SOUTH-WEST television viewers still had few options when they switched on the small screen in 1987.
Despite Melbourne viewers enjoying three commercial channels for several decades, the south-west was stuck with the broadcasting status quo of BTV6 and the ABC.
The televisual time warp grew wearing for many. When south-west viewers visited Melbourne, they would question why the city could enjoy a greater variety of programming, including around-the-clock transmission, while regional areas had to switch their sets off by 11.30pm.
Sensing an opportunity to curry favour in regional Australia, the Hawke government decided to hand country people the same viewing opportunities as their city counterparts.
BTV6 reacted with horror.
They flooded newspapers including
One ad displayed four television screens, all showing the 1986 marriage between Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson and argued choice would actually be limited if the new channels arrived.
Regional channels wanted to maintain their monopoly through multi-channelling, whereby they would each operate three or four channels in a specific market.
Their campaign was in vain.
Broadcasting executive Michael Taylor believed Hawke's aggregation reforms were inevitable.
The television programmer said the switchover to three commercial channels raised concerns that stations such as BTV6 would simply become relay channels.
"Everyone was comfortable with the old arrangement," Taylor said.
"Each channel had their own territory, their own personalities, their own news and suddenly it was all under threat.
"A lot of the shows on the air like Glenn Ridge's music show, racing programs, variety stuff all disappeared within a few years.
"They were just too expensive to produce under competition."
Aggregation hit local channels hard with BTV6 losing its local call-sign in 1990 and swiftly wielding the axe in order to cut costs. Local programs began to fall like dominos.
Six's Super Saturday Show
He said it was disappointing that regional stations were not the same talent pools as they were during the 1970s and 80s, but said web content had provided an alternate platform in recent times.
"All the mergers and acquisitions in the late '80s were pretty dark days for country stations like BTV6," Ridge said.
"I was hosting the
"After seven months, I received a call from Grundy Productions asking whether I'd be interested in hosting
"I didn't have any second thoughts."
Each country station scrambled to arrange a deal with one of the national commercial networks. Until that time, channels like BTV6 had been able to cherry-pick the best programming from Seven, Nine and Ten.
The downside for regional viewers was that first-run programs like
Channel Seven Melbourne managing director Ian Johnson was the one of the top executives at the Nine Network during the aggregation negotiations of the late 1980s.
"Nine was all-powerful back then and had all the top-rating programs -
"(Former Nine chief) Sam Chisholm and I were right at the heart of negotiations with BTV6 and they nearly missed out to the Bendigo channel.
"It was a really close run thing."
BTV6 and STV8 Mildura formed VicTV and were first out of the starting gates in January 1990, followed by Albury-based Prime and Southern Cross Ten in 1992.
Veteran journalist Ray Martin told
"It required time, it required effort, but the viewers watched it in droves."
Strangely enough, the next television revolution came in the form of the re-heated multi-channeling concept.
Digital television was tentatively rolled out during the early 2000s and the south-west became something of a test case when the old analogue format was switched off in May 2011.
More than 16 channels are now available to south-west viewers and average households have two or more sets.
Today, audiences are smaller than ever before.
Former WIN newsreader Denis Walter said some regional broadcasters had stuck by local news bulletins even with the pressures of the digital age.
The singer and radio presenter believed variety programming would return to vogue, drawing comparisons to the reinvigorated talent show genre.
"Money used to flow like champagne in the '70s for programs like
"Big contracts for the stars, satellite interviews, dozens of dancers and orchestras all required a lot of money and when you've only got a few channels, the advertising dollar is very lucrative."
Television producers have responded to technological change by cutting costs.
Cheaper programming dominated the schedules by the mid-1990s as pay television started to bite the big network's advertising share. Lifestyle programs such as
He said he was reasonably optimistic about the medium's future but urged executives to aim for quality.
"There's always been that cliche about the 'dumbing down of television,' it's been said many times," Martin said.
"Ratings technology changed and it hit TV news hard.
"In the 1990s, executives started to panic because whenever the prime minister or opposition leader appeared on
"Having said that, when I travel around the country, people mention how much they used to enjoy programs like
"My view has always been; treat the audience with respect and the viewing numbers will follow."