It is not surprising that Melbourne, as the home of modern spectator sport in Australia, should also have enjoyed a strong tradition of sports journalism. The association between the expansion of a mass-circulation print media and the development of organised sport was strengthened with the diversification of media in the 20th century and the pre-eminence of sport as a source of entertainment.
Melbourne's first newspapers - the Port Phillip Herald started in 1840, the Argus in 1846 and its weekly Australasian from 1864, the Age in 1854 and its weekly the Leader in 1856 - provided news of the recreational pursuits of the gentlemen of the British settlement on the banks of the Yarra River focusing primarily on horseracing and cricket matches. Building on the success of Bell's Life in London that had added and Sporting Chronicle to its title in 1822, Bell's Life in Victoria and Sporting Chronicle appeared in 1857. It was to Bell's Life that Tom Wills wrote his famous letter instigating the formation of a football club in 1858 and the next year, when rules were discussed, Cambridge graduates, W.J. Hammersley, the sporting editor of the Australasian, and J.B. Thompson, sports writer for the Argus, took an active role in shaping the new sport.
But it was with the development of regular annual fixtures in these sports that sports writing assumed the role of purveying news to a mass audience, not just to gentlemen who shared the same mindset. The Australasian led the way. Hammersley as 'Longstop' was its first regular cricket writer, and under the pseudonym 'Felix', Tom Horan used his experience as a former Victorian and Australian cricketer to provide informed comment for the growing number of readers. From 1870 the Australasian added 'Peter Pindar' and Jack Worrall who covered Australian football. Their articles also documented the amazing spectacle of thousands of Melburnians turning out each week to follow their team. W.G.E. Wilmot, as 'Old Boy', joined the paper to provide another sporting perspective, that of the dedicated amateur. By the time Richard Twopeny arrived in Melbourne in the early 1880s, he could write of the Sportsman department of the Australasian: 'I don't think it is too much to say, that it is the best sporting paper in the world'.
As sporting journalism proliferated, publications for niche audiences appeared. From 1902 the sensationalist Truth newspaper included racing coverage. It was joined, in 1922, by the Sun News-Pictorial and the Sporting Globe (printed on pink paper), timed to appear on Saturday evening with news of all the football played that day. The gradually developing genre of sports photography took a major step forward in 1946 when the new photo-finish was printed in the racing pages to give punters a visual image of their fortunes in motion.
In the 1920s radio introduced a new medium to the sporting scene. Hostile to the benefits of radio to off-course betting, racing clubs banned radio from their courses and attempted to stop all racing broadcasts, but popular demand prevailed and a new vocation arose - the race-caller. Joe Brown at the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC), Bill Collins at 3DB, and Bert Bryant on 3UZ became household names as their race-calls broke the quiet of a Saturday afternoon. In 1986 the racing industry purchased 3UZ (changed to Sport 927 in 1996) as a dedicated racing voice on the air-waves but the move of Greg Miles from the ABC to Sky Channel in 1998 indicated the expansion in communication technology at the service of the racing industry.
The ABC gave a national dimension to sporting coverage, especially through cricket. Edgar Mayne broadcast the first ball-by-ball account of the second Test against England from the Melbourne Cricket Ground on 1 January 1925. But tours of England posed particular problems. David Worrall at 3DB developed a variety show format interspersed with telegrams of play when Australia toured overseas, while the ABC began its 'synthetic' broadcasts in 1934. In 1948 short-wave broadcasting brought immediate description. Memories of cricketing highlights have become inseparable from the vivid descriptions of commentators such as A.G. 'Johnny' Moyes, Alan McGilvray and Tim Lane and, also, the diversity of voices as the cricket world expanded from the 1960s.
The appearance of television in 1956 was approached warily by sporting bodies. Direct telecasts of Australian football began in 1957 but it was not until the technology improved that the televising of sport became a real alternative to being there. Sports journalists moved across the media. Mervyn Williams, who edited the Sporting Globe, joined Ron Casey on HSV7 to compere TV Ringside in 1968 and, like Jack Dyer's football commentary, offered his own colourful metaphors of winning and losing.
In 1956 when W.S. Kent-Hughes, chairman of the Olympic Organising Committee, attempted to raise finance by selling the television rights for sponsorship, the USA and British networks and their local subsidiaries were not interested. They wanted free access. In the end GTV9 paid for the rights and Ampol became the major sponsor. Increasingly, however, television rights, advertising and sporting events have become intertwined, although women's sports have remained outside the charmed circle.
By the mid-1970s the advent of colour television and the possibilities of providing live broadcasts of sport, wherever it was played in Australia, linked Melbourne into a national grid of sporting events. GTV9 in golf and cricket - having gained the exclusive television rights to first-class cricket in 1979 following the World Series Cricket crisis - and HSV7 in Australian football, pioneered techniques and strategies to enhance the spectating experience, leading to anxiety about the future of live audiences at sporting events.
Just as the introduction of radio moved the sports media from the local to the national, the use of satellites to transmit sporting events around the world expanded the international dimension. In 1981 SBS began live broadcasts of European soccer and Les Murray became a major identity as a commentator. The introduction of the internet has accelerated access to international sport.
The exhibition of sporting skills as a component of a variety program was part of 19th-century vaudeville. The appearance of Seven's World of sport in 1957 transferred this phenomenon to television, presenting a magazine-style program composed of a mix of experienced commentary of the game, activities like wood-chopping interspersed with reviews and the comedic elements of studio competitions. The entertainment possibilities of sporting programs were pursued with Lou Richards, Jack Dyer and Bob Davis in the Thursday night League teams. From 1994 the Footy show built on this tradition.
From the 1980s radio addressed new audiences. The Australian football commentator, so closely identified with broadcasting football from Melbourne's suburban grounds, moved to a national platform from 1982. The 'Rexisms' of Rex Hunt, who began broadcasting football in 1983, developed as a national idiom. The Coodabeens, with their magazine-style combination of humour, listener participation, music and sporting trivia, began on 3RRR-FM in 1981, and in 1986 Roy and HG started their own style of banter on 3JJJ-FM. In January 2003 SEN 1116 replaced 3AK, defining itself as a sports and entertainment network. Television panel shows such as Before the game translated the success of such programs to the small screen.
Since the late 1970s there has been a greater awareness of the rich tradition of the sports media in Melbourne and its contribution to Australian culture. Collections of the best sports writing began with the publication of Great Australian football stories by Garrie Hutchinson in 1988. The print media, meanwhile, rather than decreasing its coverage of sport in light of the scope of radio and television, expanded its sporting sections. Indicative of a broadening of interest in sport, Garrie Hutchinson started a weekly column called the 'Watcher' in the Age newspaper in 1980, providing the viewpoint of a spectator in the outer. In 1991 both the Sunday Age and the Sunday Herald Sun began the publication of sports supplements comprising more analysis of the main spectator sports and features articles. The perspective of current players jostles with investigative reporting of sport as a social institution and with news of overseas sporting events.