50-year career ends
CALLING horses running around a track from atop a 44-gallon drum on the back of a ute couldn’t have been a better learning experience for a veteran race caller.
Wayne Wilson is hanging up the binoculars and flicking the switch on the microphone on Saturday, August 14 — his last race the Gladstone Cup.
It all began in 1960 for Wilson, and the time has come to hand over the reins, pardon the racing parlance.
“I can’t recall the first race, but the first meeting was the Gladstone Cup,” Wilson said.
Wilson fell into the job, after being encouraged to by Bob Burgess to step up from sitting in the grandstands and calling for fun with mates.
However there was no such luxury as a broadcast booth.
“It was a case of grabbing the microphone, standing on a stool in the jockey’s room and looking out the window holding the binoculars,” he said.
The pay packet was a hefty 10 shillings a day, equal to a dollar.
“I thought it was okay — I was on a milk run as a boy in Gladstone and got about $2.25 for six mornings a week,” he said.
There was little chance Wilson wasn’t going to be entangled in the racing industry — his father was a bookmaker in Gladstone and grandfather a bookie and trainer.
“I can’t remember ever making a conscious decision to be a race caller, but had no doubt I’d be involved in racing in some form,” he said.
“I love horses and it gets in your blood. The jockeys, the personalities, the trainers and the thrill of the punt — it’s an intoxicating sport.”
His grounding was ideal, calling races in Gladstone and the region.
“You were working under extreme difficulties, from the stool to the jockey room to what I work in today, it’s been the bottom of the pile to the Taj Mahal,” he said.
It was at Banana when Wilson found himself on the tray of a ute on a large drum calling races.
“That’s the sort of apprenticeship you need to work through difficult conditions to groom you up to the big time,” he said.
Wilson found himself in Rockhampton at 4RO as a disc jockey in 1967 for a short stint and eventually 4BC and harness race calling soon beckoned.
“From that time onwards, I was full-time and called my first horse race in Brisbane in 1970,” he said.
The main harness caller until 1986, Wilson combined the gallops for a four-year period until he gave up the trots. Even though he spent many years broadcasting, he never considered himself a natural caller.
“You have to work at it — it’s not a gift, but it’s an art and a skill,” he said.
“I was always fascinated listening to the race callers and the picture they painted and stories they told.”
This is one aspect of calling Wilson laments has gone by the wayside, as the colour, glamour and spectacle have been soaked out of race calling, which has been reduced to mere information.
“Racing is very good today, but broadcasting in the 60s and 70s, you had all the time to make comments, do interviews and even bring horses back to the enclosure to thunderous applause,” he stated.
Wilson said the job is more difficult today and more demanding than in the halcyon days of his time.
He’s looking forward to his last stint at the microphone, his final peer through the binoculars calling the Gladstone Cup.