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by Chris Tobin

The voice of South Canterbury sport has gone silent.

Although Mike Richards (77) holds hopes of continuing broadcasting in some capacity, perhaps with Hospital Radio, he is resigned to the fact that after 54 years his days behind the microphone could be over.

His most recent show, hosting a Saturday morning session on 963AM in which various codes could update locals on what was happening in sport around the region, has been canned after 20 years after the powers that be at Newstalk ZB pulled the plug.

“It’s gone now,” Richards said.

“But it will leave a bloody big gap.”

Sports coverage in the region took a hard blow more than two years ago when Stuff axed its two fulltime Timaru Herald sports reporters.

With Richards’ show ending, a great void exists.

Throughout those 54 years, Richards’ radio career was run as a sideline to his main job, firstly working in his uncle Morrie Goddard’s menswear in Stafford St, Timaru.

“I started there as a parcel boy aged 10.”

Morrie Goddard and his brother Jack, or Jock as he was also called, were part of a golden era in South Canterbury rugby and All Blacks on the 1949 tour of South Africa, together with another local in Temuka’s Lachie Grant.

The threesome also helped South Canterbury claim the Ranfurly Shield in 1950, then the pinnacle of domestic rugby in New Zealand

“The All Blacks were never going to win on that 1949 tour,” Richards said.

“There were no neutral referees and they were kicked out of it by Okey Geffin.”

The All Blacks lost the test series 4-0.

His two All Black uncles, especially Morrie, had a big impact on the young Richards.

“My father William or ‘Tex’ Richards, who was Timaru mayor from 1950 to 1953, was a wonderful father but Morrie was also like a father to me. He was a very modest man and had a great nature.

“He didn’t talk about his playing career a lot at all. Former All Blacks would call and visit him; he was a very popular figure.”

Among the callers was a friend of Goddard’s, the great All Black coach, Fred Allen, captain on the ill-fated 1949 South African tour.

“I spent two holidays with Fred.”

Richards’ broadcasting began at 3XC, or Radio Caroline as it became known, collating and reading sports results on Saturdays.

“I’d phone the cricket clubs, tennis clubs or rowing club which was down at the harbour then, and on Saturday nights from 6.45 would be live on air at Radio Caroline reading the local results.”

In 1974, Morrie Goddard died aged only 52. Richards kept the menswear business ticking over until competition from large franchises proved too much and he took a different career path.

But the broadcasting continued.

These were great days for radio in Timaru with personalities such as Doris Kay and Elizabeth Spratt. Radio Caroline employed 36 staff with a recording studio and busy newsroom.

When the station’s rugby broadcaster, Cyril Britten, moved on, Richards secured the job. For the next 30 years he would be found every winter Saturday afternoon sitting behind a microphone in a concrete broadcasting box on the embankment side of Fraser Park, as Alpine Energy Stadium was called then.

In those days, senior club matches were broadcast live each Saturday afternoon. Richards also covered interprovincial fixtures,and, when international teams such as Ireland visited to meet South Canterbury or Hanan Shield teams, these as well.

“They were wonderful days. The crowds were large and you had characters on the bank; they would stand in front of the box and give you comments.

“You’d look at the grandstand for club games. If it wasn’t full it was three-quarters full. Every Saturday was different and you saw wonderful players from Canterbury when they came down or from Otago when they came up.

“Celtic was my club but you had to be careful what you said in club rugby; you couldn’t favour one side.”

He was reluctant to name players who stood out for him although Barry Matthews, Steve Tarrant, Bill Anderson and Peter Grant, whom he thought unlucky not to be an All Black, were among them.

Richards says pubs were once a focal point for rugby as well as other sports clubs where players and supporters mixed. He saw this disappear over the years with changes to the liquor laws and clubs acquiring their own clubrooms.

“Star drank at the Old Bank, Old Boys at the Crown, Celtic at the Old Bank; the Hydro had hockey and soccer.”

The biggest changes he has seen came when rugby went professional in 1995.

International teams which had once visited Timaru regularly no longer came. Big tours were scrapped. The gap between amateur teams and the professionals, Crusaders, Highlanders and the rest, became immense.

Interest in club rugby and provincial rugby declined. While the Ranfurly Shield retains some of its old lustre, it is a fraction of what it was prior to the professional era.

“The game has changed, the young ones are not as interested. You have computers and modern technology, other sports came along and it [rugby] has shrunk away. Clubs are struggling to keep numbers up and some find it hard to field a strong senior team.

“I’d love to see the old tours come back.”

While rugby figured mainly in his broadcasting career Richards also kept up other sporting interests, playing squash for 25 years and representing South Canterbury.

“I loved it.”

Richards says he still gets a ribbing over a couple of gaffes he made over those 54 years.

“The first was a club match Zingari against Celtic. When it came to fulltime I said, referee looks at his whistle and blows his watch and it’s all over!”‘

Another trip of the tongue concerned Zingari first five-eighth Barry Fairbrother in another club match.

“I said he was taking a kick 25 minutes out from the goalposts.

“When I walked into a local watering hole later that night one character says to me, ‘that kick of Fairbrother’s  – where did he kick it from – Pareora?'”

But Richards says to be a broadcaster you have to be able to laugh at yourself, and no-one gets it right all the time.