Footy on the Radio!

 

Footy has been on the radio for nearly three quarters of a century. Radio broadcasting of Australian Rules Football matches expanded rapidly after World War II. Over the decades, the code has been covered by the ABC as well as many city and country commercial radio stations. Country radio stations have taken the feed of AFL games from the metropolitan broadcasters as well as providing coverage of local football. While television and, more recently, internet coverage of AFL games has proliferated, radio broadcasts remain very popular with footy followers in their homes and backyards, in their cars out on the roads and in the stands at football grounds.

 

Whether it was from the old valve radio in the lounge room at home, the transistor on the bench in the shed or via an earphone out walking the dog, footy fans have come to love the audio-only version of sports broadcasting. Matter of fact, I’ve got the thirst right now for footy on the radio!

 

Let’s take a trip down memory lane. On the last Saturday in September in 1966 perhaps you listened as I did to the ABC radio broadcast of the VFL Grand Final between Collingwood and St. Kilda

 

“Umpire Crouch has the ball in the centre. The rucks are there. All set to go at the start of the final quarter. And there’s the bounce of the ball. Ruckmen go to it and it’s big Thompson getting the tap for Collingwood…” called Noel Bailey in his trademark nasal-tone on Grand Final day 1966. Late in the final quarter, Noel Bailey at the microphone again commented…Out it goes, picked up by Breen. Breen fires at goal, there’s the kick by Breen, its bouncing, and it bounces through for a point. A point to St Kilda and the Saints are one point in front and we’ve been playing 27 minutes and 10 seconds.” A minute or so later, Bailey exclaimed…“and there’s the siren…” St. Kilda’s first (and only) premiership was in the bag.

[Source: https://soundcloud.com/abcgrandstand/1966-vfl-grand-final]

 

And in 1989 we listened as the Cats took on the Hawks in the decider. With Tim Lane, Peter Booth, Stan Alves and Tommy Hafey in the ABC radio commentary box,  at the twenty-seven minute mark in the final quarter, Tim Lane called, “Ablett! Ablett’s marked it! He can go for the Grand Final record of nine goals… This must be life number nine for the Cats… He has done it, the Cats live again.”

[Source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-09-25/finals-flashback-1989-vfl-grand-final/4980410]

 

In 1977, unable to watch the game on television, I listened to the final quarter of the Grand Final between North Melbourne and Collingwood on my car radio near Vinifera, Victoria. Clarke Hansen, Smokey Dawson and Doug Bigelow described the tense last few minutes. “Dunne comes in kicks, scores are level…Collingwood 76, North Melbourne 76…There’s the siren… Gentleman, keep your tickets, you will need them next week,” Graham ‘Smokey’ Dawson advised listeners. Perhaps ladies were to be admitted to the Grand Final replay free of charge!  What were the odds? Within the space of seven days, drawn Grand Finals in both Melbourne and Sydney. Unbelieveable!

Source: https://soundcloud.com/abcgrandstand/finals-flashback-1977-vfl-grand-final

 

Living in the country, the ABC was my source of VFL football broadcasts in the 1960s. Local football was covered on commercial stations such as 2AY Albury, 2WG Wagga Wagga and 3NE Wangaratta. My experience of commercial radio broadcasts of the VFL from Melbourne on stations such as 3KZ, 3UZ and 3AW occurred a little later in the 1970s when I lived near Swan Hill, Victoria. The incorporation of sponsor advertisements into the broadcast, such as “…checking the scores on the … [sponsor’s name] Scoreboard” is characteristic of commercial radio coverage of the football to this day.

 

Every station has its memorable callers and expert commentators, each with their idiosyncratic broadcasting style. Who could forget the pairing of ‘The Captain and the Major’ on 3KZ (“3KZ is football!”), or Graham ‘Smokey’ Dawson (3LO) describing “ball-bursters” just about every Saturday afternoon, or Peter Ewen (3LO) calling “He’s put it through!” or David ‘Swan’ McKay and Tommy Hafey confirming to Tim Lane or Peter Booth “We’ve got the close one”.

 

The tradition of around-the-grounds scores kept us all listening to the Match of the Day to hear how our team was going. Whether it be a game at the MCG, out at Waverley, down at Morrabin or at Kardinia Park, from Princes Park, the Junction Oval, or Victoria Park, Windy Hill, the Western Oval, Arden Street or Glenferrie Oval, even the Lake Oval, we were kept in touch with the latest scores. With six games on a Saturday afternoon in Melbourne (and nearby Geelong), the radio broadcast of the Match of the Day was a bonanza for footy fans. Around-the-grounds reporters such as Kevin ‘Skeeter’ Coghlan, Ian ‘Cleelo’ Cleeland, David ‘Swan’ McKay and Tommy Hafey gave listeners fresh scores at least four or five times a quarter.

 

So you could be banging away with a hammer in the shed or washing the car in the driveway, walking the dog in the park or sitting nervously in the kitchen awaiting that vital next update in scores, ears fixed on the trannie and kept well and truly in the football loop by the radio footy gurus.

 

Later, 3AW’s Rex Hunt added a personal style, full of double entendre and parody, with rhyming slang thrown in for good measure. His famous tags for players such as “Yaaaablett!!” and “My Fevola” are familiar to all radio footy listeners.

 

Then there are the expert commentators such as David Parkin, Bobby Skilton, Robert Walls and Kevin Bartlett who the listeners rely on for added insight and authoritative analysis. For good old tradesman-like commentary, we have enjoyed listening to past player perspectives of the likes of Peter ‘Crackers’ Keenan, E.J. Whitten and Tony Shaw.

 

All commentators need the support of a good stats man and who could do the job better than Jack Cameron. Drew Morphett, Tim Lane and Peter Booth in particular relied on Jack’s contribution of up-to-the-minute statistics on kicks, marks and handballs.

 

For artistry in radio sports broadcasting, we have been blessed with a handful of true professionals who have been honoured in the MCG Media Hall of Fame. Tim Lane, Drew Morphett, Peter Booth and Graham Dawson spring to mind. Radio commentators who have broadcast football with distinction for many decades also include Harry Bietzel, Bill Jacobs and Don Hyde.

 

Football is a national game and we listen to radio broadcasts from every state capital city provided by local commentators. Radio-men such as Peter Walsh, Roger Wills, George Grljusich, Clint Wheeldon and Quentin Hull have given us memories of football broadcasting to savour. Inevitably among the interstate commentators we find some that we enjoy listening to and some we wish we could switch off because of their annoying parochialism. How dare they favour the local team in their call?

 

But what about my personal favourites from radio days gone by? For the ability to excite, provide insight into the game and generate optimism about the contest, I can’t go past the pairing of Drew Morphett and Stan Alves on the ABC. For professionalism, Tim Lane wins hands down. For a voice from the past, I recall Noel Bailey’s commentary vividly. The best radio football caller of the current era goes to Gerard Whateley for mine. Then there are a few who have covered footy on both radio and TV whom I regard highly. The ABC veterans Ken Daikin and Doug Heywood as well as 3AW’s Tony Charlton and Dennis Cometti were standouts in this capacity.

 

What about country football radio commentators you may ask? From my Ovens and Murray/Riverina perspective, I would nominate 2AY’s (Albury) ‘voice of football’ Ron McGann and for Sunday morning Riverina footy wrap-ups and previews, Alan Hull from 2WG (Wagga Wagga).

 

I thoroughly enjoy listening to footy on the radio, especially broadcasts on ABC Grandstand. Like cricket broadcasting, the combination of skilful commentators and respected experts works well on radio football broadcasting. In the absence of vision, listeners create their own mental images of play, ground and weather conditions, and the crowd. The atmosphere seeps through directly and indirectly in the radio broadcast from the crowd noise, as well as the full range of emotions, including the anticipation, excitement, frustration, scorn and joy, reflected in the voices of commentators. You can go to the esky and grab a beer, check the tension on the fishing line or have a quiet conversation and still not miss the action. Sometimes, just drifting in and out of listening to the broadcast, picking up the score from time to time, is the most relaxing way to follow footy on the radio, especially if your team is not playing in the broadcast game or they are ten goals up with only a quarter to play.

 

Who are some of your favourite radio football voices?

 

Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.

 

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About Peter Clark

is a lifetime Geelong supporter. Hailing from the Riverina, he is now entrenched on the NSW South Coast. His passion for footy was ignited by attending Ovens and Murray League matches in the 1960's with his father. After years of watching, playing and coaching, now it is time for some serious writing about his favourite subjects… footy, especially country footy, and cricket.

Comments

  1. Wonderful stuff, Peter. I’m always amazed that, given the pace of the game, they somehow manage to paint a sufficiently detailed picture of the whole scene unfolding before them which allows you and me, the listeners, to ‘see’ the game unfold. And some quirky characters, too. What a rich vein of talent you’ve mined here.

  2. Really enjoyable stuff here, Peter, and brought back many memories. When I lived in Alice Springs we used to get the ABC and I was listening one day when they heard something had happened at Kardinia Park. Cross over to our man on the spot who said – due to ABC rules and lawyers – “ I can’t tell you what’s happened, but Leigh Matthews was standing nearby”. Neville Bruns had a bit of a sore head apparently.

    In recent times, although not too PC, I have loved Rex Hunt. Was at Princes Park one day with my son and the opening bounce brought forth “ Bang, the umpire put it down, and up went Bananaby French against Brogan Josh”. Port v Carlton, work it out. Some of it was over the top, but it was a hoot to listen to.

  3. Mark Duffett says

    I remember the late Clinton Grybas as a very professional operator – taken far too soon.

  4. Agree with you Peter about the ABC’s Noel Bailey.

    We’re talking of an era long before Dawson, ‘Smooth’ Booth, Tim Lane or the sadly departed Drew Morphett.

    The old ABC team headed up by Bailey was excellent. Mind you we’re talking about half-a-century – and more — back in time.

    More recently in country footy Dick “I’ll Call The Board’ Turner would never be forgotten by central and northern Victorians. Singers Rocket is certain to agree with Dick’s inclusion.

  5. Matt Watson says

    Hey Peter.
    I’m still old school. I prefer the radio commentary no matter the game.
    I got used to listening to the broadcast in Melbourne in the seventies when I’d be punted to the garage and an old antique radio, because my mum didn’t want to listen to the footy.
    I used to love listening to Tommy Lahiff and his aged drawl!
    Still listen to cricket on the radio.
    Favourite broadcasters include Tim Lane, Peter Booth, Peter Keenan and Jim Maxwell. Alistair Nicholson is also great.
    Keep listening.
    Cheers,

  6. Being a Geelong supporter in the 1970’s 3GL was a staple for me.

    3KZ with the Captain ( Jack Dyer) and the Major (Ian Major) was also very good.

    One dreaded 3DB, 3UZ. A chap would be lining up from 20 yards out, walking in, then they’ve jumped at Doomben!

    No fun the racing/footy radio dichotomy.

    Glen!

  7. Russel Hansen says

    Great read Peter!
    I love ABC grandstand NRL & cricket
    I also love Tim Lane – his call of this iconic sporting moment at the Sydney Olympics “130m to go – under the Olympic flame” is brilliant …
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XoHiFHAg0_Q

  8. Peter,

    Some great memories there. Growing up in the 50’s and beyond radio coverage was a big factor in keeping up with the games as they were happening.

    As a Cats fan living in Melbourne I tuned in to 3GL a lot on a Saturday. Ivor Grundy and Leo O’Halloran calling a big Geelong win at Kardinia Park was music to my ears.

    Other notable match callers back in the day included Norman Banks, Dick Mason, Craig Kelly (not the politician), Harry Beitzel, Bill Jacobs, Jack Dyer and Ian Major. Ron Casey and Lou Richards managed to squeeze in the odd word in between races on 3DB.

    Around the grounds we heard from luminaries such as Sergio Silvagni (a hoarse whisperer), George Ferry, Polly Perkins (who often got the job at Geelong on a freezing day), John Beckwith, Gerald Burke and Ray Walker.

    A little later it was Ian Cooper, Gary Brice, Ian Robertson, John Murphy, Tom Hafey and David McKay giving us the good oil. Down in the rooms it was Tom ‘Turk’ Lahiff (can you hear me Harry?) or Laurence Costain talking to the players after a hard game.

    Ah Memories!

    Cheers, Burkie

  9. Mark ‘Swish’ Schwerdt says

    Enjoyed this Peter, thanks.

    Some of the fellows mentioned in this piece below may elicit similar memories.

    https://www.footyalmanac.com.au/1973-the-vfl-around-the-groundsmen/

  10. Thanks Mark,

    What a great record of the around-the-groundsmen.
    I remember many of them.

    Peter

  11. Luke Reynolds says

    Great piece Peter.

    Tim Lane and Peter Booth were my early favourite commentators on radio. Still not sure I’ve heard a better combination.

    I did enjoy Rex Hunt in the 1990’s but reckon his act became stale and predictable. Anthony Hudson and Clinton Grybas were perfect foils for him and don’t think Rex was ever the same after their departures, sadly very untimely for Grybas.

    Was a huge Gerard Whateley fan when he was the ABC’s main man, and still follow him on SEN.

    While Whateley and Lane are still magnificent callers, I probably enjoy the work of Tony Leonard on 3AW more than anyone else these days. Accurate caller, clever humour, sounds like he is having a ball. Loved (and miss) his work on the Coodabeen Champions.

  12. Wow, I really enjoyed this, Peter. Talk about a trip down memory lane.

    I really believe that footy is the poorer for the loss of that old-time bonhomie in radio calling. Stations like TripleM are close to unlistenable. Maybe Rex has much to answer for?

  13. Nice work Peter.

    I was very much a fan of Rex’s 3AW calls with Hudson in the 90’s and also Barassi when he’d forget he was no longer coaching and lose it during any undisciplined plays. It was the drawing near the last days of going “around the grounds” which I’m sure we all miss. Being based in Perth though it was rare you’d get the entire call before being transferred to the West Coast or Fremantle match with George Grljusich and Karl Langdon at the helm who were never the most balanced callers.

    While mainly listening to Rex for kicks I grew to appreciate Lane & Booth on ABC/3LO. Their call of the ’89 epic was sublime. There’s the excitement and urgency in Lane’s voice when Shane Hamilton brings the Cats to within 11 points late in the match, following by Stan Alves announcing, “I nearly started to barrack! Somebody help me! I wanna go to the toilet!”. Despite being a Cats supporter I listen to a recording of that call when I go for a run (if anything for the pace of the game) and almost every time that moment happens I get caught out thinking, “S**t! We could win it this time!”.

    Lane suggests Ablett’s fourth goal (the snap in the pocket after leaping over Dear and Flanigan) having the same effect as Jesaulenko’s mark and Tom Hafey being almost blase about it, “Well that’s very likely.”

    But then there’s the hard facts from Booth when David Cameron has the ball with less than a minute to go, “He’s taking far too much time………far too much time.”

    Miss the combination but good to know Lane’s still in the box.

  14. Sean Curtain says

    Peter

    Great memories, thanks for reminding me. Agree with Luke on Lane and Booth

    And yes, remember dreading your game being on UZ and constant interruptions with the races.

    My folks had a holiday house at Blairgowrie in the late 70s and early 80s with no TV, so many many memories of winter weekends there listening to the radio, around the grounds especially if Dad had it locked on 3LO and we were out.

    I still prefer Sat and Sunday afternoons with the headphones in walking, shopping or gardening listing to a game.

    Agree on TripleM, I feel as though I am eavesdropping on a bunch of mates bantering, in jokes and ribbing each other, with no reference to the game or score!

    Sean

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