Warm­ing the Bench

A footy show aimed at bush lis­ten­ers is tak­ing the coun­try by storm

Herald Sun - Switched On - - Your Say - GREG THOM

WHEN it comes to footy, the AFL isn’t the only place that’s home to leg­ends. Just ask Chan­nel Nine Footy Classified pre­sen­ter, Sun­day Her­ald Sun colum­nist and pas­sion­ate coun­try foot­ball ad­vo­cate Craig Hutchi­son.

Ac­cord­ing to ‘‘Hutchy’’, re­gional Vic­to­ri­ans are just as hun­gry for news of their own sport­ing su­per­stars as they are about top-flight per­form­ers play­ing in the big league.

Per­haps that ex­plains why Off the Bench, the quirky bush-ori­ented footy ra­dio show hosted by Hutchi­son and for­mer Gee­long player Liam Pick­er­ing, has struck such a chord with coun­try lis­ten­ers.

Since its launch last year as an hour-long Satur­day morn­ing show con­fined to four re­gional sta­tions across Vic­to­ria, the pro­gram has ex­ploded across the coun­try as far as West­ern Aus­tralia.

Not only has it also se­cured a berth on Mel­bourne sports-fo­cused sta­tion SEN, a TV ver­sion Off the Bench TV screens on coun­try net­work WIN ev­ery Thurs­day af­ter The Footy Show.

Hutchi­son, who hails from War­ragul, is not sur­prised by the show’s suc­cess.

‘‘I grew up in the coun­try and so did ‘Pickers’ (Stawell)’,’’ Hutchi­son says. ‘‘I al­ways loved me­dia that was made for you in the coun­try.’’

Hutchi­son says much of what is de­liv­ered to ru­ral res­i­dents via TV and ra­dio is the prod­uct of city-based dis­tri­bu­tion deals — and it shows.

‘‘So I was keen to make some re­gional ra­dio,’’ he says.

He recog­nised a need for a show ca­ter­ing to coun­try peo­ple pas­sion­ate about sport, who were cry­ing out to hear more about grass­roots footy, but who also love their AFL.

‘‘It (the show) was a bit of a mix be­tween AFL and coun­try footy and build­ing a bridge be­tween the two,’’ he says.

Iron­i­cally, the spark that re­ally kick-started the Off the Bench jug­ger­naut for Hutchi­son came cour­tesy of 3AW: they sacked him.

‘‘When we got the flick from 3AW, they also flicked Gloss­ing Over which was the Dr Turf (John Roth­field) and Trevor Mar­malade show,’’ he says. ‘‘So the 10am-noon spot be­came avail­able as the footy lead re­gion­ally.

‘‘As a re­sult of my sack­ing, it cre­ated the op­por­tu­nity to take the show ( Off the Bench) to two hours and into all seven ACE ra­dio sta­tions, so that was the big turn­ing point re­ally.’’

Though Hutchi­son is keen to stay true to his com­mit­ment to coun­try foot­ball, the pro­gram has grown to such an ex­tent he now pro­duces three ‘‘shows within a show’’ aimed at dif­fer­ent audiences.

Within a four-hour block from 8am each Satur­day, the first hour is de­voted to WA lis­ten­ers. Then the two hours be­tween 9am and 11am are broad­cast on SEN be­fore the sta­tion switches to its own AFL cov­er­age.

The ver­sion heard by lis­ten­ers be­tween 10am and noon is aimed at re­gional Vic­to­ria.

A ‘‘neu­tral’’ hour in the mid­dle of the show be­tween 10-11am is aimed at all lis­ten­ers, no mat­ter where they live.

‘‘The 10-11am hour works very well be­cause it’s the AFL fo­cus that they love. So out of that I re­alised you could make more than one ver­sion of the same show,’’ Hutchi­son says.

‘‘Af­ter 11am when the city goes off for the (AFL) footy, we flip the fo­cus much more re­gion­ally. We get right into the com­mu­ni­ties.’’

Hutchi­son says one thing that did sur­prise him was coun­try peo­ple’s in­ter­est in events out­side their own area. ‘‘Peo­ple in Charl­ton are fas­ci­nated by who’s winning the footy in Wagga Wagga,’’ he says.

Hutchi­son says the tale of Rod Tre­genza, of South Man­durah in WA’s Peel Foot­ball League, who has kicked more than 220 goals so far this sea­son and is on track to break the all- time goal­kick­ing record, un­der­line the fact there are scores of in­ter­est­ing bush footy sto­ries just wait­ing to be told.

Coun­try boys:

Craig Hutchi­son (left) and Liam Pick­er­ing have gone back to grass­roots footy.

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