Double Jay in 1975In October 1974, more or less by fluke, I got the best job going in Australian radio. With Ron Moss, I was appointed to set up the ABC’s fledgling “young people’s” radio station. This, of course, was Double Jay, which would evolve into Triple J and an Australia-wide network of stations.
The release of The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album in 1967 signalled a change in the music industry and everything else to do with electronic technology. é
Suddenly things were different. The music changed, radio changed, everything changed. But not in Australia, still sleepwalking along on the coat-tails of Bob Menzies.
Australian kids only had high-rotation commercial radio stations to listen to for their pop music. Then ABC TV brought in Countdown and the gap widened a little.
With 2 Double Jay in 1975 the floodgates opened and the whole gamut of the world-wide music industry suddenly became available, ushering in a cultural change of massive proportions.
Gough Whitlam’s gung-ho government was leading Australia on a merry dance and one thing they were determined on was media reform. There had been loud calls for change in the media and the media minister, Senator Doug McClelland, wasn’t handling it very well. Suddenly he announced that the ABC was to be given a couple of new licences, one of which was to be for “young people”.
The next day, I was sitting in a meeting with a couple of ABC executives and Ron Moss, whom I’d only just met. Ron was the producer of Room to Move, an ABC program which had achieved cult status. Presenter Chris Winter’s huge afro and “cool” style ensured maximum identification as ABC radio’s music guru for the new venture.
I was a presenter and producer of various talk shows on Radio 2 (now Radio National), an unpromising qualification to run a rock station. But I had a reputation as a supporter of new directions for radio. Within the week Ron and I had begun work on ideas for the new station.
Fortunately for us, the ABC music library had a huge back catalogue of records, many of which had never been played, but like any library they had a policy of collecting everything. All we had to do was take them out on permanent loan and put them on our shelves.
We had to take a lot of shortcuts. We simply abandoned public service practice and began to beg, borrow and steal.
Ron immediately signed up his friend from the ABC’s music library, Margot Edwards, to start choosing records and my secretary suggested a friend of hers who knew a lot about music and had just returned from the UK. The next day Ron and I interviewed Arnold Frolows for the first time. He was able to come in on a break from his job delivering flowers. We were impressed and asked, “When can you start?” and he went on to shape the musical sound of the station, perhaps more than anyone, as music director until 2003.
Within a week or so we were busy siphoning records from the ABC’s collection and re-cataloguing them for our own.
Next thing the hunt was on for announcers. We already had Chris Winter. Iven Walker was doing a short pop music program and reading the ABC News, and was ready to drop some of the more proper ABC mannerisms. We advertised for staff and, in a break from convention, said we were looking for people who had a “sense of the ridiculous”. This short phrase reaped rich rewards.
Our next recruit was more or less self-selected. Ron told me we were having lunch with a mystery announcer from a rival station and the whole thing had to be handled with the utmost secrecy. It turned out to be the well-known “Bill Drake” from 2SM – only his real name was actually Holger Brockmann and he’d been given the name Bill Drake by the program director who thought a German-sounding name would put off a predominantly Anglo audience. We thought the Bill Drake thing was ridiculous and told Holger that if he worked for us he could use his real name. An hour after lunch, we had a call to say that when Holger got back to work he’d been challenged about where he’d been, fessed up and was sacked on the spot. And so we acquired our third announcer, who spoke the first words on the new station.
Another of our recruits, Mike Parker, decided to be shrouded in mystery, chose to broadcast under the alias of “The Magus” and was only ever pictured behind a mask.
We desperately needed a good breakfast announcer. We did not have huge amounts of cash, but we could offer one of the most interesting gigs going, with virtually unlimited creative freedom. One of the airchecks we had was from a loose cannon in Newcastle and we knew he was our man. We found Alan McGirvan, who was nothing like anyone on Sydney radio, and who would set the scene for years to come. McGirvan would be joined on air by Captain Goodvibes, the Pig of Steel and a cast of characters too ugly to spit at.
By November we had begun to gather a small group around us. We had some office space, no furniture to speak of, but some nice empty offices where we could begin stacking records. Once the phones were on we were really away.
We were given a frequency almost off the radio dial – 1540 Khz – and then told by the sad old men in grey cardigans at the Broadcasting Control Board that we could only broadcast for 12 hours a day. They’d discovered a transmitter at Blenheim in New Zealand broadcasting on the same frequency. We might interfere with their broadcast and cause an international dispute.
By this stage our excitement levels were high and our growing team was not impressed. After we discovered that the NZ station only broadcast a few hours a week, we threatened to go on strike and not open the station – even though we had no secure jobs. More headlines and the edict was rescinded.
We had a hell of a time trying to decide on the call sign. As the deadline of January 19 approached, we had a number of committee meetings to consider it. We tried 2 RK (sounded a bit like rock) but nothing seemed to jell. I thought the double letters would be original if nothing else. And so we tried “AA” and then “BB” and so on. I think that by the time we got to “JJ” we were all so bored with the process we thought that would have to do and we went to lunch.
Naturally 2JJ, or 2 Double Jay as it was known, immediately became the stuff of legend. People thought it was meant to represent everything imaginable about the drug culture prevalent at the time, because a “jay”, of course, was a “joint”.
The rush to the final countdown was marred by the fact that the ABC suddenly decided it would have to censor the rocket ship design we had on advertising billboards. It was meant to symbolise the out-of-this-world experience to be provided by the station but was deemed to be a bit too phallic. But at a a press conference with ABC management to announce the station opening the following week, we quietly arranged to have the artwork in the background for journalists to see. Nobody even mentioned it and the ABC bosses quietly dropped the whole thing.
The studios were still being worked on when we began broadcasting from the old wartime bunkers below the ABC’s building in Forbes Street. Ron said the secret first track was going to be a “ripper”. A crowd of hangers-on and executives cheered as the final countdown reached a crescendo.
The atmosphere was electric as the clock struck 11am, Holger welcomed us to the world of 2JJ and we thrilled to the opening chords of The Skyhooks’ You Just Like Me ‘Cos I’m Good in Bed.
Triple J celebrates 40 years with the Beat the Drum concert in the Domain on Friday.