional footy leagues.
But it wasn’t always the case, of course, because radio is a distinctly 20th century invention.
Melbourne-based football writers and historians have tracked down what is believed to be the very first call of a VFL match. The AFL, as we know it today, was known as the Victorian F.L. right up to the late Eighties.
Anyway the first direct broadcast of an Aussie Rules match came in 1925 on ABC metropolitan station 3AR, now known as 774 Melbourne.
Journalist Wally ‘Jumbo’ Sharland from the old pink paper, The Sporting Globe, covered a VFL match. (The Globe was published on pink newsprint).
The Victorian Country Football League was founded not long after Sharland’s call with radio inserting itself into footy overall as the second arm of the media’s coverage of football.
The landscape changed irrevocably as radio became more and more popular in the 1930s during the Great Depression.
Let’s take a look back at how the first arm of the electronic media influenced football.
BY THE late 1950s the Victorian Country Football League had to consider a new development in the media. Football had enjoyed a strong relationship with newspapers, with the game benefiting from the publicity and newspaper owners benefiting from the strong readership.
Football had also enjoyed a strong relationship with radio stations since Sharland covered the historic first match for 3AR. Broadcasts of VFL games were popular throughout Victoria in the 1930s -– so popular that, in 1937, the secretary of the Korong Vale Football League, J. A. Gibson, said broadcasts of VFL matches were ruining country football. He made his comment after his league’s decision to disband following the withdrawal of Wedderburn and Korong Vale which had left Boort and Quambatook as the only clubs.
“People would sooner sit at home and listen to League football broadcasts than see the local lads in action,” he was quoted as saying.
In 1939, the Shepparton Advertiser suggested there might be a broadcast of a country match when it described a furore in the Goulburn Valley association.
A match had been abandoned because Lemnos players had failed to make it to Wunghnu because of flooding near the town. After a decision was made to play the match at a later date, the newspaper reported “a radio broadcast of the final would be granted if requested”. (Later, there was no record of whether the match was broadcast.) But it was not until 1950 that Shepparton radio station 3SR began to make regular broadcasts of local Goulburn Valley matches.
TELEVISION was introduced to Australia in 1956, just in time for the Olympic Games in Melbourne. It was a time of economic growth and prosperity, and Australians were eager to spend their increasing incomes on comforts at home. The chance to watch the Olympics stimulated the purchase of televisions, and the rate of sales skyrocketed thereafter. From 1956 to 1961 the number of TV licence holders increased from 70,000 to 1.2 million.
Amid this early growth, television executives in Melbourne were eager to screen football, preferably entire matches, but football officials were wary. In the four seasons from 1957 to 1960, the final quarter of selected VFL matches was broadcast into metropolitan Melbourne. The two commercial stations, Channel 7 and Channel 9, and one government station, ABC-Channel 2, provided coverage. The quality was shaky at first, but soon improved, and viewers relished the chance to see their heroes on the screen.
Football panel shows such as The Pelaco Inquest (which was named after the shirt company which sponsored the show) and a quiz show called The Big Game became popular. Players who were dressed in their footy gear were contestants on the quiz show. The era of football celebrities was under way.
AMID the excitement, however, VFL officials were concerned about whether broadcasts of games would lessen crowds. In 1961 the VFL discontinued its relationship with television stations and there were no more broadcasts of matches, either live or delayed. The decision appeared to be vindicated when total attendance in 1961 was 340,000 more than the previous year. In 1962, the VFL allowed replays of matches as long as they were screened at least an hour after the finish of the match. In 1964, after the formation of Channel 10, all three commercial channels screened replays of matches, as did the ABC’s Channel 2. These telecasts were beamed into metropolitan and provincial stations.
In 1961 television executives made last-minute approaches to the VFL about televising the grand final between Hawthorn and Footscray. The VFL knocked back the offer, partly because it did not want to affect attendances at country finals. Bendigo Football League secretary Ivan O’Donnell later wrote to the VFL to commend it on its decision. The gate-takings from Bendigo’s preliminary final between Kyneton and Sandhurst were £1271. O’Donnell said a telecast of the VFL match would have reduced the gate by £200. In all, 17 country competitions held finals matches on the day of the 1961 VFL grand final. Five of those games were senior grand finals: Ballarat District, Port Fairy District, Picola and District, North Central and Waranga-North East.
Mr. O’Donnell used to host the Sixties BFL panel show on BCV-8, a panel which included Bendigo sports identity Basil Ashman.
3BO radio caller Dick Turner would read out all the previous round’s scores with the favourite among listeners his ‘Bearsssssss Lagooooooon--Serpentine defeated --------“ as he held onto the first two words in the Loddon Valley club’s name.
The VCFL continued to thank the VFL for its refusal to allow live telecasts in subsequent years. The VFL stuck to its decision until 1977 when it allowed live telecasts of the grand final between North Melbourne and Collingwood, which was drawn, as well as the rematch, won by the Shinboners.
Of the money it reaped for the telecasts, the VFL granted $34,000 to the VCFL for the promotion of junior football.
I RECALL quite vividly taking a radio to Geelong’s home matches at Kardinia Park in the late Fifties.
The early-ish transistor radios were roughly the size of the cabin bags we stash in aircraft overhead lockers these days. Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration but they were bulky.
We used to balance these trannies on one shoulder and it was quite an art to keep them on one shoulder or the other for the entire four quarters. With the speakers aligned to an ear.
And then when it came time for the finals we’d pack into the Melbourne-bound train, trannies and all, and head off to the MCG.
Of course there were regional footy competitions being played in the Geelong area, just as there are these days.
The St. Mary’s club, still part of the major league Geelong F. L, contested their home games on the oval adjacent to Simonds Stadium and there were netball competitions (known then as women’s basketball) played each Saturday on the courts section of Kardinia Park ---- just in from the Latrobe Terrace entrance.
We’d watch the last part of the final quarter of matches St. Mary’s was playing on our way back through the park from a Geelong home VFL fixture.
With thanks to footy writer and historian Paul Daffey who’s researched the history of the Victorian Country Football League, right back to its foundation in the late 1920s.
Richard’s tips for Round 8: Eaglehawk by 16 points, Castlemaine by 23, Kangaroo Flat by 40, Golden Square by 7 and Strath Storm by 47 vs. South Bendigo (QEO, holiday Monday)
Running total for 2016: 29.
By Richard Jones