NRL needs more choice with radio coverage

jamesb Roar Guru

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“It’s long enough, it’s high enough and it’s straight between the posts,” Legendary 2SM commentator Frank Hyde was often regarded the best radio caller in the history of rugbyleague.

He called every grand final game from 1953 to 1983.

In the past there were other terrific commentators who called the game, such as Col Pearce, Allan Marks, Tiger Black and John O’Reilly.

In the eighties Greg Hartley and Peter Peters also had a success in calling rugby league with their programme, “Hollywood and Zorba”.

During that period, there were many Sydney radio stations that covered the game, such as ABC, 2SM, 2KY, 2UE and 2GB. In the old days, there’d be one game on Saturday 3pm, while on Sunday afternoon at 3pm, there would be six or seven matches been played at the same time. This is where most radio stations would use the term “around the grounds”.

Being from the Illawarra, in that era, one of the local stations “2 Double 0″, now i98FM, would broadcast every Illawarra Steelers game with John Hobbs calling the action. Today, the Steelers are no more, but live on in the spirit of the St.George-Illawarra Dragons, with i98FM taking broadcast from 2GBs coverage.

What I like to know from the Roarers here today, in the past, did your local radio station call every game of your local NSWRL (NRL) team. Does this still occur, or is there now a similar agreement to that of Illawarra’s i98 FM?

Also Queenslanders, has radio coverage changed in the last 30 or 40 years or so, particularly before and after the Brisbane Broncos and Gold Coast Tweed Giants entered the comp in 1988?

Back to Sydney radio. In the nineties, 2UE, lead by Ray Hadley and the Continuous Call Team started to dominate the ratings and became the number one station in calling rugby league. By the end of the 1999 season, the NRL controversially awarded the commercial radio rights to 2GB. It meant that 2UE weren’t allowed to call the games.

This is the key reason why the NRL doesn’t have much choice in radio coverage. Here is a series of events that followed:

In season 2000, 2GB were calling the NRL, while 2UE decided to change their programme from Continuous Call Team to “The Talking League Team”, which was a rugby league talk show (with an emphasis on comedy) on the weekends. In a remarkable turn of events, 2UE were still able to beat 2GB in the ratings despite the fact that 2GB were calling the games.

The trend continued in season 2001 with 2GB still coming second to 2UE. By the end of the 2001 season, 2GB owner, John Singleton, sacked the entire 2GB team. He then brought over Hadley’s near entire team from 2UE to 2GB.

Hadley’s team went back as been the Continuous Call Team. 2UE continued the format that was employed previously by Hadley’s team. However this time round, 2GB were beating 2UE in the ratings.

At the end of season 2002, 2UE discontinued “The Talking League Team” show, and went to normal programming. That was 2UE’s last involvement in rugby league programming.

While the Continuous Call Team has been popular with its irreverent look at rugby league with parody songs and hijinks among the members, some critics have suggested that most of the time, they hardly talk about football. For many years Hadley would criticise Channel Nine’s The Footy Show because the show was lightweight with league content and concentrated on comedy.

A bit of irony there on Hadley’s behalf.

Nowadays, Hadley calls the second match on Friday nights on Nine, while Andrew Moore has taken over as chief caller on 2GB.

In 2007, Triple M won the rights to broadcast Monday night football, as been the only FM station to do so. 2GB and ABC Grandstand continue to provide choices for league fans.

The current arrangements with these radio stations (2GB and Triple M) end this year. Many have criticised the NRL for not giving the game more exposure on radio, and therefore limiting the game to only three radio stations. The radio rights fee is very minimal, if anything the NRL should allow more radio stations to cover the matches as it would be more beneficial to the game.

There are many instances where a game of NRL is on, but there’s no coverage of it on radio. For example, this year on ANZAC Day, there wasn’t any coverage of the Melbourne Storm v New Zealand Warriors match.

In the past on Saturday night, 2GB didn’t cover the 7:30pm match, while the ABC would cover the Super Rugby over an NRL game. Thankfully things are slowly improving in that area, with 2GB now covering the 7:30pm Saturday night match, while over at the ABC, there’s the online option if you want to listen to the Super Rugby game, and therefore the NRL match would be covered and no sport misses out.

The NRL in their next radio broadcast deal should dismiss the commercial agreements that 2GB and Triple M have in place, and allow as many radio stations to broadcast the NRL. I am not after ten or twelve stations to call the NRL, but allow flexibility with broadcasting. An example, Triple M, only calls the Monday night game. In future, Triple M should be allowed to call the other weekend games.

It would be good to see more young callers coming through the ranks in radio commentary, and perhaps go further in their respective careers by calling matches for TV networks. Ray Warren is getting on, while Hadley is in his late fifties.

The only agreement the NRL should have in place is that every NRL game must be broadcasted on radio in some way shape or form. The other benefit for radio stations is when it comes to out of town matches, they could always call the matches from their interactive studio via a television monitor.

It’s certainly a smart way for a radio stations to save money from travelling and accommodation.

2GB have been doing this standard practice in the last few years.

Listening to footy on the radio might come from the dinosaur age.

Today, fans have choices like Pay TV, getting live updates from sporting sites, like The Roar, or updated scores from mobile devices. Then again, there are a few websites that you could get live streaming of the matches. Some reliable, while others, well, the least said about them, the better.

But I still think radio as a medium shouldn’t be discarded. If anything it’s the perfect thing to have (radio) when your at work, going for a Sunday drive, or if you are partially occupied with something else. Radio shouldn’t be taken for granted.

At the end of the day the NRL need to have more choice, more options and more exposure on radio. In future there may be more alternatives to “Don’t touch the set, don’t touch the dial, don’t you go anywhere”!

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