East Side, West Side, Family Hill! Penrith’s history of ground announcers

Scott McRae in his final season in 2019. Inset: Rodney O.
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We’re not sure any other NRL club has as much attention around its ground announcer as the Penrith Panthers.

Not just someone to announce who’s scored and who pays big dollars to ‘sponsor’ them, the ground announcer has become part of the fabric of game days at Penrith Stadium.

And long-time Penrith fans and members are certainly vocal when the man or woman with the job is something they don’t like – or someone they do.

But a permanent, regular ground announcer is a relatively new game-day element.

The early days

If the Panthers had a regular ground announcer in the late 1960s, through the 1970s and 1980s, they’re certainly hard to find.

Nobody we spoke to, including management from those days, could remember anyone who had the role at the old Penrith Park.

“The role of ground announcer wasn’t substantive until probably the mid-90s,” one official said.

In 1995, the club hired the services of veteran radio announcer Pete Graham to handle the ground announcing duties.

Pete Graham’s Game Day Pass.

Graham is probably best known for his long-running Saturday Night Live radio program on Sydney’s 2UE.

He stuck around for the 1996 season as well, before staying loyal to the ARL and switching to the Parramatta Eels for 1997.

The Panthers went to Super League, and things took quite the turn.

The Rodney O era

The Super League era hit in 1997 and match days became more of an event, not just a game of footy.

And along came Rodney O.

These days known more conservatively as Rodney Overby, the radio personality and basketball pump-up man certainly shook things up at Penrith Stadium in 1997.

“East side, west side, family hill” would be his common call to arms, as he aimed to get fans involved in the excitement.

And as you can see below, Rodney O’s involvement even came with its own video…

Super League would only last for one season, and so did Rodney O. 1997 was his one and only season as Penrith’s ground announcer, but to anyone who attended the footy during that era, he was unforgettable.

And then came Scott…

In 1998, a fresh-faced Scott McRae took over from Rodney 0 and would remain the voice of the Panthers for more than two decades.

He almost departed in 2012 and was even given a lap of honour to farewell fans, but returned the very next season after a suitable replacement couldn’t be found.

“The Panthers GA days were a big part of my life. Mostly very enjoyable even in the hard times when we were struggling on the field,” McRae told the Weekender.

Scott McRae in action at Panthers Stadium. Photo: Megan Dunn.

“The things I loved about the gig, especially in the early days was the fun we had with the crowd. We interacted, we made it as enjoyable as it could be.

“When I was first brought to Panthers by Chris Keeble and Max Cowan entertainment was paramount to the gig.”

McRae admits things changed as the years went on.

“The NRL and the people that were in charge of game day became rigid in what was deemed as fun and the whole process became robot like and bland in my opinion,” he said.

“Some say its not an important role and it doesn’t matter who you have out there. I disagree and the friendships and real connections I formed with the fans, some of the staff and a lot of the players over those 22 years, will remain with me until it’s game over.”

McRae was at one stage joined by former cheerleader Nat Sinclair in a dual ground announcer set-up, before eventually returning to the gig solo.

McRae departed the club at the end of the 2019 season.

Handed a poison chalice

Perhaps the toughest gig in any form of media or entertainment is replacing someone so beloved, so there’s no doubt it was difficult for Zac Bailey in the early days of his three-year tenure with the Panthers.

But despite having to navigate smaller (or sometimes no) crowds during a difficult COVID period, Bailey took on the ground announcing gig during a successful time for the Panthers – handling the duties across the 2020, 2021 and 2022 seasons.

A new era

The Panthers appointed the experienced Glen Hawke as the game day ground announcer for the 2023 season.

Hawke works for a number of other NRL clubs and is one of the most experienced hosts and sports ground announcers in the business.

Glen Hawke interviewing Royce Simmons on the field this year. Photo: Megan Dunn.

Cameos, there’s been a few

Just like players and fans, ground announcers miss the odd home game.

There’s been a few cameo appearances over the years, including some quite famous and unexpected ones.

During his ‘gap year’ between Channel Nine and Fox Sports, Andrew Voss filled in for McRae on two separate occasions – including one game he hosted proceedings from centre field in the pouring rain. Brian Sanders also filled in.

Tony Lackey also got a start in the mid-1990s, and more recently radio presenter Lyndall Rogers has filled in for two games when Glen Hawke was unavailable.

Former media manager Andrew Farrell was also behind the microphone at times.

Fill-in ground announcer Lyndal Rogers.

Who have we missed? If you can help fill in the ground announcer gaps over the years, drop us a line at [email protected].

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