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Howard, Kenneth Percival Frederick (1913–1976)

by Richard Waterhouse

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Kenneth Percival Frederick Howard (1913-1976), by Ken Redshaw

Kenneth Percival Frederick Howard (1913-1976), by Ken Redshaw

State Library of New South Wales, Australian Photographic Agency - 07909

Kenneth Percival Frederick Howard (1913-1976), racecaller, was born on 2 December 1913 at Waverley, Sydney, son of Percival Thomas Howard, a window-dresser from Victoria, and his Sydney-born wife Brenda Florence, née Knight. As a schoolboy, Ken studied racing colours, breeding and records. He became a cadet journalist, probably on Truth, before joining radio station 2SM as a messenger-boy; in 1936 he made his first race broadcast from Moorefield as understudy to Reg McKenzie. A few years later Howard moved to radio 2KY. At the district registrar's office, Paddington, on 4 September 1939 he married Iris Adelaide, a hairdresser and daughter of the horse-trainer Joe Cook. In that year he replaced Melbourne radio station 3XY's racecaller Harry Solomons, gaoled for his role in a scheme to defraud starting-price bookmakers.

Back in Sydney in 1941, Howard joined radio 2UE. He also called trotting and greyhound races, and commentated on boxing and wrestling matches. Until 1952 neither the Australian Jockey Club nor the Sydney Turf Club allowed commercial radio stations to describe races from their courses. Howard had to use precarious, off-course vantage points: at Rosehill he broadcast from a tower on an oil-storage tank, at Canterbury from another tower on top of a fowlhouse and at Randwick from the roof of a block of flats. An official threatened him with a shotgun for broadcasting from a tree adjacent to the Pakenham racecourse. For the next meeting the club erected a hessian screen to block his view, but Howard foiled this move by using a hot-air balloon.

Early Australian broadcasters, led by the Australian Broadcasting Commission's M. A. Ferry, described races in a calm and carefully modulated manner. In contrast, Howard's rising tone of excitement could turn even 'a maiden handicap of hacks into a Homeric struggle'. He was known for such colourful phrases as 'lunging for the wire' and 'London to a brick' (first used during the Blitz). Howard was an extremely accurate caller, naming the position of each horse in the race once every furlong, rather than focussing only on the front-runners.

In the early 1950s he moved to radio 2GB, where he remained. Howard presented Australia's first television turf programmes, including 'Racing Review', on TCN-9 in December 1956. With faith in his own judgement, he earned the nickname 'Magic Eye' for his accuracy in calling the first-placed horse immediately a race had finished. He was not always right, however: in 1968, after he incorrectly called Royal Account as winner of the A.J.C. Derby and Joking as winner of the Epsom, the Victoria Amateur Turf Club replaced him as its broadcaster of the Sydney races relayed to Caulfield.

Howard had been appointed M.B.E. in 1967. He described his last Sydney race at Randwick on 31 December 1973. In retirement, he still called the Bowraville races, but devoted most of his time to fishing, lawn bowls and gardening. Survived by his wife, he died of coronary vascular disease and cirrhosis of the liver on 21 October 1976 at his Nambucca Heads home and was buried in the Catholic section of Botany cemetery, Sydney.

Select Bibliography

  • N. Penton, A Racing Heart (Syd, 1987)
  • J. Pollard, Australian Horse Racing (Syd, 1988)
  • People (Sydney), 16 Aug 1950
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 26 July 1966, 1 Jan 1967, 1 Jan, 26 Dec 1974, 22 Oct 1976, 7, 14 June 1981
  • Sun-Herald (Sydney), 13 Oct 1968, 16 Dec 1973
  • Herald (Melbourne), 14 Oct 1968, 22 Oct 1976
  • Daily Mirror (Sydney), 21 Oct 1976
  • Sun (Sydney), 2 Jan 1974, 21 Oct 1976
  • Wireless Weekly, 20 Jan 1934
  • ABC Weekly, 18 Jan 1947, p 29.

Citation details

Richard Waterhouse, 'Howard, Kenneth Percival Frederick (1913–1976)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/howard-kenneth-percival-frederick-10554/text18745, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 16 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

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