Melbourne sports radio station SEN 1116 has celebrated its 20th birthday with many of its original voices on an epic Friday breakfast show last week.
Returning for one day from their summer vacation were regular weekday SEN 1116 hosts Garry Lyon and Tim Watson.
Friday marked two decades on-air for the station. Many who were on air at launch relived the early days during the broadcast. Lyon and Watson hosted the inaugural breakfast show and Lyon talked about the days he and then program director Rod Law worked on the schedule and employed the talent. Law later went on to run Fox Footy.
At the start of the show, Lyon and Watson still found time to update the audience on their summer. Watson drilled his co-host about his fortnight in the Big Apple. Lyon wanted to know about Watson’s relocation to the Morning Peninsula.
Early days on air at SEN1116
Breakfast: Garry Lyon and Tim Watson with Billy Brownless
Morning: Kevin Bartlett (KB)
Afternoon: Francis Leach
Drive: Anthony Hudson, Dermott Brereton, Matt Hardy
Weekend and nights: Mark Fine
Overnight: Tony Schibeci
The first guests on air with Garry and Tim on Friday were Tony Schibeci and Matt Thompson. Tony Schibeci is still “the voice of the G” after many years and he spoke about how he was recruited for the overnight shift just days before the launch. Matt Thompson was a young reporter covering news stories for all shifts whenever news was breaking. He recalled the opportunities he had at the new station, including a visit to the Beijing Olympics. That visit delivered Thompson’s memorable “Chinese food is more Chinese here” during one of his crosses. Since leaving SEN, Thompson worked for a decade at AFL Media and is now a senior producer at Seven.
The big story on SEN’s first day
After weeks of preparation about how the station would launch, there was one big story involving another radio station that dominated the first few days on air at SEN. The death of David Hookes who was at the time co-host with Gerard Healy of the 3AW Sportsday program.
The station played a grab from that first morning where Lyon read the news about Hookes being on life support.
Lyon admitted that SEN had tried to interest Hookes in quitting 3AW for their new station, but he wouldn’t come across.
SEN in the ratings
Lyon explained why SEN is a successful operation. The station ranks down the list when compared to the broadcast shares of other commercial Melbourne radio stations.
Lyon said: “When people judge this station against others they put numbers up. This is a boutique, specific station that does sport.”
The station recently reported over the last 12 months, SEN’s social media influence climbed with 165 million video views across major platforms—a 166% increase year-on-year.
The breakdown reveals engagement on TikTok (69.8 million views), Facebook (44.5 million views), Instagram (20.8 million views), X/Twitter (19.3 million views) and YouTube (10 million views).
SEN Cricket and SEN League on YouTube saw 1 million and 900,000 views, respectively. At the same time, AFL fans used SEN Radio’s account, with over 30,000 subscribers for SEN’s premium long-form content.
Watson also talked about the legacy the station has as a training ground for people who have gone on to build significant media careers as part of the wider Sports and Entertainment Group and elsewhere.
Not all were present for the birthday last week. “KB is not coming on, unfortunately,” said Lyon early in the show. “We extended the invitation though.” Watson added: “We will be playing some of his audio where he was highly entertaining.”
Drive hosts Marko and The Ox return…and that crash
Former drive hosts Mark Allen and David Schwarz “aka The Ox” took legal action after their SEN contracts were terminated. Former golfer Allen has just finished duty as co-host of 3AW summer breakfast and was speaking, of course, from a golf course. Schwarz is a former footballer alongside Lyon at the Melbourne Football Club.
Schwarz recalled how he was digging holes for $20 an hour post-football. Mark Doran rang and offered him $100 an hour to talk football on the radio. After some early SEN financial troubles, Schwarz said he signed up for $50,000 to work on drive, a significant saving on the $100,000+ he said they were paying Brereton.
Mark Allen didn’t get off air without a replay of the moment where he crashed his car live on air while talking to Kevin Bartlett. At the time Allen managed to get away three plugs for the Mercedes Benz dealership that supplied that vehicle!
SEN Hall of Fame
Other names associated with SEN in the early days included Nicole Livingstone, Mark Doran, Andy Maher, Sam Pang, Dr Turf, Bruce Eva.
In 2007, SEN finally acquired AFL radio rights. The first voice broadcasting a football match on the station belonged to Anthony Hudson. He recalled on Friday how he was also co-hosting the drive program, The Run Home. The station’s brag at the time: “First at the footy and last to leave”.
Hudson was also host of the Saturday morning show Crunch Time which went to air an hour before the football offerings started on competing stations like 3AW and Triple M.
Mark Fine was the host of weekend afternoons on SEN. He co-hosted with comedian Russell Gilbert who recommended Fine to Rod Law. Fine recalled the challenges he had filling 12 hours of radio.
One piece of audio from Mark Fine’s show recalled how he interacted with hostile callers. One copped this: “Don’t ever listen to me again, don’t call me a filthy racist. You are banned from this program, your SMS is banned…piss off asshole.”
Billy Brownless back at SEN
Geelong great Billy Brownless was part of the original breakfast team. He was a special guest before the end of the birthday show and recalled going to air straight from the TV Week Logies one year.
“I’m not a morning person,” admitted Brownless who jumped in the shower at 4am and then did the daily drive from Geelong to Richmond.
Hutchy on the early days
SEN CEO Craig Hutchison also joined the celebrations toward the end of the morning. “Great to see you guys in January,” said Hutchy. Lyon responded: “Can we invoice this, or is it out of love for SEN?”
Hutchy also paid tribute to the station’s original owner Ron Hall who was on site for the birthday bash. Hall is still on the Sports Entertainment Network board. Hutchy also made reference to former CEO Barry Quick. Hutchy noted the role Lyon played in the start-up.
“We had six weeks to put together the roster,” said Lyon, who Hutchy called the unofficial CEO.
Lyon noted that Danny Staffieri was the original SEN licence holder and Lyon and Law were tasked to get it together. “We had to do it without any sports rights originally.”
Hutchy’s Crocmedia supplied the Saturday morning program Off the Bench a year after launch. Crocmedia paid for the airtime but kept revenue from ad sales.
In a separate statement, Hutchison said: “Reflecting on an extraordinary two decades for SEN 1116, we extend our sincere gratitude to the exceptional talent, dedicated staff, loyal listeners, and valued partners who have played pivotal roles in shaping our journey since our inception.
“We are proud that SEN 1116am continues resonating with audiences, tapping into the passion that binds fans to the teams and sports they love. As we celebrate this milestone, we eagerly anticipate welcoming back some of SEN’s cherished talents, which have been pivotal in laying the foundation for our success over the past twenty years.”
Despite recent articles about a bumpy financial ride, and the sale of the NZ business, Hutchy predicted SEN will live well into the future. “This is going to be around for a long time to come.”
Top photo: Garry and Tim on air with Mark Fine on Friday