Today marks 50 years since the Western Australian network now known as GWN7 was officially opened.The station was originally BTW3, operated by South Western Telecasters Ltd and declared open by WA Governor Sir Douglas Kendrew at 7pm on Friday 10 March 1967. Based in Bunbury with a staff of 12, it was the first commercial television station in regional Western Australia, launching in the area two years after ABC‘s local station ABSW5.
The following year BTW launched a relay station, GSW9, covering Albany and the Southern Agricultural district of WA. The expansion increased BTW3’s audience to around 140,000.
Like most regional stations, BTW-GSW’s early local production included regional news, children’s programs and afternoon programs like Tea And Biscuits.
The station’s community involvement included an annual telethon, Telehelp, that ran for eight years and attracted stars from across Australia. The station now contributes to Seven’s Perth-based Telethon.
BTW-GSW were among the few stations in Australia to miss the changeover date to colour television on 1 March 1975. Colour transmission started in May 1975 but it was still a couple of years before the local studios were capable of colour production — with programs like local news continuing to go to air in black and white.
By the late 1970s BTW-GSW was bought out by businessman Jack Bendat, whose management rebadged the two channels as Golden West Network — or GWN.
The 1980s saw an era of expansion for GWN, taking over Kalgoorlie’s local station VEW8 in 1985 and GTW11 in Geraldton in 1987. These acquisitions, combined with GWN gaining the licence to operate the satellite-based commercial television service for remote WA, gave the network a total coverage of the entire state of Western Australia outside of Perth.
GWN continued to operate as a commercial monopoly in regional WA, featuring programming sourced from all three metropolitan networks and with its own locally-based evening hour of local and national news. The network, owned at this stage by Perth businessman Kerry Stokes, was sold to regional network Prime Television in 1996 for $71 million.
GWN got its first taste of competition in 1999 with the arrival of WIN, initially offering a range of Nine and Ten network programming. GWN, with a Seven Network schedule, reduced its hour-long news to a half-hour bulletin dedicated to local news followed by Seven News and Today Tonight on relay from Perth — a line-up that continues today with GWN7 (the ‘7’ was added to the network branding in 2011) providing the only local TV news service in the regional WA market, with news crews positioned around the state.
Almost a decade after digital TV began in Australia, digital transmission commenced for GWN in 2010 in selected parts of the state. The digital signal initially offered a limited service of just the primary standard definition channel before expanding to cover the rest of the state and to include additional channels 7TWO and 7mate. Analogue transmission came to a close in 2013.
GWN7 and WIN are also joint venture partners in West Digital Television, broadcasting a local Nine Network outlet to regional WA, with WIN presenting a Network Ten schedule since mid-2016.
Almost two decades after the introduction of commercial competition into the market, GWN7 is still dominant — rating well ahead of Nine West and WIN.