As a young boy growing up in Perth, John Hunt, born 1957, always dreamt of being a famous tennis player. Indeed, he would become WA’s top-ranked under-nineteen junior at just sixteen and travel to America and Europe the next year to gain experience for a hopeful future in the game.
But it wasn’t to be.
At age eighteen, a severe back injury put Hunt in a spinal brace for two years and it was during this hiatus that he launched his career in media.
From the very start he was drawn to it, embarking on a voyage of discovery that unearthed surprising passions and talents within himself that he never knew he had. He did not come from a background in racing but since childhood had loved listening to the great callers of the day and fantasized about being one of them, without ever really taking the thought seriously because in tennis lay his assumed future.
Then suddenly, with the loss of that, the hobby became his vocation.
It was 1976 and Hunt was not yet nineteen when he sought out and met leading 6IX race commentator, Trevor Jenkins, in the bookies’ ring at Ascot.
Brazenly asking a man he’d secretly looked up to for years “How do you become a racecaller?” – Hunt impressed Jenkins enough with his temerity, that he let him try out in a spare broadcast box. Then the youngster convinced WAT.A. Racing Secretary, Ray Holloway, to allow him the same access at Gloucester Park and similarly greyhound chief, Lew Dorsa, at Cannington Central.
Within six months, Trevor Jenkins had arranged for Hunt to work part-time at 6IX as assistant caller at the greyhounds and to back up Jenkins at country race meetings. The payment for this was $20.
Then, Hunt successfully pestered iconic ABC caller, Max Simmonds, into fixing for him to take his place at North-West non-T.A.B. meets when Max was unavailable (for decades Simmonds revelled in covering the North-West Round in winter).
Soon after this, Channel Nine sporting head, Bruce Walker, offered Hunt the thrill of calling metropolitan races and trots for the station’s new weekend replay programme and for News at Six.
In April 1977, Trevor Jenkins advised Hunt that 6PR was to become the first true racing station and that he had recommended to the new owners that the gifted teenager accompany him there. Hunt would start as the main greyhound caller and, as such, would be the youngest metropolitan commentator in Australia. On top of this, his wage would be a splendiferous $9,100p.a.!
That year the great Pure Steel won his first WA Pacing Cup and owner Russell Roberts saw Hunt’s loudly screamed call on Channel 9. Roberts invited him to lunch and then to the stables and there, Hunt met and over time befriended Pure Steel. Ever since, Hunt has always credited “Steelo” and Roberts as being majorly instrumental in his ability to relate the spirit and personality of horses in his race descriptions, his writing and his film making.
Hunt made it his business to develop not just the necessary skills to commentate with accuracy and knowledge, but to leave nothing behind in research - and to hone a much rarer quality - that of finding the core to a story and to be able to wax lyrical over anything from a humble maiden to a Group One champion.
And he had the voice to do it.
“Sell the sizzle, not the sausage” was an oft-heard John Hunt maxim during his career.
His terminology was expansive, constantly being added to and with many of his “Huntyisms” leaving an endearing legacy. “Racing by the palms . . .” was a signature comment that instantly identified the caller to any regular trot fan. The public lapped it up, but not just because of his commentating.
In 1978 Hunt began writing and producing the fifty-two-episode radio series, “The History of Racing”. It would take three years to make and it would air for six, syndicated nationally. The vignettes would tear at the heartstrings of listeners, but Hunt would always say “If you can make people cry, then you’ve won them forever - and a horse story can make anybody cry, you’ve just got to pitch it properly”.
That same year Hunt learned to do T.A.B. studio shifts and then was granted his own show (at his suggestion) on Friday nights. Called “Friday All Sports” it would be the highest rating programme on 6PR and number one in its timeslot.
In 1981 Hunt became chief trot caller at 6PR and in 1982 won his first national Joseph Coulter (Harness Racing Australia) Award for the radio series, “Greatest Inter Dominion Winners”.
Then he wrote “The San Simeon Story” and won his second.
In 1982 Hunt was invited by The Meadowlands racetrack management in New Jersey, to call the one-off World Cup of Trotting back to Australia. In so doing, he became the first Australian to broadcast an international harness racing event back to this country. It was networked Australia-wide.
That year Hunt also began hosting “Sportstalk”, a drive-time sports show which ran for two years.
In 1984 he briefly left the media, returning to join the infant Sky Channel in 1986 as its Perth racecaller and chief on-air host of the station’s coverage of Perth, Brisbane and Sydney racing. While there, Hunt began to teach himself the art of documentary filmmaking and after the win of Rocket Racer in the 1987 Perth Cup, made his first film “Ascot - A Summer to Remember”. It aired on Sky Channel with excerpts on Channel Nine.
Then, Sky Channel moved to Sydney and Hunt lost his position as both host and caller. This was the low point of John Hunt’s career but a new high was about to reveal itself.
It came in 1989, with the retirement of George Grljusich as ABC regional radio and Gloucester Park’s on-course caller. Hunt was immediately contacted and his world shifted gear overnight.
With the support of WAT.A. president Mick Lombardo, vice-president Chris Pye and C.E.O. Rob Bovell, Hunt was given rein to completely re-imagine and re-develop the Friday night broadcast presentation on
He introduced harness racing history segments, news segments, quizzes and interviews and was granted an assistant to handle on-course P.A. duties with regard to dividends and other announcements. The show won national awards on more than one occasion and would go on for a decade until Racing (now T.A.B.) Radio took over Hunt’s employment and the ABC ceased to broadcast trots.
Now locked into the long-term job he’d dreamed of, John Hunt turned again to his other passions - writing and filmmaking.
In 1990 he made “Life at Full Pace”- a nostalgic history of the WA Pacing Cup which aired on Channel Nine in the lunch break of a test cricket match. It won a national H.R.A. award.
Then came “A Tribute to Willie” which dealt with Village Kid’s incredible career. This video not only earned a national award but a world-wide one, when, at the 1991 World Trotting Conference in Paris, the film was named International Racing Video of the Year.
“Carnival of Dreams” soon followed and “The Summer of Frost and Ice”. Both went to air in the cricket and both won national awards.
The 1992/93 season saw Hunt produce the first of seven annual year-that-was videos, entitled “Seasons of Glory”. Multiple awards adorned this series.
Hunt also won a national “Best Race Call” award for his colourful description of Village Kid’s farewell time-trial (which he always thought bemusing, given it was a one-horse trial and not a race at all).
John also made two beautiful films outside harness racing – one, a nostalgic look at the history of the WA Turf Club entitled “A Triumph of Spirit” and the other, for the Darwin Turf Club, christened “The Grandstand”.
He also made numerous smaller pieces for television and for owners and breeders over the years.
For the last decade of his career, John Hunt commentated Gloucester Park and Pinjarra trots on Sky Channel and became much loved nationally. He also returned to hosting his own sports show, “Sports Saturday”, which ran from 1997 to 2006 on 6MM in Mandurah.
He finished runner-up in Radio Australia’s national sportscasting awards in 2003. During this period he also broadcast WAF.L. football for one year when Peel Thunder was introduced to the competition.
John retired, officially, in December 2008, but since then has remained connected to harness racing with a variety of much-welcomed and frequent short-film productions, celebrating the champions of the sport’s past, both man and beast. In 2017, John was even induced to resurrect his field glasses to commentate the Broome racing carnival, by T.A.B. Radio Racing Manager, Wes Cameron.
For his manifold services to harness racing, John Hunt was presented with the National Meritorious Service Award in 2006 and the James Brennan Award in 2008.
Hunt is the author of two books since his retirement – “Princess, The Miss Andretti Story” and the autobiographical “The View From The Clouds”.