60 Years of QLD TV

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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Moving Up The Dial

Dedicated to Mike Lattin, former publicist, and station manager at TVQ who passed away in July 2012, and Peter Clark, TVQ helicopter pilot, who passed away in a tragic helicopter accident on Mt Coot-tha in August 1998.

Welcome to a fantastic look, at the last 25 years of TVQ being on Channel 10. As we move towards the fiftieth birthday of TVQ-0/10 in July 2015, this is the first part of a two-part series. As with all tales, it has a magnificent beginning: just as the media landscape in Australia was changing.

The dawn of 1987: 
There can be only one prelude: the first weeks of 1987, which saw almost every Australian television network change hands: not to mention various newspapers, and radio stations. Everyone remembers Kerry Packer’s “one Alan Bond”, where Nine in Sydney and Melbourne were sold to Alan Bond, who already owned QTQ-9 and STW-9 for a princely sum of 1 billion dollars. Not long after was the major moves made by News Corporation: first acquiring the Herald and Weekly Times newspaper group (which included, Queensland Newspapers: publishers of Brisbane’s morning Courier-Mail, afternoon Telegraph and The Sunday Mail: resulting in News’s existing Brisbane papers, the Daily Sun and Sunday Sun being sold) and offloading HSV-7 (due to minor duopoly concerns) to Fairfax, and then offloading the Ten network’s flagships in Sydney and Melbourne to Northern Star, part owned by Westfield (ahead of Rupert Murdoch becoming a American citizen: a requirement from a deal News made, which was the seed for the Fox television network in the US).  Not long after, Northern Star made a move on Kerry Stokes’s original television assets (Seven in Adelaide, then solus operator, CTC-7 in Canberra and the recently issued licence for a third commercial station in Perth, due to start operation in 1988) and in the middle of 1987: Christopher Skase, stunned the industry, and bought out the 7’s that Fairfax owned: Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne: leaving a duopoly issue in Brisbane that wasn’t solved rapidly, unlike how speedy the HSV/ATV issue was rectified.

The duopoly…
For two months after the acquisition of the Seven Network, Qintex had a Seven owned and operated station, and a Ten affiliate in Brisbane, and because of this, Qintex had to shed a asset, and Skase retained the Sevens, and proceeded to revamp them in the years to come: before falling into receivers hands. Many were expecting that Northern Star would swoop on TVQ: and eventually convert the station to Channel 10, like ATV had done in Melbourne in 1980. Another critical factor came, prior to the purchase of the 7’s by Qintex, with Universal Telecasters acquiring the solus station, MVQ in Mackay (allied with UT-owned solus station in Maryborough, SEQ), in preparation for aggregation: with a major choice (shared with DDQ-RTQ), of who to align with: Northern Star or Fairfax, after NQTV aligned with Bond and the Nine Network (a relationship that sadly, didn’t survive to aggregation). The Skase 7 purchase changed the game: and the two UT-owned regionals jumped to Seven for aggregation. Thus a unexpected bidder for TVQ appeared, Darling Downs Television. On September 17 1987, Darling Downs Television announced that they had acquired TVQ, for the sum of $120m (in today’s money: $260m), and made the commitment to move TVQ to 10 in the process making the concept having of all the original Ten Network stations on the same frequency (which would simplify promotion, compared to the 7/9 networks, 10’s national promotion was fractured, due to Brisbane being on channel 0 and Perth having no Ch 10) made it’s first major step towards becoming a reality.

Enter Toowoomba’s best:
Darling Downs Television upon purchasing TVQ, were walking on eggshells: especially being the first regional station (and to this day, still the only one) to purchase a east coast metropolitan station. However, Darling Downs TV had many runs on the board, that completely assured their running of the Brisbane station could be successful. Additionally, in late 1987: Northern Star offloaded the NRTV stations in northern NSW (to comply with the then, 60% rule for television), to Darling Downs TV, which also saw the signing of a affiliation agreement to Network Ten, for all three stations (of the regional agreements, only NRTV’s survived aggregation). Around the same time, Darling Downs TV brought in some of their most experienced people to run TVQ: including Laurie Burrows, long time manager of the Toowoomba station, some sales executives who previously helped restructure DDQ’s revenue, and promotions executive, Debbie Turner, to redefine a station. Some noticeable improvements, included the rebrand of the Toowoomba station as Vision TV, along with DDQ’s involvement in two segments in the Australia Live telecast (DDQ’s OB unit produced a segment in Daly Waters with Ken Sutcliffe, while NRN produced a segment with Olivia Newton-John in Ballina), but there was a hard farewell: Kay McGrath left the station in late 1987: to head to Seven, along with Mike Higgins: Thus the decision was made, to elevate the long-term sports presenter, Rob Readings to weeknight presenter (a move repeated fifteen years later, with the elevation of Bill McDonald: himself a DDQ alumni) and bring in someone new as the female co-anchor.

January 18 1988:
The day the new team on TVQ debuted, was the same day Skase’s Seven’s went back to 1/2hr news, albeit at 6:30 at night: akin to the previous year when the (then) Fairfax Seven’s news went to a hour long, and Mike Higgins was debuting on TVQ on the same night. Many people were obviously expecting Kay McGrath and Frank Warrick on Seven, but however, viewers weren’t expecting that Seven wouldn’t use Kay right away. Instead, a new newsreader was partnered up with Frank: Simone Semmens, who’d only last a year, before Seven gave the viewers what they wanted: Kay McGrath. Meanwhile over on the other side of the hill, TVQ would debut, the new combination of Rob Readings and Chris Collins, and a rotating sports desk (which included, Billy J Smith, Terry Kennedy, Rebecca Wilson and eventually, (transferring from Ten Sydney) David Fordham) At the same time, TVQ was also putting the finishing touches on the Expo move, as well as turning on the new TVQ translator at Currumbin on the Gold Coast (and made Channel 10 ready), to supplement the Mt Tamborine transmitter which had been in use since the early eighties.

- Universal Telecasters QLD, signed up for Expo 88 in July 1985, as one of the first corporate participants.
- TVQ’s Expo pavilion consisted of the southeastern corner of the Queensland Pavilion: and the interior of the TVQ pavilion was designed separately from the rest of the QLD Pavilion.
- an average of 14 hours of programming was produced on site a week: consisting of TVQ’s evening news (1hr Mon-Fri, 30min Sat-Sun), a dedicated weekly Expo show (30min), national morning news (30min Mon-Fri) and local morning show Living (1hr Mon-Fri).
- Most of the planning for the exterior was done prior to the DDQ purchase (some things were altered: mostly to do with the 10’s adopting a single font network-wide for their news, which TVQ adopted when the switch happened, for simplicity reasons): however one thing that couldn’t be altered after the switch was announced (let alone, after the switch itself), was the giant neon TV0 logo on the southern side of the pavilion: it was covered by an large coverplate, of the new Network Ten logo, a “X”, after the frequency change. 

MEANWHILE IN OTHER CAPITALS: January 18 1988, was the culmination of a fairly busy period for Northern Star’s Ten stations, which began with the channel swap of Northern Star-owned, ADS-7 and TVW-7 owned SAS-10 in Adelaide, in late 1987 (to SAS-7 and ADS-10 respectively) , then proceeded to launch on January 18: a new logo for the three city network, a “X”, representing the Roman numeral for 10. NEW-10 Perth meanwhile was preparing for a May launch (sadly, not in time for Expo 88’s opening ceremony, but opened in time for a national Olympic team fundraising telethon), in temporary facilities.

“Everyone’s a Star in My Town”
The DDQ approach to the Expo and switchover preparation can indeed be seen in the move made to replace the Frank Gari-developed “Stand Up and Tell’em Brisbane’s Great” campaign, in early 1988: with a promo that became just as iconic, referring to how Brisbane was really changing leading to Expo: the “My Town” campaign, was a jingle that worked, and which evolved during Expo 88 itself, with promos shot onsite. When Expo opened on April 30, (with a opening day cast from Network 10, with KAK and Tim Webster from Good Morning Australia along with Mark Mitchell from the Comedy Company (which aired on a different night in Brisbane: due to Broncos Sunday games being aired) being one of the many assigned) audiences flowed in to the “Eyewitness News Pavilion” in large rates: a task assisted more by the TVQ corporate day being early on in the exposition, resulting in what many fans of the original Young Talent Team say was their best concert ever, on the Expo River Stage. At the same time: Brisbane began to air Olympics advertising with the Ten logo (along with a national Olympic telethon in late May): with a continuing theme, as the switch fast approached: simply, switch, for Seoul.

- The Fitzgerald Inquiry, continued to be a talking point.
- Stefan (of hairdressing fame) purchases a new HQ for his hairdressing business two blocks from the Expo site, taking a gamble on post Expo South Brisbane’s growth…
- But Stefan hadn’t finished there: he also purchased the Night Companion sculpture (aka: the Skyneedle) to be moved to the new Stefan HQ after Expo 88’s conclusion: the first of a few Expo souvenirs to remain around the South Bank area.
-Lots of advertising and fallout for a federal Local Government constitutional recognition referendum on September 3, held alongside three others: concerning enshrining various rights in the constitution, changing federal electoral terms and fairer elections: unfortunately no questions passed the people: although Australia would have to wait 25yrs for another referendum on Local Government’s status: currently on hold.
-A film, which screened in Brisbane cinemas leading to the switch: “Switching Channels”, a comedy starring Burt Reynolds, remaking the 1974 film “The Front Page”: showing at the Hoyts chain’s then three Brisbane cinemas: Regent (shut in 2010 and controversially demolished in 2012), Myer Centre basement (which moved to the roof, and became a BCC cinema complex in 2002) and Toombul Shoppingtown (which was replaced by one of the first BCC 8-pack multiplexes in 1989, closing in 2007, then reopening in 2012, as “Toombul Cinemas”).

The switch itself:
The preparations began internally, with the transfer of the existing TVQ-0 transmitter to Mt Mowbullen, the transmitter site for Darling Downs Television, along with the Skase-aligned SEQ-10 transmitter changing channels to the UHF band, along with a new TVQ transmitter for Channel 10, as well as modifications at Mt Tamborine on the Gold Coast. Then the motherlode of promotions for the move began, with a television campaign (getting people in Brisbane to “Come Across”), mailouts to both Darling Downs and Brisbane residents with tuning instructions, print ads focusing on Seoul Olympics with tuning instructions, a hotline for tuning information, ads plugging the hotline, and finally, in the final five days leading up to the TVQ change, a newspaper campaign, based on noughts (represented by the soon to be non-existant TV0 logo) and crosses (the X logo for Network Ten). Then, in the wee hours of September 10, after five days of tests in the midnight-dawn period (including a re-airing of the Expo opening ceremony, and a Broncos game), newsreader Rob Readings, from the Expo studios was the final voice, on a channel that was about to get a new lease on life.

“After 23 years TV0 becomes part of history, we shared a lot of memories and a lot of great moments. As we farewell TV0, we launch our brand new Brisbane Ten with new power and new goals. We want you to be part of a exciting new time in Brisbane television. Brisbane Ten , part of Network Ten, welcomes you to a brand new era. Our launch into the future includes the highlight of television in the world this year, the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Join us now as we turn to Brisbane Ten."

Within a few seconds, the first “X” ID ran on TVQ, while the permanent changeover was made, followed by a new promotional campaign, that was radically different than the My Town, and even the Stand Up and Tell ’em campaign. Simply, it was Brisbane Ten, Brisbane Style… However, the newspapers on the 10th didn’t reflect the new campaign: they simply wrapped up the noughts and crosses game, with a simple “to win, move across”, and a glossy promo with all of the personalities. It was the 11th, where the “Brisbane Style” slogan was solidified, with a Olympic viewing guide, as well as a redone TV guide in the Sunday Mail, complete with a promo for the Comedy Company, all featuring the new campaign, and as Brisbane marched towards the end of Expo 88, one question was on peoples minds: will Northern Star acquire TVQ? The question would have to be answered eventually, but a new year soon began…

The Olympics has always been a great television seller for retailers: harking back to the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne when TV was in it’s infancy. 1988 in Seoul was no exception, especially as it was the first Summer Olympics since Melbourne, thirty-two years earlier:  to be held on the same timezone as Australia’s East Coast. The advances in technology, delivered coverage of Seoul, that was applauded as the best of it’s time. Retailers spruiked that you need to buy a new telly for Seoul, but one retailer went above and beyond for it’s customers. Chandlers (at it’s peak in the late eighties, one of the most iconic electronic retail brands in Australia, was in most Brisbane suburbs and had one major competitor in QLD: Errol Stewarts Warehouse, which Chandlers eventually acquired) not just sold the telly, and the VCR, but also offered to install them, and tune the new TVQ frequency in, at home for $25(in 1988 dollars) extra: equivalent to paying $50 bucks today, to have someone come into your house, and do the digital tuning for you, on your new HDTV and PVR.

1989: A tale in three parts.
TVQ’s year of changes began in early February: when the Brisbane Ten News (a term the network had used since the Olympics, and Brisbane used after Expo, complete with new set on Mt Coot-tha) team had a major shakeup: with Rob Readings off to Nine, and Chris Collins getting married, to the lead station announcer for TVQ: John Schluter, which saw the promotion of Geoff Mullins and Anna McMahon (whose success as This Week at Expo host the previous year, was noticed by local management) to weekdays, along with a shortlived Sunday program for Anna McMahon. However, it was weekends that changed dramatically, with the hiring of Hugh Cornish and Pam Tamblyn to read the news, and Noel Stanaway for weather. As 1989 unfolded, in late June, Northern Star finally acquired TVQ-10 off Darling Downs Television, leaving them to go on their own path towards aggregation (which resulted in late 1990, DDQ/RTQ becoming a Nine affiliate, and owned by Win Television, while NRTV retained their 10 affiliation, and eventually joined up with QTV, who gained the 10 affiliation in Queensland (with just a few days to go before aggregation’s start) after Nine went to DDQ/RTQ.) Then, a newsreader swap occurred, for a week: with Anna McMahon sent somewhere, and US newsreader Pat Harvey, was reading with Geoff, and the most critical move made by Northern Star: was the relaunch of the network (to solve ratings woes) on July 23, as 10 TV Australia, with Bob Shanks as a executive. Most of the programs launched through the initiative, were ditched by years end: not before Westfield exited television. In early September 1989, a deal was finalized by Broadcom Australia, to buy three of Northern Star’s stations (the Sydney/Melbourne/Brisbane core), while divesting Ten’s in Adelaide, Perth and Capital Television in aggregated southern NSW. By the end of 1989, Hugh Cornish and Pam Tamblyn were let go by the new management at TVQ, with the Broadcom stations moving towards a single anchor on weekdays, and weekends in a effort to shave costs. However, one cost increase ended up splashed on the front page of Brisbane’s media in early 1990.

A brief mention has to be made here, for Hugh Cornish: In his book, Funny You Should Ask (published in 1996) he mentions the time he spent working for the QLD Government’s DST task force in late 1989 (while still at TVQ), which included television advertising. The original gameplan was to air advertising (with Hugh’s V/O) exclusively on one channel, Nine, but after the initial airing, it was pulled, due to Hugh’s then, current status as a TVQ newsreader. The ad was then offered to 7/10, and resultingly, there were many submissions made: that were overseen by a new premier, Wayne Goss.

Many people assumed, when QTQ debuted their new promo with Jermaine Jackson, which had Bruce Paige in it, on January 1 1990, that Bruce and Robin Parkin was back for a another dominant year at 6pm. They never realized one critical detail: Paige was off contract, so Ten approached him. Naturally, this went to court, and on January 19, 1990: Bruce Paige (after mediation between Nine and Ten, ended Nine’s laundry being aired) was free to go to Ten. However two stories were lost in the slipstream: one being John Schluter and Chris Collins joining Nine, and also Ten announcing that Anna McMahon was given a weekday current affairs product, alongside the Paige-anchored bulletin.

1990: Road to receivership…
The rebranded “Ten Evening News” debuted on January 22, with Brisbane with Anna McMahon. Ratings for the revamped 6pm hour, weren’t living up to what was promised with the arrival of Paige. As the year unfolded however, Ten’s financial woes were starting to show, with a major climax in September, with Westpac requesting the immediate receivership of the network, then again in November, when the network shed many jobs, including the expensive Bruce Paige contract (which eventually saw Bruce head to Townsville, then back to Nine in Brisbane in 1993), and Brisbane with Anna McMahon (which saw McMahon head to Nine, much sooner: and in a twist of fate, anchored Nine’s news with Bruce Paige on weekends after his return to QTQ). It was up to one person to steer TVQ’s news, and it was the return of Des McWilliam, after four years absence (and four sets of newsreaders), to the news desk, and safely steered it into 1991. Around the same time, Mike Lattin (who had risen to station manager, after the Laurie Burrows departure) began working as one of the network’s saviours, handling programming, at one stage commuting regularly between Brisbane and Sydney. At this time, Debbie Turner, became the Brisbane promotions head, and would remain in that position until the late 1990’s.

1991-1999: The evolution of “The Entertainment Network”
In late January 1991, the TV Australia era and it’s failings was swept aside at Ten, with the rebrand as “The Entertainment Network”, although, Brisbane still had Des McWilliam reading the 6pm news, until the second phase of the rebrand happened: the restoration of the double anchor-1 hour news format, in mid 1991, with Glenn Taylor (fresh off a stint in Melbourne, kickstarting the revival of Seven’s news in that city after the failed 1987 retool, which saw Melbourne’s news rate very very low) and Marie Louise Theile, a figurehead of stability for the station in the decade to come (albeit, with a brief move to Melbourne, in the mid 90’s). As the decade rolled on, many changes came to Ten’s news, including the move in early 1992, to 5pm: along with the development of Totally Wild, a childrens product that has been produced in Brisbane since inception: and is the third longest running locally produced childrens product on Australian television (only Mr Squiggle (ending in July 1999, after a 40yr run) and Play School (still going strong) on the ABC have had longer runs than Totally Wild) and in August 1993: Ten axed weekend news in Brisbane, but as the 90’s unfolded, Ten again became a five-city network, with the re-acquisition of Perth and Adelaide. In 1998, Glenn Taylor left after a incident: where the microphones were left on during a story, as well as a tragic helicopter accident right on Mt Coot-tha itself, which claimed the life of TVQ’s seasoned helicopter pilot, Peter Clark, and as the century ended, Debbie Turner departed the network after many years of service, taking some time off, and becoming Seven’s Queensland publicity chief in the mid 2000’s, while the news service lost Ray Wilkie from weather, a a big farewell, especially as he had seen TVQ’s lows in 1990, and the heights of 87/88’s success. The year 2000, would open another door… and a redefinition of Ten in Queensland.

One of the major moves made as part of the sale to Broadcom in 1989, was the closure and sale of Ten’s existing facilities. Ten Sydney/Melbourne relocated to Broadcom facilities, and eventually new homes (Ten Sydney, to Pyrmont, and Ten Melbourne to Como Centre in South Yarra) in the 1990’s, while Adelaide’s near 50yr old facility (dating back to it’s days as ADS-7) at Strangways Terrace (which included a heritage home) was shut and moved to Hutt St in 2007, likely due to costs of a rebuild. Brisbane because of this, has now the oldest facilities in the network: approaching fifty years of age in 2015, although some rumors in the past decade have flown about whether TVQ will still be on Mt Coot-tha: any move will likely be costly, especially as TVQ and the other Brisbane commercials, lease their Mt Coot-tha sites (due to Mt Coot-tha being in state forest), as opposed to owning them outright, like television stations elsewhere in Australia.

The Naughty Noughties: Ten’s seriously packed decade…
The year 2000, passed without incident, although Ten had a blooper with Marie Louise Theile, where the news studio cameras were turned on too early, and viewers ended up seeing a conversation, between Geoff Mullins and Marie Louise, that happened during the commercial break. Also, in late 2000, Ten commissioned one of it’s last Brisbane-specific programs: Click on Ten, which didn’t survive long. However, a key move made in 2001, suddenly lept TVQ into the spotlight. Ten in partnership with the Nine network, acquired rights to AFL in early 2001, for 2002-2006 (and renewed again for 2007-2011): for TVQ it was bringing it back “home” as the Brisbane Bears, had partnered with TVQ in it’s inaugural year, in 1987. It was the successful run the Brisbane Lions had from 2001-04, that Ten rode: along with lifting the standard of coverage in Queensland of AFL (raising it from midnight screenings of games, to live Saturday night games every week: regardless of whoever was playing), with the precursor to the separate Lions and Gold Coast Suns programs of today, being “Queensland Rules”, also commissioned by TVQ. The influence as “the AFL channel” in QLD, even stretched to the 5pm news, with Michael Voss, after retirement, becoming a sports presenter (in the vein of Wally Lewis in ’88: although it was while he was still playing for the Broncos), until becoming the Brisbane Lions head coach in 2009. The fruits of Ten’s investment in AFL in Queensland were harvested in 2011, with the arrival of the Gold Coast Suns, coming full circle, playing at Cararra: the former home of the Brisbane Bears. The Gold Coast would be another great asset to Ten in the 00’s, for a program that would redefine Australian television. For eight seasons, Ten produced reality program, Big Brother out of Dreamworld, at Coomera. People didn’t just come from Brisbane for evictions, but from interstate as well, giving the QLD economy a major boost. Eventually, the Ten incarnation ended in 2008, along with Marie Louise Thiele’s reign as newsreader, while Ten launched it’s first multi-channel, One in 2009. As the new decade unfolded, Ten was facing uncertain times.

In December 2006, the Brisbane ABC station left their Toowong premises, due to cancer-related issues, the entire operation was split into several sites. Radio relocated to a nearby building, while the entire television and radio news operation shifted up to TVQ's former newsroom on Mt Coot-tha (only recently vacated at the time, due to a new newsroom being built.) Many were only expecting the move to be brief. The move lasted five years, before the ABC's various units in Brisbane reunited at new facilities at South Bank in 2012, a few hundred metres from the former site of the Queensland Pavilion, where TVQ broadcasted from at Expo 88.

The first half of the 2010’s:
Ten in 2010, had a reasonably successful year, and announced the biggest change to it’s early evening schedule, since the move in 1990 to split the newshour in Sydney and Brisbane. Neighbours became the flagship of Ten’s second multi-channel: Eleven (where most content is made in Brisbane, excluding Neighbours and The Loop music show) while the network increased it’s news output. Most was dropped at the end of 2011, and a major spree of departures occurred in late 2012 after a ratings slump, with many experienced hands leaving, including Bill McDonald. As 2013 unfolded, again with a solo newsreader, a major event occurred, in May: the end of the analogue 10 signal, that had carried the station on a journey, many people remember not just from the 0’s but of it’s trials and tribulations on 10.

This tale has reached the end for now. But what about the beginning? July 1 2014: this story will complete itself, with the second part of this series, looking back on the 0 era, between 1965 and 1987. Stay tuned, there is a lot coming.

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