Legendary Griffith Australian footballer, Jack Luhrs, known as ‘Ironman’, carved out an illustrious media career after he finished playing with Eastern Suburbs (1948-49) and Griffith (1949-55) that entailed a best and fairest in Griffith’s premiership win over his hometown Whitton in 1952.
Jack was the father of well-known Wagga country music songwriter and performer Grant Luhrs, himself a highly talented and successful footballer with Griffith, East Sydney and Claremont (WAFL). Grant currently hosts the Saturday morning radio show on ABC Wagga.
In this article of 11 June 1993, published in The Area News, Jack recalls his time in the media in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area (MIA) and how he got football broadcast on the airwaves. This article is published on https://www.swansonscreen.com/. – “the most comprehensive history of the Griffith Swans and their opponents from 1914 to the present day” – (a wonderful football site).
Footy Takes to the Air
THE football of yesteryear’s was totally different to that of today. Throughout the country areas and particularly that of the old South West District Football League, football meant most of the local community reserved Sunday to support their local footy team.
Then extent of community involvement was even more highlighted in the smaller country centres such as Ganmain, Coolamon, Whitton, Ardlethan, Ariah Park and Mirrool, Matong and Grong Grong.
This area and the bigger centres of Griffith, Leeton, Narrandera and Wagga were ripe for the broadcasting of South West League premiership matches and this is how I became involved.
By 1955 my own football was finished where I had played in the Swans first ever South West League premiership with Tom Roulent as coach in 1952.
In the 50’s, Rugby League controlled the airways where the late Freddy Turner called the game from the hills of Tumbarumba to the rice-fields of the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area.
I was a member of the Griffith Apex Club at the time and one of our meetings listed a debate that ‘Rugby was a better footy game than Australian Rules’.
It was meant to be a friendly issue but somehow it go out of hand.
Charlie Lee, a great Rugby fan, said that Aussie Rules wasn’t much of a game because it was never broadcast through 2RG. I replied to Charlie the reason why you did not hear Aussie Rules on Sunday was ‘because the management of the radio station was biased against the Australian game’.
Ray Gamble was the then radio manager of 2RG and a fellow member of the Apex Club.
Ray was furious at my allegation so much so he said, “Right…beginning next Sunday you will call the first game of Aussie Rules”.
Having opened my big mouth too wide I had to go on with it. I had never called a game of footy before, in fact I was a tractor salesman at time working for J. S. Vagg and Company, but I was stuck with it.
Needing some help on how we were going to do it I asked Dick Bitcon, a fellow member of the premiership side, to give me a hand.
The games were played those days on the Griffith showground oval. We set up our little table on the boundary and had a technician from 2RG with us to read the commercials and to hook up the landlines to the studio.
Our first efforts were clumsy and naturally a great learning experience. Dick stayed with me for a while, but he was a rice farmer out at Benerembah and was not always available to help me call the games. Soon I was on my own and remained that way for most of the next 25 years.
The extent of the radio cover and the interest it created surprised me and certainly surprised the management of 2RG. Almost immediately I was given a spot-on Sunday nights when 2RG occupied the present building of the Griffith Area News newspaper, to provide a round-up of matches played that day in the South West League.
Not always careful with my words and certainly ignorant those days in laws of defamation, I was inclined to be too outspoken and soon found myself earning the ire of a number of footy clubs.
I remember one time I named a Leeton player for deliberately kicking a Griffith opponent in a match at Griffith on the Showground oval. Perhaps just as well the Leeton player was given a match suspension for the incident, or I could have been facing a defamation charge.
But I tempered my radio style in time for the next 20 years became part of the golden years of football in the South West, through the 60’s and 70’s and almost to the time the South West League changed its named to the present Riverina Football League.
Australian football was featured strongly by Radio 2RG where we not only had the Sunday broadcast, and the Sunday night match report but we also did a match preview on Saturday night.
These aspects were continued and expanded even further when MTN9 first began its telecasting from its Remembrance Drive studio in Griffith.
It was not long before footy clubs began providing broadcasts boxes at their grounds and there was no doubt that radio was king as far as footy was concerned.
Again repeating I was proud to be part of these golden years, I also maintained my interests as a newspaper stringer for a number of publication. They included The Area News in the days when ‘Doc’ Jones published it as a broadsheet two days a week. The Riverina Daily News when Paul Jones attempted to bring a daily newspaper to the Griffith region to rival the Wagga Daily Advertiser.
It was at that time I worked with Graham Gorrel, editor of The Wagga Daily Advertiser, I also wrote for the Griffith Advocate, the Griffith Times and from 1988 till two years ago, was on the sports desk at the Wagga Daily Advertiser until my retirement. (Jack Luhrs passed away in 2011- Ed)