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The Origins of Riverina Television Pty Ltd
Written by; Bill Marsden in 2003 - General Manager 1963 - 1984
As most of the later staff members would know little of the origins of the Company, the following may be of interest:

Television was introduced in stages, to avoid simultaneous demand for equipment and staff. Stage One was Sydney and Melbourne, Stage 2 the other capitals, Stage 3 the large provincials (e.g. Canberra, Townsville, Ballarat etc.), then Stage 4, the smaller regionals such as The Riverina and South West Slopes area.

By the time Stage 4 applications were called, in 1962, the earlier stations were still making losses, and most people considered the smaller stations would take years to break even, if ever. (Actually, some did get into difficulties, and were taken over, e.g. Albury, Taree, Traralgon).

Nevertheless, there was plenty of competition for the licenses. The networks applied for all areas, to set up relay transmitters only, rather like they have almost achieved today.

In the RVN area, there were three local groups applying:

1. 2LF, of which I was Manager, together with local councils and prominent businesses in the Young-Cootamundra area.
2. The Daily Advertiser and 2WG, together with local Wagga business people.
3. A group of smaller newspapers and some licensed clubs.

The 2LF Board was pretty reluctant, so I persuaded our group to join the 2WG-Advertiser group, to give us more clout, and so 2LF would not have to contribute so much money.

This was agreed, so 2LF was to take 10% of the shares, 2WG 20% and The Advertiser 15%, with the remaining shares to be offered to locals.

After quite a tussle at the Enquiry, the Broadcasting Control Board awarded the licence to our group, and the Board was formed.

Eric Roberts, owner of 2WG, was Chairman, Ted Thomas, Manager of 2WG, was to be Managing Director, with John Jackson (Advertiser), Myself (2LF), Frank Twoomey (Cootamundra Mayor) and Keith Dunn (Kyeamba Shire President), as Directors.

A few days after the announcement, Roberts and Thomas had a falling out and Thomas was fired. (He spent the remainder of his career at ATN, Sydney). So, the Company had a licence, but no Chairman or Manager.

The Board met and decided to offer the Chairmanship to Robert's son-in-law, Wal Hucker. Hucker ran a film animation and radio recording company in Sydney. He was not keen to accept, but finally did so. Mrs Roberts also joined the Board. The Control Board had said we had to keep 2WG in the Company or lose the licence. Incidentally, none of us knew anything about television.

2LF was asked to release me to become Manager, as I had at least had 10 years in radio station management. I was really pretty keen to make the change.

I moved my family to Wagga in December 1962 and started work on January 2, 1963. 2WG gave me the use of an office upstairs, from which I set about floating the Company.

A Secretary was required, so Dorothy Longfield, who had just moved to Wagga from Sydney, was appointed No.2 employee. Our first piece of equipment was an electric typewriter.

We sent out a prospectus, pointing out that local investors would have priority in share allocation. We were apprehensive, as Regional TV was considered a pretty risky venture.

As it transpired, we had just enough applications to open and close the offer on the same day.

I think we raised 100,000 pounds ($200,000) in 5/- (50c) shares. The ANZ bank provided a loan of 100,000 pounds ($200,000). This was only possible because "Rags" Henderson twisted their arm. "Rags" was CEO of John Fairfax, but also personally owned The Daily Advertiser.

In about March 1963, Stuart McDonald joined as Chief Engineer, and we set about planning the building and equipment. Stuart was from the NZBC and was meticulous and dogmatic, but knew his job.

The next piece of gear was a wind-up Bell and Howell 16mm camera, as I wanted to film the buildings and mast as they progressed, to show on Opening Night.

We engaged Gordon Trafford-Walker, a young Wagga architect, to design the building (he was also the voluntary architect for the RVN Children's Ward).

I spent a week at ATN, Sydney, and a week at CTC Canberra, to learn about television, as I had never been inside a TV station.

I came back convinced that if we were to survive, we had to scale right down to a minimum, and expand as we could afford it. Most stations had been built like movie studios, expecting to do lots of productions and were too lavish. I thought a 'radio with pictures" was a more sensible approach, and we set up accordingly.

We tried to procure a site on top of William's Hill, as it would give direct "line of sight", to the transmitters on Mt Ulandra. The Wagga Council wouldn't allow it, although our design was unobtrusive and would have been an improvement on the ugly P.M.G. (Telecom) building that eventually went there.

The present studio site was zoned "residential" and we had to threaten to take the whole exercise to Cootamundra before Council would re-zone it.

As the building rose, Stan Gooch joined, followed soon after by Jeff Meyer, to install the equipment. The next two were Kevin Olsen and Bruce Hogan, apprentices.

We agreed to share the mast with the ABC, but declined to share transmitter premises, even though all other Stage 4 stations were doing so, because Stuart wanted to remote control the transmitters. All the experts said it couldn't be done, but Stuart was a stubborn bloke and RVN became the first TV station to remote control transmitters.

The studio building was erected by Beckman, builders of Wagga, and I had them finish the make-up area first, so we could move on site. It was tiny, but served the purpose. Robyne, (now Griffith), joined to assist Dorothy.

Early in 1964, the building was finished and the remaining staff joined gradually. John Bishop came from TCN9 as Program Manager, and Richard Gray from 2GB as Sales Manager. Norm Brown came after we went to air, and Henry Gissing about a year later.

Paul Griffith was our first newsreader. The news was mostly voice over slides, or read to camera, backed up by the previous night's newsfilm sent by air after use by ATN7. There were no links or landlines, and no recording on VTR.

Colleen Schoff, a school teacher from Walla Walla, conducted our Children's Program and Women's segments, all "live".

We opened in June 1964. (I think it might have the 4th). The local Federal Member made a speech, then we ran the film showing the construction. In editing, we had found we hadn't taken any film between the foundations and the installation at the studio building. The mast and transmitter site we covered. I filled in the gap by taking the camera to the new Tech. College being built and took shots close up of framework, people hammering, plumbing etc., which faked the missing bits splendidly.

I think we played an episode of "I Love Lucy", followed by "The Dam Busters" movie. We opened at 5pm and closed at 10pm.

All the commercial breaks were "live", mounted in the studio, and it was bedlam changing the sets every few minutes.

We had about 24 on staff and everyone had to do many jobs.

Those first few years demanded dedication from all hands, and I will always be grateful for their enthusiasm and support.

RVN was the first, and only, station to make a profit in it's first year. Small, admittedly, but very satisfying.

When I retired in August 1984, we had bout 80 at RVN and about 40 at Albury, and I am proud to point to the number who trained at RVN and went on to careers elsewhere.

At the time the present networking system was proposed, the Regionals suggested each station be given one extra licence, which would ensure all worthwhile programs reached the bush, but local content, local control, and employment could be maintained.

Unfortunately, the Networks were too powerful and the Government established the present system. It is a great pity, but it was a great experience while it lasted.