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Free-to-air's future

By Ian Nance - posted Thursday, 13 December 2012

I became part of the television industry when I joined it in 1960 from an earlier career in radio, so electronic communication has been a large portion of my professional life. This article speaks from my historical experience.

Back then, TV was an exciting new technology - it still is- and in those days, to me it established its place very quickly as another vehicle for entertainment, news, education and current affairs - all fields in which I had worked in radio.

It also caused the press to lose its news topicality and immediacy, and resort to a more in-depth analysis of news stories, which radio was disinclined to spend time doing except for a small number of specific news magazine-style programmes. This swung the nature of print journalism from hard news to feature writing.


Television in Australia began as an entertaining mix of cinema, live stage performance, children's entertainment and topical news with the added advantage of illustrative footage and graphic treatment. It still lagged the instant coverage of evolving stories which was exclusive to radio in those times, yet provided mass education in the form of specialised programmes, both filmed and live, as well as documentaries.

The medium lent itself admirably to the coverage of local and international current affairs, with the added benefits of the emotive impact of imagery.

It is hard to accept that helical scan videotape recording did not come into commercial use until the early 60s, and the only way to record programming was either by regular film production, or the newly-developed (no pun) method of kinescope recording, which was achieved by having a 16mm film camera focussed on a high intensity small TV screen, with audio recorded either on synchronised 16mm audio tape, or optically on the film's sound area.

Naturally, the quality left a lot to be desired, but at least it was the sole method of capturing recorded material until videotape came into being.

This meant that a considerable amount of time (and money) was spent on big-crewed live television production of drama, comedy, as well as sport where much development of outside broadcasting occurred.

In the early days, as often now, TV signals were transmitted back to receiving dishes at the stations on the super high frequency bands, using repeater points on hilltops as link sites.


No such thing as satellite technology, or vision over phone lines then!

As a whimsical aside, Channel Nine's then owner, Sir Frank Packer, had such an outside broadcast link path set up from the station to his home, so that he could watch material privately. Sometimes it caused irritations when the equipment was needed for major O.B events, but this also caused him to dig a bit deeper into his ample pockets, and purchase more gear.

I also recall his sometimes humorous irascible nature, such as when asked at a management meeting to approve additional staffing for telecine, the film projection area, because there was someone on leave each month, replying: "then f***ing-well fire him!"

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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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