It was at 7.00pm on Friday, 27 April 1962 that Ballarat’s first television station – BTV6 – made its first official broadcast.
The channel was the fourth regional station to launch in Victoria and marked the completion of the first stage of the roll-out of commercial television in regional Victoria. (The second stage, started in 1964, saw the introduction of television stations in Albury/Wodonga and Mildura)
BTV6, Friday, 27 April 1962
Source: TV Week, 23 April 1962.
The official opening of BTV6, led by the station’s chairman Cr. Alan Pittard, included pre-recorded greetings by national TV stars Bert Newton, Bobby Limb and Bob Dyer. Also in attendance at the official opening was Dr J. R. Dowling, chairman of national broadcaster ABC.
After the official opening, BTV6 presented an episode of The BP Super Show, featuring Australian performer Elaine McKenna. The program was followed by the 90-minute drama The Grey Nurse Said Nothing, written by Sumner Locke-Elliott. The play, produced at Sydney’s ATN7 in 1960, starred Lyndall Barbour, Frank Waters, Nigel Lovell, Guy Doleman, Nancy Stewart and Ken Goodlet.
Although BTV6 was last of the first stage of regional channels to launch in Victoria, the channel did claim a number of ‘firsts’. The channel was the first in Victoria to be equipped with Image Orthicon cameras – a more modern technology than those in use by existing television stations. BTV was also to be the first Australian channel to have its transmission facilities co-located with ABC, which was due to open its Ballarat channel ABRV3 in the first half of 1963.
On its second day of transmission BTV6 presented its first news bulletin. The channel, now the hub for the WIN television network in Victoria, continues to produce regional news bulletins each weeknight from the same studios in Walker Street for broadcast across WIN’s statewide network.
BTV6’s early line-up of presenters included children’s host Max Bartlett (later to gain national fame on The Magic Circle Club), newsreader Arthur Scuffins (pictured) and presenters Eric Gracie, Val Oldfield, Brenda Reid and David Bell. Early program line-ups for the channel included Australian productions BP Pick A Box, Revue ‘62, The Johnny O’Keefe Show, The Bert Newton Show and The Best Of IMT. And with the local ABC station almost a year away, BTV6 in August commenced the direct relay of rural affairs program Country Call from ABV2 in Melbourne, keeping viewers in Ballarat and Western Victoria up to date each week on rural and agricultural matters.
To boost its signal in the fringes of its coverage area, BTV6 later installed translator stations in Nhill (BTV7), Warrnambool (BTV9), Hamilton (BTV10) and Portland (BTV11).
As well as local news the channel maintained a steady schedule of local production over the next 30 years including children’s programs, rural affairs, daytime chat shows, sporting telecasts (including the annual Stawell Gift), religious programs, talent quests and variety programs. Apart from News, possibly the most successful local production to come from BTV6 was the variety show Six Tonight, hosted by Fred Fargher. The weekly program, often featuring local performers as well as national guest stars, ran for over a decade from 1972. The program, later re-named Thursday Night Live, gained a wider audience in the mid-1980s when it was picked up by other regional channels across Victoria – giving the show a potential audience of around one million viewers each week.
Back in the days when country TV station staffers had to be jack-of-all-trades, Gary Rice was a musician and later sales manager at the channel. He also read the local news and became general manager of the channel and later its parent company. His experience in management at BTV6 led to him taking on executive roles at the Nine, Ten and Seven networks in the 1980s and 1990s.
In December 1989, BTV6 and its Shepparton-based sister station GMV6 were given a new on-air identity – VIC TV – as the two stations were soon to add STV8 Mildura to their network, and were preparing for the aggregation of regional Victorian markets which was to occur in January 1992.
Expansion across the Regional Victoria market as the Nine Network affiliate saw VIC TV dominate – the first ratings survey post-aggregation saw VIC TV outrate its competitors Prime and Southern Cross Network combined.
VIC TV became WIN Television following the takeover by the NSW-based broadcaster in 1994 but maintains studio facilities in Ballarat for the production of six newscasts – one for each region across Victoria – each weeknight.
Source: The Age, 26 April 1962.