Radio seemed to be everything that print was not. Sure, you had to prepare in advance, but it was immediate, both in output and connection with the listener. That was a rush. Print, while exciting, took a lot longer to form (for me, anyway) and the result seemed more permanent, more concrete. Radio felt a little wild, a little reckless, a little dangerous. I’ve always been attracted to that. And you could play music too – share your favourite sounds with listeners, take them on a journey with song, which is the best thing about music, either for yourself or for a group of people. At this point in my life, radio seemed like the greatest gig ever.
So when Merrick and Rosso asked me to provide a weekly entertainment report on their show (I guess they thought I was qualified, given all of the above) I jumped at it. I hadn’t grown up with Triple J, it had only made it to Red Cliffs long after I’d moved away, but I was sure getting to know it now. The boys made me so welcome that I became part of their regular team (which included the divine Tom Williams, who was known as Tom, The Chippy From Manly, and had originally appeared on the show as a caller).
As part of the show, we’d travel the country, in one of the early radio stunts for which Merrick and Rosso became loved for, in a bus named ‘The Love Bus’, stopping at regional towns all over Australia. On these trips I learnt so much – about radio, about presenting in crowds (I was the one they’d throw to for vox pops), and about the addiction of live radio. It was a hoot!
From working on the Merrick & Rosso Show, I started doing my own mid-dawn shifts on Triple J, while holding down my print job too. Sometimes I wonder how I did it, working full days on no sleep, and partying whenever I wasn’t working. The only reason I think I managed is because I was young and running on the exhilaration of it all.
Then Triple J offered me my own show on Saturday nights, taking over from the beautiful Rosie Beaton, who had established a radical new chart show called The Net 50, where people could do the most cutting edge of things and vote for their favourite song online. I know! Whodathunkit? Use the computer to vote? What sorcery! This was at a time when the internet was still dial-up and people were yelling at their mums to get off the phone so they could spend seven hours downloading porn, pixel after slow pixel … so it really was quite novel.
I was charged with collating the votes, which were painfully printed line by line on a dot matrix printer, then counting them down on a Saturday night to a wide audience all over Australia. If you think the internet’s cooked, try answering a Triple J phone on a Saturday night in the ’90s. I don’t think I’ve spoken to more truckies, farmers and kids off their nut at parties since. It speaks volumes of the reach that Triple J had, and still has in regional areas, and the breadth of people it attracts. We should never forget the vital role the station has in helping young people in these areas feel connected to the rest of the country. I wish I’d had something similar as a kid, because it would have meant everything to me.
It wasn’t long until those Saturday nights morphed into various other jobs around the station, finally leading to a permanent gig hosting the lunch shift for five years. Then eventually, in my final year at Triple J, I hosted breakfast with Frenzal Rhomb musicians – the incredibly dry and hilarious Jason Whalley and the ever-energetic and life-affirming Lindsay McDougall, otherwise known as Jay and The Doctor. The team was rounded out by our super-producer Alicia Brown, whose knowledge of every follow-up and unsuccessful single from a one-hit-wonder meant that I adored her instantly. It was a wild time.
One of the highlights of my time working at Triple J was their One Night Stand concert program, where small towns would bid for some of the biggest acts of the day to come to their town and play a concert. As someone who grew up in a country area, where one of the most exciting things to happen was the Big M girls arriving in town, something like this would have been right up my alley. I loved seeing a town embrace an idea, from the local school to the local shops and the local CWA, and then everyone from the local mayor to the local stray dogs turning up to get an idea of what the kids were up to. And the kids! Their beaming faces radiating pure joy was enough for me to know that this gig was a gift that would be remembered for a long time.
Country kids aren’t outsiders, they just don’t get the same chances to enjoy things that city kids take for granted because they’re easy to get to. This was a magnificent subversion of the norm. I’ll never forget the AWOL concert I participated in, in Burnie, Tasmania, a coastal industrial town an hour and a half from Launceston, where people opened their arms and hearts to us so wide that we ended up partying till all hours with the locals at a local dance studio, then riding bikes up and down hotel hallways to no recriminations. I’ve never felt so safe on a night out on the town. Burnie embraced our travelling musical tornado with gusto.
These events are testament to the role that Triple J has, which is more than just providing a voice for youth, it connects kids around the country with a shared voice, a shared narrative of songs and ideas. In a time when the online world has given us more options and less connection, I do feel this is so necessary. I don’t listen to Triple J much anymore, because it’s not for me. It’s not meant to be for me. I am way too old and I should be uncomfortable listening at times because I’m not the demographic they’re aiming at. Rusted-on Triple J listeners sometimes find this hard to grasp. I also don’t need music to help me define who I am in the same way that I did when I was younger. But I don’t doubt younger people still need it.
It becomes pretty obvious when you’re too old for the Youth Network, and by the time I left, at the age of thirty-four, some around the building considered me to be positively geriatric.
It was time to go. I was being courted by a commercial network, Triple M, with an offer to work with my friend and talented, so-naturally-hilarious-it-hurts comic Pete Helliar in a breakfast radio gig in my hometown, which was too good to pass up. But I learnt an awful lot from my time at Triple J – I honed my music knowledge, I established myself in the Australian musical landscape on many levels, it opened many exciting doors, I made incredible friends and had a wild time doing it all. It was here I also met my darling and talented friend Zan Rowe, who I now co-host the podcast ‘Bang On’ with (still through the ABC). We started as broadcasting babies in Melbourne, and to find ourselves working together again at this stage in life, is a joy and a pleasure.