The Legacy of The Legendary George Grljusich

By Thomas Murrell MBA, CSP International Business Speaker

The legacy of sports broadcasting legend, **George Grljusich** lives on.

Grljusich died 12 months ago of cancer at the age of 68.

His media career spanned nearly 50 years in radio and television.

He’s been described as Australia’s most talented multi-sports broadcaster, covering 38 different sports.

His calling of the **Ben Johnson** 100m world-record run in Seoul in 1988 was an absolute classic.

This was followed up with **Matt Ryan’s** equestrian double gold in Barcelona, both being described as the finest pieces of work in Australian sports broadcasting history.

George could often be a bit prickly with people but some of my fondest memories of him were at the **Australian Broadcasting Corporation** as a Senior Media Executive.

It was June 2nd 2001 at 10.17 in the morning.

For anyone that’s worked in the public service, filling vacant positions takes a long time.

As an Executive Producer, I had just been promoted to manager of regional stations.

It was pretty scary because it involved managing one of the world’s largest broadcast radio networks, covering 2.5 million square kilometers and serving more than 2 million listeners with multiple interests.

This demanding position had been vacant for a long time with a range of people acting in it.

The state manager, who was the direct report for this position, was so relieved to actually fill the role, that he then subsequently went on leave himself.

Of course, then he asked me to fill his position while he was on leave. So there I was at 28 years of age as the acting state manager of all of ABC Radio in Western Australia.

Within the ABC hierarchy you know you’ve really made it if you’ve got your own bar fridge in the corner of the office.

So it was my second day into that acting role as I was enjoying the moment and leaning back in the large black executive chair when the challenge came.

There was a complaint from members of the **720 6WF** radio team about someone smoking in the building after we’d just introduced a non-smoking policy.

I remember thinking at the time, “What could I do as a young, inexperienced manager?”

“Could I put up posters in the staff canteen, re-enforcing the non-smoking policy of the building?”

“Could I send out an all staff memo (remember in those days we had memos we didn’t have emails)?”

“Should I wait and raise it at the next staff meeting?”

Well, in the end I decided to go and confront the person.

Now remember, this person joined the ABC in 1960 before I was even born.

The only interaction I’d ever had with them was in the lift in the morning. I’d say “good morning” and I’d get a gruff bark back that really scared me.

So it was with a high degree of real fear and trepidation that I walked out of that big executive office with the leather chair and corner bar fridge and down the corridor.

Now, the office of the alleged smoker was about 100m away from my office and the corridor was lined with light sky blue shiny polyester carpet on the floor that was big within the public service in the 1990s. Oddly the carpet went up the walls as well.

I had a huge knot in my stomach and beads of sweat on my palms as I knocked on the door and said in the most confident broadcasting voice I could muster, “Do you mind if I come in?”

Not waiting for an answer, I bluffed my way into the room that reeked of stale smoke, sat down in a chair opposite the large public service issue jarrah desk with the butted-out cigarette in the ashtray and gripped the chair with my hands.

My knuckles were white, I was that nervous, and I said “You know we have a non-smoking policy in the building now, there have been some complaints from the staff about you smoking in your office, and so could you please not do it again.”

Well, there I was, waiting for this Croatian torrent of verbal abuse, but it never came.

He just said, “Yep, that’s fine” and that was my first management encounter with the legendary George Grljusich.

And from that moment on, we got on particularly well.

We used to have a weekly editorial meeting to discuss which sports we were going to broadcast and over those six years I got to know him really well.

In fact, every time we met after that moment, George affectionately called me **Tommy Murrell** in a long laconic American accent that only George could do.

George found this enormously amusing as a play on words for **Leroy Burrell**, the famous US sprinter.

You may remember Burrell twice set the world record for the 100 meters sprint, setting a time of 9.90 seconds in June 1991. This was then broken by **Carl Lewis** within a month. Burrell then set the record for a second time when he ran 9.85 seconds in 1994, a record that stood until the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, when **Donovan Bailey** ran 9.84 seconds.

Burrell was famous for saying “The more I train the more I realize I have more speed in me.”

Another memorable George moment was in early December 1996 on the eve of his move to commercial radio after being at the ABC for 36 years.

I went down to the broadcast box at the Western Australian Cricket Association Oval during his last call of first class cricket just to wish him well because he had been at the ABC such an amazingly long time.

I went on air to thank him and while on air cheekily asked “George, would you mind if I fulfilled one of my personal ambitions to call an over of first class cricket?”

He said “Yeah no worries Tom, off you go”.

Well, I didn’t even know who was batting or bowling, so I said, “just give us a minute” and then he called the next ball and I called the next one.

I’ll never forget that moment – it was a classic Perth summer day. It was a Pura Cup Match, Victoria vs. Western Australia.

The very next ball I called, the bowler got a wicket, and it was just one of those classic moments in time.

I’m sure everyone has their own George Grljusich stories, but what can we learn from the sports broadcasting legend?

I loved working with him, I loved listening to him and I loved just being in his presence.

After 12 months on from his death, here are five insights:

**1. Have a Strong Opinion**

That’s right, having an opinion is a good thing. People know where you stand, you are noticed. It can be very positive to be opinionated.

**2. Be Passionate About What You Do**

No-one was more passionate about his family, about his community and about his sport than George Grljusich.

Initially trained as a lawyer, he commentated on 93 sports and broadcast at six Olympic Games.

**3. Attention To Detail**

George was meticulous in his preparation to events and in the lead-up to sporting broadcasts he would study every single detail and be able to recall these details in high pressure situations.

**4. Brevity**

George’s call of the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games with Ben Johnson was pure magic.

He spoke 53 words and nine sentences in just under 10 seconds.

Click here to listen.

Brevity is very powerful in communicating.

**5. Be Yourself**

George was a character, was himself, and what you saw was what you got. The person on air was the person you met. Authenticity gives credibility and integrity.

It’s funny that when I think of George, I remember my own father. Intelligent, opinionated, sports mad and larger than life. Perhaps that’s why we got on so well?

Twelve months on, George Grljusich is missed, but not forgotten.

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