1927-2000 | VIC | Broadcaster & commentator
Broadcaster Ron Casey arranged the marriage of two grand streams of Melbourne culture - television and sport. As a sports broadcaster with Channel 7, Casey introduced the Thursday night League Teams show in 1962 and then the Sunday morning show World of Sport, which became the longest-running sports show in the world. The DNA of those shows survive in much of today's football coverage on television. Casey pioneered Australia's coverage of the Olympic Games and his radio call of Lionel Rose's victory over Fighting Harada for the World Bantamweight Championship in 1964 is one of Australia's most memorable sporting broadcasts. As general manager of Channel 7, Casey negotiated the first live telecast of the AFL Grand Final in 1977.
For baby boomers who grew up in Victoria and into a lifelong love of sport – and we are many – Ron Casey was a towering figure.
For me, and totally oblivious to him, Casey may have been the most influential figure in my broad education.
Not in the strict sense, of course, for there were no classrooms, formal lessons, blackboards or textbooks involved. In fact, I never met the man until I became a sports writer at The Age in the 1970s.
We learned from Casey by virtual correspondence, via television and radio, when he spoke to us through radio station 3DB and Channel 7. Unwittingly for this then future journo, I learned several priceless lessons from him: the absolute importance of enthusiasm for the job, of empathy for the participants, of the joy and exhilaration of sport, of the difference between appreciating greatness in people and fawning over people deemed to be great.
And the critically-important yet often overlooked fact that reporters and commentators are the story-tellers not the stars.
As a young man watching and listening to the little man with a big girth, I was a sponge.
I was in awe of his apparent ease at the microphone and in front of the camera, even if he did constantly fidget and occasionally mumble and stumble through his words. I was amazed by the level of respect he commanded from the legendary pair, Lou Richards and Jack Dyer, and their famous cohorts.
The over-riding message was the depth of affection from the sporting world for the bloke known as Case ... even if he hadn’t made his own mark in a sport or sports. That’s the ultimate acknowledgement of a media practitioner.
Perhaps it simply was a case of a man being treated as he treated people, be they footballers, cricketers, boxers, cyclists, wood-choppers, TV stars or business associates, regardless of their status.
The measure of that respect was underlined in 1977 when the then Victorian Football League decided to allow a live telecast of the Grand Final for the first time.
Casey, representing Channel 7, did a deal with Jack Hamilton, representing the VFL, on the strength of a handshake. No boards, no protracted negotiations, no lobbyists; just two men doing their best for their respective organisations for the benefit of both.
They had a special professional relationship, those two, yet you can’t help believing the bulk of Casey’s business arrangements were consummated the same way.
Like so many high-achievers, Casey started at the bottom – as a 16-year-old office boy at radio station 3DB in Melbourne in 1944 earning the equivalent of $3 a week.
According to Wikipedia, he overcame a speech impediment to become sports director at DB, the sport radio station of the day.
He is best remembered as the host and driving force behind Channel 7’s World of Sport, which ran (or meandered) on Sundays from 1959-87. Casey had joined the station in 1956, the first year of television in Australia.
He became studio manager in 1960s and served as general manager of the station from 1972-87, when HSV7 was sold to the Sydney-based Fairfax publishing group in one of the more bizarre business deals of the time.
Yet he was immortalised by his on-air work. From football, where he started calling VFL games in 1950, to the Olympics, dating back to 1956 and the internationally-acclaimed Melbourne games.
There were numerous peaks in his illustrious career. One event, though, stands supreme: the 1968 world bantamweight title fight in Tokyo, when a shy teenage indigenous Australian named Lionel Rose upset Fighting Harada.
Rose became only the second Australian to win a world crown when world crowns meant what they said.
Casey, a boxing lover and a proud Australian, called the fight live to Australia on 3DB. It seemed as if life in Victoria stood still for an hour that February night. The call of the final round, the announcement of the decision and the resultant pandemonium remains one of the great memories of the era when Australia seemed so far removed from the real world.
Case loved boxing.
Gus Mercurio conducted a boxing segment every week on World of Sport, and Rose and his trainer and mentor Jack Rennie were regular guests. As were Johnny Famechon and the other big names of the time.
As improbable as it sounds in the 21st century, boxing was huge in Melbourne in the 1960s and ‘70s, largely due to Casey’s patronage, more specifically the Channel 7 Monday night program, TV Ringside, which he hosted.
His love of football was more subtle. Those of us who watched World of Sport weekly knew he had a soft spot for North Melbourne, yet we were surprised when he was appointed to the North board in 1987 and to the position of chairman in 1991.
He led the board of directors until ill-health forced him to step down in 2000 at 72. He died in June that year.
The Kangaroos won premierships in 1996 and ‘99.
Perhaps the most compelling illustration of Casey’s impact on sport in Victoria, in Australia, for half a century is the vast media operations area at the MCG ... the Ron Casey media centre.
He was an inaugural member of the media chapter of the Australian football Hall of Fame in 1996 and was named a life member of the AFL two years later.
Small in stature as he was, he is remembered as a giant of his industry.
Mike Sheahan has spent nearly half a century as a sports writer in newspapers, radio and television.
Courtesy News Corp/Newspix.
Short documentary on HSV 7 Studio One featuring clips of Ron Casey at work
Sport Australia Hall of Fame inductee page