Staff

Laurie Burrows
Station Manager 1972 - 1989. Followed Stan Fitzpatrick.

See more interesting stories and memories from Laurie's time at the station here

GENERAL MANAGER WANTED

In early 1972 I was working as TV production Manager for Noel Paton Advertising in Melbourne and following 3 years at NBN Newcastle and 5 years at BTV6 Ballarat not really enjoying the move to an advertising agency.  I’d been headhunted from BTV when I produced and directed a musical special shot on location at the opening of Sovereign Hill theme park. Sponsorship of the special was placed  through  Noel Paton advertising for their biggest client  Dunhill cigarettes in the days when advertising cigarette products was totally legal.

In March of 1972  I spotted an ad. in trade magazine B & T for a job as general manager of  a leading but unnamed regional TV station carrying a salary of between $8000 and $10000 pa giving a Sydney box number as an address.   It appears the directors of DDQ were somewhat desperate about the profitability of the station and were even considering closing down the Toowoomba operation in favour of coming to an agreement to relay programs from a neighbour such as Wide Bay but decided to see if there was anyone out there who might be able to rescue the company.

I was interviewed initially by DDQ board member Ken Archer who was CEO of the broadcast interests of the Albert Family which included 4GR, 4BC,2UW and which was the major shareholder of DDQ and I was flown to Toowoomba one weekend to meet the local board members.

A week or so later I had an interview with Sir Lincoln Hynes who was DDQ chairman and had previously been the Alberts media CEO.   He offered me the job and I started at the station on May 1st 1972.  I think I was the youngest general manager in Australian TV at the time at the grand old age of 32.

DDQ had originally made very good profits as national revenue was strong based on the estimated viewing audience to the station.  Queensland Regional TV stations had resisted participating in any audience surveys until a couple of years earlier when the major advertisers such as Unilever said they would not place schedules with stations that could not supply accurate viewing data so DDQ took part in the first annual NcNair regional TV survey for the state.

The results were pretty disastrous and showed that the estimated viewing audience was well and truly overestimated.  The board refused to drop the advertising rates to accord with appropriate CPM ( cost per thousand) so DDQ became the most expensive TV station in Australia and lost heaps of national schedules.

Main problem of course was the Toowoomba city audience , located on a nice high spur of the Great Dividing Range receiving good reception from all Brisbane stations from transmitters which were actually a few kilometres closer to Toowoomba than the channel 10 transmitter on Mount Mowbullan .  Even though the signal into Tooowoomba from DDQ 10 was ok it came from the wrong direction and most people had their antennas pointed at Mount Coot tha which gave them the ABC and three commercial stations and at best a ghosted signal from DDQ and the ABC.

A “translator” license  for  Toowoomba city had been granted a couple of years before and operated from the link tower at the DDQ studios, however it was very low power and still came to most Toowoomba residents from the wrong direction,

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10th BIRTHDAY

When I joined the station Ian Leslie ( program manager) and John Peel (local sales manager) were in the midst of planning special programs and promotions for the 10th Birthday of the station later in the year.  There was a $100 a ticket ( A huge amount at the time)  fund raising ball at McGregor college, major viewer prizes and special programs as the 10th birthday coincided with the Annual TV audience survey.

By June 30 , 1972 the stations after tax profit was just over $5000 , its worst result since establishment.  I set out with the team to improve the on air look of the station, make direct contact with advertisers and their ad agencies in the major Melbourne and Sydney to try and improve our share of the national dollar , look for additional local sales reps, and try to get the power of Channel 5 (later 5a) boosted and relocated to Picnic Point so that we could be received on antennas pointed toward Brisbane.  Sir Lincoln Hynes had told me that the board were totally committed to having the station transmit in colour from the date set by the government May 1975 so Paul Ament came on board as chief engineer later in the year as there was a helluva lot of planning and ordering to be done, biggest single item being replacement of the Channel 10 transmitters which were not  capable of colour ( while the SDQ transmitters were ok)

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FIRST STATION IDs


While I was at Noel Paton in Melbourne I worked with various radio and TV creative people including Bruce Woodley guitarist with the former smash hit Australian group The Seekers.  He agreed to put together some low cost Jingles  ( as I recall about $300 for the lot) which we could use for station IDs and Paul Erbacher DDQ production manager added the pictures and we improved the look of the station from the previous slide IDs in use at the time.  It was quite a bargain Bruce later wrote the hit song I Am Australian, 

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OUR FIRST WEATHER GIRL

We decided to have weather girls present the nightly local forecasts for the grand sum of $3 per forecast and we had plenty of takers. The weather was presented on a couple of locked off vidicon (mono) cameras.  There was a wide shot of the presenter on one camera and close up of the  weather boards on the other,  As  I recall it we had three felt covered grooved boards where letters were slotted in.  The back board , which was the first one shown each night was anchored to the studio wall while the other two were hinged (one with an offset hinge) the presenter pulled a string and closed the two other boards as the forecast was presented.  Picture quality on the vidicons was awful with black lettering on dark grey boards smearing like mad as the boards slowly swung into sight.

On the first night our very first DDQ weather girl Jane Jewel pulled the wrong string which meant the spring loaded board could not close over the back board.  The board that was supposed to be straight onto the camera was off stuck to one side , as one of the guys from the control room raced down the circular stairs to move the camera, Jane shook the board to try to get it to move into place, and most of the letters fell off the board onto the floor.  Not a good start but it got better and we started to get letters from viewers congratulating the station on its brighter look.

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IAN LESLIE

After the 10th Birthday celebrations Ian Leslie decided to seek his fame and fortune  in Capital City News and resigned as program manager (and local newsreader).  I think Ian was with the station for most if not all of its first 10 years joining as a teenager and leaving around the age  of 25.  Ian was quickly picked up by Channel Ten Sydney which had just launched Eye Witness News  ( “I’m an Eyewitness Cos I saw it on 10)”. The station used the then fairly revolutionary idea of having news reporters go out on location with the camera team and talk directly to the camera,  Previously most coverage was with silent film and voice over provided by the studio newsreader.

Ian quickly made his mark when the La Balsa raft arrived in Australia.  This raft was modelled  on centuries old designs to show how past generations of Polynesians had sailed the Pacific Ocean.   It was to make landfall somewhere on the NSW North Coast and all channels were trying to be first to spot and film it.  Ian chartered a bigger boat than the rest and scooped them all,

Later Ian went on to become of the presenters for the Nine Networks Sixty Minutes and the rest is history.

As the station was trading badly we were looking for cost savings I decided to include Program Manager in my duties and not replace Ian,  Ian had an assistant program manager and I offered her this job to continue but her reply was “program manager or nothing” which solved that problem.

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COLOUR IN 75

We had less than three years to get  ready for colour which meant scrapping just about every  piece of equipment in the building except for lights and links.  I decided that as all overseas programs were made in colour ( and before 1975 imported on mono 16mm prints or Kines) and as Australian drama programs were also being made in colour we would present TOTAL COLOUR from 1975.   This gave an advantage over our city cousins who planned to still run a lot of mono material from day one.  I just made sure that we used up all programs where only mono prints were supplied before 1975 and negotiated all new program purchases with colour prints or tape.  It’s probably worth mentioning that 99% of all programs telecast at that tine and up to the time of aggregation were physically delivered to the station each day and despatched the next day to the next station running the print or tape.

Our cost of conversion to colour was I recall around  $450,000 which was  a large amount in 1975 for   station not making a lot of profits.

Sir Lincoln Hynes and the board were supportive of getting it right and I can recall putting together with Paul Ament a “slide show” presentation to the board setting out the major items required for colour, what they did and what they would cost.  Today it would be put together on powerpoint but we filmed everything, product shots and caption cards onto 35mm slides and projected them in the board room,   The board were aware of the local productions that had taken place on film and with  a small tape van since the station started and we were able to come up with a design for an affordable OB van so that this could continue in colour.


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COLOUR OB VAN

We bought a Toyota Coaster mini bus and the techs stripped seats out of it, took glass out of the windows and replaced the engine with a more gutsy Holden motor.  Back pack cameras were still a couple of years away so we selected three Ikegami cameras all of which came with very bulky and heavy CCUs (camera control units),  One of the cameras and its CCU  was permanently installed in the Van, one was permanently installed at the Studio and the third was a “floater” it could be a second camera either in the studio or in the OB van,  We had Ikegami customise the CCU of this camera so that it came in two manageable racks for portability,   While these were the most compact broadcast quality 
Cameras available at the time they were still bloody heavy.  It should have taken two people to lift them , although we had some pretty strong tech and production people working with  the station ( such as Paul Erbacher’s brother) to throw them around with little problems.   Most of our OBs were taped and edited for later telecast so that local show coverages could be produced with one camera but things like the Warwick Rodeo needed two.

The unit clocked up many thousands if kilometres around the Darling Downs, South Burnett and the Granite belt.  I believe we were the only station in regional Queensland to have an OB unit and probably only NBN and some of the larger Victorian stations were the only other Australian regionals to have one.

We regularly covered all the major agricultural shows and town festivals including of course the Carnival of the Flowers.  We also put together some more ambitious productions including a couple of Christmas programs taped inside local churches and even the local Catholic Cathedral.

We also produced the first stereo simulcast ( when TV sound was still monaural) in conjunction with 4DDBFM.  This featured the local Toowoomba Orchestra and soloists presenting light classics and taped in the gardens of Cliffford House, then a prominent restaurant.
 
On the first night of colour transmission we produced a colour documentary of the vewing area and a half hour variety program using local talent.  I can only remember two of the acts-One was a local family song and instrumental group who presented I’m a Train.  We had Chroma key for the first time so we green screened the group against some travelling shots on the range railway.  Jack Hardy was the fearless cameraman perched on one of the small rail carts used by QR maintenance gangs to get some tremendous footage.  The other act I recall was with the Toowoomba (Thistle?) Scottish Pipe band led by Bill Hills from our sales staff.  We found some pine forests around the water supply catchments that looked reasonably Scottish. 

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LOCAL SALES

Many people over the years came through my door ( including Gary Rozynski) offering to be part of our local sales team and I gave them all a go and can’t remember anyone not working out.  We gave each a three month trial with a reasonably generous retainer and an achievable commission and car allowance.  By the third month the retainer had dropped back and by that time they were earning a good salary from commissions.

Within reason I was always prepared to increase the numbers on our sales staff.  So good was our local sales team in these years that when the company bought TVQO/10 at the end of 1987 I found that despite a much cheaper rate card at DDQ we were writing far more revenue in the bush than our city cousins.  We soon fixed that when Jace Macintyre shifted to TVQ and formed an effective local sales team in Brisbane.

Wendy Wormwell was our first female sales rep and I think the first one to be based outside Toowoomba.  Located in Warwick she looked after the SDQ towns of Warwick, Goondiwindi and the Granite Belt.

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GREAT EASTLAND TV

Despite the board not allowing me to set national rates that reflected our audience delivery we were able to work with our metropolitan sales offices-ParPlan in Sydney and Melbourne and Queensland Regional Television in Brisbane to pout together some attractive packages and national revenue started to rise.  However in the listing by size of regional TV we were down towards the bottom , and national advertisers prefer large markets.  I made overtures to the rest of the Queensland regional stations to sell a joint rate card in Sydney and Melbourne but they weren’t interested.  I then spoke to the managers  of NEN-ECN  Tamworth-Taree and NRN-RTN Lismore Coffs harbour who were also not getting their share of national revenue.

They agreed to form a network, all boards of directors agreed and $100,000 was set aside for a trade launch,  In todays terms that’s probably equivalent of $1million,

We approached a couple of advertising agencies in Sydney who more or less said we were wasting our money and that the market would not be interested in a network that was spread across two states.

We then approached John Singleton whose agency had done some very successful and quite controversial ad campaigns.

His creatives came up with a one week campaign mainly done with full page press ads in Sydney and Melbourne showing a map of the coverage area now called GREAT EASTLAND which had decided it wanted to secede from Australia.  It was topical as Premier Joh Bjelke Peterson had often mentioned secession for Queensland and Western Australia had a few secessionists.

The ad campaign fooled everyone and we received tremendous free publicity for most of the week as radio , tv and press swallowed the secession story.

The campaign was scheduled for the week before the annual conference in Canberra of the AANA , Australian Association of National Advertisers.
We sponsored the opening night dinner where some 500 of the most influential national client and advertising agency personnel were on hand.

Singletons agency hired Barry Humphries as Queen Dame Edna Everage-Queen of Great Eastland who waltzed into the ballroom of the Lakeside Hotel throwing out gladdies and doing a very clever monologue which was very funny  but also got out the key parts of our message….one buy –one account – better rates etc.

Passports to Great Eastland were handed out and the audience was invited to sing the Great Eastland National Anthem-to the tune of the Pub with no Beer-The Place with no ads.  I was sitting directly opposite Channel Nine MD Kerry Packer  who happily sang along.

It was a very successful night and Barry Humphries $5000 fee was good value.

It was a time when the national TV stations 7-9 and 10 were selling individual stations and hadn’t really got their network act together so we were well ahead of them and our national revenue for all stations powered along.  While the three stations still operated separately we started to buy programs together which helped our buying power and essentially we all showed the same programs at the same time-something the capital city network stations were not doing.

Great Eastland was very successful and lasted until just prior to regional TV aggregation and created many millions of extra national revenue,

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IMPROVED PROFITS

By keeping reasonably tight on costs our after tax profit slowly started to improve and Sydney based businessman Eric Dare took an interest in buying into the company, firstly by stock exchange purchases and then by offering to buy the major shareholding of the Albert family.  Their radio stations on the AM band were facing opposition from new FM licenses so  they were happy to divest themselves of their TV interests.

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ERIC DARE

Eric Dare was a large , hearty man, usually described as an Entrepreneur.  He was a distributor of theatrical movies and television programs and also proprietor of various theatre restaurants in Sydney-most famous of which was Les Girls  , the all male revue at Kings Cross.

Eric was supportive of what we were trying to do at the station and particularly liked the emphasis on the local sales team.

By doing some clever stock market moves , bonus share issues , changing the par value of the shares, paying better dividends, coupled with our better profitability Eric was able to more than double the value of his stake in DDQ in a short time.  At the time there was no capital gains tax in Australia which meant that Eric would pay no tax if he sold his shareholding, however it was obvious that such a tax wasn’t far aeway so Eric put his shareholding up for Tender.     For many months there was no action, then along came a Melbourne company called Aspermont,

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DAVID HAYNES

David was a former head of a succesful merchant bank in Melbourne and formed Aspermont as an investment company.  At the time there was almost a hysteria as the big entrepreneurs  Alan Bond, Christopher Skase and others paid ridiculously high prices for Australian media.

David wanted to use DDQ as a stepping stone into more Australian media but I think I was able to convince him that the boat had left and prices  were too high,  (This was the time when Alan Bond paid a billion dollars for the Nine Network, Packer bought it back a couple of years later for half this price)  
Davids UK financial contacts had alerted him to that that commercial radio which had only been going for a few years ( this was 1985) was running into problems in some areas and there could be opportunities.

David gave me his research and suggested I go and have a look.   A head on car smash in Brisbane slowed me down for a couple of months but I visited the UK at the end of 1985.   As a result of this we bought Marcher Sound in North Wales and started negotiations with other groups.  Later we purchased a Canadian company’s interests which gave us one of the only two London commercial radio stations and other controlling interests in England and Scotland.

From then until 1988 I shuttled between the UK and Australia and was appointed managing director the group and moved away from day to day management of DDQ.

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TVQ AND WORLD EXPO88

Christopher Skase ownedTVQ-0 Brisbane for a couple of years but had to sell it when he bought the Seven Network.   The Lowy Family (Westfield corporation) were keen for us to buy TVQ and at the same time effect a channel swap so that DDQ became Channel 0 and TVQ became Channel Ten in line with the rest of the Ten Network.

I managed  TVQ0/10 from September 1988 through to about September 1989 which was an interesting time as it was World Expo 88 on South Bank and TVQ was the official telecaster with a full working news studio at Expo open to the public.  The entire news crew from TVQ relocated to world Expo for the duration,

At the end of Expo David Haynes reached agreement with the Lowys to sell the station to them. 

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TRAINING GROUND

I am very proud of what we achieved at DDQ over the years with limited resources in a fairly ordinary building but I am especially proud of the people we attracted and trained for the TV industry.   At one time in the late 80s there were a dozen or more personnel, on and off camera who had graduated from DDQ  to work at one of the Brisbane stations.

On camera names include Jill Ray, Debbie Turner and Jennie Woodward but there were many creative , sales and news personnel who cut their teeth in Toowoomba and the Darling Downs who went on to greater things in the industry.   I know of at least 6 former DDQ staffers still in the Brisbane TV or related industries.

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REGIONAL NEWS

When I joined DDQ our news was presented by Ian Leslie and for many years we only had the budget to present a 5 to 10 minute nightly news Monday to Friday.  For a few years we employed one full time announcer who presented local news and did other general announcing duties.

Our run with announcers who drifted in and drifted out was generally not good and last time I was at the station, admittedly a few years back the punch marks in the studio door by one of them in a temper were still there.

One day a gentleman from way out west-I think 4LG, Longreach called Arthur Copeland rang to say he was coming through Toowoomba on holidays and could he get an interview.  Arthur after 20 years with the radio station was looking for a change of scenery and was also planning to be married.   Arthur seemed a somewhat more stable gentleman than the previous couple of announcers and he joined the station.

Our local news was the usual mix of read items and film stories which we shot on16mm black and white film which we processed at Mount Lofty.  Film manager Rhys Morris was I think the only person who knew how to operate the clunky film processor, where chemicals had to be at the right temperature and the whole process took place in total darkness-great fun if you had a film break.

Arthur took a few days off in early 1974 to go down to Sydney to be married for the first time, unfortunately this coincided with the Brisbane floods and he didn’t get past the Lockyer Valley but made it ok a week or so later.

With the advent of colour I felt that we couldn’t justify the huge cost and running costs of a colour film processor and Paul Ament and myself felt that the era of film was probably about to end, although at that time no affordable lightweight electronic news gathering ENG cameras were available.

Initially when colour transmission started we used lots of color slides and chroma key and studio interviews until a stop gap eng camera arrived using 2 tubes ( all professional TV cameras at the time used three tubes.)   While the quality was not brilliant it did allow us to get out and about and again have moving pictures, with the addition of sound.

The technical boffins at the Australian Broadcasting Control Board gave us permission to use the two tube camera for  limited amount of time so it was only used for news.  

One day two human skeletons were discovered in the range below Toowoomba and suspected to be two hitchhiking nurses who had disappeared a couple of years before.  The story was a big one around Australia and photographs of the missing girls had been widely circulated, one had a particularly large gap in her front teeth,

As soon as we heard of the discovery of the bodies Jack Hardy shot down the range to get footage.  The local plod kept Jack right back from the scene of the crime but didn’t know about zoom lenses so Jack got in for tight close ups which showed our audience that night that the teeth in one of the skulls looked very like one of the missing girls and our footage was picked up by capital city stations.

The Broadcasting Control Board asked for a copy of the tape and I thought we might get a rap over the knuckles for the skeletal close ups, but it appears they were only interested in the technical quality of our two tube camera. ( Incidentally the murder was never solved and in September this year-2012, it was re opened and Jack Hardys tape got another run on national TV,)

When David Haynes Aspermont became the largest shareholder in 1985 I talked to him about the possibilities of extending to a full half hour regional news and he agreed.   It was a huge step forward and although we ran it very tightly-still a costly one.

Jack Hardy shot most if not all of the Toowoomba footage and edited this along with our stringer cameramen in the Darling Downs and Southern Downs.  After doing all of this Jack then directed the live telecast.

Filling  a half hour from a region with less than 400,000 people was a challenge.  Unlike our city cousins we could not use any international or interstate footage-everything had to from our viewing area.    

We decided to give it a name that sounded a bit more like A Current Affair or Today tonight and Ian Anderson advertising dreamed up the name ( which I am afraid I cant remember) plus jingles etc.

We used two news presenters , separate sports host and a different weather presenter and a pretty flash looking studio set.   At the time capital city stations were still reliant on film while we were totally electronic and tape with better quality and faster turnaround.

I believe the 30 minute local news for the 10-4-5a area continued until aggregation.

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EBENEZER THE DRAGON


While we didn’t have resources to produce a live kids program we did the next best thing with having a live host anchor all the kids programs Monday to Friday from about 3.30 pm.  Rhonda was our first kids host and we soon introduced a very popular partner for her in Ebenezer the Dragon. A local puppeteer created the animal and we ran a competition to name the creature among our young viewers and Ebenezer was born.

Rhonda and Eb were extremely popular and booked for most weekends making live appearances at school fetes and town festivals around the viewing area.   The only unhappy person was a certain Reverend Ebenezer from the Warwick Uniting Church who wrote me a plaintive letter asking for a change of name as it made his school visits somewhat untenable.

The hands and voice of the dragon belonged to Peter Koury who had joined our production department shortly after arriving from Boston USA.  A genuine “muppet” style American voice and Pete’s great sense of humour   added to the popularity of the segment.

After a couple of years Peter and his wife Trish decided to head back to the US so we presented Pete with the original dragon and commissioned a new one, slightly different who we called Uncle Eb.  This time the man behind the dragon was Errol Morrison, a very successful Toowoomba hairstylist.

Rhonda had left the station to work in advertising in Sydney and her place was taken by Jill Ray.  Jill would walk up the hill from the nearby Mount Lofty high school and change out of her school uniform to present the session, later she joined the station full time.

When Jill left on an extended overseas tour, followed by a very successful radio career in Brisbane her place was taken by Debbie Turner.  Deb was studying to be a teacher at DDIAE ( now University of Southern Qld) and worked part time and came on board full time after graduating.

As well as being the straight person to Uncle Eb Deb was also a very effective promotions manager for the station.

Deb was enticed to Brisbane to be part of a new Saturday morning kids show, and when I took over management of TVQ-0/10 invited her to join the station to co-ordinate the promotional activities for World Expo 88.   After Expo concluded she stayed with Ten Brisbane and later moved o BTQ-7 where she continues to work.

Laurie Burrows - 21/09/2012 Add a comment