I suppose if I look back and assess what I wanted to achieve in my life, the one thing that stands out is radio. I wanted to make my mark in radio. That had been the dream that drove me most.
It began as a child with an old preserved fruit can for a microphone and a bedroom for a broadcast booth. As I called phantom games of footy into that old can, I am sure my parents thought I was mad!
My ambition to play League football was also driven by my dream to get a job on radio. Jobs were scarce, I knew I couldn't be a pretty voice, and pretty voices were two bob a dozen anyway. To get that one chance at the job, I reckoned I needed to be a former player who could call because it would bring extra credibility to the job.
My radio career kicked off simply enough. While I was still playing, I had several discussions with Harry Beitzel, who was then with 3AW. Before my last game of League football, I spoke to Beitzel. Just before we started our warm-up, Beitzel came into the rooms. I reminded him that he had promised me a job the following year on 3AW and he assured me that everything was fine. And it was. I commenced my radio career in Round 1 the next season.
It was a shaky start. I was an around-the-grounds man for Harry Beitzel and Bill Jacobs, I might have been a novice but I was willing to learn and, more importantly, willing to have a go, fall over, get up and try again. Bill Jacobs in the early days had a reputation of being a grumpy old man with a genuine chip on his shoulder. I could see the animosity in his eyes when I asked too many questions at meetings. Bill seemed to be genuinely threatened by any new kid on the block, as Shane Healy was to find out when he tried to make his mark in football broadcasting.
I had borrowed a tape recorder from 3AW to practice my calling. I figured I had to learn this trade quickly since my shot at it could come and go in just a couple of years. I had to move fast. Bob Quinn and Beitzel helped me, freely giving me tips and feedback. I used to sit in the outer and broadcast the night games for practice and eventually I got on a roll and felt comfortable with my calling. It was over the top, loud and aggressive but I figured I had to do it my way and not mimic anyone else, especially Harry Beitzel.
I was invited to join the commentary team during the 1981 season. That season ended up with Carlton convincing 20 point winners over Collingwood in the Grand Final. Over the summer, I thought long and hard about my future at 3AW. Obviously it was a great job but I figured I had to take into account my clashes with Bill Jacobs and, frankly, it was not an enjoyable scene at all.
In January 1982, Hugh McMaster, chief of the Boating Industry Association, wanted to know whether I would be interested in hosting a water sports program on radio station 3DB. After some deep consideration, I told Hugh I would only contemplate hosting the 3DB program if it was an all-fishing format. Two days later I had a meeting and left his office with a six-week deal.
The first hour-long Fishing Sportsworld program went to air at 7pm on Friday, 5 th March 1982. We got through the six weeks and luckily we rated, and the sales team produced some sponsorship. The program now has a new home but it has been running for 1000 weeks and in March 2002 we celebrated 20 years of the fishing show on Melbourne radio.
Towards the end of the 1983 football season I had the chance of working with Mike Williamson calling the football for 3DB. Very rarely did I get a word in but that did not faze me because the experience of sitting next to Mike and learning from him was reward enough for me.
The next year Mike Williamson retired and I was appointed head of the 3DB football panel. I was doing more and more work on 3DB, filling in as a drive-time sports show host and on Thursday evenings I was on the panel which included Peter Landy and Lou Richards, announcing and dissecting the League teams for the coming weekend.
Times were getting tough at 3DB and Bert Newton was appointed general manager of the once-great station. Bert made several radical changes but nothing seemed to work. Soon the news came through that 3DB had been sold and that the station would be closed down. I was devastated because I had thrown everything I had into making my switch to the station work. Most of the people from 3DB were going across to 3UZ . I spoke to some people there about my fishing show, they were very patronizing and only offered me a 15 minute time slot at 5.45am on a Sunday. I had hit a brick wall. Lynne suggested I take the fishing show to 3AW.
I made an appointment with 3AW veteran Graham Walton. I received a very good hearing and, as I sat in his office, I could hear the lunchtime celebration of yet another ratings win by the all-conquering 3AW. Graham told me that although I was always welcome at AW, all the bases were loaded. He did say if anything came up he would ring me. I returned home absolutely flat.
The very next week I returned to the station and told the girl on the desk that I had an appointment with Mike Petersen, the general manager. That was a lie. But I was desperate and somehow I got through the foyer and was escorted to Mike's office. Mike knew I did not have an appointment but he gave me a hearing. Mike said he liked my style and I left convinced that all was not lost. I had a couple of things going for me. Mike had heard my Fishing Sportworld show on 3DB and he was keen to learn fishing. What an opening. Two nights later, Mike caught his first snapper in my boat and the next Sunday he caught his first salmon on my bus trip to Warrnambool. I was in like Flynn.
Mike gave me a 13 week agreement to start a fishing show on 3AW, he had thrown me a lifeline just one month after it appeared that my radio career was about to go belly-up. It was the biggest break I could have hoped for.
December proved to be a big month for me that year. Not long after the fishing show made it's 6pm debut, Harry Beitzel approached me in the foyer of AW with an astonishing offer. Harry explained to me that he was going to leave 3AW and move to 3AK where Brian White, former manager of AW, was setting up a programming experiment that would see the station broadcast nationally. Harry was going to be in charge of sport and wanted me on the team. I told Harry I was excited at the prospect of calling the football with him but he sat me back on my pants when he told me that Bob Skilton and Graeme Dawson were going to call with him. I went from speechless to devastated in the space of minutes.
I told Harry I would have to think about it but my mind was pretty well made up. I figured if Beitzel was on his bike, then I might be a show for bigger things at 3AW. But I also knew that if I got the gig, I would face a big hurdle, one that I had chosen not to jump when I quit 3AW for 3DB in 1982. That hurdle was Bill Jacobs.
Word was going around the industry that something big was happening. Mike Petersen asked me if I was going to 3AK or staying at AW. I said I was staying right where I was. If I was stunned by that question I was flabbergasted by the next. Petersen asked me if I wanted to take over Beitzel's job as chief football caller at 3AW.
In 1993, Shane Healy took over from Bill Jacobs and we became a great combination. The ratings proved that, as did the awards we won at the Rawards, radio's version of the Logies.
Shane left Melbourne when he was offered the general managers job at 6PR in Perth . When he left, just before that start of the 1996 season, I was on the lookout for another partner. Shane called his last game on ANZAC day and Anthony Hudson took over. Huddo made an impression when he and I called some games for channel 7 during the 1999 season. He then joined channel 7 and Rexy was looking for another partner. We had our eye on Clinton Grybas from the ABC and Steve Price did the deal that won Clinton 's signature. Clinton has been marvelous, absorbing a lot of the pressure. The young man is keeping the oldies on their toes with his spectacular calling and professional hosting. The future is very rosy, indeed, for Clinton .
My radio career has spanned over 23 years and in that time I have seen a lot of faces come and go. I have been lucky to have broadcast my two loves: fishing and football. I have worked with some of the great people of radio and football. I feel privileged to have broadcast over 1100 League games, including calling 19 grand finals over 24 seasons.
I have broadcast some of the highs and lows that have happened in my lifetime. I will never forget Mr. Football, Ted Whitten, being driven around the MCG, with his son, before a State-of-Origin match against South Australia . His last public appearance before his death. I was also broadcasting when momentous international events unfolded in front of us: the tragic death of Princess Dianna and the Port Arthur massacre both took place during our live call.
But it has been the buzz of the game that has kept me going. I have promised myself that when I drive into the car park for the football and I don't feel that burning in my system, I will give it away. Because that is the feeling which fuels me every week when I go to work. As a kid at Parkdale, I called the game from the boundary. I dreamed that one day I would broadcast football live on the radio. Once again, I feel I have dreamed well.
Rex can now be heard on the FM band at his new home Triple M. Rex joined Triple M in 2010 and will be heard on the airwaves again for the 2011 season. Tune in to 105.1 Triple M for all of the action!