What area of Sydney did you grow up in?
Well, in a number of places, because Mum was divorced and she had to raise me alone, so we were all over the map. As well as in the country in Scone, Broken Hill and Moree we lived at Balgowlah, Blakehurst, in Rooty Hill and Strathfield just to name a few.
Was it the Balgowlah years that made you a Manly-Warringah football fan?
Absolutely! I supported them before they even won a title. The “always the bridesmaid never the bride” era, before 1972. Used to go the games at Brooky and whenever I could other away games. I am a passionate Sea Eagle for life.
You were a single child brought up by a single mum. Being that you were moving around a lot, did radio become an important part of your life early on?
It did. I was just in love with radio. It was pure magic. Hard to describe really, but I got so locked into the sounds of various bands and just the pure fantasy world of listening to a jock on the radio, I think it was 2UW at the time, it was Rod Christopher; I was a big Rod Christopher fan… We’re going back into the sixties it was Rod Christopher, Ward Pally Austin, John Thompson with Thompson’s Underground before that the likes of Scott Newman, Bob Rogers, Mad Mel all those guys.
What about in your younger years, moving around in country areas? Did you tune in to local country stations?
Yes, I remember listening to 2WG Wagga because I could pick them up when I was living outside Scone and later at Moree, listening to various local radio stations. I recall listening to George “Groover” Wayne on WG, he was outstanding. It was just part of the excitement. At night you could also tune in and hear signals from city stations coming out of the sky, hearing all these jocks and fantastic records you couldn’t hear in the country, so it really fired my imagination. And it’s been a life long love affair with radio.
Did you manage to stay at one school through your high school years?
I went to the Forest High. I would’ve loved to have gone on to uni but I completed third year as it was called, mum needed help so I basically had to just get out and get a job. I joined an advertising agency in the city. That was my first job. I was basically a “go-fer guy”; I used to go out and do all the messages and go between… it was down on the corner of George and Bridge Streets in the city, and one of the chief clients was P&O Orient Lines, and I began as a messenger boy, taking the scripts and the copy to P&O for its approval, and bringing them back down. Started there and worked my way up through the agency.
Basically I ended up in the production area of the agency. But I was using the job really as a platform to get into radio. Because I was desperate to crack broadcasting. I had a burning ambition to get into radio, and I thought, how am I going to get there, I have to find some avenue, some way of getting in, so what’s a related field? Obviously advertising.
There was no radio school back then in the sixties?
I did Max Rowley, went through his school with a mate of mine. But that was about it. There may have been one or two others, but I remember Max was THE radio school of the era. Max was a wonderful bloke.
Did he tell you at the time, yes you have a good radio voice?
He was very encouraging and I remember when the first job came up, as well as doing Max Rowley Radio School I found someone at 2GB, an executive there and he’d listen to my tapes. I was also doing a radio show out at Bondi called “Radio DJ”, they used to send tapes to the armed forces in Vietnam. A voluntary thing. And I had a Top 10, or maybe it was a Top 40 countdown show. There was a bloke called Kent Broadhead that used to run it. And I did my first shows out there imitating the jocks of the day. I was talking about Rod Christopher and so on, “on the new 2UW”, and I used to take the tapes into this fella at 2GB, I’m sorry I can’t recall his name, but I’m grateful he spared the time to listen and critique them. Anyhow this job came up at 2LF in Young, and I really wanted to give it a go, and he said “No, no, you’ve still got a bit to learn, I wouldn’t do it just yet.” But at that age, you know what you’re like, you’re headstrong, you want to conquer the world, I can do this. So I sent the tape out to 2LF Young thinking, well, you know, nothing ventured. Much to my surprise and delight a telegram arrived, which I still have. The guy’s name was Strat Ward, he was the manager at 2LF Young. Got the job, come up on X date and you’ll start.
Come up? Young is south. And freezing.
South-west, yeah. Down past Cowra. It’s cherry country!
So you were seventeen when you started there?
It would have been something like that. I would have been around seventeen, I had to fake my age. I remember I put my age up about two or three years. Because I’ve had two 21st birthdays. One real, one unreal.
Were you a rarity amongst your mates, your school friends, in that passion for radio?
There was a good mate called Ernie Crooks and we were the two weirdos in the group. In summer when they were all out there playing cricket and surfing we’d be locked in rooms in our homes compiling Top 40 charts and putting our hands over the ears and doing disc jockey routines. They all thought we were nuts, we thought they were nuts, but we had a great time. We loved it and that’s what we did.
Before you went out to Young, you were listening to 2UW; was that also around the time of the Good Guys on 2SM?
It probably would have been. I was listening to them and also used to also check out Melbourne radio, 3UZ with Stan Rofe. I think it was the “Adorna Cuddly Corner” show. It was a great station. They had Sam Anglesey who was a hot operator as well. Others that influenced me, as I said before, Rod Christopher on UW, Ward Pally Austin. 2SM Good Guys, Bob Rogers, Phil Halderman. Actually Phil Halderman let me come in and sit in on his breakfast show one time. I remember it was a huge studio with a big desk in the middle of it, not much else, and the big double-glazed window. I still can’t recall who, it must have been a friend of a friend who knew I was a radio nut and arranged it. Alderman Halderman, as he was called, said, “Yeah, come in!” So he plonked me down in a chair beside him and I sat in as he did the breakfast show. Phil was a huge star in his day. And I was sitting there like wow, not quite believing I was in the presence of this legend.
So that was always your passion and you never thought you’d go into music? You didn’t play instruments or any of that? But you knew you wanted to do music radio.
Absolutely. I wanted to be a disc jockey and it was a burning desire ever since I started listening to radio out in the country as a young star struck kid.
So what were you doing at 2LF?
At 2LF I did a show called “With It on 1340”. Given the way we partied it was sometimes more like withered on 1340. Anyhow I’d start at seven, play rock til ten, and then we’d have a major newscast, because it was part of the Macquarie Network, so we’d join Macquarie from Sydney followed by a special provincial newscast, as I recall. It was a bit bizarre with the likes of Hendrix, The Jefferson Airplane and Cream into the late news followed by a late night piano lounge mix of Tony Bennett, Lana Cantrell and Henry Mancini, easy listening music til midnight, and then I’d shut the station down, play the national anthem and walk up the hill to where I shared a flat with the future Channel Nine legend Ken Sutcliffe.
So what did you do all day? Did you go in and do ads and things like that for them?
Yeah, well the great thing about country radio in those days, and I don’t know whether it’s quite the same now, but you had to be a jack of all trades, write your own copy, edit and write your own news and do your own production. There was a bloke there called Hal Pooley who was the local news guru and current affairs commentator, taught me how to do news. What’s more you’d have to go down and sell your program to the local clients, so they’d take you down there, main street Young, introduce you, you’d chat to them, flog the show.… it was real grass roots stuff.
Everyone did it that way John Laws, Bob Rogers, they all started that way.
Exactly. I must tell you the guy who put me on air was Ray Warren. Rabs set me up for my very first professional gig. And it was pretty embarrassing, because he took me into the studio, ran me through the console, which was like the tiniest thing very basic, and said these are the dos and don’ts, and of course as he sat me in the chair, he said, “Now I’ve got to rush to the loo, you’ll be okay?” “Yeah yeah, I’ll be okay.” And when the first song faded out, I debuted. I flicked the switch, put the mic on, hit it the wrong fader and took us off air! An inglorious start. Moments later the studio door bursts open, there he is pants around the ankles, yelling “What the hell have you done?!!”
Have you got that on tape?
No. I’m sure its disappeared into the ether.
How long did you stay in Young?
I think it was about twelve months. I made a target, even in those early days, that I wanted to be into the next phase of my fledgling career intending to move up the scale of stations, I set a target and aimed for that, and it was pretty much about a year maybe a little longer when I moved on to the next job.
And what was the next job?
4GR Toowoomba. There was a fella at 2LF called John Ringwood his nickname was Ringo. I think he actually did time on 2UW as a jock back in the 1110 Men days. He was in management at 2LF, and he went on to similar position at 4GR. I kept in touch with him, and I was sending him tapes to critique. A job came up, I sent Ringo an air-check, he liked what he heard and I was off to Queensland to become a “Modern Soundsman”. The on air team were all called Modern Soundsmen. 4GR was an amazing station. It was a big market compared to Young. Young was about 6,000; Toowoomba was in those days maybe 30,000. It was a big step for me as a young jock to go to this next provincial market. It was a very slick operation run by PD Frank Warwick who went on to become one of Brisbane’s premier TV news anchors. All the Modern Soundsmen had their own specially designed t-shirts, our own station generated publicity, our photos on charts, Top 40 going all day, which back then was pretty much unheard of, but remember this they used to compete in a way with the Brisbane stations because Toowoomba’s not that far from Brisbane and Ipswich, which had a local Top 40 powerhouse 4IP. So the competition was fierce. I’ll give you an example of how competitive it was. We had a jock on air at 4GR from England who used to work in pirate radio called, Norman St John, and he was close friends with the people at NEMS Enterprises, the Beatles management company. And when the double White Album was on the verge of release he contacted NEMS Enterprises, called in a few favours from back in the old country and received an advance copy. in fact we had it before some of the Brisbane stations. It was quite a buzz, an advance copy of the Beatles double White Album in of all places 4GR Toowoomba! We’re all clustered around in one of the production studios listening to “Martha My Dear” and “Revolution Number 9” etcetera before it was locally released.
And you remember that day crystallised in your mind.
Absolutely! I mean, here’s this guy, one of our fellow on air team, Norman St. John, and he got his hands on one of the truly legendary Beatles albums direct from the heart of the Fab Four’s Empire, ahead of the local Ipswich and Brisbane markets and we were listening to it. Yeah it was special.
When you were in the studio, just you and the headphones, the microphone, the record players, were you in your own world? Did you just completely lose yourself in those few hours that you were on air?
Yes, I think for anyone you had to. You wanted to present the best shift you could. You had all your research done, your music together, your lists compiled, you had your information, and turntables cued up, yeah, you were in the zone. Lost in a world of great rock music. Absolutely.
So how long did you stay at Toowoomba? Did you become a bit of celebrity?
All the Modern Soundsmen were. It was all good fun and I think I was there for about another year. After that a job came up at 4BH. The Big BH as it was once called was competing with 4BC and Colour Radio 4IP for Brisbanes’s top 40 market and a bloke called Ben Beckinsale was program director. Nicknamed “Big Ben” He used to be one of the biggest jocks in Brisbane at the time eventually swapping the mic for a managerial position, becoming program director. I kept sending air checks down for Ben to critique, he liked what he heard, said when can you start and I assumed my new persona of “Dave White at Night.” Playing the hits between 7 and 10. The first track I spun in was The Doors “Touch Me”.
So there you were in a major metropolitan market, only your third gig in radio.
That’s right. Yeah. It was fine, because being the driven young thing I was I’d set my targets and I knew what I wanted to do and where I wanted to be. So being on the Big BH playing music I loved was the next step up the ladder as far as I was concerned. And it was a great time I was in town the same time that Ron E Ronnie Sparks was on 4BC, the Big BC.
Was he Ron E yet, or just Ronnie?
I think he was Ronnie Sparks. The Big BC and BH were competing for the same Top 40 audience, and it was intense. 4IP was also trying to muscle in on the metro market and doing a damn good job of it too, it was promoting itself as Colour Radio 4IP. All in all it was a very healthy music radio scene.
What year were you at 4BH?
This would have been ’68.
So musically it was an amazing time.
I would have to say it was one of rock music’s finest, most exciting, diverse and incredibly creative eras. Music, politics and culture collided, exploded and threw up all manner of amazing local and global changes. You had everything from the psychedelic remnants of 1967’s Summer of Love evolving into the broader San Francisco sound. The Beatles were basking in the afterglow of Sgt. Pepper, "Hey Jude" was number one for something like two months. Think of the names The Doors, The Jefferson Airplane, Hendrix, Janis, Cream, Santana, The Grateful Dead etcetera. It was post Monterey and pre Woodstock. Brisbane was a very exciting and interesting market, local gigs were pumping. I remember going to heaps of clubs. A local homegrown star Mick Hadley fronted a really hot band, in fact their version of Steve Millers “Living in the USA” tore strips off the original. Brisbane radio reflected the city’s love of blues and Motown. It was way ahead of Sydney in breaking and playing the likes of Curtis Mayfield and they were playing “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” by Marvin Gaye when no one else was touching it. The whole city was deep into all those Motown classics that weren’t at the time getting much exposure in Sydney.
That’s interesting, because by the early seventies it was all one and the same country, soul, pop, rock were all Top 40 music.
That’s right. Yeah.
And how did you enjoy living in Brisbane?
I lived at Spring Hill way before it became trendy, in a street with a bunch of juice freaks for next door neighbours who used to roll around drunk all day. I would return home from a shift and have to step through an obstacle course of discarded beer and whiskey bottles to get to the front door.You could basically look down from my place and over into the CBD, such as it was at the time. I got to know Ronnie Sparks pretty well, and because 4BH and 4BC were the two big stations in the market and more or less dictated terms as far as the music that was played, we’d meet after work some nights at a café down in Spring Hill and talk about the records we were going to push. I remember the two of us huddled in a corner discussing which tracks we would both lean on. You’ve got to remember this was in the days before tightly controlled playlists and formats existed so DJs called the shots. We had a playlist at 4BH of about 120 records. And as soon as imports came in we’d put them on the air. I remember the US import of “Good Morning Starshine” by Oliver came in, and I took it straight into the studio and played it immediately. Likewise “Aquarius Let The Sunshine In” by the Fifth Dimension. It was very cool before PDs had the iron hand and the format shrunk. So it was really an interesting time.
So how long did you stay at 4BH?
Roughly eighteen months. At the time there was a guy called Graham Roberts, who was a great jock, he had a wonderful, rich booming voice. Robbo was one of Brisbane’s top DJs, had a fantastic presence on air and was one of the stars at 4BH. I think he now runs a McDonalds franchise in Brisbane. Anyway he landed a gig at 2SM when they were relaunching, and coming back into the Sydney market with the More Music format with Rod Muir at the helm. Robbo joined the new on air lineup of good guys phase two, and I said to him before he left BH, “If anything comes up just keep me in mind, would you?” As you say to good mates. So he said, yeah, no worries.
And so Robbo was there at 2SM for at least a couple of months, maybe nine months, maybe longer. And he said, “Look, there’s a job going mate, get a tape down as soon as you can, and I’ll put in a word for you with Rod.” I said fantastic, so I sent the air check down, got the gig, started on mid-dawn. It was very intimidating, there was the legend Rod Muir, finishing a shift, cowboy boots up on the console, issuing some last words of advice before letting me fly. I will never forget the “Moo” putting me on air. I am sure I sweated bullets knowing he was out there listening to this very nervous young jock on his way home.
Do you remember your starting date at 2SM?
I’ve got the memo in one of my boxes of memorabilia. It was 1969 and I think it would have been maybe September.
So who was on air at 2SM when you started?
Okay, John Burnley, Graham Roberts, the late Groover Wayne remember George Wayne? A great jock. Although George used to love to have his headphones up to ear-bleed level. I remember one time in the on air studio, he wound the mic level way up and set the headphone levels up to stratospheric and forgot to tell the incoming jock, who arrived, stuck the cans on, opened the mic as they emitted this wild banshee like howl blowing VU meters right across the console. It was hilarious although Rod Muir was far from impressed and certainly let us know about it.
Did Ian MacRae start around that time?
MacRae, yes. MacRae was probably already established on breakfast and on his way to becoming a legend, I shouldn’t have forgotten that. Macca was there, and the Hon Nick came long later as his trusted sidekick.
Was Digamae actually running the station then?
Well Digamae came later because I did some work for them as one of their radio school lecturers, national concert tour co-ordinator and later one of the consultants along with Trevor Smith and John Torv, but no, Digamae came later, that was after Rod established 2SM. And you’ve got to remember at the time, 2UW was ruling the roost, they were THE number one station in town. And so Rod came in with this fresh format and a new team, and his aim was to de-throne 2UW.
Which he eventually did. But I was listening to 2UW until ’75. So they were still very much ahead in the early seventies.
Oh yeah, look it was an intense battle. Every ratings point gained or lost, blood was shed, it was a tough game. But boy, we had a ball, an absolute ball.
So you well preceded Barry Chapman at 2SM and in fact most of the seventies jocks, other than Macca.
Yes. Part of the second wave of Good Guys, I suppose.
Were they in Clarence Street then?
They were in Clarence Street, which now I think is Alliance Francaise, from memory. They were at 257 Clarence Street.
Rod was programming?
He was. He was the man. I a little intimidated when he put me on air. Because as I said earlier he was there with his jeans, his cowboy boots, shirt opened to the waist. He had an amazing presence. Rod could come into a room and suck the oxygen right out of it. I mean, he was the Guru. And he ran the ship, his word was God. In fact his nickname was Moo. He was known as the Moo.
Muir, Moo, I don’t know why, I never thought to ask, but I’ll never forget there was one time myself, Graham Roberts and Groover Wayne, we got, as young jocks do, sick and tired of the incredibly tight and limited gold that was being played because it wasn’t diverse enough, there were past hits from the Sydney market that were being ignored they should have been playing. Of course we knew best.
When you say “gold”, what was gold in those days?
Oh, classics from the sixties. The Kinks, the Beatles, Elvis, The Who, The Doors etcetera etcetera. Anyway we decided that the pool of gold they were playing from wasn’t deep enough. So we used to bring in our own gold tracks, because we had significant record collections, and play them in our shifts. The music director was starting to get wind of this. “Didn’t I hear you play this?” And “Why were you playing that?”
And who was the music director?
Oh… the music director, now you’re talking… Maybe it was Russ Powers? No, Russ came later. I must’ve been Brenno, John Brennan. Anyhow they were very upset that we were slipping in our own music and it got to the point where the MD went and told Rod. So Rod called the three of us in, and I’ll never forget it. He just gave us a massive blast, like our hair was standing on end. He put us all on mid-dawn shifts, took us off our main gigs. It was like for a young jock, too horrible to contemplate, no please!! At that stage I was doing seven to ten at night. And he took us all off and said, “You’re all doing mid-dawn!” And we were all shaking in our boots, and I will never forget it, he aimed the death stare at us and boomed “And remember, what the Moo giveth, the Moo can taketh away.”
So he put you on detention!
And I suppose then there would have been so many young jocks just waiting to grab your shift.
So how long did Siberia last?
Siberia lasted a couple of weeks, we were all severely chastened and came back never to do it again.
And he didn’t in any way smile and think, well, good on you, you young punks?
He probably did. I’ve had conversations with Rod over the years and reminded him of that, and he said, “Yeah, look I probably would have done the same thing, but hey I had to teach you guys a lesson.”
Well how much influence could you have in getting new records on the playlist?
Well, in the early days at 2SM quite a bit. Like I said earlier John Brennan at one stage was music director there. And I remember “Your Move I’ve Seen All Good People” by Yes came in. And I was so into this song. I’d seen Yes play it in concert at the Hordern Pavilion, and not too many people were playing the track. I was sure it was a smash! And so I went in and I harangued Brenno day after day after day and he said “Okay I’ll give it a go.” And I think it went Top 10 from memory. So yeah, we had a voice. And everyone used to get in there and hassle for a song they thought would be a big hit. I think “Bridge Over Troubled Water” was one example when I took it into Rod and said, “This is a monster. Put it on.” He said, “Nah, too slow.” End of conversation. Of course, you know, vindicated later.
And for a long time, well into the seventies, really until the late seventies, every market had its own charts and its own playlists, and you could have a song that would be doing really well in Sydney that hadn’t even been played in Melbourne or visa versa. And I remember writing to Ron E in ’76 and asking why “Nutbush City Limits” wasn’t being played, because it was on Countdown. And he said, actually it already charted here a couple of years ago.
Yeah, well you know what I said about Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”, it was number one in Brisbane when I was there. In Sydney it initially never got a look in. In fact Sydney only ever played the track from Cosmo’s Factory by Creedence, and then it rediscovered Marvin Gaye through The Big Chill, the movie. That’s how it got back into the Sydney mainstream of music. But in Brisbane Marvin Gaye’s “Grapevine” was number one years before.
So what about some of the other people in management in those early seventies, like Kevin O’Donohue and Garvin Rutherford? Do you remember those guys?
Yes, in fact Kevin’s only just recently passed away. I remember Garvin very well. There was Bill Stephenson, who was the granddaddy of 2SM at that stage, and he was probably into his late sixties then. They were the executives that I recall, Brenno was the music director. Rod Muir of course, the programmer.
At what point did Ron E come down and join you there?
I can’t be accurate on the dates but it seems like I’ve always been working in some sort of situation with Ron E. I remember being with him at 2SM obviously and of course at Triple M and then at 2DAY FM. As for exact dates I can’t give you a time line. But he and I have been through great eras of radio together. He is one of the great DJs of Australian radio and still working brilliantly on 101.7 WS-FM.
Barry said that by the time he arrived at 2SM, which wasn’t actually until the beginning of ’77, the opulence was outrageous. Are you aware from that early seventies period, when 2SM was becoming more and more successful, of there being a lot of money thrown around?
Well yes, there was bucket loads. In fact we used to do, as you know, the interview trips to America as a regular thing, and the Silver Jubilee year was but one example. At that stage I was at Digamae, I’d left 2SM and I’d gone to Digamae to work for Rod. I did at stint up at 2NX because the program director had fallen ill so I took over and guided the station up there. I remember we actually had to move the radio station in the middle of Rocktober. Can you imagine the chaos involved in that?
So you were already doing Rocktober then?
Yeah, Rocktober was a syndicated event format, which went around the country emanating from 2SM. But I’d left 2SM and went to Digamae, however my entrée into all those interviews was Alice Cooper. The Coop had just announced he was bringing his “Nightmare” tour downunder so I pitched that we should do a huge special on Alice Cooper and call it “Alice in Down Under Land”. And they loved it. So I went on tour with Alice Cooper in 1975. I toured the country with Alice who was just the most amazing character. He would not start an interview unless he had a can of Coors, I think it was. I walked into his hotel room in Perth and there was these stacks of American beer. I think it was either Bud or Coors. He said, “Before we start I insist you join me", so out comes the beer and off we went. I toured with them and I remember we came to Sydney and you’d like this, being a Manly supporter he said, “What’s the big football team in town?” I said, “Hey, it’s Manly.” He said, “You gotta get me a jersey.” Sure, I got him a jersey. And in front of 40,000 people at the Sydney Showground he climbed out of a big box one of the many props you know how theatrical the show was he climbed out with a top hat on and a Manly-Warringah jersey on. In fact I’ve still got that photo. It was the Welcome To My Nightmare tour, the big theatrical production which at the time was ground breaking, just fantastic, some of the stunts he pulled on stage with the guillotine and the dancers moving in and out of these screens, it was just dazzling.
Had you done a lot of interviewing earlier in your career?
I had. My very first interview that I can remember was when I was with “Radio DJ” and it was Eric Burdon and The Animals when they came to Sydney, and I was a very nervous young kid going up to a hotel room in the Cross to talk to Eric Burdon, who was one of my idols. They were playing at The Stadium remember The Stadium?
It was before my time, David.
See, there you go! They had a revolving stage. It used to be near the old Rushcutter Bowl. So that was my first interview. I used to love doing them because it was such a buzz. I mean, you could get to meet some of the people you idolised as rock stars. Wow, this was good!
But when you were in Young and in Toowoomba was there as much scope to do live interviews?
Obviously nowhere near as many but, The Masters Apprentices came to town; Jim Keays and I struck up a friendship and wherever we’d bump into each other because they played the Police Boys Club in Young, they came on and were just so good, red hot. The Masters Apprentices coming to town was like the equivalent of the Beatles coming to Young. It was a really big deal. And yeah, you got time to do interviews then. But Eric Burdon and The Animals was the one that broke the ice for me.
So obviously by the time you were at 2SM you were already a seasoned inteviewer.
I wouldn’t say seasoned, but I certainly loved doing them.
Was there anyone in particular that recognised your aptitude for doing the in-depth interviews that gave you first preference for most of them?
Well I think Rod did, because there was one thing that came up: I wanted to interview Mohammed Ali and no one could get to him. And he was boxing in what they called “The Thrilla in Manila”. And so I found out who his manager was, a guy called Angelo Dundee. I thought, I’ll just ring up. So I found out where they were staying in Manila and I rang up and I asked to speak to Angelo Dundee. He comes to the phone, which blew me away for starters. I said, “Mr Dundee, my name is David White. Look, I really want to talk to Mohammed Ali. I know he’s got a big fight on, but I would like to talk about his meeting with the Beatles and the music he loves.” And he said, “Hey, why not?” Mohammed Ali comes to the phone! And I’m like pinching myself, okay. I interviewed Mohammed Ali. He was very gracious, gave me plenty of time and loved talking about music. so we produced it and put it on air. And it was, to use the boxing vernacular, a knock out. So Rod had a great deal of faith in me, and yeah, that was one of the great gets.
You said you went to 2NX to do the programming up there. Had you already been dabbling in that in Sydney?
Well in Digamae I was basically looking after all their rock concerts. Digamae was set up by Rod Muir to be a radio consultancy company, the first of its kind in the country. And they would consult all the stations that were in the so-called 2SM network, running the 2SM-type format, whether they be in Perth, in Brisbane, what have you. And there was John Torv, there was Trevor Smith, there was myself, and a number of other people. And we’d venture out to various stations around the country and check on the formats, liaise with the program directors, discuss the music they’re playing, listen to the jocks’ air checks, critique them, aid them with promotional and programming ideas central to their individual markets and so on and so forth. Trev and Torvy did the bulk of the hired gun consultancy work.
So what led to you giving up being a jock on 2SM to go and consult for Digamae?
Well it was a case of wanting to learn more about the radio experience in total. I mean, you can be a jock, that’s great and it was fantastic, I loved it. But there was so much more to the medium. The vast array of formats, understanding demographics, surveys, cumes and averages, quarter hour maintenance, tracking studies, promotions, station imaging, creating killer promos, the building of radio specials, interviews, managing on air talent, tapping into emerging talent, areas that I wanted to learn more about. Rod gave me a shot at it so I jumped in and initially ran all the concerts, the national and local concerts from within Digamae.
My role was to write most of the commercials, I voiced many of them and sent them round the country. We had deals with all the promoters like the Paul Daintys, the Michael Chuggs and Gudinskis and Gary Van Egmonds, we’d have schedules of all the incoming Australian tours and we’d create the commercials for them.
So it’s all that way back that Trevor was doing all those amazing voice overs for those ads, because he’s still doing them today.
Yes, there was Trevor and myself doing voice overs; John Torv was doing voice overs as well, the three of us were doing the audio heavy lifting.
Did you miss the buzz of that live-to-air shift stuff?
Yes and severing that umbilical cord was scary initially, because I thought, what am I doing?
"Will I get back on air?"
Well yeah, that was the prime concern. Like I’m leaving this life that I love behind to try something that I’ve thought about but never taken any further. How am I going to return if it doesn’t work out? Because I love being on air. But I was honestly so busy, there was so much work to do, creating this concert division and running it and looking after it. And we also ran a radio school, so we were all lecturing in the radio school at Digamae, which was over at North Sydney. So it was heads down and bums up, full on.
Was there anyone that you saw through the radio school back then that became a really successful DJ?
I think Frank Vincent came through that school, The legendary “Black Rat”. There were probably many others. My apologies to those I can’t recall. We used to get letters from people who’d broken into country radio stations "Just want to let you know I’ve cracked it at such and such a station, keep me in mind and I’ll keep sending you tapes." And many of them did.
So it was Digamae that was responsible for networking the stations ultimately?
Not for networking the stations. They were concerned with consulting the stations, basically the format, the promotions, making sure they had the right on-air talent, critiquing the talent, and guiding them in a direction that 2SM was spearheading, because it was such a successful station with a hot format. You’ve got to remember that we rolled into town and eventually knocked over 2UW, who were the dominant station. Rod Muir installed this new format, this new style, and applied this fresh formula that eroded UW’s dominance. 2SM was the new kid in town and that freshness complete with a new approach at the time gave SM what was eventually the winning edge.
How did you end up going back to 2SM from Digamae?
As I said earlier my entrée to that was Alice Cooper, “Alice In Down Under Land”; I’d travelled the country, put the documentary rockumentary, for want of a better word together and that was the catalyst.
Was that the beginning of coining the term “rockumentary”?
It could well have been; I couldn’t be a hundred percent sure on that. Anyhow Barry heard “Alice in Downunderland” loved it, and said, “Look we’re about to embark on Her Majesty’s Silver Jubilee tour; I’d like you to join us to carry out the bulk of the interviews. We’ll be travelling around the world for the Prince’s Silver Jubilee Trust, interviewing all the top British rock bands and whatever American ones we come across, we’ll be flying first class and travelling around the world.” What am I going to say? So I rejoined 2SM, we flew out and another radio adventure began.
Barry touched on some of the episodes from that tour. He said you flew first class to London and there was a stretch Bentley there to pick you up, but you guys were so naïve you didn’t even realise it was there for you, with the flags, so you took a cab to your hotel.
To naïve add jetlagged but really pumped for what lay in store. Look, we were so buzzed out. I remember it was a Qantas flight and we were coming into London and were all dog-tired. We were invited up to the captain’s cabin, to have a look at London as we were coming in. We’d hardly been out of Australia, we were young jocks, and there’s London laid out below us like a magic carpet with all these incredible things you’ve seen in movies and read about, it was living history, there it is! We’re all going, wow! So yeah, by the time we hit the tarmac we were just so maxed-out and revved up, so you mix all that adrenalin with the effects of a very long flight and we probably did get a cab into town and ignored the stretch Bentley.
How did Barry justify to the Catholic Church flying you all over first class?
Remember, as I recall, it was all paid for by the Prince’s Silver Jubilee Trust. So we had a specific budget that stipulated you can travel first class, you can do this, you can stay here and there, as long as you get us the interviews, because we’re raising money for one of the Prince’s favourite projects; it was a youth program, and it was funded completely by them. There was me and Barry, producer Trevor Johnson and there was Ian MacRae living just off the Kings Road in Chelsea London. It was the most incredible time.
So you started with I believe six weeks in England and Europe, interviewing all the British rock royalty.
All we could get our hands on, yeah.
Barry said Queen in Stockholm. Do you remember interviewing Queen? They’d already had “Bohemian Rhapsody” and had A Day At The Races out by then.
Yes, that’s right. We spent the entire time with the guitarist, Brian May, who was absolutely brilliant, would do anything, talk at length, spent plenty of time with us, he was so open and so giving and such a brilliant bloke.
You didn’t get Freddie?
Freddie was pretty hard to get to. If you’ll forgive the line Freddy was mercurial. Even with the clout of the Prince, we couldn’t get to Freddie. He was one of those, how shall I say, moody gentleman, and he just wasn’t in the mood and so we got Brian May, which was just fine by us.
Brian is incredibly eloquent and articulate.
He is. And a fantastic guitarist of course he along with Freddie created of all that amazing music.
And they’d already been to Australia, because they toured with the A Night At The Opera Tour in ’76. You were probably with Digamae at that time.
Probably was. I didn’t see Queen until they came back to Australia. And they were one of the great, great shows.
Well that was ’85. So you didn’t even see them perform in Stockholm?
No we didn’t, because the way it worked out with our hectic schedule we just didn’t sadly to have time to see the gig. Sometimes it worked out where we could see an act performing, but other times we just didn’t have the time. We had to fly in, do the interviews and basically fly out on to the next interview.
You went to Montreux in Switzerland to interview Rick Wakeman.
We did, we went to the Mountain Recording Studio in Montreux with Rick Wakeman and had an outstanding time. He was brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. Rick is a very funny man. Some of his anecdotes about a roadie called Washie, had us in stiches. We actually sat in the recording studio where Deep Purple did “Smoke On The Water”. What's more we met Claude Nobs, the legendary engineer. So Montreux was extraordinary. I remember, the London office booked us into a hotel called The Palace. Now we had no idea what The Palace was like. So we arrive at this place and it is the biggest, most impressive, extravagantly plush hotel I have ever been in, in my life. I remember Barry being shown to his room, reduced almost to a dot at the end of this extremely long hallway. It was extraordinary.
Was that the first time you interviewed Elton John, on that tour?
Ah, Elton John… I am not sure, I did Elton’s life story later in a very long and detailed Sydney interview but I’m not sure we did Elton on the Silver Jubilee tour.
Barry seemed to think you did. Elton John, Rod Stewart.
We did Rod Stewart. If we did Elton John it doesn’t spring to mind immediately. But yes we did Rod Stewart as one of many. Supertramp was done in Indianapolis. There was a whole list of amazing acts. Peter Gabriel was a case in point, I’ll never forget it. We went to the beautiful city of Bath and Gabriel said, “Meet me outside Bath Coffee House and we’ll have tea and some Bath buns.” All things said it was very eccentric, very English. Anyhow we rock up to this place and we’re looking for him, we can’t see him anywhere. And then we spot this bloke who’s sitting on the ground with his legs spread out in front of him, Leaning against the wall out front of the coffee shop. And we said, “That looks like Peter Gabriel.” We walk up, introduce ourselves, it is! Peter Gabriel just chilling out sitting near the kerb.
Have you got a photo of that?
No I haven’t unfortunately. Sadly one of the ones where I didn’t get a snap.
And you’ve got all these interviews still on tape.
I have the majority of them. Some I don’t have, sadly they’ve been lost in the mists of time. But most of the stuff I’ve got. And I am in the process of transferring them to digital thanks to the help of my son Sascha.
Were there any other people that you remember from that particular UK/Europe sector? Because six weeks is a long time to be roaming around staying in palaces interviewing rock royalty.
It is. I remember Hot Chocolate in particular. Errol Brown. I’ve got a piece of memorabilia, which I’ll show you. We got on really well with him, because it’s not too hard to get on well with Errol; he’s a really gregarious, lovely character. Anyway we did the interview about the history of Hot Chocolate and as it was wrapping up He said, “What are you guys doing tonight?” And we said we haven’t got any plans. And he said, “Hey, you’ve gotta go to this club, it’s a great club,” he says, “I’ll talk to my friends.” So he placed a call and we were in. The club was called The Saddlery, and at that time in London the nightlife was all about exclusive clubs. If you didn’t get into one, there wasn’t much doing. So Errol wrote out this little note of introduction for us, which I’ll show you. “Please look after my friends from Australia. Errol, Hot Chocolate.” And it was, if you like, our names on the door, our entree into The Saddlery, which was a pretty flash club, full of all these Iranian women. Wall to wall and beautiful. And we hung out for the evening in The Saddlery, had a great time, drinking the best champagne and enjoying the scenery. All thanks to Errol Brown from Hot Chocolate.
Did Errol write the Hot Chocolate hits himself?
He had a hand in most of them, yeah.
Do you remember asking him about the song “Emma”? Do you remember what he had to say about it?
No I don’t. Why?
Because that was such a favourite song of mine in 1974 and it was such a sad song. It pre-dated “Hollywood 7” but it was the whole thing about the tragic girl who just wanted to be a star and couldn’t make it so she tops herself.
I remember a lot of Hot Chocolate had great string arrangements. “You Sexy Thing” was a great, great song.
But “Emma” was a whole other thing.
“Heaven’s In The Back Seat of My Cadillac”.
Yeah, but that was their disco thing.
And of course “Brother Louie” their version because there was the original American hit by a band called Stories Choc covered it and it was a big hit in England and Australia. But their version of it was better than the American, which is a rare thing to get a cover better than the original.
So the point of The Prince’s Trust and the Silver Jubilee was just to interview British musicians? You didn’t do ABBA while you were in Sweden?
ABBA? No, we didn’t do ABBA. In fact I’ve got the original list and you can see exactly who we did interview.
Did you do The Stones?
The Stones I think were out of the country or touring and we just didn’t connect with them at the time. I interviewed Jagger with Lee Simon about the Some Girls album in 1978 poolside at Linda Ronstadt’s house; in the 80s at Triple M; and I toured with The Stones in ’73 in Australia, did their life story.
’73? We’ve gone past ’73. Can we go back for a moment? You were at 2SM in ’73.
Yes did the life story of the Rolling Stones, toured the country with them, and one of the big memories of that, along with many, was I’m sitting in a room with Mick Jagger and we’re chatting away about various parts of the band’s history, suddenly the door bursts open. There’s Keith, two girls, one on either side, bottle of Jack Daniels in hand. “What’s goin’ on?” And Jagger looks up and says, “Keith, don’t worry about it.” The door shuts , Jagger looked at me raised his eyebrows and we continued.
And the ultimate irony now is Keith's got this incredible memory.
I’ve got the book but haven’t read it yet. Ron E Sparx was saying it’s one of the greatest rock books you’ll ever read.
Well before we go back to the Silver Jubilee, then, I suppose I should ask, because we’ve fast-forwarded through your early 2SM years, who else of great note did you interview in the early seventies that were coming through Australia?
Well we had to fly into Hawaii, myself and Torvy, to interview Joe Cocker for his Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour that came to Australia. At that stage Joe, as wonderful as he was, he was really hitting the booze and chemicals big time. So we flew into Honolulu with high hopes of getting this great interview but poor old Joe was basically incoherent. We managed to salvage quite a bit out of it but he was stumbling and mumbling and we were both looking at him and each other and thinking what the hell? He was out of it sadly, but we managed to salvage an interview with Joe Cocker and the material we got was actually pretty funny.
I remember when they came to Sydney I compered the shows at the Hordern Pavilion, and Patti Mostyn’s got a great story, because you’ll remember on the tour, Joe and the entourage got busted, there was great shock horror headlines and the foreign minister at the time was brought in, there was scandal and dope flying everywhere. Patti Mostyn has this great yarn where she was in Adelaide and got wind of an imminent bust by the Feds. Patt-eye as she was lovingly called told me, she remembered running down the corridor of the Cocker hotel where the entourage was staying, saying “Cops! Cops! Cops!” And all you could hear was a flushing of toilets as people were washing their drugs down the loo. You could hear one flush after another echoing all the way down the corridor.
Was Leon Russell on that tour?
I think he was. Although Leon Russell did come by himself with a bunch of other musicians to Australia, because he performed Randwick Racecourse; I remember seeing that show. But Joe and the entourage were amazing. I got to know all the band, and shared some great times with them. Yeah, that was one of the most memorable tours along with some unforgettable interviews.
Were you pinching yourself a lot of the time through those years?
When you look back and you think about the people you interviewed and the great times you had, you think, wow, that was pretty amazing. But at the time you were so involved in the moment, you were doing it, and it was, “Oh, you’re interviewing Joe Cocker, we’re flying to Hawaii, blah blah blah.” We did a broadcast out of Hawaii as a matter of fact, a different time with 2SM, we flew across there and were talking to, remember Jack Lord, star of Hawaii Five-0? I still remember it, he had so much lacquer on his hair, the wind was howling, we’re interviewing him and not a hair moved.
Was it a case that your life in those 2SM days was 24 hours a day work? These days there’s usually more of a work-life balance, so anything exciting you do in your work life you then go and talk to your friends and your family about. But it sounds to me like everything was work and everyone was doing the same thing anyway.
Well Rod wanted total commitment to the station. Because his aim was, as I said, to knock off 2UW and become THE premier rock station in Australia. And so the commitment was practically 24/7. I mean I remember the day before I got married I was putting the finishing touches along with everyone else doing their part for “The History Of Rock ‘n’ Roll”.
What year did you get married?
You were young! How did you have time developing your radio career to find a girlfriend let alone get married?
I met my wife at 2SM! She came along to do work experience. Irina was initially going to the ABC. She was at uni and came to 2SM thankfully and one day I was in the elevator and in she walked, it was fireworks, love at first sight, she was like gorgeous! Who is this beautiful creature? And thankfully the feeling was mutual, eyes met, rockets exploded, all the romantic clichés in one bewildering moment, we fell head over heels in love and we were married. Rod came to the wedding along with a lot of the 2SM staffers. September ’71. MacRae actually got up and delivered one of the speeches. It was hilarious.
You’re going to celebrate your 40th wedding anniversary this year?
Yeah, it’s crazy isn’t it?
I’ll say! There aren’t a lot of showbiz/entertainment/media marriages that last that long.
Bob Rogers is an example.
Yes. But Irina obviously had to put up with you going off on these wild trips.
Yeah, look I was out of home more than in. I really couldn’t have done it all without her love, support and understanding. It was relentless because I was either overseas, I was doing documentaries, I was doing interviews, I was on air, I was committed to the radio station as we all were. It was complete professional commitment. But I loved every moment. I’ve always said that I’ve never had a job in my life. I loved doing what I was doing. I was passionate about it and I never considered it a job.
So back to the Silver Jubilee tour. After your excessive time in England you then went to New York, and the big interview was Led Zeppelin. Now they’d already been to Australia, hadn’t they, in ’72?
They had, I remember being on air at 2SM when they were in Sydney and John Torv was out with them in a limo, I played “Rock and Roll”, back announced it saying something that spiked their interest, and Torvy told me Robert Plant said, “That was great what that guy said!” I only wish I could remember WHAT I said.
So you didn’t meet or interview them that time?
No, I had a brush with them, saw the concert but nothing of any consequence.
So this was big for you.
Oh, Led Zeppelin, one of the greatest bands of all time.
They were the Mecca of interviews. Well, actually I’ve got a note here that you did interview Paul McCartney on that tour. Was that in England?
No, it was George Harrison. He was a lovely, lovely fellow. We went along to the office of his label, Dark Horse on A&M in downtown London, and we began the interview. The album had just been released featuring George Harrison’s Greatest Hits with the Beatles and solo. And we were going through track by track as we did. Half way through the interview the Nakamichi tape recorder dies. It’s like God, how embarrassing. The batteries expired. So there we are with George thinking we’ve blown it and Barry says, “I’ll nip out quickly and get new batteries” so I said to George, “Do you mind if we take a break?” At that point he could’ve pulled the plug and I wouldn’t have blamed him, but George was happy to take time out and spoke about Grand Prix racing, and an island he owned up off the Barrier Reef, we just chatted until Barry returned.
And you’ve got none of that on tape?
No, because no batteries. Thankfully Barry saved the day, the interview resumed and he was so cool, he just stayed around, we wrapped it up, George then gave us a guided tour of the studios, and was just amazing. And so that was another in a list of great interviews.
So tell me about your Led Zeppelin experience.
Well, we’re in the Plaza Hotel in New York, which was part of the no-expenses-spared routine, which is a great hotel by the way. It’s a wonderful place, luxurious, it’s just everything they say it is. The myth lives when it comes to The Plaza. And of course it’s right opposite Central Park. So anyway, Led Zeppelin are ensconced in the hotel, and we go down to the bar. Now I had briefly met Robert Plant and some of the members of the band when they were in Sydney. We’re standing in the bar, having a drink, myself and Barry, and across the bar was Robert Plant and I think it might have been Bonzo. Plant looks up and I look across at him, and there was a glimmer of recognition there. And so he gestures for us to come over. We started talking, and I said, “You know, we’re the guys from Australia, we’ve flown, blah blah blah”, we started to chat, and he talked about the great times he had in Sydney with the band, and Bonham getting thrown out of Les Girls in the Cross. Anyway, the conversation continued, and he said, “Look, before we do any interviews, you’ve got to see us play.” He added, “We’re doing a gig tonight at Baltimore.” And I said, “How do we get down there?” To which he replied, “Be out the front of the hotel at such and such a time and be ready to go.”
So the hotel by this stage is under siege by thousands of fans, barricades, cops, and they’re all screaming for Led Zeppelin. So we emerge and there’s a line of limousines all rolling up. A couple of members of the band get into one, two and three. So we get a limousine to ourselves, and the driver says, “Oh do you mind sharing with this guy?” And it’s Dave Edmunds from Rockpile, so he jumps in and sits with us in the limo! So we roll out to the airport having this great conversation, and we come round the corner thinking oh, it will be just a standard flight. But whoa It’s the Led Zeppelin Starship. The Starship was a fully converted 707. I’ve got a photograph of it somewhere. It had had the entire innards stripped out, redecorated, converted to a flying loungeroom. It had sofas up and down the sides, special curtained off areas, jukeboxes, pinball machines, it had everything to keep a bunch of young English lads fully occupied. And I still remember to this day, and Barry may have told you about this, but we’re on board and everyone’s drinking the finest Cristal champagne, hot and cold running groupies are laid on for the band and it’s full on. I mean, Led Zeppelin were the epitome of rock ‘n’ roll excess. So we’re on the flight, the plane’s taxiing out, this authoritative voice comes over the PA, It’s the captain and with his tongue firmly in cheek says, “Make sure y’all don’t spill your drinks now were about to take off.” So as the plane is roaring down the runway we’re either seated or lying down, and holding on to various things, trying to not spill our champagne.
Anyway we land in Baltimore, another long line of limousines, police escort, lights flashing, straight into the underground entrance to the Baltimore arena. We were handed the special Access All Areas laminated pass and away we go. I still remember to this day having these amazing seats about four or five rows from the front. And at one stage in the concert I think they segued out of “Stairway To Heaven” and go straight into “Kashmir”. As “Stairway” ends these massive flash pots ignite, there’s blinding lights, and Bonzo’s drum riser comes right out over the audience, he starts to pound out the familiar sledgehammer thump and “Kashmir” opens up, I’m still getting shivers down my spine now. Our jaws dropped, it was mindblowing stuff. Another highlight was Jimmy Page doing a solo on one of the songs where he’s framed in a green laser triangle, bow across the Rickenbacker, a red laser down the middle and smoke filtering through it looked Page and his guitar were on fire. Legendary manager Peter Grant was there and we were back stage with them after the show. We shared a limo with Jimmy Page and started the interview on the way to the airport, the history of Led Zeppelin. it paused on the plane as the band engaged in post concert R&R. It was Bonzo’s birthday and this is something I’ll never forget, well I have to forget some incidents, I must be discreet. Anyway there was a guy on the plane called The Doctor. And he was called The Doctor for a damn good reason. He had a briefcase which opened up with every known drug in the universe. He’d stroll up and down the plane saying, “Whaddya want?” Uppers, downers, this, that.
Were you indulging in all of this?
Bill Clinton may never have inhaled but we certainly did… sure! It’s the seventies, you know, you’ve got to partake! We did, as did everyone else.
So anyway, we land, the interview continues on to the Plaza suite that Jimmy Page is in. It finished up at about three or four in the morning. Now Barry and I differ on this, we both thought the record was different. But at the end of the interview Jimmy Page says to us, “I’ve found this fantastic record by an Australian band I’ve got to play it to you!” We were thinking, who could this be? In my memory he goes across and pulls it out and it’s “I’m Stranded” by The Saints, the Brisbane band, the first recognised Australian punk record as such. And I’m thinking, wow! And Page is raving over it and playing it. And so Barry and I walked out into the streets of New York thinking, what an amazing unforgettable time.
Barry said it was AC/DC.
He did, but I’m sure it wasn’t. I’m positive it was The Saints.
Actually, Barry’s story was that there were two bands. One was Australian and one was English, and it was AC/DC and The Clash. But it makes sense that it would be The Saints because they would have been much more obscure.
They were obscure and I think Page only found out before we got there that they were an Australian band, and he was quite impressed they were an Aussie band. And of course I’d heard The Saints and I’d heard “I’m Stranded” and I thought, goddamn, they’re a Brisbane band, which they were. And that’s officially recognised as I suppose Australia’s first punk hit record.
How concerned were you and how much fixing up had to be done in terms of sound quality for these specials when you were literally doing an interview in a limo and then on the run; there must have been a lot of interference.
Well, there was, but we had a Nakamichi, which at the time was the state of the art machine. So we knew we had good equipment, apart from the occasional forgetting of batteries. But we had great equipment and we had great producers at 2SM like Trevor Johnson, Geoff Holland and Paul Cosgrave who could really, if there was some background noise they could work their magic on it and utilise the graphic equalizers and cancel out interference and so on and polish it up. So we were blessed with brilliant production people.
Did you also go to LA on that trip? And did you fit in interviews that weren’t Prince’s Trust related? That must have been around the time you did The Chicago Years.
It could well have been. We talked to Lee Loughnane who was once again one of those people who was so generous with their time. We spent hours with him.
You did a six-hour interview.
Yeah, he was just extraordinary.
Although the edited down one that went to air was only about three hours, so I’d like the unedited version of that.
Who knows where that is. Hey, I might still have it. He was brilliant, extremely giving, nothing was a problem. He just went through the works . Talked about everything from back in the pre-Transit Authority days up until the present day.
It was obviously very memorable to me but I remember how much in depth he talked about Terry Kath, and Terry’s guitar playing and about how Hendrix had even admired Terry. And it was only a few months later that Terry was dead.
Yeah. That took us all by surprise, actually.
So you allowed yourself within the budget or 2SM had given you extra budget to do some extra-curricular interviews on that trip?
I think Barry called 2SM saying, “Look, we’re in the land of rock and roll, there are so many bands here, we can do so much, let’s keep this thing rolling.”
And ’77 was such a huge year because you had Hotel California and Rumours. So you did Fleetwood Mac on that trip as well?
We did Fleetwood Mac, but one thing I’ll always remember, we flew into Indianapolis to do Supertramp, fantastic band, I still remember the day we flew in, they were taking down the sign at the stadium where Supertramp were set to play and guess what the sign was? Elvis Presley. And we just missed him!
I knew you were going to say that. Because of course that’s Glenn Shorrock’s story about having gotten to the Las Vegas Hilton a year before and they’d just missed Elvis and were taking down the sign.
Elvis had literally just left the building.
And that’s where the lyric from “Home On A Monday” came from.
So I was saying to myself, if only we were a day earlier.
Well that was obviously not long before he died, in ’77. Do you remember what month you were away doing that?
It was in the summer, t-shirts and jeans.
Were you still away when Elvis died, when Ian MacRae made the famous announcement on air?
No. We had returned, but Ron E was over in LA, and I remember that Rod or perhaps it was Barry who called Ron and asked, can you put your hols on hold and got to go to Memphis and cover the funeral for us? And Ron E did a fantastic job, he was right there in Memphis, and you can obviously talk to Ron about this. He covered the funeral, everything, he was on the spot.
Now on that Silver Jubilee tour, going back to London I know we’re jumping around a bit you were supposed to interview Prince Charles, were you not?
We were. Yes, Harry M Miller promised faithfully that part of the deal was an interview with the Prince, HRH.
So he was looking after the whole Australian side of the Silver Jubilee.
Yes, you’ll see a letter in there, which is a letter of introduction from Harry with the Prince’s seal, explaining what we’re doing and to give us every possible assistance. And part of the deal was HRH Prince of Wales will be part of the package, an interview. But something happened. I’m not sure of the exact train of events. Anyhow it didn’t come off, which was disappointing. We were looking forward to talking to him.
Barry’s story, see if you remember it this way, was that in fact they rejected the prepared questions and then Harry ended up using Graham Kennedy to do the interview using your questions anyway. And Barry was so peeved that he refused to put it to air.
Look, Barry’s probably got a better handle on this than me, because he was dealing with Harry exclusively. Although I do remember sitting in the Savoy Hotel having watercress sandwiches.
I think it was Harry and other various powerbrokers, and Barry was there.
But Molly Meldrum got his interview.
Yes he did but you’ve got to remember at the time radio didn’t have quite the same clout as television’s premier pop show Countdown.
So did you did Fleetwood Mac on that trip? And they were classified as a British band?
Well, they were. I mean, Christine McVie, John and Mick were originally a British blues band with Peter Green, of course not Lindsay Buckingham or Stevie, they were the American input into the band, but yeah, they were considered an English band.
They were due to come to Australia for Rockarena later that year, so it would have made sense for you to interview them on that trip. Who did you speak to?
Primarily Stevie, but see, I’ve interviewed them on a number of occasions. One of the more memorable ones was at JFK Stadium at Philadelphia and on the same bill was Steve Miller Band, Bob Welch remember “Ebony Eyes”? and Return To Forever and Fleetwood Mac. Quite an eclectic line-up. Before I interviewed Fleetwood Mac I interviewed Steve Miller, who at that stage had just married an Australian girl, I think she was from Albury. Anyway she was there in the caravan. I remember setting up in the caravan with Steve Miller, he said, “Hey! I’ve got an Australian here, my wife from Albury in Victoria.” It was a great, very chatty interview. Fleetwood Mac topped the bill, so it was a jam packed day; I interviewed all the acts on the bill. In fact I’ve still got some promos from Stevie and Christine that I promised Mick would never see the light of day. X rated Rocktober promos!!!
Were they lucid? Because that was at the peak of their insane drug days.
Stevie Nicks at the time had the most amazing appetite for weed that I’ve ever seen but could still be incredibly lucid and coherent, hold a witty conversation and discuss anything you wanted to know. And I do recall doing the Tusk interview with her in California much later, and before we started the interview there were these massive joints laid out on the table. Stevie was utterly delightful.
Did you read Michael Chugg’s book? The introduction describes the backstage scene at Rockarena and the huge medieval tent that was set up for them and the banquet that nobody ate anything from, but it had to be set up every night.
It was in the rider, it had to be there.
I suppose you came across a lot of interesting riders.
We did. No expense spared, any amount and every kind of food you could imagine, all the drinks you wanted, spirits, the finest French champagne, fruit, yeah, everything.
Did you either then or at any time interview John Lennon?
I interviewed John Lennon at the time of the Rock and Roll album in 1975 and he was fantastic. Spent plenty of time doing the interview and I’ve still got it, in fact Wayne Mac digitised it for me. The former Beatle lived up to everything ever written about him. He was controversial, warm, acerbic, he was also very candid.
It was a telephone interview.
Had you interviewed all the Beatles?
George and John. Sat next to Ringo in an LA restaurant. I think it was The Ivy, and he was at the next table. “Hey Ringo, I’m from Australia!” “G’day mate!” And all that bullshit, and then everyone went back to the food. Never got to interview Paul McCartney, our paths never crossed.
Never interviewed Paul? ‘Cause Wings were so huge in the seventies.
For some reason it just didn’t happen. Got two of them, sat next to one, and didn’t do Paul.
Yes, we were in the Continental Hyatt House, otherwise known as the Riot House, on Sunset. And we’d set up the interview through ABC-Dunhill, had a wonderful friend there called Elaine Caulette who’s no longer with us sadly, a wonderful lady, one of the greatest PR talents in the business, and she set the interview up. Anyhow we’re waiting for the interview, and there’s a knock on the door, and there’s this guy looking totally dishevelled in a long coat, with sort of moth-eaten sneakers and battered jeans, and it’s Donald Fagen! “I’m Donald Fagen” in his strong New Jersey accent. But a wonderful character. Came in, spent a couple of hours with us, and I still remember saying, “Look if all of this ended tomorrow, what would you do?” And he said, “I’d just like to run a book store.” And that was it, and off he shuffled on his way out. It was the time of the Aja album, which for them was their deepest excursion into jazz. They’d fused rock and jazz before in Pretzel Logic but Aja was really stepping right into jazz and playing with some wonderful musicians. The legendary Steve Gadd was one of their drummers. Because basically they were, even before they recorded Aja, they were two maestros, who hired the cream of America’s session players to play their songs and make them come alive. I would have to rate them as one of my all time favourite bands.
I won Steely Dan’s Greatest Hits on 2SM around that time.
Did you really?
I did. It’s the only record I ever won on 2SM.
Did you see them when they toured recently?
I saw them a few years ago, maybe three or four years ago. At the Entertainment Centre.
Yeah, that would have been the tour. They should have played a place like the State Theatre, they were lost in that cavern. The Entertainment Centre can be brilliant, but for some bands or acts it can really sort of, suck the spirit out of them.
Any Dire Straits anecdotes?
I did the major interview with Dire Straits, but that was when I was at Triple M.
You didn’t interview them at the beginning of their career in the seventies?
No. Did a major history of Dire Straits at Triple M. Got a great shot of myself and Mark and Elton John, hangin out, a whole bunch of people. At Triple M.
Are there any interviews that you did for 2SM in that time that we’re focusing on at the moment that I haven’t mentioned, that are your favourites that stand out?
Well, there was Kiss, ELO, The Doobies, 10CC we did those in the Silver Jubilee year. They were great; we went out to 10CC's studios, and there’s still a photograph, which Barry and I took of a road sign. Remember the album called Deceptive Bends? The band took It from a road sign with the road warning of Deceptive Bends on it!
And you came across it quite by coincidence?
We did. We didn’t expect to see it and there it was Deceptive Bends! Stopped the car, got out, click.
Great album title.
It was, yeah. And at that stage they were huge. They gave us a guided tour through the studio and were just brilliant. Charming guys. Graham Gouldman and Eric Stewart.
And then you went back to Sydney, and your voice was on 2SM all the time through these specials, but did you go back to doing a shift?
I’m just trying to remember; I eventually I ended up back on air, I’d have to go back through my boxes of memorabilia, it’d tell you exactly when, because I cannot recall exact dates and times. But yes I did go back on air at 2SM.
You might have been floating a bit.
I probably was. I know I was a floater there for quite some time. And then I got into programming at 2SM and got totally involved on another level. I was music director, then program director, and I was PD up until Wally Williams offered me drive at the EMs and so I left to join Triple M with Rod Muir once again at the helm.
So when you became Music Director, Rod had left by then, obviously, around the time that Barry came, but were you able to get your own back and put things into the playlist? Did you give the jocks more flexibility?
We certainly had a more flexible format at that stage. I mean, Barry was running the show, he was the PD, and the thing I loved most about Barry is he had a great gut instinct and he went with it. I mean, you can research things until you’re blue in the face, that’s fine, it’s very pre-meditated and it all ends up being very predictable. With Barry, if something was good, we’d all go, “Let’s put it on!” And he would go with it. Barry had the ability to spark that spontaneity and it rubbed off on everyone else. Because the magic of radio under Rod and Barry and under everyone else I’ve worked with was the fact that radio really utilised the power of imagination. Theatre of the mind. That amazing machine you had between your ears. When you listened, when I listened, you would conjure up a world involving bands, involving the jock, production tricks, the sound effects, the promos, specials, which was your entree to an entire universe of fantastic things. And that’s the way Barry made the imagination of radio really work.
An interesting song way back in the early seventies was Helen Reddy’s “Angie Baby”.
It was about a girl who was mentally ill, but it conjured up that whole thing about how she created a whole world from her radio. And I never figured out whether the boy that climbed through her window was real or someone she’d imagined through the radio.
I interviewed her and she told me the story of “Angie Baby” but I can’t remember exactly what the inspiration for that song was, but I will never forget the location. I had to travel to Lake Tahoe, and I sat on the veranda of a log cabin beside the lake in the beautiful morning sun, and we did the history of Helen Reddy interview. She had amazing success in America for quite a long period. She was a huge superstar in the States. In fact, I think even today people here don’t realise quite how big she was. She was as big as it gets.
But by the end of the seventies she’d faded away.
Yeah. She had a hot streak which gave her four or five, maybe six number one records in America, which was no mean feat.
“Angie Baby” was my favourite because it was just so mysterious and strange.
Well who could forget the anthem, “I Am Woman”? I mean, really. It launched a thousand marches and came to symbolise the Feminist movement.
What about some of the big Australians who made it overseas? You must have interviewed Olivia.
I did. In fact I interviewed Olivia in LA, she was doing a TV special in America, and I went I think it was to the ABC Television Studios in downtown LA and I interviewed her in the makeup room. And she was, I mean she still is beautiful, and she was just breathtaking. And we got on just fine, gave me a fantastic interview and she was a really lovely person.
And during that time you were interviewing all these overseas big names, of course the Australian music industry was taking off.
Gang busters, yeah.
Did you get as involved in interviewing the Australians like Sherbet and Skyhooks and Little River Band, or did they just assign you all the big overseas names?
No, no, whenever I was in town and there was an interview to do with a local Australian act there’s a fair chance I would’ve been locked in a studio with them. At SM I did among others the Life Story of the Easybeats to coincide with Stevie Wright's ressurection with "Evie", there was Radio Birdman, Dragon, Skyhooks etcetera. I did a track by track of East, all of Cold Chisel came into the studios, there was Midnight Oil but that was later on Triple M.
Did you ever do Sherbet?
I did. I did Sherbet, likewise Mi-Sex; Dragon’s first Australian interview, I did that at Digamae. They came into the country from across the ditch basically unknown and the whole band squeezed into the studio at Digamae. I still remember it to this day because the two brothers were like towering giants and they were bent uncomfortably over the microphone as we did the meet Dragon type interview.
Did you find Marc quite charming back then?
Completely. I found them both to be. I found Todd to have the greatest sense of humour. Really dark and very dry. But they complemented each other beautifully. You know you sometimes have those interviews where it just, the chemistry is right. And it just clicked, it was magic.
Did you ever interview the Eagles?
No. I think Ron E interviewed the Eagles. For some reason we never hooked up, but I think Ron E got them.
No. Linda Ronstadt was done by Trevor Smith, I think.
She only came to Australia in ’79 the first time.
Yeah, I’m pretty sure that Trevor got her. But don’t hold me to that. There are a couple of others I want to mention. First, Meatloaf. John O'Donnell from 3XY and yours truly were in New York working our way through one of those mammoth interview expeditions in the late seventies when CBS set up a taping with a completely unknown band they were trying to break called Meatloaf. We listened to the advance cassette then spent a few hours talking with Jim Steinman and The Meat, followed by a long black limo drive out to Long Island and a converted bowling alley called My Father's Place. It was winter and freezing but the sheer energy and power exuded by Meatloaf's performance generated enough heat to almost melt the premises and all who attended. The rest, to use that well-worn line, is history. I hit the phone, called Barry Chapman in Sydney and raved about the performance I had just witnessed. Baz immediately added the title track "Bat Out of Hell" and "You Took the Words " and 2SM broke the album in Australia and the rest of the world followed. As of 1992 Bat sold over a million units in Australia and is still going.
And Bruce Springsteen. Lee Simon from 3XY and I were granted the first Australian interview with the now legendary Broooooce. Denis Handlin in Sydney and CBS exec in the "Black Rock" CBS HQ in Manhattan Phil Alexander flew us into Louisville Kentucky on August 5, 1978 to witness the man who was then described by Rolling Stone writer, now his long time manager, Jon Landau as "I have seen the future of rock and roll and its name is Bruce Springsteen". Anyhow we went to the venue The Gardens, about the same size as the Hordern Pavilion, and after the E. Street Band opened up with some blazing instrumentals, the man appeared. Imagine this: he stood on top of a speaker stack, jumped into the air, slid across the stage on his knees, grabbed the microphone and roared straight into "Badlands". The gig was almost three hours of pure passion powered rock and roll unlike anything I had ever seen and still rates as one of the milestone concerts. As if that wasn't enough we spent over an hour doing the interview backstage after the show and then to show the kind of generous man he is, Bruce signed autographs and chatted with fans for at least another hour before he boarded the tour bus. 2SM broke Springsteen in Australia and I maintained a strong connection via Denis Handlin and Barbara Carr at Springsteen management, which led to the only major interview Bruce granted while in Australia for the Born in the USA tour. Since then I've met Bruce on his solo visit and most recent worldwide band tour, held off the record chats, exchanged books with him and drummer Max Weinberg. In fact Max and I did a great interview about all the legendary rock drummers which we turned into a radio special.
Wow! Now, who coined the phrase “The Mighty Whitey”?
It came out of the Triple M era. Mulray I think was the man.
What about non-music specials? How did you get that going on such a strong music format station? Did you do The Prophecies of Nostradamus? Was that you?
No, that was a guy called Paul Turner. That originated in Melbourne. A wonderful bloke who was very ill, he was on dialysis, Paul and I travelled the world later to do The Global Countdown, which was a huge documentary series that ran in 1980 and we got the Best Doco award at the Radio & Records Convention in ’81 for it. But that was an eight-part documentary series, which covered everything science, politics, mysticism, the environment, conspiracies, everything and we ran it on 2SM. And I actually found some of the old press ads promoting it.
But my first documentary that wasn’t a music documentary was on 2SM and it was called very imaginatively "The Pollution Special". Because I’d always had an interest in the environment, and I’d seen a book by an Australian author about the environment, which I’ve got in my study somewhere, and I was really intrigued about the interaction between society and the environment and how we should treat it. And so I went to Rod and pitched him this idea that we should do a story on pollution we’re living amongst it, how bad is it going to get, how’s it going to affect us, future generations… He said okay. So it was the first one where I could actually mix the words and music. Because I’d play particular songs that would basically highlight the dialogue, and the dialogue would also reflect the music. So it was an effort to keep our audience from tuning out by playing the music that would reinforce the dialogue and vice versa. I think we were the first to pioneer that kind of style.
I think you must have introduced that into some of your music rockumentaries, because one thing that really struck me about The Chicago Years was the use of the Cat Stevens song or the Graham Nash song. So for instance when Loughnane would talk about his early days and upbringing and being at school, you’d stick in “Remember The Days Of The Old School Yard”. And you’d stick in Graham Nash’s “Chicago” when they were talking about the Democratic Convention and the use of that chant, “The whole world is watching” on the Chicago song. I remember because I was an active listener, as we know, and I was listening thinking that’s really creative the way they’ve put that together, because it’s just easy to play a Chicago song and then a Chicago song and then a Chicago song.
Exactly. It got to a point where exactly what you’re saying is, how can we make this more interesting? How can we include different music, sound effects or historical news audio, what have you, to enhance the documentary? So that’s what we did.
And being into the environment back in the seventies you were quite ahead of your time in the media. The media didn’t really catch on to it until the eighties. Turn Back The Tide and all of that kind of stuff that was going on. So what other specials did you do in that 2SM period?
Like I said, “The Pollution Special” was the icebreaker, that’s the one that got me into doing documentaries other than music. Everyone contributed to the blockbusters like "The History of Rock & Roll" and "Twang: the History of the Guitar". They were massive production efforts, were networked nationally and ran all weekend.
What year was that?
We’re talking probably in the early seventies. It was really early; it might have even been ’72 from memory. But anyway "The Pollution Special" was the very first one. And then from there I remember doing things like “Australia and a Non Nuclear Future” and I recall setting up panel interviews with politicians, economists, scientists, we actually got into the studio, Prime Minister Bob Hawke, the then Opposition leader John Howard, Nick Greiner and other pollies, but I think I’m getting into Triple M territory here as opposed to 2SM territory.
For me as a teenager loving pop and rock music and loving all the rockumentaries, the introduction of non-music programming was really pioneering.
"Nostradamus" was the one that came out of Melbourne and then we did "The Global Countdown". We travelled the world, myself and Paul, for about maybe two months. And we talked to everyone; we spoke with scientists like Herman Kahn, who had written books on Thermo nuclear war at the Hudson Institute in upstate New York. We flew into Scotland to talk to an expert on a mystic called the Brahan Seer. We talked to people about the Sleeping Prophet Edgar Cayce at the Edgar Cayce Institute in Virginia, south of Washington. We talked to military strategists, a former spook, a spy, Walter Bowart, who insisted we meet in a crowded Denver restaurant to discuss Operation Mind Control. Paul and I went into NORAD, the North American Air Defence Command deep inside a mountain outside Colorado Springs, to discuss US Airforce war fighting strategies. We spoke to an Australian general Sir John Hackett who wrote one of the best selling books of the seventies called The Third World War. We tried to cover all the bases talked to politicians, scientists, futurists, activists, the intelligence community and on it went.
Did you find it refreshing and stimulating to step out of the music world for a while, even though you did use music in the specials, but when you were travelling and collecting those interviews, you were actually having a break from music. Unless you were picking up music interviews as well.
It opened my mind up to a whole new world that I’d never experienced before. Well before I broke into radio I read everything, loved to, I had a pretty wide general knowledge and these documentaries gave me the opportunity to put that knowledge to good use. It was for me an unforgettable time of personal and professional growth. "The Global Countdown" sewed the seeds for what would eventually be my move into news. That was the first inkling that I’d really like to do explore different issues on radio. "The Global Countdown" series was the stepping-stone into eventually moving into news and doing things like the award winning "Pulse Of the Planet" documentaries,The Middle East doco “The Promised Land” and many more.
With 2SM and that whole seventies period, the jumbo under the bridge and all that… How involved were you in devising all these crazy promotions that Barry was coming up with? What he said about you, and I guess it was more to do with the interviewing side, was that he could come up with any idea and you were the Do Guy. You would just get it done, you would find the way to get it done. But tell me about these meetings where he would say was it Barry who would say “Let’s put a jumbo under the Harbour Bridge!”?
Well they were called brainstorming sessions, because that’s exactly what they were. We’d get as many heads into that room as we could, and we’d start off by just cracking jokes, general conversation. Jocks, programmers, music directors, producers, everyone, we’d all get in the room. And there’s be some finger food laid on and some drinks and we’d all sit around and we’d shoot the breeze, tossing ideas into the air. And that’s how jumbo under the bridge happened. I’ve still got the front page of the paper. I remember the whole thing, but it came from one of those meetings.
Did MacRae think it was a good idea?
He did. We all did. The idea sprang from more than one person. It was as you’d expect from a group effort, you know how you get an idea that’s half formed over there, and someone comes up with the missing ingredient here, lightning strikes and suddenly you’ve got THE idea.
And for anybody who might be listening to this who for some crazy reason doesn’t know about 2SM’s jumbo under the bridge, tell us about it.
Okay, well we were trying to come up with a stunt that would really stop the city in its tracks, the WOW factor, how could we do that? And so racking our brains and bouncing ideas off the wall, as I said in the earlier part of the conversation, the idea came from two, perhaps three people in various parts of the room and then it was, let’s fly a jumbo under the bridge. Then it evolved to, no but you can’t it’s against all aviation rules and regulations. So someone said, no, no, we’re not going to fly it, we’re actually going to take a jumbo don’t say fly let’s “take” a jumbo under the bridge, there’s a subtle difference between flying and taking a jumbo. Word Games. Because 747s were knicknamed jumbos. We had Qantas captains on air, the whole deal was we’d get Qantas in on the joke. When you listen back they talked around it, they actually never mentioned the word, aircraft. Barry may be able to clarify that particular meeting and who, if it was any one person in particular had the Eureka moment but you’ll have to ask him.
You could also win a trip on the jumbo under the bridge.
Exactly. Imagine joining an elephant to sail under our legendary landmark. Of course the punters at that stage had no idea the Jumbo was not a 747.
That was the deal breaker. Everyone was into it. And so, like I said, we involved Qantas captains, ground crew, ground staff at the ticketing counters, we got people talking about the difficulties of the safe clearance between the deck of the bridge and the water, flight engineers, anyone who could add substance to the story that would make people think, my god, they’re actually going to take a jumbo under the Harbour Bridge. That’s all we said, a jumbo, not an aircraft. And so the day arrives and Sydney was wired. You remember, you were a listener. TV, newspapers, other radio stations, and up the harbour comes a huge barge, with a Qantas captain as the mahout astride a jumbo tethered to the barge. And they took it under the bridge. And it was like oh my god. An elephant. It was one of those great con jobs that worked a treat. And no one got hurt, no one was upset, everyone was in on the joke and loved it.
And you couldn’t do it in this day because it was before mobile phones and so nobody could say, “Oh, I’ve seen it, it’s coming up.”
No, exactly. So it worked to perfection. But you remember Rocktober. Paying the bridge toll, all those amazing things.
And the free concerts.
Well, the Concert Of The Decade.
But even before Concert Of The Decade. There were a lot in Victoria Park, two with Sherbet, one in 1977 and one in January ’78. The ’78 one was 44 degrees centigrade that day, the heatwave concert with John Paul Young & The Allstars, Cold Chisel and U-Turn.
Wow! Boy, there have been so many gigs. I remember the Victoria Park show with Dragon, Sherbet, it was huge. I’ve got some great backstage photos.
That was the 1977 one. And then when you started using the Opera House, there was early in ’78 the Summer Magic one with Little River Band, and then Rocktober ’78 was Thin Lizzy.
Thin Lizzy and Wha Koo, yeah.
And actually somebody has found a Youtube clip, not of “Boys Are Back In Town”, but one of their longer slow songs from that concert, with two seconds of me!
Get out. You’re immortalised.
How involved were you in putting concerts together?
That was Barry’s baby. I do remember though at the Concert Of The Decade something very funny and embarrassing happened. The crowd was, massive, I think they numbered it at 200,000. And I remember the staging was on the steps, and then we had the big sound mixer and the towers back against the cliff. I recall something stuffed up, because I was doing some of the PA announcements, and I remember that the feedback loop started because we were a little bit too close to the speakers and someone turned the volume up just a little bit too much, and whenever you get that happening you are forced to start … talking … very…. slowly. And I’m on the PA going, “Lady’s and gentlemen, would you pleeaasee… welllcommme… Austraaaaliiiiaaa’s…” Because the sound feeding back into you forced one to speak in a trance like fashion. It was truly bizarre, everyone was looking up saying, is this guy on drugs or what? Anyhow the techs came to the rescue and the show continued. But I still remember that day in front of 200,000 people, sounding like a total goose.
Being that doing the documentaries as opposed to the rockumentaries sort of put you on the path towards news, how much influenced were you or were you even able to stop in the midst of all the music and promotions and mayhem to take notice of the phenomenal news team 2SM had in the late seventies with Steve Liebmann, Brian White, John Tingle, Alan Wilkie doing weather. I talked to Barry about this; it was an extremely classy and amazing news team for an AM music station.
It was. It was an outstanding news team. And what Rod did, was create a hybrid station, blending the bedrock foundation of contemporary music with news and information, documentaries, cutting edge promotions, outdoor events etc because you remember he hired Bob Rogers to do mornings at one stage. Bob had David Frost on. David Frost had THE most sought after contact book in the world at that time and 2SM put it to good use securing some of the worlds most sought after figures for exclusive radio interviews including Henry Kissinger, all that sort of stuff. But back to the news team. I remember voicing a special where there was Brian White and Steve Liebmann and it was the drug special, “Is It Turning You On Or Turning On You” was the name from memory. Actually there’s a shot I’ve got of all of us, White, Liebmann, myself and Trevor Johnson in a studio at 2SM actually putting the finishing touches to the doco. So yes it was a premier news team. And I remember the day that John Lennon was assassinated. We had some people from Warner Bros records, Lennon's record company sitting in the foyer, where you used to sit cross-legged on the floor with Durry.
Drinking beer after school.
Shame on you. And we were sitting there with the Warner Bros record reps. And at that stage there was a tele printer and they used to have the bells going off if there was an emergency story or a news flash coming through. The bells went off and I remember Glen, one of the journos, came out and said, “Look we’ve just got this incredible story through, come and have a look Whitey.” I Went in, had a look, and I’ve still got the teletext page it was John Lennon shot in New York City. Doctors fear blah blah blah, what have you. And I took it out and I still remember showing it to the Warner Bros guys who weren’t aware of it at that stage.
That was Phil Mortlock.
I saw him yesterday and I told him I was coming to see you and he told me this exact story that he was there in the foyer when the news of John Lennon came through and that you brought it out to show him.
That’s right. And we were just completely stunned as everyone was. And I remember that day, we went straight into the recording studio with Trevor Johnson and myself and we produced the story of John Lennon.
You literally just put it together. How long was it? An hour?
About an hour and a half, maybe longer. And we were in tears doing it.
So you didn’t even have time to sit and watch TV coverage or listen to other radio coverage.
We said to the news guys, “Get us any bit of audio you can grab and bring it in.” And we sourced everything we had from previous Beatles specials and my John Lennon Rock and Roll interview, anything we had we just pulled it in, and we had to get it on as soon as we could. We worked right through the day, and yes, we were in tears putting it together. It was an incredibly sad day.
The Liebmann-White report
And John Tingle of course as well.
It was very grown up for a kids’ music station.
For a rock and roll station. Yes, it was. But that was Rod’s dream of once he established 2SM as a force and had knocked off the competition at UW, he wanted to widen it and make it available to as many people as we could within that format. And you’ll remember, 2SM achieved still, to this day, the greatest ratings of any station. 24.8 it got to. No station has ever matched that. When I left Triple M to go to Channel 7 they got to a 20.8 I think. Of course there were more signals in the market and FM was established but they never got to 2SM’s lofty heights of 24.8.
And I think one of the reasons why I decided to become a champion of 2SM in that era, when so much focus had always been put on the Good Guys era, was the fact that I knew that there had never been a station as popular. And yes, it was AM
It didn’t matter at the time because we didn’t have any stereo, there was no alternative.
But I don’t believe there has ever been, even with the Triple M and Doug Mulray, I don’t believe there’s ever been another station, certainly in Sydney, that has captured the spirit of a city at a time in the way that 2SM did.
You’re right. I think Triple M equalled it in a different era, if not it went very close. The Ms was the natural FM evolution of SM’s hybrid format expanded and designed for stereo. The heritage of Triple M cast a long shadow as did 2SM.
Triple M was very corporate. Whether it was Hoyts Media or then Austereo.
It became that later; initially though it wasn’t. Triple M’s camaraderie was incredible, everyone from the frontline on air performers to the staff, to use one of Rod’s legendary lines, kept that mutha humming. The audience sensed it and they came along for one hell of a ride. Mullos was the catalyst, anyone who can display exceptional wit at the crack of dawn each day is unique. I remember it well because I was on the receiving end of some of it. I’ll tell you a great story about Mulray if you want to talk about Mulray.
Oh you can jump forward for a moment, yes.
Mulray loved Jags, Jaguars. And one day he had this beautiful V12, he had it lowered and he had a pounding sound system, bass speakers under the seat, he had it done out entirely. It was summer and occasionally we’d open the two double glass windows between the studio and the newsroom, just to circulate the air, because the air conditioning wasn’t crash hot. Anyhow I was just about to do my first news, I think it was 5.30 that morning, and Mulray came in, and he was livid. He was seething. Because someone at the shopping centre had decided to put in speed bumps in the entrance, quite big ones. He was running late, didn’t see them, came in, tore the sump out of the Jag, killed it stone dead. Mulray was spewing. I’m into my first news story and Mulray’s there and he comes in and he lets out the biggest “Faaarrrk” you can ever imagine. Blasting out, it’s on air, I’m live. And I look out and I’m indicating I’m on air! And he looks at me and he goes “Oh.” So in the first news story there’s this giant “Faaarrrk!!” And I had to just keep going as if nothing untoward happened. As if that’s not enough Mullos got on and proceeded to really shit can the management of Westfield shopping centres all morning ‘til they came up and personally apologised at nine o’clock for putting in the speed humps without telling Doug. A major grovel. There’s another absolute cracker of a story involving Mullos and Fatty Vautin…. But I’m sorry, I digress.
Just back to 2SM, obviously you and Ron E went back as friends to your Queensland days, but who were some of the other guys at 2SM that you remember fondly? I think of people that came and went that were just such big stars for a moment, like Alan Steele.
Yeah, Charlie Fox was there, Gracie, John Bell, Greg Reese, Alan Steele.
Barry told me the story of how Alan got dumped because he went to play space invaders in the jocks room and forgot to go back to the studio and change the record, and there was 20 minutes of dead air.
There was a great deal of agonising, huffing and puffing going on with that particular incident. But Al was a great jock, a young guy on the way up with a ton of talent.
He was a bit of a pop star himself.
He was a bit of a pop star, but why not? In fact I’ve got a cracker about Al. Alan Steele one time was taking over from me, I used to do the Album Show on Sunday nights where I could play anything I could play long album tracks that rarely got air time, carry out lengthy interviews etcetera
Did you ever play a whole album in full?
Well I did an entire Eric Clapton night, which was tracing Clapton’s career from John Myall’s Blues Breakers era right up until that point in time in the seventies. I rang up Chris Winter because there was a particular Clapton album I couldn’t get my hands on and he lent it to me; Chris was on Double Jay at the time, he was a lovely and very talented bloke. And so yeah I used to do that. But back to Alan Steele, this time I was ending my shift and I was playing “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” by Led Zeppelin. The song has a staccato drum ending, which can catch anyone unless they’re aware of the precise number of beats at the finish. You have to be on the ball so you could hit the jingle and make it all sound seamless. Anyhow I said to Alan “Look, be aware I’m ending with ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’, it finishes on whatever it was, five or six drum beats, stops cold, so you’ve got to be ready.” He was going on after me doing a mid-dawn gig. And he said, “Yeah yeah yeah, Whitey, no worries.” So I’m out there putting away cassettes, that ancient technology, and Zeppelin’s on, “Nobodys Fault” is climaxing, the aforementioned tricky drum ending takes place. It’s over and there’s dead air. Nothing. And Steele is there looking like a rabbit caught in the spotlights, with nothing on the turntable. And then he yells out, “Whitey, you gave me the wrong fucking number!” And I’ve gesticulated, “You’re on air.” And for the next hour and a half he played music and didn’t say who he was. I still to this day remember the look on his face. He was ashen.
What about Keith Williams, that was when he materialised?
Wally Williams, yeah. One of the great jocks. Beautiful voice. There was Durry, there was Mike Gibson and George Moore they were huge. George is still going to this day, on 2UE doing a damn good job of it too.
Did you get on well with everyone? Were there ever any fisticuffs, was anyone at each other’s throat?
The only time that I can remember any shots fired in anger so to speak was myself and Mike Drayson, over Lou Reed of all things. We were down in the basement recording studio and we were having an argument about something, things got fairly heated because we forgot momentarily that Lou was in the studio. And we were both really like going for it, and Lou Reed said, “You guys have got to stop this now!” The original surly Mr. Grumpy, Lou Reed is telling us to stop the argument. And we both backed off, had a laugh, and turned our attention to Lou who must’ve felt very neglected.
There were no jocks that just hated each other and could hardly keep it to themselves, tension in the ranks?
Not that I recall. I’m sure there were days when tempers were frayed and you were on edge. But not that I can recall. I know I had some feisty debates with John Torv, when he was programming 2SM before I took over. But no there wasn’t really anyone carrying bad blood for anyone.
Macca was up so early and then did this full-on breakfast show, but did he hang around? Was there as much socialising with him as the day and evening jocks?
To a degree, I mean obviously being a breakfast jock your day has really got to finish by lunchtime, if not you’re just going to kill yourself in a short amount of time. But Rod was very keen that everyone hang out together whenever they could, so when we were in Clarence Street before we moved across the harbour, there was a drinking spot, a pub at the corner of Clarence Street and we all used to go there. And I must confess back then I hated beer, I mean I loathed the whole tiles and stale beer smell that seemed to permeate pubs in that era. But hey, I used to get a glass of beer and I’d just sip on it.
Didn’t you get a glass of wine?
Oh no! You’ve got to remember this was practically the pre-historic era. Wine bars were just an emerging blip on the cultural radar. You probably could’ve ordered a wine but it would have stripped the coating off your larynx. Sophistication and sinking a schooner were on different planets.
Really? Not even a bit of claret?
Not even a bit of claret, love. Perhaps I exaggerate, maybe a quiet word in the barmaids ear etcetera.
In 1979 I really noticed everyone was dropping away.
Remember that 2WS was the start of the downfall of 2SM.
WS came in with a huge bang. They recorded the Chicago concert at the Sportsground.
And remember, too, that SM had been so dominant for so long, it’s like when a political party over stays its welcome. There’s a new kid on the block and people are ready, they’re receptive. Timing is everything and WS’s promotion for the launch was good, they were fresh. 2SM was still there, we were still pumping, but as you say, people were starting to drop away. It was inevitable. They had to take numbers and they did.
I guess I was referring to the DJs. Ron E actually went to 2UW. I suppose I need to ask him, but was that just because he was given a better offer, or were he and Barry at loggerheads?
I honestly can’t remember, perhaps he saw the writing on the wall, whatever it was Ron E obviously got a great offer, and it’s very exciting when a station changes direction and relaunches. I am sure Ron E was instrumental in much of the new UW programming because he had a vast knowledge of formats and how to deploy them successfully. I still remember to this day the song that they relaunched with was “Counting The Beat”, The Swingers. I could be mistaken but I think he was a jock in their new on-air lineup when they became The New UW or whatever it was called. And they were also hammering away, so there was quite a number of things going on. You would need to ask Ron E about the exact time they relaunched the new format of UW but along with WS they both really ate away at 2SM.
You and George and Macca were the last three that hung on at 2SM into the eighties. I was heartbroken when George finally left and went to 2DAY FM. But in the late seventies a lot of the old jocks were leaving, although new guys were arriving, too.
There was John Bell, there was Trevor Sinclair, there was Charlie Fox, Ian Grace was there, too.
Ian Grace became PD for the Rock Of The Eighties.
That’s right, I know I was PD there when we relaunched with More Music 2SM and when I left for Triple M he became the PD and drove Rock Of The Eighties. Rock Of The Eighties was very interesting, Gracie did a great job in intense competition on the AM band when FM was really starting to get a foothold, he still provided a really exciting station on AM, doing amazing things. At that stage radio-wise he was on the wrong side of history simply because he was on a different band. He was on the old AM band and all of a sudden there’s rock music in beautiful stereo we were getting on and playing albums the way our audience heard them in their living rooms, saying you can hear this in two channels now. People were going wow, I can hear stereo on the radio now. It was that simple.
Did you get approached by other stations during that early FM period, or even WS, or did anyone try and head hunt you? You’d been with 2SM for such a long time.
I remember there was an approach initially, I think it was Triple M, and at the time I’d just gone into programming and it wasn’t the right time. I just really wanted to have a shot at being PD. But when Rod approached the second time via Wally Williams I was ready. Keith approached me with the offer of Drive, I thought yeah, I really want to leave now, I really want to try FM.
When Barry left in 1980 I know people always came and went and you had to get used to that in radio but did that affect you? Because you’d had a very close bond and had travelled together.
Yeah, Barry is still one of the greatest guys I’ve ever worked with and yes, it did affect me for sure, because as I said he let the imagination run wild on 2SM, not to its detriment but in a way that ensured another phase of its massive success. Baz and the team he directed made it a spectacularly exciting radio station.
Well even doing the Concert Of The Decade. No one’s ever put on a concert like that.
Yeah, absolutely and the promos and the docos and the concerts. Barry drove all that and it was fantastic. Magic filled the air and yes, when he left it did create a huge gap.
And you took over programming at that point?
No, John Torv moved into the programming seat and then I took over from him.
What year did you take over in programming?
It would have been when we relaunched “More Music” phase 2. That was the start Charlie, myself and Gracie with the full support and backing of that excellent station manager Tony Moltzen, took the old format and totally revamped it for a 1980s look, feel and sound. It was back to basics, massive slabs of continuous more music backed up with big bucks to try and lure back audience that had been steadily eroded by the triple attacks of first WS then the relaunched 2UW and the entrance of FM.
You’d dabbled in programming over the years anyway.
Yes I had a stint at 2NX Newcastle back in '75 and It was just another step up from Music Director to Program Director.
But being that you were faced with this challenge of the new FM stations, how tough was it?
It was very tough. Our audience was being eroded not just by FM but by WS and of course UW was highly competitive, so we were copping it on all fronts. So it was a case of we’ve got to stop this, we’ve got to establish a new sound, try and keep the old core of listeners there and build on that. So it was a hell of a task, and the first survey we completed with More Music we stopped the haemorrhaging for a while, but look the writing was on the wall, I mean, FM was going to be the place to hear music. But for a while we were having a great time.
So was it just doing the programming that kept you there that long?
Yes, it was the challenge of that and to see what I could do as a programmer following in the footsteps of others. I wanted to see if I could make the radio station successful, at least as much as possible given what was going on with the entrance of FM and the war on two fronts with WS and UW, yeah. It was a challenge holding the line so to speak but I loved the challenge.
Was it hard to finally leave 2SM?
It was and it wasn’t. Because it had truly run its course as far as I was concerned and I just thought this is a great offer from, in fact as I said it was Wally Williams who approached me through Rod Muir, to go to Triple M, and I thought, I really want to do this now.
That was 1982, so you’d been at 2SM for 13 years. Back then that was a long time to stay at one station.
So did they put on a big farewell for you or did you slip out the back door?
No no no, it was as I recall, I think I’ve got the big farewell card, I remember it as being a pretty fond farewell and a very sad one at the same time. Mixed emotions.
Also even with Triple M up at Bondi Junction with the view, there was no radio station in Sydney that had a building quite like 2SM, the glass tower.
That’s true, you could see it as you were coming across the bridge, the 2SM sign. And the view was fabulous, looking down across at Luna Park and the bridge. It was a great station, and they really spent big on the technology of the day to make it really as state of the art as it could be.
So you went over to Triple M and in what capacity initially? Just as a jock?
As a jock. I replaced Rob Duckworth and did Drive on Triple M.
Did he leave?
Yeah, he left.
But he came back.
He did, he left and returned later. Duck’s one of the great survivors.
Had you done a regular drive shift up until then?
I’d done Drive among many shifts on 2SM and loved it. Drive on Triple M, was an adrenalin rush, very exciting and a bit nerve wracking. FM was like wow, I can hear things in both ears. Because remember AM was one highly compressed signal, to simplify it you heard the same thing in both ears with a mass of head pounding reverb. When you’re a jock and you went across to FM, even though you had your own stereos at home, on air, on radio it was like hearing it for the first time. As weird as that sounds it was, a case of, this is so clear, and I could hear the different channels. It was quite a buzz.
2DAY FM had a pretty good start; I remember they did a huge concert in Hyde Park, A Day For Animals, with Little River Band with John Farnham, the first big gig with him, and Richard Clapton, and I listened to 2DAY FM for a while, but Triple M pretty quickly became the big station. So was there the same vibe going on at Triple M, or similar to what had been going on at 2SM a few years before?
Oh absolutely. In fact the vibe was just as strong. Triple M was a huge radio station. Not quite as big in overall numbers as 2SM, but almost there. And in many ways Triple M helped bring into focus the documentary/rockumentary features. We did things on Triple M that very few music stations I’m aware of, outside of 2SM during its golden era, featured. Triple M under Rod then later the brilliant Graham Smith expanded on the original hybrid premise of 2SM exploring and developing new ways of delivering programming. The Ms had politicians, scientists, community leaders in there, we had John Howard as opposition leader in there, playing his part in the doco and panel special “Australia and a Non Nuclear Future”, we had senate candidate Peter Garrett in there. We had simulcasts with TV like “Stop The Drop”, political, environment and economic documentaries. I went to the Middle East and did “The Promised Land”, which was an award-winning documentary on Israel and the occupied territories and the Middle East in general, in 1988, back during the first Intifada. Triple M was the first FM station to have a journalist invited to join a team of Press and Television journos on a study tour of that volatile part of the world. Triple M was the first of the FMers to open a news bureau in Canberra run by an outstanding young journalist John Hewitt. Triple M was quite extraordinary in the depth and breadth of its on air product. It employed a passionate and dedicated on air team who brought great programming to the radio station.
And there was quite a lot of 2SM alumni there. Was Barry was still there when you got there?
Yeah, Barry did Triple M, there was quite a few people that had crossed over as you say.
At what point did you move into News at Triple M?
Well it was a discussion with Trevor Smith that proved to be the catalyst. He was, I think he was the music director. Digamae had ended before Triple M started up, and Trevor Smith might have been either a jock or the music director, in fact he may’ve been PD at the time, but I remember talking to Trevor about how dissatisfied I was with FM news because we had a very conservative news presentation style on a station like Triple M which simply didn’t fit. The Ms was very much a free-flowing conversational radio station that reflected its audience tastes perfectly. But when the news came on it sounded like, for want of a better description, it sounded like there was a bloke there wearing a bow tie and suit. A very tightly wound individual.
Like ABC News?
Well, yeah. I don’t wish to denigrate ABC News. But it did sound like a strange news service on our radio station. Out of place.
I love ABC News. It’s appropriate for the ABC.
For the ABC absolutely. But that style on Triple M sounded completely alien to the format, it just wasn’t clicking. And I said to Trevor, look, it’s just not working, I don’t believe the news is connecting with our audience. It’s not reflecting the radio station’s values or sound or anything else. I was always in Trevor’s ear. He said, “Right, for Christ’s sake, we want you to do it. We want you to be News Director, so go in and do it.”
What year was that?
It would have been roughly the mid-eighties. I can’t give you an exact date off the top of my head. So anyhow Trevor said, “You’ve talked enough about it, do it!” And I’m thinking, okay, here we go. So I jumped into the deep end and did it. Anyhow I changed the presentation style of the News, I had some wonderfully talented people like Deanne Bishop with me, a red hot reader, there was John Hewitt, our Canberra Bureau chief, my future TV current affairs colleague Peter Charley, Brian Johnston, Frank Vincent, Mike “Groovy” Groves, Andrew Plumley the man who stepped right out of the pages of a Hunter S. Thompson novel Warwick the Barking Traffic Dog, Margaret Bates, Alison Drower. She could deliver news in such a totally unique manner. Peter Switzer, Fatty Vautin, my apologies to anyone I’ve failed to mention. I did the breakfast news with Mulray. And I made the news more a part of the Triple M family, at one with the sound and the presentation of the entire station. We’d initiate documentaries, that were developed and had their origin in the newsroom.
I do remember, and I don’t know whether I’d heard it on any other stations, that there would be the intro to the news and the newsreader would read, but then there would be this little repartee between the newsreader and the jock after the weather had been done. It would flow in so it was seamless.
Exactly. And it was a conversational approach to news, which means we didn’t make light of news, but we delivered it in a style that was more relatable to our audience and the way they conversed to a degree. The serious news stories were treated accordingly, but the style of presenting the news was in a more conversational manner.
And you still continued to do the interviews, you became the roving interviewer?
At that stage I’d stepped into researching, writing and voicing documentaries. I was the first FM journalist to be sent to the Middle East, the Jewish Board of Deputies every year would send a team of journos to the Middle East to gain a better understanding of the issues dominating that part of the world. There were reps from The Australian, from Channel 7, there was a whole range of people and I was the sole radio person, we flew into Israel in 1988, which saw the first Intifada. We were allowed free access to everybody. We talked to Palestinians and Israelis alike, and I came back and made a documentary, which went on to win the New York International Radio Award, called The Promised Land.
You won a number of awards.
Yes, I picked up the Best International News Anchor and also got one for the Environmental Citizen’s Award at the Radio International Awards in New York, the ECA was an award we established at Triple M to encourage our audience to do good environmental deeds for their neighbourhood. Make their contribution to Rescue the Future as it said on the plaque.
You’ve always been very low key about these sorts of thing in your career, haven’t you?
Look, you know, the awards were fantastic and it’s great to be recognised by your peers. I went into some awards, particularly when Brian Johnson and I went in for the Walkleys, or when I went in for the Environment and News Presenter awards, to demonstrate that commercial FM radio could mix it with the ABC. I thought, you know, for too long the field had been left almost exclusively to the ABC, who do a superb job, but I thought, hell, we can match it with them, and I’m sure that if we put our range of projects in and have them judged we can perhaps gain recognition and maybe some awards to recognise that we can compete with them on equal turf. And we did.
What did you win a Walkley for?
The AIDS Documentary. I worked with Brian Johnson and we won the 1987 Walkley for radio for the AIDS Documentary.
And of course that was right at the peak of the AIDS crisis.
It was just as it was starting to really break out and become a worldwide disease threatening the lives of millions. It was frightening. Peter Charley secured some riveting audio from the streets of New York. Hearing those grabs stopped you cold.
And the UN Media Peace Prizes?
Yes, we won the UN Media Peace Prize for The Pulse Of The Planet in 1990 and again in 1998. The one I was most proud of was the 2000 Environment Australia Peter Hunt Eureka Prize for Environmental Journalism worth ten thousand dollars.
Also you were still interviewing celebrities and quite a lot of Hollywood type people during that time. When did you interview Barbra Streisand?
That was post Triple M in current affairs television, Gerald Stone’s “Real Life”, on Channel 7. I was down in Victoria doing a story on a girls’ school in the country, a phone call came through from our director in Sydney, who said, “We want you to be back in Sydney and on a plane tomorrow for London.” And I said who is it? And they said Streisand. So I’m literally into a light aircraft, a Cessna back to Sydney, jump out, go home, pack a bag, straight back to the airport, on an international flight, did my research on the flight, arrived in London, cabbed it straight to the preview of the movie, The Prince Of Tides, came out of that, interviewed Streisand, Nick Nolte and Anthony Quinn. As you can imagine my heads spinning, I had been up for almost two days and when it was all over I fell over when the adrenalin wore off.
I know that she has always considered herself to be a stronger filmmaker than singer, which is crazy. Not that she’s not a great filmmaker. She made Yentl. And Prince Of Tides was a great great movie. But did you have an opportunity to talk to her about singing as well, or did she want to stick right on the topic?
Yes, her focus obviously was on Prince Of Tides, as you would expect, but we chatted about her singing and the fact that one time she actually forgot her lines on stage in front of a huge audience. We spoke about a about a whole range of things, a possible future tour of Australia, which eventuated, but it was primarily focused on Prince Of Tides.
In her vast recording career, I don’t remember her being interviewed very much around the time she did the Guilty album. It was just such a huge worldwide hit working with the Gibbs. Did you talk about that?
We didn’t touch on that. It was an interview where we only had a certain amount of time allocated. I would have loved to have had more, but I had to distil it right down to the core questions. I managed to get in a couple of things about singing and some other subjects, not as much as I’d like. It was just the fact that I got to sit across from her and do a face to face that knocked me out. Because I was a huge fan and loved the lady’s immense talents.
Was she charming?
Charming in every possible way. A beautiful woman, absolutely charming, and answered any question that I put up. She was fabulous.
Would that be one of the highlights of your interviewing career?
Certainly one of the highlights. I’ve got the Prince of Tides program and she’s autographed it along with Nick Nolte, to David. You only usually get one shot so I had to do the total fan thing.
What about your great encounter with Dustin Hoffman?
It was at the Westwood Marquee in Los Angeles and the night before as I remember it he’d just been given the Academy Award for Kramer vs Kramer and delivered one of those landmark speeches. And I remember watching it thinking, what an inspired speech. Next day in the elevator, doors open, in walks the man himself, Dustin Hoffman. And I’m thinking, do I be a fan, do I gush, say something dumb, what am I going to say? So I said, “I loved your speech last night on the Academy Awards.” He said, “Oh thank you! I detect an accent there.” I said, “Yes, I’m from Australia.” And he said what you’d expect most Hollywood stars to say, “I’ve always wanted to come to Australia!” And then we chatted about inconsequential things. The door opened, he went his way, I went mine. Half an hour later I’m in having breakfast in the Westwood Marquee restaurant, he’s sitting at the table next to me, he looks up and he waves, and I wave back.
Which means that you made a little impact.
Well, for a fleeting millisecond, yeah.
What other Hollywood stars did you interview around that time that left a mark on you? You must have interviewed Robin Williams probably, he was around a lot.
Yes, he actually came into Triple M and was on with Doug, but I remember having a conversation with him. Watching and listening to Mullos and Williams match wits, was like seeing two giant galaxies colliding with sparks flying, it was something else. I was in the news studio just devouring it. It was one of “those” moments. Sigourney Weaver fresh from playing Ripley in the third Alien movie was very special, a very elegant sexy woman and one hell of an actress. I remember Arnold Swarzenegger was pretty damn good; it was at the time he’d just released “Last Action Hero” and he was copping a lot of critical heat. Arnie was all muscles and tan in an Hawaiian shirt and we talked about a whole range of things including the movie and I said, “Arnie, what about the critical heat you’re getting? They’re really putting some bad reviews out about your movie.” He fixed me with that famous Swarzenegger stare and said in that unmistakable Austrian accent, “Look, I’ve been in this business a long time. I say to the critics if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. And I’m going to be in the kitchen for a long long time.” Arnie used to train at the City Gym in Sydney with owner Bill Moore, back in the early days when he was in serious training for “Mr. Universe”, it was the “Stay Hungry” and “Pumping Iron” era, and I asked if he had any memories of those times, he flashed me a wicked smile and simply said, “Yes, we met lots of girls.” Say no more!
So during the eighties you were news director, documentary maker, travelling, still celebrity interviewer.
The celebrity interviews came later on “Real Life” at Channel 7.
You didn’t do as many interviews at Triple M?
Not as many. I did some, but the bulk of the celebrities really happened when I was with Real Life at Channel 7.
And was there as much camaraderie between the jocks at Triple M as there had been at 2SM?
Absolutely. Look, 2SM was fantastic in every way. To me, personally, Triple M took it to another level. The camaraderie was unbelievable. We had the best people working there, we had the best of times. Rod Muir was there spear heading the rise of FM. I don’t believe the magic we created will ever be repeated.
Exactly. And he was. I can’t say enough about working with Rod. He was just fantastic. The first time we I think cracked number one or got close to it he went out and bought every bit of French champagne in Bondi Junction, lined it up, broke the news and he said, “Go for it!” And we just did. It was phenomenal. The feeling in the place was just, well it went beyond the myth. It was just extraordinary, I am not exaggerating that’s how good it was.
And again, great on-air personalities like Uncle Doug, but also Stuart Cranney.
Mr. Cranney or as he was nicknamed “Crumbly” was a real gem, a thorough gentleman. The feeling in the corridors to me always generated what went through the microphone and to quote Warwick Rankin “up the stick”, the transmitter. I think you could tell when you listened to Triple M there was always a party. We were having a good time and always invited our audience to join in. It rocked. The feeling, to use that legendary line from The Castle, the “vibe”, in the place was so strong, and infectious that all of us while totally professional were also intent on having a good time and making great radio. That was life at Triple M at its absolute peak. You were living it. It was wonderful.
And all the changes in technology through that time and beyond, going to digital and going to CD, were they easily adapted to?
Well going digital didn’t happen until much later. We went digital in the 2DAY FM newsroom when I was there as News Presenter with Wendy Harmer and the Morning Crew. I left Triple M in ’91, I joined Real Life and stayed there til ’94 at Channel 7 and then joined 2DAY FM. And I remember the lead up to going digital. We had one week of cramming, learning the console and how to adapt to it. Going from analogue to digital, had us all freaked wondering how we’d cope given the rapid pace of a breakfast newsroom. The switchover was to happen first with breakfast news and I was anchoring that working with Wendy and the crew. Anyhow that first day we were as tense as. Because we were no longer using tapes and splicing, no cassettes. Technology we’d all used since beginning in radio. It was all up through faders and a read-out of wave patterns on the screen. We’re going, how will we ever do this? But somehow we made it, and at the end of that first breakfast session everyone, myself being the presenter, the editors, the writers, everyone just let out a huge sigh of relief, oh my god, we were so relieved to have made the transition. But once you’ve gone digital you would never do anything else again. Because it’s so easy to do. Once you make the transition it’s fantastic. It revolutionises the way you broadcast.
When CDs came in in the late eighties on Triple M, was it still for a while a combination of vinyl and CD, until everything was available on CD?
There was a transition period. We phased out of vinyl and transitioned into CDs pretty smoothly.
Were you sad when that happened in a way?
Yes and no. Nothing will ever replace the magic of holding a 12-inch vinyl album jacket with fold out sections and extraordinary art and photo work and liner notes but in saying that the phase in phase out period was also very exciting. I remember Dire Straits “Brothers In Arms” was the big album of the time. And that was the album that went to CD first as I remember, I could be wrong, but that was the first breakthrough CD album as such, and it was huge backed up with a major push from Polygram Records. Everyone was so excited about the format and the challenge of playing these little silver discs and slipping them into machines. So there was mixed emotions in the transition from vinyl, a crossover point but it captured everyone’s imagination.
At what point was it that tracks were basically put into a computer system and no longer putting music on manually?
Well, that happened in the analogue era. In fact at 2SM we had a machine that was called FRED. Which stood for Fucking Ridiculous Electronic Device. Dear old FRED. Which was programmed by Charlie Fox. And Charlie was an absolute wizard, and still is. He used to program the rack, full of cassettes that would be played, fired off automatically from the studio. So all the songs were committed from vinyl to cassette at one stage and we played them off a console that had a whole range of buttons and you’d fire off a particular song from a rack in another room. And that was FRED. So it was actually happening with older technology until we went digital later.
Why did you leave Triple M?
Because I had a fantastic offer from Gerald Stone and Peter Charley at Channel 7. They were launching a brand new current affairs program initially called Project X, later unveiled as Real Life, and they were after someone who was going to cover a wide brief from the latest in science, the environment etcetera, so for me it was a perfect fit because I had been doing something similar in radio already. The bonus was flying around the world doing interviews with celebrities.
And they thought you had a good head for TV and were wasted on radio.
Yeah what a hoot. And they made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. It was a fantastic offer.
Had you done any TV before then?
I dabbled, got my feet wet so to speak. I’d done Nightshift on Channel 10 through Triple M, that was Rod Muir’s television rock show which was up against MTV. It went all night on Channel 10. I was presenting that. And I did an INXS documentary which was filmed down at Bondi at one of the big pubs there. That went to television. I did other bits, hosting simulcasts, some Midday Shows on Channel Nine, did commercials for TV promoting K-Tel's Superbad and Rock Explosion albums so I’d stuck my toes in the water.
Were you comfortable in front of the camera?
Initially I found it strange, because with radio, it’s microphone on, instantaneous transmission of the moment. Current affairs television, with the exception of the anchor going live linking the stories or doing the odd live interview on set, is 98 per cent taped so I had to get used to not being as hands on as I was with radio. Once the TV interview was done you’d have to let the story go in its raw state. An editor back in Sydney would create the magic and more often than not you would miss seeing the finished product because we were all going flat chat on the road securing content. It wasn’t the instant transmission of now that I was used to. But Real Life was such a huge buzz. Being part of the launch of a new program was a real rush, our feet didn’t touch the ground for the initial six months. I had to learn a lot very quickly.
So Gerald Stone had left Channel 9, left 60 Minutes.
That’s right, he departed from that iconic show and took on “A Current Affair”. We replaced Hinch. Hinch was one of the two dominant current affairs shows. Channel 7’s plan was to really take it up to A Current Affair and try to dominate the 6.30 to 7.00 news segment. And so with much fanfare and hoopla Real Life with Stan Grant as the anchor, and yours truly as back-up was launched. And for the first six months we were just living in airports and out of suitcases, saying hello to each other through different airport revolving doors, It was frenzied and fantastic.
What a patient wife you’ve had!
Indeed, she’s been my rock of Gibraltar all the way through.
And also you’d had a child.
Yes. Sascha my beautiful son. He changed my life forever. Thankfully we had doting grandparents just down the road, thank god, they helped out a great deal. Irina and I had demanding careers and we couldn’t have raised Sascha without them, they were wonderful.
Television… Once I digested my rapid dose of crash course TV 101 it felt great. It was the right time to exit radio, because I’d done everything I possibly could up to that point, I’d done it all, since 1967-68 up until ’91. So I figured it was time to try something new. I’d been a jock, a programmer, a music director, group news director, I’d consulted, I’d done it all, with the exception of being an exec but I had no desire to go down that road, so the offer from Gerald Stone and Peter Charley came at the right time. Peter was a journalist I hired; when I was news director at Triple M. We employed news correspondents from all over the world, and Peter Charley worked for us in America. He was a real “Indiana Jones” gung ho get the story kind of guy. In fact one of the things we did with Peter Charley was send him to the North Pole to do reports. Anyhow Peter joined up with Gerald Stone at Real Life at Channel 7, he was a big fan of mine and I loved working with him, and that’s where that step into television came.
Were you doing a combination of hard-hitting reports as well as celebrity interviews?
I had a wide brief ranging from celebrity interviews, sports, rock and movie stars, environment, scientific, consumer, medical, I’ll give you an example. When I did Streisand a story broke that was front-page news in London and around the world. In Ireland, a young girl was impregnated by her father. Religious authorities there intervened and refused to let her fly to the UK to have an abortion. As you can imagine all the usual suspects went into battle, pro lifers, women’s rights advocates, religious leaders, politicians. It dominated the media, so being in the neighbourhood we flew into Ireland and did a whole range of interviews including one with the girl at the centre of the storm. So I guess you could define that as one the hard hitting ones.
And you did that for four years and then did the show end?
Yes…Real Life became No Life by 1994. Then Brad March called me offering me the Breakfast news anchor position with Wendy Harmer and the Morning Crew at 2DAY-FM and having admired Wendy, Peter Moon and Holmsey, Paul Holmes, from afar I figured it would be a huge buzz working with some of the very best in the radio business and I was in. I had already done a few cross promotional guest appearances with Wendy and the Crew while I was with Channel Seven so it wasn’t like I was going in cold.
And you didn’t feel, even thought there’d been a gap, that you were kind of betraying Triple M, which had been this great pinnacle if you like, of your radio career?
No, because at that stage Triple M had been decimated, its heritage trashed, so it didn’t resemble the legendary station I left four years previously. Sadly the Ms wasn’t the station that I knew and loved. And so no, there wasn’t any sense of betrayal at all. I still to this day love everything about the time I had at Triple M. But that was a different era the station that I worked at with Mullos and all who sailed aboard the good and great ship 2MMM by that time ceased to exist.
And why had that happened?
Well because eventually it was taken over by people who didn’t understand the rich heritage of Triple M, and they started to dismantle it. Not realising what they were doing. Re-positioning a station that was once dominant in a major market is not easy and a delicate balance is required to face the future without burning the core audience. Because Triple M’s audience were incredibly loyal and they really loved what the station was doing at its absolute peak. Listeners like that can be very forgiving for quite some time but once you start really messing with the music and various elements they loved things can turn ugly, and they did as bit by bit the once remarkable broadcast edifice was chipped away.
Who bought it?
It went through a number of corporate hands and was eventually bought by Austereo.
Which eventually put it together with 2DAY FM.
Exactly, sharing separate floors at Bondi Junction.
And that was one things that I admired about the whole Hoyts Media thing, which was that they actually did appreciate the foundations of Triple M, and you had Glenn Wheatley, anyway, running Hoyts Media.
Glenn was regular visitor. I still remember Glenn coming up during the breakfast show and hanging out.
He’d let Mulray tear him to pieces.
Glenn was cool! He didn’t mind, let’s face it one hadn’t lived until being made the butt of one of Uncle Doug’s jokes. Glenn would come into the newsroom, sit down and we’d just chat. Even though he wasn’t there long he loved the music and understood the ethos of Triple M.
But I know what you mean. Because I stopped listening to Triple M in the ‘90s.
Sadly it’s really a shadow of its former self.
So did you join 2DAY FM when they were still at Crows Nest?
Yes, it was when Wendy Harmer and the crew were just starting to take off eventually establishing themselves as Number One FM Breakfast . Brad wanted me to add that same sort of news presentation and documentary mix that I had with Mulray.
So you didn’t do music at 2DAY FM?
No, I was strictly news and documentaries.
Well you’d really moved full-time into that serious side of broadcasting. Had you ever had an offer from the ABC?
Would you have ever wanted to go there?
Oh, I’m sure if they’d made an offer I certainly would have considered it.
AM or PM or anything like that?
Well, you’re talking about some legendary figures who’ve graced those programs. Look, if I would have had an offer, I would have given it serious consideration. But really I’m purely a commercial animal, always have been.
So when did you work at Channel 10 and Channel 9? What was your involvement with those networks?
Okay, when I was with 2DAY FM I also worked with Kerri-Anne Kennerly on The Midday Show at Channel Nine. I was initially doing movie reviews. There were two of us Davo and Danno (Ian Rodgerson) and we did all their movie reviews. That role changed and I became their environment reporter, because with the award winning documentaries etcetera, that was my background. And so I did that for quite a few years with The Midday Show. Ten was Nightshift as I said, that was the all-night rock show. And I’d done introductions and voice overs for things like Stop The Drop, which was a Channel 10 event, an anti-nuclear rock concert simulcast. There was an INXS documentary, hosting more simulcasts and so on.
Tell me about Sting and The Fight For The Amazon.
That was at Triple M. Sting had flown into Sydney with Raoni, Chief of the Kayapo Indians who live in the heart of the Amazon rainforest; there was also Red Crow, a Dakota Sioux American Indian, and photographer and filmmaker Jean-Pierre Dutilleaux. Anyhow an interview was set up to speak with Sting and companions about their activist campaign to raise awareness about the plight of the Amazon under threat as it was then from massive land clearing to raise beef cattle and what the implications were if it continued at the same pace. The end result was a 90-minute doco that went to air nationally around the Triple M network. Sting was passionate about the cause but we also spoke about the band and as I was wrapping it up I remember asking him, was there one question you’ve never been asked?” He said, “Yeah. Why is your name Gordon Sumner?”
We had a good laugh, the doco went on to win some awards, and whether you think rock stars should keep out of anything bar their music Sting used his high profile to shift much of focus to that part of the world at the right time.
Did you ever interview him with The Police?
Interviewed him solo when he was still with The Police, yeah. Talked about the music.
Do people like that remember you from earlier interviews? They’re interviewed by hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people.
The ones I struck up close relationships with at the time were Bev Bevan from ELO and later Bruce Springsteen. Bev was part of that Silver Jubilee ’77 trip; we flew to Europe and interviewed him, I believe it was Stockholm.
Bev as opposed to Jeff Lynne?
Jeff wasn’t doing many interviews, so Bev was elected the spokesman for the band, and in a way that was good, because he knew everything. He was like Bill Wyman, had an encyclopaedic memory. Could tell you where they were on this day, what session, etc. And so I had a great interview with Bev, he was just brilliant, and then later he said, just like Errol from Hot Chocolate, “You’ve got to come to this club”, which was the Le Chat Noir, the black cat. It was a very exclusive upmarket establishment that among other things featured these statuesque strippers in velvet seats, swinging out over the audience. I maintained contact with Bev and whenever he came Down Under he always wanted catch up do an interview with me. Wonderful for a young jock's ego. In fact he was interviewed by someone else and said words to the effect of, “I’ve got to get in contact with David White, ‘cause he does great interviews.” You’ve got to love an endorsement like that. I’ve actually got it on tape or cassette somewhere.
Were there any musicians that you’d always longed to interview that never happened?
Miles Davis, absolutely. Probably one of the greatest musicians who has ever lived. Would have loved to have interviewed him. And I’d like to talk to, there’s an Australian actor, Colin Friels who starred in a movie called Dingo with him, and I’d like to talk to him about what it was like to work with Miles Davis. I mean, Miles was so far ahead of his time. His Kind Of Blue album was to Jazz what Sgt Peppers was to rock. It was that important and far-reaching. Yeah, I’d have always liked to have sat him in front of the microphone and just chatted with Miles Davis. Obviously Elvis would have been brilliant, but how many people would have loved to have interviewed Elvis? But he didn’t give that many interviews. Colonel Tom kept him cocooned.
When you listen to or watch people interviewing celebrities or world leaders do you get frustrated by the lack of quality in some interviewing?
Only occasionally, because you’ve got to take into account the circumstances in which the interviews are done. Time for prep is absolutely essential and wonderful if you have that luxury, but if you’re on the road running against the tyranny of time sometimes you have to wing it. I faced that on more than a few occasions and you have to improvise. The only time I am critical is when some interviewer lets one of today's well coached, spin doctor prepped politicians off the hook when they should have persisted and nailed them.
Who are the interviewers today that you really admire in Australia?
In a news sense certainly Kerry O’Brien, Andrew Bolt, Chris Uhlmann. I mean, who could not admire Parky? I mean, Michael Parkinson was fantastic; he involved his guests in a great conversation, warm and engaging and it was so watchable. You had to watch Parky work. He was a wonderful interviewer, one of the best I’ve ever seen. And many people share that opinion.
You said that you retired your headphones in 2003. Were you with 2DAY FM up until then?
Yes I was. I hung up the cans right after the last survey of 2003 in late November of that year.
And you never went back to full-time radio?
No, because I listen to FM radio now and I don’t find it a challenge.
It’s been dumbed down.
FM has been dumbed down. I realise management is different and I know that the financial situation is different, and the competition from all manner of online devices is shrinking the slice of the pie, the challenges and competition have changed, Digital’s emerging, all those things, but radio’s ability to fire the imagination is not being utilised. FM in my humble opinion has become almost inconsequential.
This is why 702 is so huge now.
True but even more dominant is 2GB. GB has nailed the Sydney market. I mean, 2GB is providing a great mix of news, sport and talk back radio and FM has never risen to the challenge. FM at least in the Sydney market has always been reluctant to have a real red blooded crack at it. Sure it’s an expensive format what with plenty of producers required to provide the back up needed to support the on air talent, it’s a labour-intensive high cost exercise and let’s face it most of the gun talk back talent is already stitched up under contract. And now that digital’s here maybe a truly innovative FM news talkers time has already passed by.
All that those FM Austereo-type stations around Australia do now is put too many names on the breakfast bill and they all end in O. Somebody O. Even Jackie O.
Look, you know, it’s okay for now, for the audiences that love them, that’s fine, it doesn’t bother me. But when you come through the radio that we’ve come through, it doesn’t compare. The magic’s not there for me, but for today’s listeners who love Kyle and Jackie O, great, that’s fine. But it’s not for me.
Yeah but we had Led Zeppelin, they have Lady Ga Ga.
Well, there you go.
So you’ve done some work in the educational sector.
Lectured and designed courses for the Australian Film Television and Radio School AFTRS, I’ve done community radio lecturing as well, yeah.
Do you like mentoring people?
Absolutely, it’s brilliant. When I was lecturing at AFTRS I was primarily doing an FM news course for them. I designed the FM news module and lectured on it, so I’ve more or less covered that, but it was very satisfying, there’s nothing more exciting than watching someone with talent develop. It’s fantastic when you see them go out and land a job, and realise that it’s all there at their fingertips, if they’ve got the fire in the belly, they can take it as far as they like. To see some of those young students come through was brilliant, I loved every second of it.
But you don’t do that now?
Not now. The last course I designed and did with my colleague, Kathy Evans. Kathy ran the voice agency I used to be with, so we got together and devised a course on how AFTRS students could utilise freelance voice over work as part of their broadcasting career. We lectured on that for about maybe twelve months I think. And it was good, but we’d taken it as far as we could, and it was a great experience, loved every second of it. But no, I haven’t gone back to it.
And you’re doing voice over work?
Oh yeah, obviously not as much as when you’re in your heyday, but I’ve done some station promos with WS with Charlie Fox, did some Leonard Cohen commercials for Sony, and yeah, you know, there’s bits and pieces.
Have you been tempted by digital radio or internet radio, or thought about putting together a series of podcasts on specials that are within that passion of yours, the environment?
Not to a great degree, because I’ve been so busy having a life. There is a major project but that’s still in its developmental stage.
Are you semi-retired?
So what next, then? Will you just sort of bow out bit by bit until they go, what ever happened to that nice chap David White?
That boy who used to have all his teeth and now he’s got no hair and false ones? I’m just going to go on having a great time. As clichéd as that sounds, I love every moment of what I’m doing, whether it’s freelance voice overs, that major project I mentioned or simply sitting down and having time to read a book, watch a movie. I’m currently totally into, have you seen a series called The Shield? Look, one of the most satisfying things about being semi-retired is you have time to do things you never had any time for. For a lot of people this is not a big deal, I’m sure even passé, but I have discovered the only way to watch a TV series is watch them in box set form. I’ve just finished watching The Wire. You’ve got to catch The Wire. Better than movies. The Shield, compelling, beautifully written, the characters are amazing, astonishing stuff. Now I’m getting right into Treme’s second season and The Walking Dead as well. So apart from living a life, running the White House, I have taken on a brand new respect for people that do the domestic thing and look after their homes, because my wife is an executive, in the energy sector, who works full-time, and the boot is now on the other foot. Freelance work aside I’m more often than not on duty here in the White House.
Being a home maker can give one a lot of pleasure, but I can’t see you ever secluding yourself completely from what’s going on in the world.
Well I’m working with a long time colleague on a major project but as I said it’s still in its developmental stage. If we pull it off It’ll be a global one, but that’s about as much as I can say.
So right next to us are all these boxes full of memorabilia, most of which I’m guessing is from the 2SM days. And if you have even more from the Triple M days
Oh I’ve got boxes of Triple M, 2DAY FM and Channel 7 in there.
Do you think that you have enough to mount an exhibition?
Being the absolute PR wizard you are, only you could tell me this.
Well I am about to now embark on a little exploration of some of the David White boxes. And I’d like to thank you so much for sharing your time and your incredible career and wish you all the best for TV watching, book reading, flower arranging and the occasional documentary, too.
Thank you, it’s been an absolute joy to do and you’ve brought back some great, very special memories for me.