Dig­i­tal’s rails run

Rac­ing is gear­ing up for a broad­cast­ing revo­lu­tion

Herald Sun - Switched On - - Front Page - GREG THOM

THERE was a time when the men­tion of rac­ing and ra­dio to­gether con­jured up images of an old bloke with a fag hang­ing out of his mouth, crum­pled for­mguide in hand and a tran­nie glued to his ear.

By this time next year, that same for­mguide — along with tips, odds and a wealth of other in­for­ma­tion — is likely to be de­liv­ered elec­tron­i­cally to pun­ters’ ra­dios and mo­bile phones.

The in­tro­duc­tion of dig­i­tal ra­dio on Jan­uary 1, 2009, is set to rev­o­lu­tionise rac­ing broad­cast­ing in Vic­to­ria.

Ra­dio Sport 927 gen­eral man­ager Noel Crowe says the abil­ity to broad­cast races on mul­ti­ple chan­nels and de­liver text-based in­for­ma­tion to screens on lis­ten­ers’ next-gen­er­a­tion ra­dios or phones will be a mile­stone in rac­ing cov­er­age.

‘‘It is the most sig­nif­i­cant change and en­hance­ment to rac­ing ra­dio for the past 10 years, no ques­tion,’’ the head of the spe­cial­ist rac­ing broad­cast net­work says.

His op­ti­mism is a far cry from the early days of 927’s ex­is­tence, when de­clin­ing crowds and lack of in­ter­est in the early ’90s loomed as a ma­jor threat to the rac­ing in­dus­try.

‘‘Th­ese days you have many other forms of dy­namic en­ter­tain­ment. You have poker ma­chines and sat­u­ra­tion cov­er­age of sport on all me­dia,’’ Crowe says.

‘‘Rac­ing has done a great job to main­tain the cur­rent lev­els of in­ter­est when it could have faded away.’’

The ded­i­cated rac­ing ra­dio net­work is cel­e­brat­ing its 20th an­niver­sary this month not by look­ing back but to the fu­ture.

Crowe spoke to Ra­dio Ac­tive from Kuala Lumpur, where he was at­tend­ing a con­fer­ence on dig­i­tal ra­dio.

He is ex­cited about the po­ten­tial of in­no­va­tions such as mul­ti­chan­nelling, which would al­low for ex­tended broad­casts of fea­ture races such as the Cox Plate, cap­tur­ing all the post-race colour and ex­cite­ment with­out hav­ing to aban­don cov­er­age to pick up race six at Rand­wick.

‘‘When I started talk­ing about this in the con­text of rac­ing 10 years ago, peo­ple thought I had horns grow­ing out of my bloody head,’’ Crowe says. ‘‘But once you demon­strate it to them, they im­me­di­ately get the wow fac­tor.’’

Un­til now, Crowe says most of the fo­cus on dig­i­tal ra­dio has been on vis­ual fea­tures such as the abil­ity of FM ra­dio sta­tions to trans­mit com­pe­ti­tion de­tails, artist in­for­ma­tion and song playlists.

Though its po­ten­tial to en­hance rac­ing broad­cast­ing has largely es­caped the hype, Crowe says the in­dus­try has been qui­etly work­ing for the past six years to en­sure it hits the ground run­ning when dig­i­tal ra­dio be­comes a re­al­ity.

‘‘I reckon rac­ing ra­dio has the most to gain out of dig­i­tal ra­dio be­cause it opens up so many av­enues for more in­for­ma­tion — and pun­ters have an in­sa­tiable ap­petite for in­for­ma­tion,’’ he says. ‘‘They can’t get enough of it.’’

As for the here and now, Crowe says the de­liv­ery of rac­ing ser­vices to the pub­lic has never been bet­ter.

Cov­er­age of thor­ough­bred, har­ness and grey­hound meet­ings has in­creased three­fold in the past 20 years.

The sta­tion now at­tracts more than 400,000 lis­ten­ers a week, who tune in to more than 57,000 races a year ev­ery­where from their homes to TAB out­lets and PubTABs.

The sta­tion has even ex­tended its cov­er­age be­yond Aus­tralia’s borders, broad­cast­ing ev­ery­thing from har­ness rac­ing in Swe­den to sig­na­ture events such as the Grand Na­tional in the UK.

Crowe at­tributes the turn­around in rac­ing’s for­tunes to the de­ci­sion 20 years ago by the state’s rac­ing clubs to band to­gether and lift the qual­ity of broad­cast­ing by cre­at­ing a ded­i­cated rac­ing net­work.

The broad­cast­ing of rac­ing on the wire­less has a rich his­tory. The hon­our roll of sta­tions in­volved in de­liv­er­ing rac­ing over the air­waves in­clude 3AW, 3DB, 3UZ and the ABC.

Crowe says the medium is per­fect for not only pro­vid­ing in­for­ma­tion to pun­ters but also cap­tur­ing all the colour and ex­cite­ment of a day at the races.

He be­lieves dig­i­tal ra­dio will take this to a new level.

‘‘Rac­ing is all about emo­tional highs and lows, and ra­dio is fan­tas­tic for cap­tur­ing that,’’ Crowe says.

‘‘It’s the most emo­tive of all me­dia and if you can en­gage lis­ten­ers by giv­ing them more colour and ex­cite­ment and more of what they want, they’re sure to lis­ten longer and you’ll at­tract new lis­ten­ers. No doubt about that.’’

Win­ner:

Sport 927 gen­eral man­ager Noel Crowe.

Graphic: LISA NOLAN

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