Off the Wall

It would not have gone unnoticed at the NRL headquarters that radio 2GB's Ray Hadley reached new heights when the first radio ratings for 2010 were released recently, or that 2GB trounced everyone else in the vital Sydney market.

Radio 2GB is the NRL's commercial radio rights holder. Having a media partner who is so dominant in the ratings will do rugby league no harm whatsoever in the 2010 season!

I think we underestimate the contribution radio continues to make to rugby league.

The days when there were four or five stations broadcasting league matches live in Sydney, and two or three doing so in Brisbane, are long gone. Just as the days when three or four stations in both cities broadcast horse racing live.

Today the broadcast of rugby league matches on radio is largely confined to 2GB and the network of 40 or so stations that take its call - including 4BC in Brisbane - and the ABC. The Monday night match is broadcast by an FM network only.

It is easy to dismiss the importance of radio to rugby league given that seven of the eight matches each weekend are now shown live on either Nine or Fox Sports. Easy - but very unwise.

Radio ratings for league on 2GB have always been strong. It also rates well on the ABC.

And there are tens of thousands of league fans for whom radio is the main link with rugby league. There are long haul transport drivers, husbands banished to the back shed by wives and siblings controlling television viewing habits, and, importantly, visually impaired fans.

I am one of those who unashamedly turns down the TV volume and listens to the radio broadcast whenever I can. But radio has much greater relevance to fans such as my mother, who is now visually impaired. She is far from alone...and it is not just the visually impaired.

How often do you go into a corner store or a cafe on a Sunday afternoon and hear the radio broadcast of the NRL?

The radio audience is much bigger than any surveys will indicate - it is a bit hard to survey a truckie on the Newell Highway in Western NSW, or the Bruce Highway in North Qld!

I find ABC radio coverage of the NRL somewhere between frustrating and annoying. When there is a Reds game on at the same time as an NRL match, the ABC in Brisbane broadcasts the rugby - unless the Broncos are playing. I assume the same happens in New South Wales and the ACT.

Hopefully the development of digital radio will result in rugby being pushed onto the ABC Grandstand digital network!

I grew up in an era where radio was dominant when it came to both the NSWRL premiership, and the Brisbane competition. It was an era where we were privileged to have some of the greatest callers of all time - such as Frank Hyde, Col Pearce and Tiger Black in Sydney and George Lovejoy and Arthur Denovan in Brisbane. And their generation was followed by the Greg Hartley's, and the Ray Hadley's of the last couple of decades, and Brisbane had high quality callers such as John McCoy.

As what looks like a great season for the NRL looms, radio will be there playing a major role - not as extensive as it once was, but important nonetheless.

As I wrote at the beginning - having one of the dominant radio broadcasters in the land also calling the greatest game of all does rugby league no harm whatsoever!