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Dr Peter Harries shows Gordon McColl his PhD degree



School of Social Sciences

FROM PRODUCTION HOUSES TO RELAY STATIONS

A SOCIAL HISTORY OF

COMMERCIAL TELEVISION IN PERTH

WESTERN AUSTRALIA

With special reference to the years 1958 –1990

PETER HARRIES


March 2004


This thesis is presented as part of the requirements for

the award of the Degree Doctor of Philosophy

of the Curtin University of Technology


ii


I hereby declare that this thesis has not already been accepted in substance for any

Degree. It is the result of my own independent research, and all sources that have

been consulted are acknowledged in the bibliography.


……………………………..

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ABSTRACT


The thesis examines the continuing interaction of local ‘live’ production, audience ratings, financial returns and managerial attitudes to community responsibility during the first thirty-two years of commercial television in Western Australia. It is argued that during this nperiod the nature of commercial Western Australian television companies changed dramatically. From being creative production houses, developing their own local ‘live’ content programs, they have become mere relay houses relying almost entirely on programs developed in other parts of Australia and overseas. The local ‘live’ part of television was born of the necessity to provide program content at little cost, grew as part of a perceived community responsibility by the television stations and was fostered by their competition. Its demise was due to misplaced Federal Government regulation, technological changes, networking and a diminution in community responsibility engendered by corporate greed.


The following diagram represents the relationship and interdependency of the various factors that shaped the early history of commercial television in Western Australia.



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Table of Contents Page


Declaration………………………………………………………………………………………………………..ii

Abstract…………………………………………………………………………………iii

Table of Contents………………………………………… ………………………….. iv

Preface………………………………………………………………………………………………………………v

Acknowledgements…………………………………………………………………. .vii



Introduction…………………………………………………………………………………1

Chapter One: In The Beginning: The circumstances surrounding

the granting of the first two Commercial TV Licences in Western

Australia to TVW7 Limited -1958 and Swan Television Limited -1964…………………7

Chapter Two: Local Television Production, an Industry within an Industry

versus the Ratings and Advertising Systems………………………………………… 27


Chapter Three: The duty of Commercial Television Stations in

regard to fostering Social Capital and Community Responsibility………………….. ..51


Chapter Four: Examination of the Growth and Decline of

Local ‘Live’ Television in Western Australia ………….. …………………………….75


Chapter Five: The Role of Women in Commercial Television

in Western Australia:….…………………………………………………………………………………….93

Chapter Six: ‘This is The News!’ An analysis of the statement,

‘News has long been considered the flagship of any TV Station…………………………….131


Chapter Seven: The Main Event – Round One – 1958-1970:

The contest for supremacy in Western Australian Commercial

Television : TVW7 versus STW9.……………………………………………………157


Chapter Eight: The Main Event – Round Two -1971-1980:……………………………207


Chapter Nine: The Main Event – Round Three -1981-1990……………………….265


Conclusion: ………………………………………………………………………… 317


Bibliography…………………………………………………………………………324



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PREFACE:

Television in Australia could have been implemented many years earlier than 1956 but its introduction was delayed by the irresolute attitudes of successive governments. In 1953 a 12 inch, 78 r.p.m. record entitled ‘Here’s Hooey’ was issued in Australia by Regal Zonophone. Described as a humorous sketch it was a spoof on the radio formats of the day. In a simulated quiz program the question is asked, ‘Give me an answer between yes and no?’, to which a doltish voice replies, ‘Television!’. Although meant as a joke, this extract was incisively close to the then prevailing Australian situation.


Whilst the new medium had become ensconced in America and Great Britain, there had been a wait and see policy in Australia. As early as the 1920s experiments in television had been conducted in Australia, and in 1942 a Parliamentary Standing Committee was instituted to examine the viability of providing transmissions in the capital cities. At that time the country was governed by the Labor Party under Prime Minister John Curtin and the prevailing notion that television should be controlled by the state persisted until 1948 when the Chifley Labor Government amended the Broadcasting Act, endowing the Australian Broadcasting Commission with sole responsibility for establishing television under the direction of the Broadcasting Control Board. With the election of the Menzies/McEwen Liberal/Country Party Government in 1949, this policy was reversed to fall in line with the situation pertaining to radio stations. There would be a national telecaster and commercial television would be allowed under government guidelines. The following year members of the Television Advisory Committee traveled overseas to examine the state of the industry in various countries. Their recommendations for early establishment were shelved due to the economic downturn in 1951.


In 1953 a Royal Commission under the leadership of the Vice-Chancellor of Melbourne University, Professor George Paton advocated the early introduction of the television system with an ABC channel and two commercial channels in both Sydney and Melbourne. The selection of the licence holders was to be under the auspices of the Broadcasting Control Board and the applicants were to be considered at sittings to be


vi

held in January and February of 1955. These hearings resulted in the issue of licences to applicants closely allied to the newspaper industry, in line with the recommendations of 1953. The first telecasts would go to air in 1956 with Channels 2, 7 and 9 operating in Sydney and Melbourne. From the start, the main issues revolved around matters of economics, whilst the wishes of those who viewed the new medium from an artistic viewpoint in regard to televised content and its production were relegated to second place. A 1956 comment said that commercial television was, ‘…seeking out the lowest common denominator in order to secure the largest possible audience…’ This policy has prevailed and along with ‘net-working’ and technological advances has been the main reason for the decline in local production in the less populated cities of Australia. This tendency was noted and commented upon in the 1970s and according to some observers, the main centres of production in Sydney and Melbourne are destined towards the same end.



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Acknowledgements:

For many years from 1965 I was involved in commercial television as both an on-air presenter and producer. I have remained in close association with the people of both commercial television stations since, the greatest number of whom are still friends or acquaintances of mine. Without exception, both women and men have all been most helpful, by way of taped interviews, written communication, photographs, Annual Returns and personal memorabilia. Special thanks are extended to Sir James Cruthers, the ‘father’ of Western Australian television. My appreciation to A.C. Neilsen and Associates in Sydney is recorded, for their help in providing an office in which to work for two weeks in 2000 and retrieving the early Audience Survey Ratings books from the N.S.W. Government Archives.


Professor Eamon Murphy, my mentor, co-supervisor and friend who made it possible for me to enter Curtin University of Technology in 1995, has been of the utmost value to me in my academic quest. Particularly in finally making me see that a ‘thesis’ is an argument and not a ‘book’. For providing invaluable assistance from the point of view of Australian Studies and editing, my other co-supervisor and new friend, Professor Richard Nile is gratefully recognised for his personalised contribution and constant availability during 2003, the final year of my work. Assistance from Dr. Geoffrey Reeves in the preparation of my Candidacy and encouragement in the early part of my research is acknowledged. I also thank every one of the administration, staff and student body of the School of Social Sciences at Curtin University of Technology for the great experience of being a ‘uni’ student since 1995.


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To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time that the history of the first thirty-two years of commercial television in Western Australia has been the topic of academic research. The fact that apparently no other scholar has attempted this task before, has had both advantages and disadvantages, but from the point of view of satisfaction, the five years that I have spent on this thesis have been the most enjoyable of my life. The contact with so many from the past has been exceptionally gratifying. In a few short year’s time, the contributors to these pages (including myself) will be no more. It is pleasant to contemplate that their involvement and memories will endure.


I thank my Mum and Dad (who did so much for others) for my life and like to think that my achievements would give them a rewarding satisfaction with their work in creating me! Finally to my whole family and especially my wife of 44 years Patricia May, you are the greatest! I promise that you will not have to call me Doctor should my efforts in that direction be of acceptable standard to those in whose hands I place this tome and my trust.


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One Response to “Introduction – A History of Commercial Television in Perth, WA”

  1. What a fantastic record for future generations who will want to know what happend in those great days of ‘live’ TV in Western Australia! Congratulations to Ken McKay for his spledid contribution, both throughout the years and in the present with this worthwhile website!

    Horation (One-Ball) Paterson

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