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Sunday, August 16, 2009

50 years of Brisbane TV: Part 8-Still The One: 50 Years of Brisbane's Channel 9

The wait is over... A golden anniversary is being marked. Welcome to Part 8...

The genesis: TV is coming to Brisbane, a case of when, not if.
When television began in this country nearly fifty-three years ago, it was a purely Sydney-Melbourne medium. Brisbane waited it's turn, until 1958, when the first two licences in Queensland were up for bids (alongside two in Adelaide, what became NWS-9 and ADS-7, later ADS-10 and one in Perth, TVW-7). Of these prized Brisbane commercial TV licences, one was sold to Queensland Television Limited, (what became QTQ-9) and the other to Brisbane TV Limited (which became BTQ-7), and the planning began...

By mid 1959, Mt Coot-tha was a hive of activity. Unlike a few of their compatriats in Sydney and Melbourne, the Brisbane commercial stations all set up within stones throw of each other, next to their transmitters. It was the genesis of a new Queensland industry, which was about to get a launch, like no other.

16 August 1959: Launch Day.
Brisbane, was preparing for a royal visit, while the EKKA was starting the next day (along with school holidays, which were EKKA centered until the 1980's, while Sunday openings for the EKKA didn't start until 1971), when TV-mania hit Brisbane. The show itself was a victim of the QTQ inaugural transmissions, with lower attendance (also attributed to the royal visit), but rebounded the next year. Then, on that Sunday night, the first star of Brisbane TV and the first face on that night, Hugh Cornish, uttered these words...
"Good evening Brisbane, welcome to television." The first TV news story that aired in Brisbane, was about the royal visit by Princess Alexandria (which began in Canberra, then made it's way to Queensland), and was rushed to Brisbane, to get the news film on air. Schedules fifty years ago, consisted of just five and a half hours of TV, which started at 5pm most days, and ended at 10:30pm. Another major factor, was most if not all, local programming, was done live.

The Sixties: Competition, and the first "down period".
By November 1959, there was a commercial competitor to QTQ, and the Brisbane branch of the ABC in operation. The 1960's however were to show that being first on air didn't always mean being #1. Theatre Royal brought BTQ-7 great success, while QTQ languished, with failed tonight shows and bad planning, but the only saving face was Don Seccombe arriving in 1962 and QTQ's news was rating well. By 1964, QTQ was pioneering the concept of female newsreaders, and faced new competition head on the next year, in the form of Brisbane's third commercial station TVQ-0. By 1969, QTQ regained the #1 position, and was preparing to raise the new stars of the 70's and 80's...

The 70's: The next generation comes up the mountain.
QTQ, had history of creating stars in the 1960's, beginning with Kerri-Anne Wright, but the revolution was coming... In the dieing days of black and white TV, a young lady by the name of Jackie McDonald began her own show, and introduced her sister Fiona, (who stayed in Brisbane, eventually becoming part of another innovative program, BTQ-7's Wombat) while Jackie's career went into the stratosphere, with a move to Melbourne and Hey Hey it's Saturday. Another key figure of the 70's "boom" was Paul Sharratt, who produced many programs for the station throughout the 70's, from live spectaculars to talent show "Stairway To The Stars", hosted by Hugh Cornish. By the end of the 70's, QTQ was regularly winning the ratings, including their 6pm news and local current affairs programs, and winning Logies for their programs and in 1978 swept the news awards for coverage of a police shootout, one of only three news Logies ever won by a Queensland station, as well as a Sammy Award for best news cameraman for QTQ's Nick Nicolaides (who shot the footage).

1980's: The times, they are a changing...
The 80's started well, bar a blemish or two, but in 1983, Nine lost two key factors: one, being their news dominance, with BTQ overtaking QTQ, as well as stations dropping National Nine News in favor of Seven National News and State Affair, and two being Nine losing the year, all due to Seven's resurgence, with programs that fed off the tentpegged news. By 1985, the early signs of a generational shift were appearing, with Don Seccombe retiring, TT being "dumped" and new owners buying QTQ. The news was gradually picking up viewers, until 1987, when Nine finally broke the Seven stranglehold on news (incidently with the third set in three years), which it held onto for twenty years. The young talent coming in was thick and fast, with names like Laurel Edwards, Tony Johnston (who started at BTQ, and jumped ship to QTQ), David "Gibbo" Gibson, and others, revitalising the lineup, as well as Bruce Paige, Mike London, Robin Parkin and Heather Foord filling the newsroom. As the decade closed, Nine in Brisbane was a firm #1 again, but the 90's were to show the resolve.

The 1990's: The Who's Who...
The early 90's were like walking on eggshells, with some local content, the resilient "In Brisbane Today" (which was axed eventually) and 5:30 program Brisbane Extra, but it was the fast growth of Queensland sparked by a boom after the 1990's recession that sparked changes. QTQ eventually introduced a "Gold Coast News" for Gold Coast viewers, while local talent were rapidly moving. By the turn of the century, QTQ had celebrated forty years of existance, with many memories of Extra throughout the 1990's, and news leadership that wasn't challenged.

The 2000's: A new century, a new era.
QTQ moved with the times, in the 21st century. By 2001, they launched a website for Brisbane Extra, and progressed into digital broadcasting. But some roads have their bumps, like when Mike London left QTQ in 2003, and the bungled GC News move to Brisbane, as well as the Schluter defection in 2006. But like the 60's and the 1980's, QTQ would face another "down period", this time caused by a multitude of factors. In 2007, QTQ lost the year, then rebounded in 2008, then having a lull. But the craziest of all these "bumps" was the Brisbane Extra axing in June 2009, which showed QTQ viewers for the first time, that their station was Sydney-run. Viewers left the news service, and the Extra replacement, for greener pastures (which also hurt BTQ, with the "ex-Extra" viewers often bypassing 7's lead-in due to lack of action on local programming, as well as a regular occurance of a audience split between both Deal and Hotseat) Bruce Paige was "retiring", replaced by another ABC newsreader Andrew Lofthouse. As QTQ-9 heads into it's second half-century of operation today, for it is a milestone, regardless of what has happened in the last six weeks, and something all those who shaped the first fifty years can be proud of, regardless of their standing with Nine at this time.

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