Radio Days

In October 2013 ABC Radio announced that, due to new arrangements with Cricket Australia, it would not be able to broadcast ball-by-ball descriptions of Sheffield Shield matches.

It is the summer of 1968/69. I am ten years old, living in the Melbourne suburb of Mentone. On Saturday mornings I read my cricket magazines in the backyard at 6 Cremona Street.

On Saturday afternoons, when I’m not at the beach or selling  the last edition of The Herald and Sporting Globe at the Mentone Bowls Club, I might be listening to the cricket at home. Maybe in the shade of the apple tree, waiting for the pigeons to come home.  Picturing batsmen and bowlers, umpires and fielders, ovals and cities.  Picturing cathedrals, greyhound tracks, cooling breezes, tropical rain, grandstands. I’m only just learning to make mental maps of the fielding positions.

Mostly there’s Test cricket on the radio, of course. That summer the West Indies visited: Garfield Sobers, Clive Lloyd, Rohan Kanhai, Wes Hall, Lance Gibbs, and a middle-order batsman, Seymour Nurse, whose name I was too innocent to appreciate.

The radio regularly crosses to Sheffield Shield games, to the Gabba in Queensland, the WACA in Western Australia, the SCG in New South Wales, the Adelaide Oval in South Australia. I picture a pink plastic stencil of Australia, a stencil used for geography classes at St Patrick’s, a stencil with no Tasmania. (They were not part of the Sheffield Shield yet).

The commentators take me interstate as they describe 20 minutes of play after lunch in Brisbane, a few overs of action in Sydney before the national news, some early overs from Western Australia before the horses jump at Flemington.

The players are names, rather than faces. They are in faraway places but I can imagine the bowler slamming a foot into the hard pitch and hurling the ball down the pitch, a strip of grass as long as my backyard. I can imagine, courtesy of the talking men, the batsman replying with a step or two and a flick of the wrist. The men talk about players on the fringes, about up-and-comers, and about state stalwarts. I recognise their names from The Herald and from my cricket magazines: John Scholes, Eric Freeman, Derek Chadwick, Dave Renneberg, Sam Trimble…

I am under an apple tree in Mentone but I’m travelling across the country.

It is the summer of 1974-75. I am 16 years old, living in Geelong. I play Test cricket now. In the backyard with my neighbour John. We play Sheffield Shield too. The Hills Hoist is cover, the Clarke pool – its navy blue corrugated steel dented red – is mid-off. There is no on-side, save for a leg-glance off the hip into the rhubarb patch.

The transistor radio is by the bin at the bowler’s end. The men in their commentary boxes, their watchtowers, are calling the Ashes, Lillee and Thomson pummelling and pounding the English players. Busy as they are with the English tour, the radio men find time to cross to Shield games, to places I have yet to visit, to ovals beyond the backyard boundary, beyond the border. To grounds where Alan Sieler is bowling left-arm medium pace, Malcolm Francke is twirling his leg-spin for Queensland from the Vulture Street end, Jeff Hammond is opening the bowling at Adelaide Oval from the Cathedral end, Peter Toohey is making runs at the SCG, Robbie Langer is making hay at the WACA…

It is 1980. I am 21 years old and living in student share-houses in Melbourne.  Living with my head in the clouds.  Studying. I play records more than the radio but on weekend drives back to Geelong I press the buttons of the VW car radio and hear that Mick Malone is making good use of the Fremantle Doctor, Barry Causby is enjoying the flat pitch at the Adelaide Oval, Graeme Beard is bowling from the Paddington end at the SCG, Stuart Saunders is keeping Tasmania in the game at the TCA ground in Hobart. And that tropical rain has put somewhat of a dampener on proceedings in Brisbane.  I am not in thrall to the commentary as I once was, but in a time of change it’s good to have company, it’s good to know some things remain.

It is 1990 and in the summer before our first baby I am trying to grow vegetables in our Williamstown backyard: tomatoes, potatoes, pumpkin, cauliflower, zucchini. The transistor radio is beside me as I weed and dig and plant.  Jack Potter and Keith Stackpole are talking up Victoria’s chances as I ponder the future. A boy? A girl? A bowler, a batter?

It is 2000. Three children. (A girl, then two boys.)  A bigger house.  Rooms to paint.  Wall after wall after wall. Ceilings.  In the mornings music gets me rolling, a paint-flicked CD player playing Lucinda Williams and The Blackeyed Susans and Springsteen. In the afternoons, with tiredness and the heat taking its toll, I turn on the transistor, a Father’s Day gift from the Mother’s Club school stall. And there, sure enough, from inside the palm-size Sanyo 2 Band Receiver, is Jim Maxwell or Drew Morphett or Stacky yacking about spin or swing or seam, about drives and glances and cuts, about state games. Telling stories set in places I still haven’t seen.

In September 2003 we drive to Queensland for the school holidays. We spend most of our time on the Sunshine Coast. On our way home we stop by the Brisbane River for a few hours and then head out of the city. On the map I see ‘Vulture Street’ and ‘Stanley Street’. We pass the Gabba, seemingly in the blink of an eye. I’m surprised at how close the road and the traffic are to the gates and turnstiles.

In November 2007 we holiday in Tasmania and visit Bellerive Oval after a tour of Cadburys. I am pleased to be at the ground but through no fault of its own it doesn’t have the childhood radio memories of the grounds on the bigger island. That pink plastic stencil never told the whole story.

In September 2010 we fly to Sydney for a week. We see the sights, just like other tourists. From the Sydney Tower I catch a glimpse of the SCG. I wonder not only which end is the Randwick end and which is Paddington end, but which stand (Brewongle, O’Reilly, Churchill?) is home, is eyrie, is sentinel for the radio men.

It is the summer of 2012/13. I can’t say I know the names of Shield cricketers like I did years ago. If it’s hot and clear and still I’ll be out snorkelling and, like the zebra fish and the stingrays, I don’t give cricket much thought. But if I’m home before stumps I’ll turn on the transistor and hope to catch a few scores from around the country,  from grounds that I’ve laid my eyes on, if only briefly, if only in passing, from a tower or a passing car.

It is the summer of 2013/14. What a father loses a son gains. ABC Radio will no longer broadcast ball-by-ball descriptions of Sheffield Shield cricket, but it will increase its coverage of A-League soccer matches. My 21-year-old son Jesse likes cricket (he will be at Gabba with a mate for the first Ashes Test) but he loves soccer. His phone will give him the soccer scores over the summer but, if he wishes,  the radio, the transistor he bought me one Father’s Day, will give him voices and stories, places and geography, banter and camaraderie. It will all be to a different rhythm, for we live in changing times.

I will weed my vegie patch. I will look at rooms that need re-painting. Go snorkelling. I will potter about the house. Hang out the washing. Have afternoon naps. Cool down with my daughter’s daughter in the canvas wading pool. Pick apples from the tree by the garage. And now and then I might wonder who’s bowling from the Prindiville Stand end at the WACA, who’s making runs at the Adelaide Oval, whether the seagulls have arrived at Bellerive, if the rain’s falling at the Gabba.

About Vin Maskell

Founder and editor of Stereo Stories, a partner site of The Footy Almanac. Likes a gentle kick of the footy on a Sunday morning, when his back's not playing up. Been known to take a more than keen interest in scoreboards - the older the better.

Comments

  1. Gorgeous Vin. Sheer poetry. “Cricket on the radio” was the eternal background to the endless summer days of childhood. I would come down from the country and spend the whole summer holidays with my grandparents in Adelaide. Going to every day of every Shield match with a tranny in one ear (mono only).
    “A cricket administrator is a man who knows the (short term) price of everything and the value of nothing.”
    I am dyeing my creams in Perth Glory purple.

  2. cowshedend says:

    Brilliant,evocative,many thanks Vin

  3. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    Thanks Vin certainly bought back some memories such a amazing stupid decision by
    Cricket Australia going to all the grounds was always a priority when growing up so I could get a clearer picture of the commentary in my own head when in Sydney went to the SCG when Nobesey and Boof were playing for the dreaded big V
    I loved the Shield Stalwarts Sam Trimble Peter Allen Qld Ian Brayshaw WA and many others as a regular at Ad Oval since 73 with Tim Harcourt when 10 fair chance I may
    have met you Peter B
    A clear memory of Shield Games is meeting Bobby and Rob Rose what a Brilliant Family I still love Sheffield Shield Cricket

  4. Phillip Dimitriadis says:

    Beautifully played Vin. I can’t believe I used to get so excited listening to the Sheffield Shield and hoping Victorian ‘stars’ like Sean Graf, Jeff Moss, Julien Wiener, Ian Callan, and Rod McCurdy might one day dominate Australian cricket.

    Still can’t get to sleep without the radio. Helps put all those thoughts back into the pavilion.

  5. Peter Fuller says:

    Vin,
    A beautiful exposition of the way in which the distinctive tones of ABC radio provided the background sound for summer for all sports-loving Australians with conscious memory before television came to dominate cricket.
    You’ve also captured the distinctive character of each State’s commentators. My focus was more on Tests, although we certainly followed the Shield assiduously. My earliest memories are of snatches of the commentary during the MCC tour of Australia 1954-55 (the series dominated by Frank Tyson, who became one of those signature ABC voices). I remember keeping a score-book for some of the 1958-59 Tests, the dreadful opening day in Brisbane when the Poms made little more than 100 in a full day, slightly redeemed by an unbeaten Norman O’Neill innings to win the match. Then there was the excitement of Worrell’s West Indies in the memorable 1960-61 tour. We were listening to that epic last afternoon in Brisbane. As I recall, Clive Harburg was at the mike for the finish, and he had to correct himself, when Ian Meckiff was run out on the penultimate ball: “West Indies have won…….no,…….. it’s a tie”.
    Only the home city tests were telecast at that stage, as I remember it, and then just the final session of each day’s play; and, as you capture so well, there were always other things going on, so that the portability of the radio was the means of keeping in touch.
    The magic of the radio, bringing Alan McGilvray’s summary of the over-night play from England in five minutes before the 7.45 news. Victor Richardson, Lindsay Hassett, Noel Bailey,Michael Charlton. Memories ah “the way we were.”

  6. Rick Kane says:

    Wonderful Vin, it took me back to long, long agao.

    One of Dave Warner’s (the singer) great songs starts with these lines:

    John Arlott makes me chuckle
    With his stories of the forties from the Oval

    The song is about an ordinary person’s ordinary life but that first line, like your essay, captures a sense of belonging to something much bigger.

    I had drifted far from cricket during the 90s. It was the Australian tour to India in 2001 that brought me back. And it was listening to the series on the radio, in the kitchen, while the family got on with this, that and the other all around me, which really hooked me. I had forgotten how much more intimate the game was, listening on the radio.

    Your essay brought these things back to my mind, so thanks.

  7. Luke Reynolds says:

    Absolutely fantastic Vin. I also grew up listening to Shield games and barracking for my Victorian heroes who would rarely be seen on TV. Wayne Phillips, Warren Ayres, Jamie Siddons, Darren Ramshaw, Darren Berry, Tony Dodemaide etc. Trevor Barsby, Shaun Young, Shane George, Mark McPhee and Dirk Tazelaar from interstate. I’m a soccer fan too, the extra coverage for the A-League is fantastic but gutted for the Sheffield Shield, as good a sporting comp in the world as there is but sadly devalued by Cricket Australia and very much underrated by the public. I bowled thousands of overs growing up with a tranny on the ABC at the bowlers end.

    Rick that 2001 series in India rates with the 2005 Ashes as the best cricket I have ever seen.

  8. Vin,
    Well done.
    If I am watching Test cricket I turn the TV sound down and listen to the ABC. I love the radio commentary.
    Have done ever since being banished to the garage as a kid because my mum didn’t want to listen.
    The radio in the garage was an antique. If I can, I will listen to cricket on the ABC all day.
    Radio provided me with the last moments of the MCG Test against England in 1982-83, and the Adelaide Oval Test against the West Indies in 1991-92.
    Love it. Love cricket. Love sport on radio…

  9. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    Yes the memory of Alan McGilvray with the report of English games against the county
    Sides before the news . Folks trying to remember the commentators names there was
    Les Favell and Eric Fritzy Freeman at Ad Oval , Dave Rannenburg at the SCG
    Sam Trimble at The Gabba , Who else ? Thanks

  10. Dennis Cometti from the WACA, actually. A great cricket caller, it is oft forgotten.

  11. Ball by ball and colour commentator companions in the 60’s/70’s:
    Alan McGilvray and Lindsay Hassett – Tests
    Bob Bower and Victor Yorke Richardson – Adelaide (Test cricketer, Sturt footballer and Chappell’s grandfather)
    I remember Neville Oliver (not fondly) doing ball by ball of Tests in the 80’s
    Other states?

  12. Rocket Nguyen says:

    The Game’s Not The Same Without McGilvray….

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