MILESAGO - Media - Radio
The First Year
"The studio had been left in an extremely disreputable condition, with many cigarette butts stubbed into the carpet, empty beer cans, bottles and wine flagons. The stench of sour liquor was very obvious."
Extract from an ABC internal memo
"If the Minister were dinkum he'd pick up this piece of garbage between finger and thumb and get rid of it."
Gordon Leed, Radio 6PR Perth
"... perhaps the least loveable offsrping spawned by the ABC."
B&T, 10 March 1975
Sydney radio station 2JJ -- Double Jay, a it was universally known -- was one of the last legacies of the progressive media policies of the Whitlam Labor government (1972-75). Its establishment at the beginning of 1975 revolutionised Sydney radio and marked the start of a new era of Australian broadcasting, and the pioneering and often controversial station eventually became the foundation stone of today's Triple J national FM radio network.
Fine and mild
Before the watershed of the Labor reforms in 1974-75, Australian radio was a closed shop -- rigidly controlled, conservative and for the most part, frankly rather dull. An all-powerful government authority, the Broadcasting Control Board, administered policy, set technical standards and supervised content for commercial radio and TV. Under the BCB's conservative regime, Australian had to wait until 1975 to gain access to stereo FM radio and colour television -- technologies that had been established for years, even decades, in other countries. Prior to 1974 in Australia, all professional radio programs were broadcast in mono on the AM radio band and the FM band was used exclusively for television broadcasts, which were also in mono.
Australian radio was locked into the two-tiered system established in the 1930s. One tier was the network of local and national stations of the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC). The other was the clique of powerful and enormously profitable commercial radio stations. From the inception of radio in Australia, tight governmental control worked in concert with the lobbying power of the commercial stations to keep Australia bound to this two-tiered system.
This does not mean that was no pressure for chance. For years, community and ethnic groups had pressured the government to provide a third tier. They argued that:
"...the radio frequency spectrum was a natural resource that didn't alter because of national boundaries. If countries like the USA had literally thousands of stations on the AM band, why couldn't Australia? And if they had over a thousand FM stations, why couldn't we? Of course, the answer was that the only thing stopping us was the control board's restrictive planning criteria." (Westerway, 1996)
Keen to protect their lucrative oligopoly, the commercial sector lobbied hard and long against diversification. They disingenuously and quite falsely claimed that the AM band could not carry any more stations, that the FM band should be reserved solely for television broadcasts, and that Australia (unlike all other countries) should use the UHF band for FM radio. The commercial broadcasters exerted considerable influence over government policy, and over the Control Board which, according to Peter Westerway, had itself been set up specifically because of pressure from commercial licensees. This ensured that commercial radio's cosy cartel remained unchallenged until the last year of the Whitlam government.
The Sydney radio scene in
1974 was representative of the structure in the capital cities
that had been in place since 1932. There were two ABC stations
and six commercial stations, all on the AM band:
THE LABOR INNOVATIONS
In 1974 It was the progressive policies introduced by the Whitlam government's Media ministers, Senator Doug McLelland, and his successor, Dr Moss Cass led the charge, shaking up the moribund Australian media with this series of radical initiatives that aimed ot enable Australia to catch up with overseas innovations like FM, and which eventually put Australia ahead of the rest of the world in some ways. McClelland and Cass acted to open up both the FM frequency band (then only being used for TV broadcasts) and the AM band, as part of their policy on minority and public acess to the media. Realising that the Control Board's complex and expensive licensing processes could have held up the process for years, Moss Cass cut the Gordian knot. By exploiting a loophole in the ancient (1905) Wireless Telegraphy Act he was able to issue temporary experimental community broadcasting licences in each state.
"In fact, the minister's manouevre may well have been illegal. But it was never challenged in court and it was effective. Community radio stations were licensed in both the AM and FM bands, ranging through fine music stations (like 2MBS and 3MBS) to stations based on educational institutions (such as 5UV Adelaide and 2MCE FM Bathurst) to student stations like 4ZZZ Brisbane and an even more radical innovations like the ethnic stations, 2EA Sydney and 3EA Melbourne." (Westerway, 1996)
Labor's other vital innovation was the licencing of two new AM stations for the ABC, one in Sydney -- 2JJ -- and one in Melbourne -- 3ZZ (which was later closed down). McClelland also set up the McLean Committee to inquire into Australian broadcasting. The committee's report , tabled in early 1974, completely rejected the claims of the the commercial lobby and the government accepted its recommendations, including the finding that Australia should use the 88-108 MHz band for FM broadcasting.
After the McLean report was handed down, Whitlam assigned members of his Priorities Review Staff to look at all aspects of the allocation of radio frequencies. They reported in August that year, endorsing McLean's main recommendation to create a new pluralistic model for the local industry, one which would create "a structure of stations varyiing from place to place around Australia, providing for general and sectional needs." They rejected McLean's proposal that new stations be run by the Dapartment of the Media but enthusiastically seconded his recommendation for the establishment of a series of new publicly-funded community stations.
In September, Sen. McClelland announced that Cabinet had agreed to offer the ABC two new stations, one each in Sydney and Melbourne, and this offer was quickly accepted. At the suggestion of David White of the PM's office, and Peter Martin from McClelland's office, the ABC chose to dedicate the Sydney station decided to contemporary rock and pop music, aimed at the 18-25 age group, providing "a wide range of popular music in the rock, jazz, pop and folk fields" while Melbourne would be a community access station. Both stations were considered experimental and their performance was to be reviewed after 12 months.
SAME AS IT EVER WAS
To understand the almost revolutionary impact of Double Jay, it's important to realise just how conservative Australian radio was in the postwar years. Until 1975, there were only two ABC stations and six commercial radio stations each in Sydney and Melbourne - all on the AM band. There were even fewer in other capitals, regional centres and country towns. Incredibly, there had been no new licences issued in any Australian capital city since 1932!
After the brief heyday of the mid-60s 'beat boom', commercial pop radio had become repetititve, conservative and derivative, locked into strict programming regimes and largely dependant on trite, formulaic presentation and promotional concepts imported from the USA -- a 'tradition' which continues to this day with second-hand, second-rate ideas like "The Morning Crew".
The ABC of the late '50s and '60s was, musically speaking, quite conservative, and slow to pick up on the massive success and popularity of rock and pop music, although its broad charter and national audience made a "middle of the road" music policy more or less inevitable. But by the late 60s and early 70s things began to change as new, younger staff began to move into presentation and production. Even so, only a tiny amount of the ABC's total airtime was devoted to modern music, and the few selections aired were carefully selected so as not to offend older or more conservative listeners.
Because of the structural peculiarities, Australia also missed out on some of the important developments that affected radio and popular music in Europe and America. The Australian system was structurally somewhat freer than in the UK where the BBC completely dominated radio until the late Sixties. But Australia experienced nothing like the heady experimentalism of pirate stations like Radio Caroline, Radio Essex and Radio London or even New Zealand's Radio Hauraki . We also lacked other important influences -- the powerful European stations like Radio Luxembourg, which broadcast all over the Continent and into the UK, and the equally far-reaching broadcasts of the Armed Forces Network and Voice Of America, which introduced jazz, R&B and blues to so many European listeners.
Although Australia had a fully government-funded national public broadcasting system -- which America did not -- our relatively small population meant that we had nothing to rival the remarkable diversity of US commercial radio, where there were dozens of commercial stations in every major city, many of which were entirely devoted to specific genres like jazz, gospel and country. In addition there was a national public radio network (supported by a mix of government, corporate and listener funding) and scores of community access and college radio stations.
Another crucial influence in the development of rock & roll music in the US and Canda was the southern and mid-western stations which pumped out blues, R&B and country music, often in live broadcasts. Their enormously powerful transmitters could reach across thousands of square miles of the central USA and far into Canada, and like Voice of America did in Europe, the midwestern stations introduced many future music stars to the music of the original country, blues, R&B and rock'n'roll artists.
Room To Move
2JJ was specifically created in response to the perceived need to provide an alternative to commercial pop/rock radio for the 18-25 age group, but its establishment was the culmination of a gradual process in the ABC over the previous decade. Although the general trend was conservative -- especially in commerical radio -- the ABC's wide-ranging charter to "inform, educate and entertain" nevertheless enabled it to pioneer some notable programming innovations.
In 1971 the ABC launched Room To Move on Radio 1 (now Radio National). It was hosted by Chris Winter, and produced by Ron Moss, both of whom would figure prominently in the early history of Double Jay. Winter had droppped out of university and moved in to music, mixing the sound for the stage production of HAIR before joining the ABC as a presenter in 1969. Behind the scenes, musician Keith Glass and collector and historian David "Dr Pepper" Pepperell (founders of pioneering Melbourne import shop Archie & Jughead's) played an important role in the show's early stages, advising and guiding Moss and Winter in their choices of material.
Named after a John Mayall track, the show drew on programming ideas from UK pirate radio, American AOR ("album oriented rock") FM stations, college radio, and John Peel's famous BBC radio show The Perfumed Garden. Room To Move played the lastest alternative and progressive music from Australia and overseas -- tracks which almost never got an airing on the commericals. It avoided singles in favour of album tracks and premiered entire album sides from new LPs like as Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells, and Jethro Tull's Thick As A Brick, which were specifically designed to be heard as a single piece, and which were only heard on commercial radio in drastically edited form.
The rationale for the show was obvious: developments in music overseas were simply not being reflected in the playlists of the commercial stations
"The Good Guys"
Shows like Room To Move highlighted the generally parlous state of Australian commerical rock programming in the early '70s. There was a variety of factors involved, but the net result was that in the late '60s and early '70s Australian radio was one of the dullest listens in the western media.
In Australian commerical radio in the late Sixties and early Seventies there was a trend towards a narrow focus on ratings and highly structured, aggressively marketed programming styles, and playlists aimed sqaurely at affluent young Australians, especially teenage girls. Commercial playlists were controlled with almost mechanical precision, compiled according to American-devised market research methods which tended to reinforce repetition and familiarity at the expense of novelty and diversity. Daily playlists on Top 40 radio rarely exceeded fifty songs. Indeed, during its heyday in the early Seventies, the prime-time playlist on Sydney's 2SM reputedly comprised twenty songs or less, and at peak times there could be as few as 10-15 songs on high rotation.
Commercial radio relied on targeted audience polls, and the inherent biases in the methods of audience research made these surveys more or less a self-fulfilling prophecy. Material which fell outside the arbitrary rules followed by programmers rarely made the cut, and were usually relegated to late-night 'graveyard' shifts or at weekends. Singles were almost universally the format of choice, and this trend persisted here long after album tracks had become a major feature overseas. Consequently, many album tracks which became hits overseas were almost never heard here -- Led Zeppelin, who never released singles, are a perfect illustration. Anything exceeeding the standard 3 -4 minute duration was generally disregarded -- although admittedly there were occasional exceptions like The Beatles' HeyJude, Russell Morris' The Real Thing, T-Rex's Hot Love, Led Zeppeplin's Kashmir..
There was some leeway for presenters' personal choices, but nothing like the freedom formerly enjoyed by presenters like Rofe and Austin. In general any music deemed "non-commerical" was simply not played, and this meant that over the years many important musical genres were ignored. It also must be said that, consciously or not, there was a degree of racism involved. Prominent casualties included many of the emerging black music styles of the 60s and 70s, like urban blues, soul, R&B and funk. Artists like Hendrix, James Brown, Stax, Motown, Atlantic, etc, were practically never played. Reggae was another classic example -- although it was a major force in the UK by 1975, thanks to the huge success of Bob Marley, it had no impact whatsoever in Australia until the establishment of Double Jay. Other non-commercial styles like the progressive rock of the early '70s were just as much ignored -- and this regrettably applied to many top-line Australian acts like Company Caine and Spectrum.
Another restricting factor was the cosy relationship between commercial stations and the large overseas-owned record labels. The payola scandals of the '50s did not end the corruption; it merely became subtler. It was all too easy for record companies to influence programmers, and as a result, Australian radio tended to slavishly followed overseas trends, often ignoring the wealth of local talent at their disposal. This problem was tacitly encouraged by the toothless local content regulations, a fault not properly addressed until the advent of the Whitlam government.
Censorship was another area of serious concern. In all areas of the media, the so-called "censorship wars" had been raging during the 1960s. Notable skirmishes included the now-legendary court cases to suppress Oz magazine, both here and in the UK, the battles over banned books like Philip Roth's novel Portnoy's Complaint, the Swedish film I Am Curious Yellow, the musical The Boys In The Band, and Alex Buzo's stage play Norm and Ahmed.
Needless to say, pop music did not escape the censors' notice. Any lyrical content construed as advocating drug use would result in instant banning, such as befell The Byrds' Eight Miles High in the US. Lines which would pass totally unnoticed today were often classified as obscene. Expressions as coy as "making love" could result in the song being bleeped, or having the sound briefly "dropped out" if it was lucky enough to get to air. Blatant sex or drug references, "bad" language or blasphemy would result in an instant ban -- The Bentbeaks' 1967 single Caught Red Handed was banned by Melbourne radio for alleged obscenity; The Easybeats' Heaven and Hell likewise fell foul of US censors in 1968 because of the line "discovering someone else in your bed" and in 969 Flying Circus' seemingly harmless debut single Hayride was threatened with a similar ban when it was released in New Zealand.
One of the worst culprits was Sydney's 2SM, in which the majority shareholder was the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney. Throughout the '60s and well into '70s the church's rigid censorship of the the playlist resulted in many famous songs being heavily censored or banned outright. Famous vicitms included The Beatles' Ballad of John & Yoko (at first banned, later bleeped because of its use of the word "Christ" in the chorus), Lou Reed's Walk On The Wild Side (banned for the reference to "giving head") and even The Hollies' Too Young To Be Married (banned for its theme of premarital sex).
Probably the most important difference between commercial radio and Double Jay was who paid for it. When the Whitlam government came to power in December 1972 one of its first actions was to abolish TV and radio licence fees, which had previously formed a significant portion of the ABC's budget, and the national brodacaster swtiched to a system of direct budget allocation. This was obviously a popular move at the time, but it became apparent in the post-Whitlam era that with the removal of this independent fundng source, the ABC became reliant on the good graces of the incumbent government.
As a special unit of the ABC, 2JJ was commercial free, and therefore no requirement to answer to or appease sponsors and advertisers. For commercial stations, ratings were the "prime directive", and the sole indicator of success. Ratings gave advertisers a gauge (however accurate, or not) of how many people were listening to the station at any given time, providing benchmark by which they could set their advertising rates. This advertising income was of course what kept the stations on air, and for a successful station it could be (to borrow the old newspaper phrase) a "river of gold". The reliance on finding the winning formula to attract listeners led to a situation that stifled choice, and where significant trends in local and overseas music were never heard on Australian radio.
"The Head Of The Dial"
Against this background the ABC launched a bold experiment in late 1974: to establish Australia's first non-commercial 24-hour radio station devoted to entirely to rock music. It was set up as an autonomous unit, under the control of the ABC's Contemporary Radio Unit, which had overseen earlier programs like Room To Move. It was to be relatively independent, and run by two staff-elected coordinators, an organisational model that influenced the development of THE COMING OUT SHOW.
The budget for Double Jay's first year was just under $800,000,-- $500,000 on salaries for the thirty-strong staff and the rest on running expenses. Double Jay has traditionally been portrayed as starved of resources and funding, which was true to an extent -- staff certainly had to scrounge equiment and the station had to make do for many years with one of 2BL's emergency (AM band) transmitters, which had a limited range and specific transmission "blind spots inmany areas of Sydney, especailly the North Shore. But as ABC historian Kenneth Inglis suggests, this was a considerable investment in ABC terms, especially when compared to the budget for the TV pop show COUNTDOWN, which was only a fraction of Double Jay's funding -- remarkably, COUNTDOWN subsisted on a mere $5000 per week, about 1/3 of Double Jay's weekly budget.
The new station was given premises in the basement of the ABC building at 171 William St, close to the ABC's Studio 221, a renovated church hall often used for live drama, just up the stairs in neighbouring Clapton Place. Double Jay quickly took the space over for its innovative weekly live concert broadcasts.
The first station coordinators were Marius Webb and Ron Moss. Webb, a former member of ABC Special Projects under Allan Ashbolt, had worked mainly on talk programs. Moss had been the producer of Room To Move and Rock On Sunday. The new team took on the task of providing a desperately-needed alternative to the Top 40 programming which dominated the commercial pop stations.
Double Jay took its lead from earlier ABC programs like Room To Move, and from overseas radio innovations like the new American album-oriented rock format. Although ostensibly required to earn ratings in their target 18-25 age group, Double Jay deliberately pursued a very eclectic programming policy. In an interview with Margaret McIntyre of the Sydney Sunday Telegraph, published on Double Jay's first day day of broadcasting, Webb and Moss were outspoken in their views on the restrictive nature of commercial pop radio, and displayed a certain amount of glee in proclaiming Double Jay's freedom from this perceived 'tyranny':
Marius Webb: "... one of the troubles with commerical radio is that the most creative thing about it is the advertising. There are so many really creative people, writers, producers, musicians, tied up with the advertising side that they work for the advertisers, not the audience. Commerical radio is selling and packaging a product. They are delivering unfortunately, with a minimal amount of entertainment, an audience to an advertiser who wants to sell something.
One of the most exciting aspects of 2JJ is the respect it has for its audience. It sees them as people whose musical tastes have been ignored by commerical radio - people who will choose to listen to good and varied music rather than 40 or so recycled throughout the day.
Commerical radio at the moment is like a spectator sport. It is totally non-involving. It really doesn't even need to be listened to. We want to provide creative radio that involves the listeners as much as people. People should feel that 2JJ is their station."
Ron Moss: "We really want to style the station on the values of its audience. As a result of this attitude, 2JJ's musical policy is far bolder than that of its commercial counterparts.. Under the category of roock they include folk, blues, Jamaican blues (Reggae), soul and jazz. We aim to reflect the tastes of our audience and to do that we have to remain flexible.
For instance last year when Stephane Grapelli was in Australia I was amazed by the number of young people who attended his concerts. In such a case we have to change our programming accordingly. Obviously there is a market for it so we will program it. In this we are luckier than our competitors.
They are continually going for the greatest audience potential which in practice usually means they aim at the lowest common demoninator. We don't mind if at certain times we have low audiences What we are after is an overall large audience but at times we can afford to cater to minority musical tastes as well."
[Sydney Sunday Telegraph, January 19 1975, p.73]
With its new call sign - 2JJ - it began broadcasting from the William St studios. The historic first broadcast, at a frequency of 1540 kHz on the AM band, began on 19 January 1975 at 11am, broadcasting 24 hours per day (becoming the first ABC station to do so).
Media and public interest was high, and was fanned by canny marketing. Futuristic sci-fi inspired artwork on promotional posters proclaimed the new station as "The Head Of The Dial" -- a druggy pun based on the fact that, at 1540 kHz Double Jay was at the extreme upper end of the local AM broadcast frequency band. It was also a dig at its nearest neighbour, 2SM, Sydney's most popular commercial station which promoted itself as "The Top of The Dial". Another smart move was the scheduling of the opening in the latter half of the December-January NSW school/university holidays, ensuring high exposure in their target audience.
With its first song, Double Jay boldly proclaimed its rebellious stance. After a pre-recorded intro including audio excerpts from the launch of Apollo 11, the station kicked off with an inspired choice which instantly passed into legend. The song selected as the first to be played on-air was Skyhooks' You Just Like Me 'Cause I'm Good in Bed, the opening track from their landmark LP Living In The Seventies. Programming this song as the first track on the first day of broadcast - and on the Sabbath, no less! - caused an instant furore -- a fact which no doubt delighted the mischievous wowser-baiters at Double Jay.
But the choice of that band and track also carried clear political messages about Double Jay's attitude and intentions. Skyhooks was a new Australian band -- from Melbourne -- who had recently signed to independent label Mushroom. Their controversial debut LP (produced by former Daddy Cool leader Ross Wilson) had been released a few months earlier and was already well on the way to becoming the most successful Australian recording ever released. Most significantly, six of its ten tracks (including ...Good in Bed) had been banned by commerical radio because of sexual or drug references. Double Jay's blatant flouting of the commericial stations "gentleman's agreement" on censorship was seen as a deliberate act of provocation, made all the more rankling to the commercials because Double Jay (being part of the ABC) was not subject to the Broadcasting Control Board's regulations.
The other clear signal of Double Jay's alternative direction was its choice of on-air personnel. Although some of this might seem trivial now, it was a major step in breaking down some of the long-standing hypocrisies in Australian radio. This was signalled from the outset: the first DJ on air on 19 January was Holger Brockman, an ex-2SM presenter who had previously been obliged to use the assumed name of "Bill Drake" (based, one must asssume, on the assumption that non-Anglo-Saxon names somehow frighten, offend or confuse "Australian" audiences).
Double Jay's original on-air team was drawn from both the ABC and commercial radio. The roster included several prominent defectors from commercial radio: Graeme Berry had previously worked with 5KA Adelaide and 3XY Melbourne, and was a pioneer of the "album show" format on commercial radio; Brockmann and George "Groover" Wayne were former 2SM "Good Guys"; Mike Parker and Alan McGirvan were from commercial stations in Perth. The ABC contingent included Moss, Webb and Room To Move's Chris Winter.
Gender equity was another major breakthough. Although somewhat more common now, Double Jay was, amazingly enough, the first Australian pop station (and one of the first in the world) to employ a female announcer. In this case the line honours went to Gayle Austin, a former program coordinator and producer for talkback czar John Laws and religious broadcaster Father Jim McLaren. Although there were still barriers to be broken (Austin was at first relegated to late-night timeslots) it was an important step forward.
The station's programming policy strongly favoured local artists; from the outset Double Jay had the highest Australian content of any station in the county, and live music broadcasts of performances by local bands quickly became an staple of their programming. Original comedy was another a major component, including contributions from the Aunty Jack team ("Nude Radio"); the team of Gary Reilly and Tony Sattler wrote the sketch comedy "The Naked Vicar Show" (later transferred to Radio 1) and the parody sci-fi serial "Chuck Chunder Of The Space Patrol", as well as numerous fake ads. There was also a string of soap opera parodies, penned under the pseudonym 'Fiona Wintergreen' -- "Jealous Throbs The Heart", "Throb Forward Cruel Heart", "Damned Is My Desire", "Rapture Be My Witness", and (a few years later ) the classic Brideshead spoof "Brunswick Heads Revisited".
If the opening day raised eyebrows, conservative fears of moral decay were soon realised in spectacular fashion. In Februrary, Double Jay broadcast the ground-breaking audio-verite series "The Ins and Outs Of Love", which presented frank first-hand accounts by young people of their sexual experiences. Media critic Clement Semmler was appalled by the show's "disgustingly explicit accounts of the sexual behavoiur of young teenagers". The series unleashed a torrent of complaints and it was even mentioned in Parliament. The controversy led to it being reviewed by the ABC Board in April and they issued a mild reprimand. According to Kenneth Inglis, the series was also
"...the subject of a delicate exchange between the Chairman of the Control Board and [ABC Chair] Downing over the Board's difficulty in enforcing on commercial stations standards not accepted by the ABC, and the Commission's right to ignore the Board's views if it chose."
Throughout its AM years, Double Jay was beset by reception problems, although its transmitter location also had some unexpected benefits. Double Jay used the relatively low-powered 2BL emergency transmitter which broadcast from the ABC tower at Gore Hill. Reception around town was patchy at best; it was best in the western and southern suburbs, and worst in the eatern and inner northern suburbs. But under the right conditions the carrying power of the AM signal was considerable, since AM signals could bounce off the ionosphere at night and travel much further than FM. This meant that Double Jay could be picked up from a significant distance away and it soon had regular nightly listeners west to the Blue Mountains and beyond, and well up and down the coast to Newcastle and Wollongong.
Despite the reception problems, the station made an immediate impact. As early as July, ratings surveys indicated that it had already gained almost 6 percent of the total audience. Best of all -- for Double Jay -- the ratings showed that 22 percent of its target audience in the 18-25 age group were regular listeners, making it the second highest rating rock station in Sydney -- much to the chagrin of 2SM.
Jonathan Dawson (1992)
'JJJ: radical radio?'
from Continuum: The Australian Journal of Media & Culture; Vol. 6 No 1
Bruce Elder & David
Radio With Pictures!: The History of Double Jay AM and JJJ-FM
Hale & Ironmonger, Sydney
Ken Inglis (1983)
This Is The ABC: The Australian Broadcasting Commission 1932-83
Melbourne University Press
Marius Webb (1981)
Radio On: Music In The Air
from The Australian Music Directory 1981-82; Peter Beilby & Michael Roberts (eds)
Peter Westerway (1996)
At the Cutting Edge - 24 Years of Community Broadcasting
Paper delivered at the CBAA Virtual Conference