Celebrating the vision and voices of Melbourne’s ATV Channel 0
BY HELEN TULLY
Operation ‘Go for 0’
The NFSA looks to the television collection to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Channel 10 in Melbourne, then known as ATV0. Launched on 1 August 1964 ATV0 became, as promised, part of the life of Melbourne. Television Curator Helen Tully looks back at the establishment and challenges of ATV0’s development.
In 1956 television licences were only awarded to companies that were successful in the related media fields of radio and newspapers. By 1963, however, this was no longer considered necessary. On 10 April 1963, page one of The Age announced that the third commercial television licence (after HSV7 and GTV9) had been awarded to transport magnate Sir Reginald Ansett’s company Austarama Television Pty Ltd. The Australian Broadcasting Control Board (ABCB) stated in its report that Austarama were the preferred licencee as they ‘proposed to inject a higher degree of Australianism into television programmes’ 1 and because of ‘the company’s successful establishment of a record of ability, energy, enthusiasm and material resources and … its understanding of its public responsibilities’. 2
ATV Channel 0 was Melbourne’s third commercial television station, making Melbourne the first Australian city to have four television stations (including the non-commercial ABC). Reports in the newspaper extended the significance of this event by stating that ‘with the exception of some cities in the United States and densely populated Japan nowhere else in the world will have such a choice of channels’. 2
By October 1963, Operation ‘Go for 0’ was in full swing. The first sod had been turned to build a state-of-the-art television studio on a 10 hectare, former plant nursery site in the Melbourne suburb of East Burwood, now known as Nunawading. Construction of ATV0’s 179.83 metre transmission tower had commenced on Mt Dandenong. The first staff member recruited was Chief Engineer Graeme Davey in May 1963 and swiftly after that came station manager Len Mauger. ATV0 staff were temporarily located at Ansett House in Swanston Street, Melbourne whilst the Nunawading studios were being constructed.
ATV0’s two major studios, with their 12-metre-high ceilings, were wholly transistorised to ensure the best quality picture and sound. This was to be a studio of world class standard. Newspaper reports of the day stated that ’100,000 transistors were used’ 3 in the building of the studios. The studio equipment was partly automated with a pre-set switcher, enabling accurate, ‘to the second’ switching between video tape and film projectors. A mobile outside broadcast van equipped with the new video tape technology was also built. Although colour television was still 11 years away, the cameras and equipment purchased from the American RCA company were colour compatible. Clearly ATV0 had an eye for the future.
While the launch of ATV0 was looking bright a couple of issues still remained. The television studio’s suburban location, 25 kilometres from the Melbourne CBD, came with the promise that a freeway would soon be built to facilitate speedy access. 4 This distance and lack of a freeway was to prove problematic for ATV0’s news department. In addition, the channel was broadcasting on the low end of the VHF band at 45-52 mega–hertz. This meant many viewers in Melbourne were not able to receive the channel. Test transmission began, enabling viewers to locate the channel and test their sets, with some viewers having to either buy a new TV with the necessary 13 channel tuner, or invest in having their sets and aerials converted.
ATV0 test transmission. Courtesy Network Ten. NFSA title: 1241639
In the following excerpt from an interview conducted for the NFSA’s oral history program, ATV0’s first head news cameraman, Morrie Pilens, colourfully explains why he believed the test pattern was so popular.
Morrie Pilens interviewed by John Fife on 14 October 2009. NFSA title: 796809
As opening night drew closer ATV0 cheekily extended transmission testing to eight hours a day, from 12 noon to 8.00 pm. Award-winning documentaries were added and were screened without advertisements. To add insult to injury to the other channels the offering was also listed in The Age TV-Radio Guide for 4-7 May 1964. Back of Beyond, winner of the Grand Prix Assoluto at the Venice Film Festival, was broadcast on 5 May 1964 and was produced by John Heyer in 1954 for the Shell Unit, who also just happened to be sponsors of ATV0’s opening night variety show THIS IS IT.
These supposed ‘test transmissions’ raised the ire of other Melbourne TV stations and unsurprisingly, brought the ABCB into action. ATV0 were rebuked for the misuse of the test transmission period. An announcement in The Age TV and Radio Guide of 8-14 May proclaimed that ‘test programmes will be screened daily up to opening day by ATV–0 but will not be advertised as previously announced’. Operation ‘Go for 0’ was not diverted and work continued apace for the 1 August 1964 official launch and opening night variety show THIS IS IT.
Main image: ATV0’s first outside broadcast van. Courtesy Geoff Grant and Network Ten NFSA title: 1218564