Fifty years ago, January 1964, the countdown was on to the launch of Melbourne’s new TV station, ATV Channel 0 (now Ten), scheduled for August that year.
Melbourne was to be the first city in Australia to have access to a fourth television station — with new channels still up to a year away in Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth.
Austarama Television, a subsidiary of Ansett Transport Industries, had been awarded the licence to operate the new Melbourne channel in April 1963 and had planned well in advance to have ATV0 launch on 1 August 1964.
The choice of date was not insignificant, as station owner Reg Ansett (pictured) was a fan of horses and the date of 1 August is officially the horses’ birthday.
While magazines like TV Week and TV Times were not around the witness the beginnings of rival channels ABV2, HSV7 and GTV9, they were ready to breathlessly report and speculate just about any development relating to the new channel before its debut.
As the countdown to launch began TV Week greeted the year 1964 with much enthusiasm for the new venture:
“This is the year of 0! Nineteen hundred and sixty-four, the year that Melbourne gives birth to its fourth television station. Like a rival power watching the progress of a new spaceship, other television stations are keeping an eye on ATV0’s countdown.
“It’s now zero hour minus eight short months before ATV0 swings into operation with its £3 million organisation.”
Construction of the studio premises, on a 17.5 acre area of paddocks in Burwood East, then the outskirts of Melbourne, was well underway by the time TV Week visited the site in January 1964.
The building design allowed for four separate studios — three to be operational by the time the channel was due to launch — and an isolated lobby area, including toilets and kiosk, for studio audience members to enter the premises without getting in the way of operational areas.
Technically speaking the station was set to be the most modern of its time, employing around £1 million of transistor-equipped technology plus installing 10 cameras and three videotape machines — each machine worth £40,000. “We are very fortunate in just getting a station going when there has been a large revolution in the TV equipment field, thanks to the introduction of the transistor,” chief engineer Graeme Davey told TV Week. “Due to the reliability of transistors, the quality of the picture is more consistent.”
The station was also constructing the first custom-built outside broadcast van in Australia. The 28 foot (8.5 metre) long vehicle was built almost as a semi-trailer, while other broadcast vans were mostly redesigned buses. The van was air conditioned, had its own power supply and its 8 foot (2.4 metre) wide roof allowed TV cameras to be mounted.
Not only was the studio equipment modern as tomorrow but the station had also called on computer technology used to aid the US Polaris missile project. Known as the Critical Path Program, the system was responsible for implementing the missile program in record time. The installation of the technology at ATV0 would allow management access to constant, detailed reports on the progress of construction and was a key component in getting the building completed in time for the August launch day.
As the countdown to launch continued ATV0 General Manager Len Mauger (pictured) gave TV Times an insight into some of the planning of the new station:
“There are quite a lot of independent film companies in this country. I have already spoken to these people and I have told them that our policy is to help the independent producer.”
“We have also said, and I would like to reiterate, that we want to show Australians Australia. As you know there are a lot of people living in this community as well as right throughout Australia who have not seen their own country.”
On the issue of news, Mauger said immediacy is the key — and having an owner with interests in the aviation industry would be of benefit, particularly with the station being based on the suburban fringe:
“When a news story breaks we hope people will automatically come to our channel. I know the other channels are doing this to a degree in Melbourne, but we are hoping that with our modern equipment, we will always be ready for the immediate news story… If the story is big enough we will interrupt our normal programs… Of course, we will have the facilities of the helicopters which will help us immensely.”
And on the issue of converting older TV sets to receive Channel 0:
“We have embarked on an advertising campaign to draw the attention of the Melbourne viewers to the fact that their sets may not be able to take Channel 0, and if so, then we do suggest that they get in touch with their service repair organisation.”
The press was also ready to give speculation as to the celebrities that could be lining up for a job at the new channel. In February, TV Times columnist Marsha Prysuska reported:
“Ex-compere of GMV Juniors Miss Nancy Cato was in Melbourne this week, mysteriously hinting that she had a job all lined up in “six or seven months’ time”. Funny, but counting it up on my fingers, that would make it about August and, guess what? That’s when ATV0 opens for business.”
Ms Prysuska’s hunch turned out to be correct, as less than two months later Ms Cato was announced as host of The Children’s Show (later The Magic Circle Club). Also to appear on The Children’s Show were Michael Boddy, 3XY announcer Colin McEwan and Scottish comedian Alec Finlay. The new show was to be produced by Godfrey Philipp, formerly of GTV9 and Newcastle station NBN3, and directed by Tony Hollins, previously of Gippsland station GLV10.
By June, former ATN7 presenter Ray Taylor had been announced as host of ATV0’s new Saturday night show. “I’ll aim for a relaxed and casual type of show — a show to keep viewers interested,” he told TV Times. “The emphasis will be on satire — not on variety.” Also signed up for Taylor’s new show was former ATN7 presenter Roy Hampson.
ATV0’s sports chief Phil Gibbs, formerly of radio 3KZ, was bringing together a team of around eight sports commentators and presenters. Radio 3UZ racecaller Bert Bryant was a surprise signing for ATV0, prompting his resignation from GTV9’s Tony Charlton Football Show. Bryant was tipped to be hosting a Friday night sports program. Also joining Gibbs’ on-air team were former tennis player Neale Fraser, champion amateur golfer Doug Bachli and VFL footballers John Lord and Owen Abrahams. Station manager Len Mauger had also scored a coup for the channel by securing the rights to broadcast Davis Cup tennis, scheduled to take place in Cleveland, Ohio, in September.
Brian Wright, ATV0’s news director and formerly of Sydney station ATN7, had bold plans for the channel’s news coverage. “Our aim is simple and straightforward — with our tie-up with major Australian and overseas news organisations, we intend to make ATV0 the strongest news station in Australia,” he told TV Week. His team of news presenters included former BBC and GTV9 newsreader Barry McQueen and Canadian-born Neill Phillipson, recruited from Toowoomba station DDQ10. McQueen was also assigned the job of hosting interview series Pacemakers, set to appear in a weekly 7.30pm timeslot. Another interview and discussion program, In Close-Up, was scheduled for Tuesday nights, hosted by former advertising executive RR Walker, a newcomer to television at the age of 50.
The popular radio 3UZ comedy team of Bill Acfield and Jackie Clancy — ‘Ackie and Jackie’ (pictured) — had been signed up by ATV0 for their first regular television appearance together. The pair had earlier rejected an offer to host a variety show for HSV7. Their signing to the new channel was helped in part by the fact that 3UZ general manager Lewis Bennett was also on the board of ATV0.
TV Times columnist John Pacini had implied that Bert Newton, who had resigned from GTV9 following his much-publicised illness, could be snapped up by the new channel. This was denied by Mauger. “We have not offered Mr Newton a job, nor has he asked for one,” he told TV Times.
Pacini also didn’t have any luck with his prediction that radio DJ Don Lunn was to host ATV0’s new teenage music show, Go! That role ended up going to Alan Field, the English comedian who had come to Australia to host The Beatles concerts. Also signed up for regular appearances on Go! were performers Ian Turpie, April Byron and Colin Cook. The new show was a hit with teenagers before it had even begun — with studio audience tickets booked out for up to a year in advance, before a single episode had even been aired.
In the months leading up to launch ATV0 had announced its purchase of the long-running US series Bonanza (previously screening on rival channel HSV7) and The Garry Moore Show plus new US titles The New Phil Silvers Show, Burke’s Law, Car 54 Where Are You?, The Fugitive, The Greatest Show On Earth, East Side West Side, Outer Limits, Petticoat Junction and The Patti Duke Show and British dramas Emergency Ward 10 and Ivanhoe.
While all this activity was going on at ATV, established commercial channels GTV9 and HSV7 were not taking the threat of a newcomer lightly. GTV and its network partner TCN9, Sydney, had linked to each other via the new coaxial cable, enabling the sharing of program content between both stations.
GTV was also investing money in upgrading its studios — in particular the construction of Studio 9, a facility custom-built for In Melbourne Tonight and planned to accommodate large scale musical numbers. Meanwhile, both GTV9 and HSV7 had been spending up on big-ticket movie titles to hurl against the new opposition.
Even ABC, not normally known for getting too tied up in competition, had announced plans to launch a new variety series, Pieces Of Eight, the same week that ATV0 was to open.
But while the managements of the older Melbourne channels might have been taking their new competitor seriously, some of their on-air talent were lightly mocking the new arrival, largely at the expense of the unusual channel call-sign. Graham Kennedy dubbed the station Channel Nought, while ABV2’s Corinne Kerby settled on Channel Nothing.
By the end of June, with little over a month before launch, ATV0 announced the broad details for its opening night spectacular — but not to play its cards too soon, the only details to emerge were that it promises an all-star cast and an extravagant budget. It was soon reported that one of Melbourne’s most popular performers, Diana Trask (pictured), was caught in a tussle between both channels ATV0 and GTV9. Trask had just returned from an American tour and both channels were more than keen to secure her services — despite her asking price of £150 per song which ranked her as one of the highest paid performers in the country. Eventually, Trask signed with GTV9 for fortnightly appearances on variety shows such as In Melbourne Tonight, but her contract allowed her one appearance on ATV0 for its opening night.
Also signed up for the opening night special, This Is It!, were performer Vikki Hammond, previously of HSV7’s The Delo And Daly Show, Wyn Roberts, Brian James, Keith Michell, Kathy Gorham, Elsie Morrison, Lionel Long, Harold Blair and Lou Toppano’s 26-piece orchestra. The program, directed by Denis De Vallance, was described as the most expensive hour of television to date and was set to include a mix of drama, comedy, variety and satire in a rapid-fire series of sketches.
So by Saturday, 1 August, after over a year of planning and millions of pounds spent, the scene was set. Construction of the studio complex was all but completed, with more than 500 workers putting the final touches in its last stages. More than 200 staffers had entered the building, and Melbourne viewers were poised and ready… to go for 0!
Source: TV Week, 26 October 1963, 4 January 1964, 22 February 1964, 20 June 1964, 4 July 1964. 11 July 1964, 25 July 1964, 1 August 1964. TV Times, 12 February 1964, 8 April 1964, 13 May 1964, 20 May 1964, 3 June 1964, 10 June 1964