IT seems only fitting that my comeback column should be devoted to the farewell for one of the most popular race-callers in the country, Wayne Wilson, who hangs up his microphone next Saturday after more than 25 years as the voice of Queensland racing.

Sky Channel rightly highlights the fact that their man in the north, Alan Thomas, has established what they call an ‘Academy for Young Race-Callers.’ But Wilson, due to his longevity in the job, has inadvertently launched the careers of some of the best broadcasters on the international stage.

Race-calling is not the easiest of professions to reach the top in. The advent of regular televised coverage of racing highlighted how bad some were and they simply did not survive. What was once more a part-time than professional occupation has now changed and more and more young callers are determined to make it their career and emulate the feats of their idols.

In that era long before Sky Channel and TVN was even thought of, race-callers like Bert Bryant and Ken Howard were idolized by a legion of punters. But first and foremost they needed to be entertainers.

The modern-day race broadcaster needs to be both entertaining and accurate. What he is calling is now there for everyone to see. Mistakes are not so easily missed. Accuracy has been the long suit of men like Greg Miles in Melbourne, the recently-retired Ian Craig in Sydney and Wayne Wilson and Alan Thomas in Brisbane.

Despite the enormous pressure of their jobs – if they get it wrong no-one lets them forget about it – race-calling is a profession that seems to almost last forever. And such is their love affair with racing that most of those who make it to the top are reluctant to call an early halt to their careers.

Only retirement, illness or untimely death provides the opportunity for those waiting in the wings to get the top job. Regardless of how good these under-studies are, unless they are prepared to just step into the spotlight when the No 1 caller is ill or goes on holidays, they basically have to be very, very patient.

That is why the more ambitious choose to move on and that has been the case in Queensland where Wilson was so good from such a young age for so long that he unwittingly helped launch the careers of some of the best callers in the world.

A prime example is Terry Spargo whose international career started in Hong Kong and now he is the voice of racing in Dubai and regarded as one of the finest race broadcasters in the world.

It’s a far cry from the day when a couple of good mates caught him doing his mouth exercises in the mirror in his hotel room at the Gold Coast where he called the gallops and trots for years.

Another who started out more than two decades ago in Brisbane and has now made his name internationally is American-based ‘race calling cult figure’ Michael Wrona.

Leading Australian caller, Johnny Tapp, recognized Wrona’s talents and recommended him for a gig at Hollywood Park in California. That was 1990 and Michael has been in the States ever since, calling at Bay Meadows, Golden Gate Fields, Arlington Park, New Orleans Fair Grounds and Lone Star Park in Texas.

Wrona never lost his inimitable Aussie accent and starts every call with the catch-phrase ‘RACING!’ which has made him extremely popular with American punters. He has travelled a long way since those early days at the trots and dogs in Brisbane and has called some big names and historic events in world racing.

The race-calling talents of Michael Maxworthy were virtually unknown during his days on Racing Radio in Brisbane where he hosted the morning show for many years. But when he took up an appointment with the Singapore Turf Club nine years ago Michael stepped straight into the caller’s shoes and quickly developed into a talented caller on the international stage.

One race-caller that most Australians would never have heard of before he went to Japan is Murray Johnson, who I had the privilege to get to know well on many trips to Hong Kong for their International meetings. He’s a great character and a terrific bloke with a dry sense of humor.

Johnson has no pretentions about being a top race-caller but does a tradesman-like job when he steps behind the microphone for the big races beamed out of Japan. What helps is that he speaks fluent Japanese and can handle the names of those horses that would prove an absolute nightmare for most callers.

A Queensland, Murray has been Japan-based for many years where his main job involves calling the sumo wrestling for a leading television network. That sport and its coverage is extremely popular in parts of the United States, like Hawaii, where there is a strong expat population. Johnson is a household name in sumo commentary.

Terry Bailey is another who cut his teeth race-calling during the Wilson era in Brisbane who went on to join Sky as their Sydney caller following the retirement of John Tapp and is now based in Melbourne with TVN.

Bailey has built a big following in Victoria where you need to be very good to survive as a race-caller. He has become an integral part of the team that hosts the night racing card at Moonee Valley and plenty tune in to TVN to see Dr Turf take the ‘Mickey’ out of him.

Greg Radley is another former Queensland race-caller that headed to greener pastures and built an even bigger career initially on Racing Radio in Sydney and now with Sky Racing World. Those who know Greg well would want me to mention his amazing ability to imitate personalities in racing, an in-demand performance he still provides at racing and sporting functions. His take on a stuttering and stammering Kenny Callander is magic.

The Brisbane Racing Club has organized a nostalgic farewell on Saturday to mark the end of a calling career that started close to half a century ago for Wayne Wilson. By his side will be his greatest supporter from the day he embarked on this adventure, his wonderful wife, Sally. They will no doubt be joined by a Fan Club spearheaded by their kids and grand-kids.

The day will no doubt revive memories of some popular Queensland callers of the past, spearheaded by the great Vince Curry and an old favorite in Keith Noud, who was also for many years Racing Editor of the Brisbane Telegraph.

One would expect there will be the odd story told about the calling exploits of Larry Pratt, Rod Gallegos and others. Pratt, the face of ABC Racing in Queensland for so many years, was as popular in the country as the city. He was the best tipster of them all and the life of the party at  the Townsville Cup Ball where every old girl in the room wanted to dance his little legs off.

Those who worked beside him at the Tele, like Mark ‘the Ear’ Oberhardt and myself, will long remember his sharp wit, his wisdom on the punt and his toasted curried prawn sandwiches. Every working day little Lawrence would arrive and distribute these to the Racing Department. We all wondered if his lovely wife, Val, had been up all night preparing them.

Obe and I would be the first to pounce – largely because we had missed breakfast, struggling to get out of bed and make the early morning start for the First Edition without copping a burst from old ‘Morto’ the Sports Editor for being late. Our daily in-take of pikelets with cream and strawberry jam were not available until the canteen opened mid morning.

The boss, ‘Mr Noud,’ as we always called him, wasn’t interested in eating when he scurried in from his morning visit to the track – alone of course, as no-one was game enough to drive with him. The first thing he would do was bang his old pipe on the side of the desk, light up again, then bash the crap out of the typewriter keys producing another racing scoop.

His son-in-law, ‘Rocket’ Rodney Gallegos was a great back-stop and an entertaining race-caller in his own right. His gravel voice graced the air-waves in the days when there were several radio stations covering the gallops and trots, well before the arrival of Sky where Rod now works.

Like most of us, Rodney loved a punt, but struggled to find a winner. That was blamed for his blackout call on an Ipswich race back in the 70s. It was one of those 800m scampers and somehow Rod got in into his head that there was another circuit remaining. As the jockeys eased their mounts passing the post, he breathlessly announced: ‘something has gone wrong here folks, a lot of horses are being eased out of this race,’ or words to that affect.’

But most of us will remember Rodney best for that fateful rainy night at the old Albion Park Paceway when he was perched high in the back of the public stand, oblivious to most he thought, with a belly full of his favorite Bundaberg brew, when out of nowhere came this angry little woman and belted him over the head with an umbrella. We never did quite find out what that was all about.

It’s amazing how many of the top race-callers got their grounding at the trots. It was the case with Wilson and Spargo and that is where Queensland’s new No 1 gallops broadcaster, David Fowler, has primarily worked as he played the waiting game.

When I first saw David call a race he was a freckled-faced kid, not even a teenager, standing on a butter box to reach the binoculars at the Mingela amateurs in North Queensland. His early love for race calling was encouraged by his parents, both keen punters for as long as they care to remember. One who would be very proud of his achievements is the late racing writer Garth Stubbersfield, a track-work colleague of David for years.

His race-calling prowess at such an early age attracted national television exposure. Accuracy, more than entertainment, has been his trademark. In fact I don’t think there is a more accurate caller in the country. But like the rest, Fowler had to wait his turn to get the top job. His love for harness racing no doubt made that so much easier.

Looking down the race-calling ranks in Queensland for an under-study to Fowler, one wonders who will now emerge as the No 2 gallops caller? Perhaps someone from interstate will be lured back. At least two graduates of the Alan Thomas Race-Calling Academy in Josh Fleming and Mitchell Manners are working with Sky after winning John Tapp Race-Calling Scholarships.

In the interim one would hope that Paul ‘Dogs’ Dolan is rewarded for his ability and loyalty. This ‘Jack of All Trades’ of the race-calling ranks in Queensland is the ultimate professional. He is the No 1 greyhound caller but is just as efficient at the gallops. There would be few callers in the country that would cover the territory that Paul does to call race meetings.

Dolan does his homework well before his calling assignments and does a great job promoting the tracks where he plies his trade, especially the Sunshine Coast and the country venues in south-east Queensland. You don’t have to be some-one important to rate a mention from Dolan. He champions the battlers but doesn’t get the credit for his own job that he so rightly deserves.

Elevating Dolan to under-study, not that my opinion is likely to have any bearing on what will happen in higher places, might however get a sympathetic hearing from someone who does count and should know that in the punting popularity stakes in this state ‘Dogs’ is No 1.

That’s Brad Tamer, the boss of Racing Radio and now one of the head honchos of UNiTAB in Queensland, who I am told once dreamed of being a race-caller.

There who remember his practice runs quietly admit to being a little relieved that he never quite made it from the spare box to the broadcast box. But as they say when one door closes another opens – and Brad hasn’t looked back since joining the TAB.




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