In 1938 Charles Moses, general manager of the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) came up with the idea of broadcasting the 1938 Ashes series from England to the Australian public. The principle was basic enough; to have Eric Sholl over in England sending cables explaining the last over bowled to the ABC offices in Market Street in Sydney. Since all the sound effects had to be artificially produced, the broadcasts were known as synthetic tests. The commentators were Monty Noble, Alan McGilvray, Vic Richardson and Hal Hooker.
The commentators were helped by a team: the useless information man (who in spite of the derogatory term was in charge of calculating game statistics), the score board attendant and the sound-man. The latter was the man who decided if a batsman was booed, if the shot was applauded or how loud the crowd groaned when the Poms dropped the catch, (they drop plenty of these). But the most important sound of the ball hitting bat was provided by the commentators: a pencil was hit upon a circular piece of wood on the table to create the sound.
At first the commentators were getting through the overs too quickly, but they rectified that problem. The decoders of the cables were also very important; in the book "McGilvray the game is not the same..." as told to Norman Tasker it reads:
"A typical cable would begin: BRIGHTENING FLEETWOOD HAMMOND FULL FIRSTLY TWO HASSETT SECONDLY FULL FOUR STRAIGHT UNCHANCE BOWLER THIRDLY NO BALL FULL TWO OFFDRIVEN RUN APPEAL HUTTON FOURTHLY FOUR SWEPT BOWLER KEEPER OFFPUSHED."
Then the commentators would say it like this:
"In comes Fleetwood-Smith, he moves in to bowl to Hammond and Hammond comes down the wicket and takes it on the full and he drives in beautifully past Hassett who moves around behind the ball and fields brilliantly just before it reaches the boundary rope, and meantime they’ve run through for two”
and etcetera etcetera.
The only time the team of commentators got in trouble was when a cable came in saying that ‘Mac’ was out. Now there were two ‘Macs’ in the Australian team, McCabe and McCormick, naturally they gave the wrong person out and had to apologise and explain to everyone what happened.
All in all the synthetic tests were the only way to broadcast from England and were done with a fair amount of skill.
Acknowledgements: McGilvray, Alan, 1985, McGilvray the game is not the same…
, Sydney, NSW: ABC Enterprises.