Digital’s rails run
Racing is gearing up for a broadcasting revolution
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.’’
Sport 927 general manager Noel Crowe.
Graphic: LISA NOLAN