|How was it working for the Catholic Church?
When the second Pope died we had a big lunch at Matthews Peacock Gardens. On the Pope. Life inside of that place, with the church, was always funny.
Were they at board meetings and things?
Oh yeah, they controlled the joint.
But the stuff that went on!
Oh, if they knew even half of it. But they were not exactly pure as? You go back into the early days of 2SM, the lyrics in "Maggie May" "All she did was mess my bed and in the morning kick me in the head" that was edited out.
What about "Tonight’s The Night"?
"Tonight’s The Night" was very controversial when we put it on, but we said this is our business and this is what we’re playing. And in the four or five years on it kind of moved on a bit. But there were still songs that were contentious.
Can you imagine trying to play Alanis Morissett’s "You Oughta Know" back in 1975?
Not a chance. But any kind of language whatsoever. I mean, the famous "Money" "Don’t give me no goody good katching bullshit" a cash register was edited into the song that 2SM played because you couldn’t say "bullshit" on the air.
Actually the best prank I pulled on the church they never knew. When we moved from Clarence Street to Blues Point Tower on the Sunday night that we put 2SM to air we had bishops and cardinals and archbishops they were all there, all gathered in a bloody row and I can’t remember who was on the air, it could have been Peter Grace, but the very first song I programmed was 10CC’s "The Second Sitting of the Last Supper." The complete piss-take on the Catholic Church. But here they all were. And they had no idea what it was about. And fortunately no-one ever asked. That was my joke on them.
Give me an idea of the hierarchy of 2SM in those days.
Well, the background. Rod Muir in the late ‘60s early ‘70s came back from America and he had this More Music format. And he put it on 2SM and it became a raging success. He was the Program Director/kinda any number of things. Kevin O’Donohue was the Managing Director, and Billy Stephens, and they loved Rod. And Rod put the format on the air, which changed the face of radio in Australia. Australian voices instead of American-sounding voices were suddenly the norm, and he was playing the hits almost non-stop. And he grew 2SM and then 3XY was added, 2NX in Newcastle, 4IP, 5AD in Adelaide, and 6PM in Perth. And the format spread around Australia. In late 1976 there’d been a fair degree of friction between Muir and the church and the management of 2SM for a period of time and he was under investigation. They settled out of court on January 13, 1977. Now I know this because I was doing Mike Webb’s morning shift on 2NX in Newcastle as the Program Director up there. I’d been at 2SM as an announcer in ’75. In ’76 I went back to Newcastle as the Program Director because they thought then I had the programming talent to fix their problem, get it to number one, which is what I did, the first ever number one they had. And then on that fateful Friday morning Mike Webb for some reason was not there, and I had to fill in and do the morning show, and at about a quarter past nine in the morning Garvin Rutherford, who had become Managing Director of 2SM after Stephenson and O’Donohue had gone, rang me and said, "I want you in Sydney on Monday." And I said "Why?" And he said "You’re the new Program Director of 2SM. Muir’s gone, I’ve taken over, and I want you to run 2SM."
Where had Trevor Smith been in all of this?
Trevor had gone. He was part of Muirs company Digamae. He was Program Director of 2SM at a point in time I think. But what happened, Muir in about 72 set up this company called Digamae. It was himself, Jan Torv and Trevor. Digamae kind of set up this whole More Music format in Australia and they all had Jags and were driving around town, go to lunch, have a meeting with the Program Director and the jocks and leave again, that was their consultancy role. All around Australia. Muir had a full-time penthouse suite at the Old Melbourne Inn with his own wardrobe there, set up for when he went to Melbourne. The Melbourne story as I understand it I was never witness to it but as its told, was that 3XY who were owned by The Age wanted the More Music Format. Muir said no, dont want to do it, not interested. They offered him a substantial amount of money and he said no. And in the end he was paid I think a quarter of a million dollars up front, this was in 1972, and 50% of the profit increase that 3XY would make over the term of the contract. Of course they went from 9% to 26 or 27% through the roof. So Muir made an absolute fortune. So in all this bloody rigmarole, hed got well and truly off-side with the Catholic Church, cause it was opulence beyond belief. When I came to Sydney in 75 to be a jock Muir took me to lunch at the San Francisco Grill at the Hilton Hotel and he had his own personally engraved gold serviette ring. Out comes a bottle of Dom Perignon and away you go. That was kind of de rigueur. Every party it was Dom. I lived in the Hilton for three months, when I came down to Sydney. We were at Clarence Street at the time and I had to find somewhere to live but didnt have time because I literally came in and started trying to make it more efficient and more profitable and more successful. So the first two or three months I lived in the Hilton.
And you were from Victoria? What age were you when you first became a jock?
Oh you didnt rush into it.
No, I had to wait for my voice to break, you know. I went to a radio school in Melbourne, this guy Clark Sinclair, and I was obviously good at it, it was something I had a total natural flair for, and he just thought I was an arrogant little shit so he made me wait and wait and wait. I should have been in radio a year earlier, but I wasnt smart enough to keep my ego in check.
Who was Russ Powers and where did he fit in?
Russ worked with me at 2NX in Newcastle. We first met at 2NM in Muswellbrook, where he was the Music Director and breakfast announcer, and when I went to program 2NX in Newcastle I brought Russ in as the Music Director to work for me, and when I came down here, when Cherie Romaro left she was the first Music Director I had, she left to go to Perth to work for Rhett Walker, famous radio man and I brought Russ down from Newcastle.
It seemed like there were certain stations that were breeding grounds.
Well, all the Muir format stations.
Why did the church even want to be in radio?
Money. And we made them a lot of money. In the first year that I was there we increased the profits from I think about $1.5 million to $6 million. Which in those days in a broadcast operation was unheard of. A lot of money. Thats why they tolerated Callithumpians like me.
Where is Russ Powers now?
I dont know.
Are you in touch with many of the old 2SM guys now?
Mike Drayson and I are still friends. Hes a very talented man but never really played the corporate game all that well. That was his biggest problem in life he told it like it was and a lot of people didnt like to hear it. Draysons a voice Id still love to hear on the radio, late at night, doing a kind of album, eclectic kind of show, just talking about music and kicking back. Theres nothing like that any more.
I guess a lot of listeners wouldnt have known as much about your presence as someone like me who did.
I was very much the man in the background most of the time. A bit of press from time to time, but my job was to get up and make it work. In the main I kept in the background; I was happy to be there.
Why did you decide you didnt want to be on air any more?
It’s an interesting story, and I’ve told a lot of people the story. When I was in Newcastle as a jock, every Friday night Garvin Rutherford used to have drinks in the board room. We’d all finish our day, and whatever shift we were doing, and go in and have a drink. And invariably after a few drinks the argument would always go to what’s wrong. And basically the management always wore the angst. The music’s no good. You don’t know what you’re doing. Blah blah blah. Every young jock, so full of themselves. And I realised one day sitting there Tim Webster, me, Peter Grace probably and one of these conversations was going on and we’d all had a few drinks. And I was just sitting back, as I often do, sitting back watching. And I was watching the reaction of Rutherford. And I could see that he was tolerating it because he had to. But deep down it was hurtful. Because there he was trying to make something happen. And they were being critical of him. And I realised there and then two things: that as a jock I was never going to change radio, one, and two, if I was going to succeed, then I needed that guy, Rutherford, on my side, and I needed to help him succeed. And that’s what I set about doing. And that’s how he came to trust me. And that’s how the whole 2SM thing happened for me. So it was driven out of wanting to make a difference. I can be a good jock but I also recognised that the jock thing was changing. It was getting harder and harder to be a personality in the business, even then. I loved doing breakfast and I was actually quite good at it, but I ever only got to do breakfast by myself, I didn’t get to do it with anybody else. The advent of the team only first came about with Macca and Nick. And that was a fight to keep him there I wanted him there but management didn’t. So I realised I was only going to change it by getting into the system and that my creativity and my programming sense was better than my on air skills. In the end I believe I could have been a great jock, but I felt I could have much more impact and make radio much more impactful for the audience by doing that than just doing the singular thing. So that’s how it came about, that was my dream.
But see, I disagreed with the whole programming format of 2SM at the time. I totally disagreed with what Muir was doing. I used to do it when I was here Id play Abba twice in a three-hour shift it used to drive me nuts. Id say, well thats not encouraging anyone to listen for any span of time. And those really loyal listeners who do, its going to burn them in the end. Theres room for a lot more music, theres room for much more creative things than were being done at the time. So it was really about wanting to effect that kind of change. I was only telling my staff the other day, the western side of the Sydney Harbour Bridge was lit because I decided it should be. It was my bloody hobby horse. I said, one day, all the bloody silvertails on the eastern side get to see the bridge at night and if you live in the west, where most people live, you cant see it. So we got spotlights on either side, people with flairs walking across the bridge, and lit the thing up. Months later, it was done. It was that kind of impact that I really liked.
When you came down in January 77 and 2SM was already doing pretty well, but you werent happy with the format, what did you do? I dont remember a discernable shift. It was obviously much more gradual.
No. It was very subtle. But it happened relatively quickly. The playlist was 30 songs; I broadened it straight away to about 70. I increased the range of music so instead of hearing Linda Ronstadt singing "Poor Poor Pitiful Me," you heard "Poor Poor Pitiful," "It’s So Easy," you might have heard four Ronstadt songs in rotation where before you would have only heard one. So you wouldn’t really pick the difference. And we weren’t marketing it I’ve never been the one to go on the air and say it’s this or it’s that. I’d rather let the audience figure that out along the way than try selling something. Most of the formats I’ve run I’ve never marketed what they are.
The on-air talent that you inherited when you came in, were you happy with that? Did you have to make any changes? Gibson and Moore were already in full steam.
They were there, but not rating. They were literally six months old, because it had been Maumill and Moore before. MacRae had never been number one, ever. Afternoons, nights and weekends were fine, though could do better. But I made Ian MacRae a promise that within a year he would be number one in Sydney. And you can imagine, before it had been Macca, shut up, shut up, play the music, dont talk so much, have fun but dont talk so much, control, control, control. Where Ive come in and gone, no, I want you to have as much fun as you can possibly have on the air and Ill create things around it.
So thats where the promotions started coming in.
All the promotions. The jumbo under the Harbour Bridge is the classic example of working through to that, but MacRae had nothing to do with that. He was the beneficiary of my idea. So many of the promotions, whether it was ROCKwords or whatever, they were all my creations, but they were all designed to give the on air talent things to play with that would take them beyond just being? And it was all driven by breakfast. The commercial where MacRae is driving the car, pulls up the front of the building, runs up the stairs, this is when we moved into here? All those kind of things were designed to give people things to talk about. So this kind of attitude, this culture that 2SM was this fantastic place. And it was just to grow it? Well, look what it did to you. If that was my experiment, you’re living proof that that was right.*
How important was it having the right jock in the right slot? For instance would Ron E have worked in evenings or mornings? Would Alan Steele have worked earlier in the day? Was it a matter of personalities fitting slots?
Once you hit 12 noon I think given the phase it was in and the kind of events and things we were doing, anybody could have done 12 midday to 12 midnight. Muir improved it in some respects previously; Greg Reese was doing mornings; he fired him and put George Moore on the air. He changed the jocks just like that. Ratings went down, Tim Webster and I came in to do nights together because he hated the night time guy. Theres a kind of realisation that a stations bigger than the individual, that MacRae and Gibson & Moore went on to offer something much more than music on 2SM. So part of it was fixed and part of it was totally interchangeable. The fact that we stayed with it for such a long period of time is just more the fact that it was a great team and there was no reason to change it. But when Ronnie decided to go and Drayson did drive, there was no discernable difference in the ratings of the station. The real impact only came when WS hit the air.
For my part, I got very attached to the jocks in their different slots. So Id eat dinner and then go up to my room and listen to Alan. This is why I was listening when the air went dead for 20 minutes. Whats the real story?
He went for the record on Space Invaders in the jocks room.
How did it go for 20 minutes? Was he the only one in the building?
Were you at home listening?
No, I was in the car, I’d been out somewhere. I was driving across the Harbour Bridge and I heard this bloody silence and then the tape came on the emergency tape. You knew when the tape was on that somebody wasn’t in the studio and there was a problem. So I used to have two-way in my car. There were no car phones, so I had straight two-way connection to the studio. So, "2SM 1 to the studio. Hello?" No answer. "Hello?" No answer. So I made the detour, instead of going home I went straight to the studio, walked in the door, No Alan. He’s down in the jock’s room, playing Space Invaders. And I walked in and said, "Gee. You’re fired." He was absolutely devastated.
Tell me about the egos at the station.
When I first arrived as the Program Director I may as well have gone to the South Pole. Sparx hated me. Ronnie never liked me. I pulled a terrible prank on Ronnie a few years earlier when I was doing nights and he was the Program Director. In 1975 he was Program Director for about eight months, until Muir got bored with him and got another one, as Muir was wont to do. Drayson, Sparx, John O’Donnell, then me. Every time I was on the air, Ronnie used to ring me up on the red phone, on the hotline, and complain about how I’d done the segue, how I’d done the break, what I’d said wrong. Stupid, just so totally irrelevant. So one night, when Tim was doing drive and Laurie Bennett was doing nights Lobo, the very famous Lobo and Lobo and I were great mates. Lobo used to come to work with a bottle of scotch or rum or something or other, with half a dozen cans of coke, and that was his shift. He used to drink it all, and he’d be smashed by the end of the shift. He’d still always do it on the air, though. I could do a Laurie Bennett impersonation and I had a bet with Lobo one night, I bet him a bottle of booze, that I could get Ronnie on the phone. I’ll go on air, and I said I bet you I can get Ronnie on the phone. Sure enough at ten past ten, come out of the back of the track [impersonates Laurie Bennet voice] "Laurie Bennett at 2SM and Chapman’s not here yet." Ring Ring. [Bennett voice] "What do you want, Ron?" "Where is he?" [Chapman voice] "I’m here, Ron." He didn’t talk to me for about a week. But that was the nature of the ego. And so when I came down, Ron was very bitter about my appointment in many respects because he felt that I was the green kid from Newcastle in some respects and he’d paid his dues at 2SM. So you had egos like Sparx. He was probably the worst. Most of the others were okay. They came to realise very quickly that I knew what I was talking about. For the first three months I sat outside in that carpark. It was so hard, I was distraught some days, the pressure was just phenomenal. And it wasn’t external pressure, it was internal pressure by Sparx and a whole array of people who just pressurised me, basically; didn’t believe in what I wanted to do, didn’t want to support me. And of course what I wanted to do in the end they grudgingly had to accept that I was right, because it worked. It made them much more successful than they ever were. And at the time, and even on my departure, some of them never ever gave me credit for what I did, they basically said, oh Rod Muir built it and all you did was capitalise on it.
Was Macca a supporter?
Oh, Macca was a great supporter. But you know, even his ego grew. When youre paid a shitload of money, the world is fawning over you
When Mac did Thank God Its Friday
At the Zoo
"At the Zoo." I opposed him. I said I don’t want you to do this, I don’t think you should do this, it won’t work, this is not good for him. And he really didn’t like me telling him that. And of course I was right. Because Mac had a great head for radio.
So yeah, there were a lot of egos, and egos behind the scenes as well that had been there for a while, thought they knew better, and how could I mess with what Muir had created, and why would you do it differently when it was successful. And my attitude was, sure its number one, its got 16%, but why cant it have 25? That was my attitude. And of course 18 months later we had 25. 24.9. It was hard. It was emotionally and physically draining to do for a while.
What was Mandy Maiers role at the station? I always used to see her around there.
She was my PA for three years. She was my PA for two of the three years and then ended up in publicity and marketing and promotions for the last
Anyway shes now a publicist for SBS, where shes been for the last 9-10 years.
Are you still mates?
Yeah, weve always remained good friends. Theres a couple Jeanette Johnson, who works at Arena now, she was at 2SM in the library in the 70s. Mandy. Mike Drayson. Theres still a few of us that see each other. The silver hairs, we call each other, been around a while.
When you got rid of Alan you gave Ron E an extra hour and then brought Durry on at seven. Was that unusual at the time? Radio was quite strictly 3 to 6, 6 to 9, wasnt it?
Well it was and it wasnt. Because sometimes drive was 4 to 7 and afternoons 12 to 4. Ron was the big name and the best jock in the music side of it, then he should be on air more, not less. That was kind of the mentality. And finishing a drive show at six oclock in Sydneys a bit of a joke. Drive time in Sydney is probably until eight oclock. Theres so much traffic out there.
I never understood why it was called drive; I always thought of it as after school.
Thats right. There was two parts to it. It was after school, and then it was that kind of 4.30, five oclock when everybody knocked off and started to hit the roads. Because you had such a big audience in cars. So you had to play to them. But of course what happened, six oclock shut down the personality kind of stuff I mean, the Alans and the Durrys and the Peter Graces werent in Ronnies league. Ronnie was very skilled.
He managed to build himself with a character, even with the name.
Do you listen to him now on WS?
Yes. Actually WS is the only commercial station I can listen to musically. Unlike you, whos managed to stay in touch with the youth of this country
It sounds like a crime. Youve managed to make me sound like a paedophile.
I cant watch [V]. And Ive never been into Triple J.
I can understand that.
But there are plenty of 40-somethings and 50-somethings out there who think theyre really hip, who listen to Triple J and watch Channel [V].
But your history is very much tied to the kind of 2SM broadcasting ethos, music style and all that kind of stuff. Triple J existed then Double J with some fantastic broadcasting, but the vast majority of people in Sydney never wanted to listen to a bunch of idiots most of the time crapping on. Nude Radio with ODonohue and Graham Bond and the like, and the early Mulray stuff and the early Club Veg stuff were fantastic. But unlistenable. The mythology of Triple J far outweighs the reality. I had to laugh when I went in there in 1990, because they talked about this history and this alternative music and what it is, and all that sort of stuff. And I dragged out the first ten records they ever played. You Just Like Me Cause Im Good In Bed, Juniors Farm Paul McCartney. Dire Straits. Eight of the ten acts were commercial.
They only ever talk about the Skyhooks.
I know, they never own up that they played Paul McCartney and Dire Straits and Pink Floyd. All the big artists of the time. The mythology kind of replaces the reality.
Do you think that Ian MacRae was the best breakfast presenter Sydney ever had or do you think he was more a product of what you were doing at the station?
In terms of talent, Mulrays much more talented quick thinking, humour, smart, witty, clever. But MacRae lived in a really disciplined environment that was surrounded by amazing staff; when you look at what he did, he did extremely well. He was the jock of the 70s.
He galvanised an era on air.
Yeah. Like Gary OCallaghan in the 60s. Theyre points in time. Head to head it would be very close; Mulray would probably beat him, Mulrays just more quirky. Not so much now. Mulray because he was on the air at a later stage than Ian, different kind of environments was able to be more edgy as well. MacRae inside the Catholic Church environment couldnt do half the things Im sure he would have done. Triple M had much more freedom, which allowed Mulray. Well, Mulray had to learn it as well. I wont say I taught him, but I really showed him how to do a lot of what he did in the early stages. Today Doug will tell you hes the best broadcaster that ever walked and he did it all himself. And thats fine. Youd expect it from breakfast announcers.
What about Gibson and Moore what do think it was that made them the darlings of Sydney radio? They were an odd duo when you think about it.
They were an incredibly odd duo. The most amazing duo. And George Moore was the understated asset. George made Mike Gibson. As did John Brennan. But more George than John. Because Mike was almost illiterate on the air. He was a great journalist, but couldnt talk half the time to save his life. In interviews he was all over the place. So much of what went to air in that morning show was pre-recorded, and George Moore used to edit within an inch of its life. So all the umms, the errs, the ahhs. So Brenno was bringing the talent in, and building the show, and then you had George sitting there with the edit knife in his hand going bang bang bang, getting rid of the ahhs, the stutters the whole way through, so you get these pristine interviews on the air. So much of what that show was was not live. It was perceived to be but a lot of the major interviews were done in the afternoon. Snip and tuck, thank you very much.
Was Mike conscious that George was basically supporting him?
Oh yes. But Mike didnt see that as an issue. And Mike thought he was the star. And when he went to 2KY or GB to do breakfast in 1979 he really thought that he would be a superstar on breakfast, because 25% of Sydney had been listening to him. But he never realised they were just listening to 2SM.
What was the Keith Williams story? I remember he was on 2SM, then he left, then he came back because he kissed and made up with 2SM. Was there a story there?
Thats an ego one, where his ideas got well above his expectations. And we got a bit bored with it and said well, go away. We sent him to Newcastle or somewhere, I dont know, I cant remember now. Hed just become unmanageable.
Why did Durry go to Newcastle?
Oh, he wanted to go home. He was just homesick. He hated it here. He was a country dork. A lovable dork, but a dork all the same.
Was it a challenge looking after the egos of jocks and balancing those with the more intellectual demands of people like Liebmann, Tingle and White?
Oh yeah. They were fantastic. At the time it was just so of the moment it was classy. And I’ll give Muir his credit. The idea of doing that, of creating a really credible independent news service, to lift 2SM, was a really fantastic idea, it really was. But you talk about egos. Brian White absolute egomaniac. In many respects they saw themselves above everybody else there. One night, Derryn Hinch had designs to be there as well, and we had a ratings party where 2SM was just rocketing, and Derryn’s grabbed me by the beard and said, "You have nothing to do with this, it’s all because of these guys." The egos of that size were far harder? because you know they pulled this bloody journalistic integrity bullshit on me all the time.
They were very good. I mean, when you think, to look back at radio I was listening to 24, 25 years ago, which was mainly music for me, for me to have such vivid memories of the news reports.
Oh they were fantastic. And radio has never ever got near it. Which is sad in some respects. Its really devalued that kind of brilliance that the right news approach can bring to a radio station.
Do you see Leibo around much?
I havent seen him for years. I mean I hate what he does now its so boring.
Why wasnt your caricature on the Top 100 poster from 1978? A glaring omission.
I dont know.
But you must have commissioned that.
Who was the artist? I cant read the signature and Id like to credit the artist on my website.
I cant remember.
It wasnt Peter Ledger.
No it wasnt Peter Ledger the mad Peter Ledger. He was fantastic.
So theres no particular reason why your caricature was not included on that poster?
To be honest with you, I cant remember. But knowing me, that would have been, I dont want to be there.
And yet you were in all the trade ads.
Well the trade ads served a purpose.
Telling the industry, Were all one big happy family and we have your interests at heart, oh dear advertisers and sponsors.
Yes. Give us money please.
Okay, so what were your favourite promotions, and how did you come up with some of these crazy ideas? Where were you when you decided to put a jumbo under the bridge?
I was in the jocks’ room, listening to Ron E Sparx being his usual cynical self. We were talking about what are we going to do we do stuff from the bridge, we pay the toll and Ronnie said, oh, you know, we could fly planes over the bridge. I said, "No, no, we’ll put a jumbo under the bridge." And then it was kind of like, if we could convince people that that’s what we were going to do? It was a major stunt. I still recall sitting down here in the 2SM car, there under the bridge. So that was literally off the back of Ronnie’s cynicism that I created that.
Was that the biggest radio promotion there ever was in Sydney?
I dont know if it was the biggest. I think that those that were here and a part of it will never ever forget it. Do you remember we towed an iceberg up the harbour one morning?
I think I do. When was that?
April Fools Day 1979. We quoted a story three weeks earlier in the news that they found a way to carve off pieces of icebergs in the South Pole to solve the water problem. Then there was the debacle that I did with Harvey Shore about finding the Japanese submarine on the floor of Sydney Harbour. And the Japanese consulate went ape. Just another stunt that went wildly awry, because you cant consecrate a Japanese war grave, and all this kind of stuff. Because we never found anything at all, we just decided to hoax the world that we had. Harvey got into a lot more trouble than me.
How did you come up with ROCKwords?
I saw something somewhere similar. I think I saw it in a magazine in America when I was there, in New Orleans in 1976. I saw this structure and I went, I could turn that into a radio kind of thing. Id occasionally go overseas for two or three weeks at a time and just travel around listening to radio stations. I went on the great roller coaster tour of America at one stage and went on all the great theme park rides.
You didnt seem overly impressed by my $55 Diamond Traders love ring that I wore to the ARIAs last month. You said it was a piece of shit. It was the first time Id worn it in 20-something years. Id won it from 2SM! Thats what it was all about. I didnt win a lot of things on 2SM. In fact, you owe me.
Now you havent talked about David White.
The Mighty Whitey? Davids talent is hes a great interviewer and a great researcher. That was one of his great strengths. But he was a tremendous organiser. And so I had David, and I had Russ Powers, and they were the two. And David made a lot of the things I wanted to happen happen. And always in my career I always had those that I lovingly referred to as the donkeys. Who have got that innate ability to carry an idea up the hill, keep going and make it happen. And David was one of those people. Much of what we did happened on the air because David put the work into it.
Is that why he was the one you sent off all over the world doing interviews?
Yeah. Well, we travelled the world together quite a bit, David and I. The Queens Silver Jubilee. We had an amazing time. Eight weeks on the road, first class travel, unlimited American Express cards and a letter from the Queen. All on the Queens Silver Jubilee committee. Harry M Miller. Its a classic story. What had happened was in early 77 Harry had come to us and said, We want to do something special for the Queens Silver Jubilee. And we think we should be doing something with you, because we could interview all the British rock acts in the world and create this whole series of Queens Silver Jubilee specials. And we should interview Prince Charles about music and culture and all that kind of stuff. And they said yes, so David and I were given the okay to go and travel the world for as long as it took. And at the same time while we went, I put MacRae and Trevor Johnson, who was the producer, the jingles/promo guy, in London to do a breakfast show there for two weeks as well. So we all arrived together, we rented a house in Chelsea, this big four-storey house which cost an absolute fortune, and we proceeded to live the high life.
Who was running the station?
Russ and I forget who else was in charge. The station was incredibly well planned and detailed. It was more ticking it over. It might even have been Ronnie. It probably was.
It was one of those things that you never forget. We arrived in London, we flew in first class, I sat behind the pilot with the tape recorded on as we landed. And we didnt know, but waiting for us was the stretch Bentley with the flags. The whole lot. I mean, youve seen how I looked in those days. Long hair and a beard, and dressed like a jungle bunny. We totally missed their signs to collect us and caught the cab into town. So we missed the stretch limo. And we based ourselves out at Chelsea wed found this place before we got there and David and I partied so hard for the next six weeks that you would find us in hire cars being driven around drinking Dom Perignon straight out of the bottle. We interviewed every major British rock act in the world. We did Queen in Stockholm, Elton John, Rod Stewart, we did Rick Wakeman in Montreux in Switzerland
We finished the European leg and I got pissed off with Harry M because the Prince Charles interview just kept getting put back and back and back, and I had a big fight with him in the Dorchester in London. Wed carefully drafted these questions and Harrys come back and said, no its a piece of shit, theyll never approve those questions, youre not doing the interview. So David and I flew to New York where we did Led Zeppelin flew on the Starship with Led Zeppelin Fleetwood Mac, Paul McCartney, blah blah blah blah. Get back to Australia, weve got all these specials, and shipped in is the interview with Prince Charles done by Graham Kennedy with my questions! Graham Kennedy whos managed by Harry M with my bloody questions. We decided bugger it, we didnt want it. We didnt use it.
That trip? Lou Dimovich, who works at MusicMAX, still asks me to repeat the Led Zeppelin story. We were supposed to do the interview in the Plaza Hotel, five o’clock, Monday afternoon. And Gabrielle at Swansong Records has said be there, the band will be there, don’t talk until they get there. So we’re sitting there and five o’clock goes by, then five-thirty. Gabrielle walks in and says, ?The band can’t do the interview today, but they’d like you to come to the gig. The only problem is we’re going to go now and you’ll have to come with us now.? ‘Cause there was a limo outside waiting for them. And they had 13 or 14 stretch limos around the street with all the band and all the hangers-on and the wives. Whoever. And a Bentley, because John Bonham only ever travelled in a Bentley. And out there was our limo, number 13, and David White and I got in it and we took off. Instead of heading south towards Madison Square Garden, we turn around and go north. So we think maybe they’re playing in New Jersey or something. We go straight out to JFK Airport, in the back gate and there’s the Led Zeppelin Starship sitting there. We get on board the jet. David and I have got happy snaps. The jet has a bar, bedrooms down the back. We went down to Baltimore. We were beside ourselves. There we were with the greatest rock and roll band ever. You don’t do it any finer than Led Zeppelin. So we flew down to Baltimore Airport, get out, there’s all the stretch limos and a Bentley. Straight into the stadium, we were given on-stage pass, the tickets out the front by the sound desk. And we were told as soon as the band starts to play ?Rock and Roll? in the second encore, just walk from wherever you are and go and get in your car, do not get out of your car. And so the band plays the most amazing concert, 40,000 people in the stadium just going nuts. We get back on the plane, of course they pick up all the girls, all the groupies, and then there’s a huge party back at the Plaza Hotel. And what always strikes me that’s interesting, is we’re sitting there at five o’clock in the morning doing this interview with Jimmy Page, the legend, and it’s a fantastic interview and he’s really lucid talking to us. The last question was, "You’re the band, the big rock and roll band in the world right now. Who do you think is going to be next?" And Page says, "I’ve got some tapes!" So the first tape he pulls out is The Clash. This is 1977. He says, "This band will be one of the great bands of rock and roll." The second band was AC/DC. And now in the Hall of Fame they’re being inducted together The Clash and AC/DC. It really struck me.
Countdown has always been given credit for breaking a lot of artists, but what were some of the bands or artists that 2SM was instrumental in breaking, making happen back in those days?
Meatloaf. Dragon, Split Enz, Angels, Midnight Oil. They were all products of 2SM, they werent products of Countdown. Not seen once a week on TV, but played every three hours, high rotation, songs off their albums.
The free concerts were very much 2SMs hallmark. I recall there being a New Years Eve free concert that wasnt a 2SM concert, where Doc Neeson got hit on the head by a beer can and Council decided they couldnt be held any more.
Thats exactly what happened. The idiots put on The Angels with Rolf Harris on the same bill. They had this idea that you could have this family show on New Years Eve at the Opera House and you could put a rock band on and you could put Rolf Harris oh. It was like duhhh! Cause family were there, rock fans were there, theyre all Get off! Get off! chucking cans and hurling things.
The first time I saw The Angels was the free concert you did at Victoria Park in February 79 with The Angels and Split Enz. It was weird for me because I was a Sherbet and LRB fan and it was a whole different crowd at this gig, and they all were wearing safety pins and I felt less comfortable, hoping that this wasnt the direction that 2SM would go in now.
Which it did.
Well, sort of. Which brings us to What was the story of your departure and the AM Album Music Format?
Ohhh, the story of my departure is an interesting one!
I lived overseas from May 1980 to October 1980 so I missed the whole introduction of FM. You must have gone some time in that time.
May 1980. I was having a relationship with the promotions manager of the company, Roslyn Wilson. And there was a bit of a power play in the station and someone decided that our relationship might affect the running of the company. And I was given an ultimatum, which was basically that one of us has to go, ie Roslyn. And Roslyn said, Ill go, and I said, No you wont. I put three and a half years into this place just to put up with this shit. Tony Moltzen was the then general manager and he was a puppet for someone else in the end, because he had no control, I had all the power. He just made a big play for control. And he forced Rutherford in the end to back him. And Rutherford wasnt even there on the Friday to issue this ultimatum. I said to Moltzen, You cant fire me. You didnt hire me and Im not listening to you. If Rutherford wants to fire me, then you get him in here now and I will have it with him. Id had a conversation with the lawyers earlier, and Roslyn and I went to a meeting on the Monday with Garvin Rutherford and she had a little tape recorder in her bag and recorded the conversation, which was total discrimination against us. It was one of the first anti-discrimination bouts of its time. Because they said our relationship might affect the future of the company. It was classic. So we were both fired on that basis.
That would never happen today.
I know. It could not happen. I rang some friends, my lawyers delivered letters to the chairman, the Archbishop and the Cardinal. Poor Rutherford got it, telling him we were taking legal action under section whatever-it-is of the Anti-discrimination Act. We rang 60 Minutes. About four weeks later we settled, they paid.
So it wasnt about the new Album Format thing?
No, no. It was about Roslyn and me.
Did the relationship endure? Was it worth it?
It lasted another four years. Was it worth it? For me individuals aside it was about the principle.
How did you feel? After having this gig where you basically rode the top of the Sydney radio airwaves for those years, the most successful Program Director in the country, that you would have to leave over something that wasnt even to do with your work?
It was entirely political. But I was also at the point where Id come to the point with them, because they paid me a bloody pittance compared to what they paid their talent, that it was time to move on, do something else. So Rod Muir rang me up and said, come over to Triple M. I was the first voice on the air on Triple M.
The Album Music format was a ploy [on 2SM]. It didn’t change anything. The whole idea was trying to find a new place for 2SM where people would see it as fresh and different or whatever else. The format was almost identical. We were already playing more tracks from more albums than anybody else. It was probably the first and only time in my broadcasting career I’ve made a statement about what a radio station is. The slogan kind of ?More Music? thing I’d never done that. Even when we did ?There is only 1SM? we never ever said that on the air. We never marketed that on the air. ‘Cause we needed to find a way to say we were number one without ever saying it. "There is only one SM 2SM." If you remember the jingle, the lyric line of the jingle "There’s only one way, you’ve got to make this way the one way, make this one the one day, there’s got to be the one that will be the one, there’s only one SM 2SM." It was just bullshit. We needed to say something, but nothing. We wanted to put the brand out there but we never ever wanted to say we were number one. Channel Nine followed it that’s where "Still The One" came from.
So you were with Triple M when FM came in, but then you got fired?
Yep. In 1981. Id been there about a year and a half.
What was that all about?
Oh shit, that was funny. Rod Muir and a bunch of investors owned the license. And I went there as a bit of fun. Go back on the air. ‘Cause I did breakfast before Mulray. I was just having fun. I was there nominally as a consultant, but my job in the first instance was to do 1-4 in the afternoon. So I used to arrive at ten to one and leave at ten past four. Actually I think it was a bit later than ’81. I was there for a while. I was going to go to Melbourne in Easter 1981. I’d been down there with Ros. Her family was down there, my family’s down there, Lee Simon, a good friend of mine, was the Program Director at EON FM, and Lee and I were talking and we’d reached agreement for me to do breakfast on EON in Melbourne. And I rang Muir on Easter Monday and I said, "I’m leaving." He said, "You can’t go." I said, "What do you mean I can’t go?" He said, "Oh Cherie Romaro and half the team have just walked out, and I want you to take over the station." He said, "I’m in trouble and if I don’t fix it the shareholders are going to have my arse and I’m going to lose it."
So Cherie went over to 2DAY and I came in as the Program Director. Which is the start of Triple Your Music. So they wanted to hear my vision for the business and we had this conference up in the Blue Mountains. And I’ll never forget it, because I said to Muir ‘cause they were all there, all the directors and managers I said, "Your problems are that you’re all thinking with your pockets and not your brains. I said, you’re all shareholders and you’re more worried about your investment than you are in running a business and you can’t be objective. And if I’m going to be the Program Director of this business then I’m going to run it and you’re going to have to do what I want." Muir wanted it; he needed it, because he was in trouble. But the other shareholders absolutely hated it. So Rod said okay, but I knew there was a huge political movement against me in there. And I really didn’t care. So I put Triple Your Music on the air, Doug Mulray, I did all that sort of stuff, built the station, ratings went whoosh up. Ratings come up, Rod calls me in, says, "I’ve got some bad news. The management don’t want to work with you." And I looked at him and I said, "It’s nice, isn’t it Rod? I just put your business into shape, I’m on the right rating track, and you don’t have the guts to stand up in front of your shareholders and say I was the one who did it." Part of it was Rod as well; he wanted the glory and the last thing he wanted was me to be successful. So I was gone. I wasn’t fired. They just didn’t renew the contract when the contract ran out. So I was off into the wild blue yonder. That was the end of me and commercial radio.
But then you came back.
Oh yeah. That was a mistake. Well, it wasnt financially.
When did you go back to Triple M?
So when did you go to Triple J?
90. I was out of radio for seven years, at EMI. I had fun taking a moribund little publishing company and turning it into a business.
What do you think that you took with you from your 2SM days into the rest of your career?
The first one would be what I believe to be true about how broadcasting operates, the dream that I had about big entertainment formats, broad-range music format, that whole concept, done in the particular way that I would do it, does work, and still works. The format at Triple J is the format at 2SM. Different songs, different kind of attitude, but all the ingredients all the same. Morning talk, news, information, current affairs, comedy breakfast, comedy drive. Sport Roy and HG done differently. The music playlists in numbers and structure was almost identical. So the first thing I learned was that what I thought about how broadcasting could work, from seeing it from afar and then getting close and doing it, was right. A belief that unlike so many in the business who want format to control people, I see it in totally the opposite way. People to control the format, people work together as one to create something that works under an agreed set of principles rather than, well theres my format and youve got 30 seconds coming out and youre replaceable at the drop of a hat. Those kind of things stay with me, live with me.
And also not, I hope, I think, not adopting the cynicism of so many that I met at that time, of having been around for a while and considered successful and they were beyond reproach, immovable objects. I never wanted to be one of those. That you could listen to people and you could take it in and be not afraid to move. And going into Triple J that was one of the great assets. Cause I had to move and think quite differently. Imagine going to work and on your very first day there are 4,000 people on the street protesting. Jocks had been fired and I was seen to be the commercial face coming in to ruin Triple J. Within a week I had 30 death threats. Those things shake you.
How was it compared to the Catholic Churchs control?
Having gone through that kind of pressure, it was nothing. All of that was nothing. In the ABC and the entire bureaucracy from the Government on down was nothing compared to the pressure I faced [at 2SM]. So it galvanised me. The thing that I was so lucky in my mid 20s, I was given so much personal strength and confidence by doing that that every challenge I face since Ive been able to treat it at the right level, not be caught by it, but not be intimidated by it either. Know that what I know is right, and be confident and be able to walk into a room and sit down with people. A lot of people dont like me because Im fearsome in that regard, because I say what I think. Im not easily manipulated by others. And in the broadcast area a lot of people dont like that. They like conformists, they like everybody to fit in their formats, and I dont fit there, because Id say it can be done better, it can be done differently, more interestingly. So all of that comes out of that time. And the time spent with Muir as well before it and after it.
What did you think when he bought 2SM back for a little while?
I came over and I talked to him. I had a drink with him at the coffee shop across the road, and I said, "What the fuck are you doing? You’ve got nothing to prove." He said, "I just want to see if I can do it again." I said, "Forget it. It’s not like that. That’s not how it works. It’s a time gone by, leave it there." I found it a bit sad actually. ‘Cause I like Rod. He’s an interesting man.
Do you miss radio? Would you go back to it? Would you hire me?
No, no and yes.
So when you come back from your two-year sojourn youre not going to do radio. You like TV better?
I find TV much more interesting to do. Its a very persuasive toy to play with. Just having that added element, you can realise ideas and thoughts in a visual sense, its just spectacular.
Why have you picked now to leave Channel [V] and MusicMAX?
Well I said at 50 Id stop. So Im three and half years late. Its an exciting time
and I can walk away from this on an absolute high. No-ones firing me, no controversy, no nothing.
© Debbie Kruger 2002
* For an interesting comment from Ian MacRae click here