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Unsound vision

By Ian Nance - posted Monday, 30 December 2013


These days, television is a substantial part of our lives.

That is a big change from those earlier times when we got our visual entertainment through live stage performances, or movies. For news, most of us relied on the daily morning and afternoon newspapers, radio news broadcasts, and the occasional film newsreel at the cinema.

An important component of both entertainment and news TV genres is sound. It is the attention given to it, or not given, by some broadcasters in Sydney where I live that I wish to discuss.

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Since television commenced in Australia on the 16th.September,1956 with Bruce Gyngell's memorable announcement "Good evening, and welcome to television", the station he pioneered, and now run by his son, David, became a licence to print money for its owner, Sir Frank Packer.

Commercial advertising was a brand new mode of marketing to mass audiences at the inception of TV broadcasting, and this new medium was the magic bullet for selling to millions of individuals who consumed every image that was presented.

I guess that Bruce's welcome was a signal to me to change from my radio drama and news production career, and be part of this exciting new medium. Even though I had joined the station as an audio production specialist, I was delighted when, in those days of in-house development of all the job skills needed to operate a station, Bruce offered me a career change as a director of live TV programming.

It was a rewarding buzz to be able to blend a creative outlook with a commercial radio background which gave a keen awareness of the revenue value of satisfied audiences.

We had a superb overall boss in Sir Frank, that magnanimous martinet who would sometimes back well-reasoned arguments for expenditure on a new method, a new idea, or a new programme, with the funding. He had the power and ability to make instant financial decisions.

He also had a uniquely whimsical style in meetings. I recall when Bruce, then the station's general manager and head programmer, proposed radical changes to programming policy which would attract more "average viewers', by disagreeing strongly with some suggestions, stating: 'I am an average viewer!', or on one occasion when the manager of the telecine department, the area where film was run in those days before videotape, requested approval for staffing level increases because 'somebody was on leave every month of the year', and who jumped when Sir Frank quickly retorted: "Then f***n sack him!" (with a wry grin).

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Funding and return on investment were a critical factor in his approach to business, and when a procedure was proven to be worthwhile for increased viewer satisfaction thus revenue, he spent - often enormously. Perhaps this may have been the result of his mighty successful press empire when scooping the competitor was paramount.

This had one positive outcome in the station's expensive decision to roster quality control operators to make subtle minor adjustments to sound and vision quality during peak viewing times, a move which left the other commercial stations sounding and looking a bit inferior to ours.

He also agreed with his chief engineer's proposal to purchase a very expensive electronic audio level controller, the Return-to-Zero Audimax, which would flatten out the large difference in dynamic levels of movies and commercials over adjustable periods of time.

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About the Author

Ian Nance's media career began in radio drama production and news. He took up TV direction of news/current affairs, thence freelance television and film producing, directing and writing. He operated a program and commercial production company, later moving into advertising and marketing.

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