Steve Cairns Passes, Was Racing Radio Giant Down Under

By Ron Flatter

Originally posted Nov. 17, 2015

You may not have known Steve Cairns, and he probably wanted it that way.

Cairns spent his media career avoiding the spotlight while making racing a star. A radio executive most of his adult life, Cairns, 53, died in his sleep of an apparent heart attack Sunday night in Australia, where he was a big reason - maybe the biggest reason - racing and radio have been inextricably linked there for 20 years.

In nearly two decades at RSN - Radio Sport National - in Melbourne, Cairns was in charge of packaging and airing thousands of races year-round from dozens of tracks around the country and around the world, including America's biggest stakes. Moreover, he crafted the programming that surrounded and showcased daily races, including Australia's pioneering sports-talk shows and a morning digest of Thoroughbred news that remains a must-listen daily for horsemen and horse players.

In recent years as Group Program Director, Cairns guided RSN's move into new media, including the launch of smart-phone apps and the addition of the digital channel - Carnival - that became a clearinghouse for event programming, especially in and around Melbourne's iconic Spring Racing Carnival.

Also making international racing a coverage priority, Cairns led RSN to carry live reports from major US races, including the last nine Breeders' Cups and Triple Crown series and the last eight runnings of the Arlington Million. The creation of Carnival also provided a stage for 30- to 60-minute shows from the last two Belmont Stakes and this year's Arlington Million.

Cairns ended a 19-year run at RSN when he returned to his hometown of Brisbane in May, when he was named general manager of Radio TAB - the racing station serving Queensland. He held that position until his death.

Cairns's passing sparked a wave of tributes on social media from a generation of radio professionals - from technicians and producers to reporters and race callers - all of whom credited him with getting them their start in the business and teaching them how to hone their craft.

Current Sydney and former Hong Kong track announcer Darren Flindell said on Twitter, "Steve Cairns played a big role in the careers of so many on-air talent today and had a great love of race callers." In 1994 Cairns even authored the book London to a Brick On, a salute to Australian race calling.

He was "an incredible radio man with the ability to identify people's strengths and weaknesses," said Steve Hawkins, a longtime Australian racing broadcaster who worked most recently with Cairns in Brisbane.

Cairns insisted the end of his 19 years at RSN did not merit an on-air mention, so he probably would be embarrassed by all the attention his life is getting today. "If I know Steve," said Radio TAB producer James Clark, "he would want us to focus on the product and on-air content we deliver than get caught up in" his passing.

Cairns is survived by his wife, Nadia Horne, a racing radio host in Australia, and two adult daughters from a previous marriage.