Warming the Bench
A footy show aimed at bush listeners is taking the country by storm
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.
Craig Hutchison (left) and Liam Pickering have gone back to grassroots footy.