Frank Avis Continues His Radio Story as Sydney Goes FM In 1980

Frank Avis by | January 13, 2009 | 1980s

2MMM was centred I think it was the 25th floor of this super high-rise building in Bondi Junction.
2MMM was centred I think it was the 25th floor of this super high-rise building in Bondi Junction.

Tom O'Donohue, who was the technical consultant at 3MP back in the 70's, was doing the same job at MMM. I remember Frank Mancini was the Chief Engineer. Cherie Romaro, from 6PR, was PD with Tony Hartney assisting, along with Keith (Chooky) Fowler and I'm not sure whether Gerry O'Shea was there. He was definitely at 2DAY FM with Cherie later on. We had my mate Tim Webster on air, along with Bob Hughes, Keith Williams, I think George Moore was there and I'd poached Terry Mabb, as our Chief reader, and Jason Wayne as our "on the road" specialist over from 2GB. Jim Carroll joined us as Terry's back-up in Breakfast.

Rod Muir of course was the charismatic el supremo: he was MMM.

Our newsroom was virtually the end of a passageway which was our main working area. But we did have an excellent newsbooth with direct sight to the studio suite.

I think it was set it up really well and it worked efficiently from day one.

It took some time to get to air and there was a lot of tension in the place, as I recall, but at the same time it was also very aggressive and positive as our rock and roll playlist pounded out around the building.

I've got to say the MMM music was fantastic, especially our main thematic chosen to launch the station.

You'd come out of the lift, up near the top of this high-rise building and the R AND R would be pounding out. There was a lot of pressure on Cherie about the playlist, as I recall, but from my perspective it wasn't the music that held MMM back. It was just history. It took a while for FM to settle-in in Sydney, indeed in most cities, and even longer for the figures to start showing up on the ratings sheets.

And the view was fantastic. I hope my imagination isn't taking over here, but I'm sure Terry Mabb called the start of the Sydney-Hobart yacht race from the newsroom windows and then walked across to the other side of the building to report on the yachts as they zoomed down the coast. Don't take that as gospel: I could be going senile. But the vista from the MMM building was sensational. Has anyone operated in a more beautiful city?

I wasn't unhappy with our product. We tried to be a bit tongue-in-cheek. I did a deal with one of the Sunday papers for a special 5PM feature on Friday nights, with their social columnist reporting on where all the "beautiful people" would be going on the weekend. We had a lot of fun with that.

I would like to report on another major story we did in that time, describing the unusual technique I used which I felt worked really well. Again, I'm not mentioning this for personal glory. I add my traditional rider that I can really only report the behind-the-scenes stuff of WHAT I DID. I can't comment on the methodology of others.

Anyway, get on with it.

President Reagan had been wounded in an assassination attempt and we actually had incredibly detailed descriptions of where the bullet had lodged, what sort of bullet it was etc etc as he went into emergency surgery.

I'm always looking for "lateral thinking" in these cases and this time I opted for something rather unusual. I rang a major Sydney hospital and asked if they had a surgeon on duty who might comment publically on the operation. To my surprise I was put through to one of the city's top cardiac surgeons.

I said to him I was hoping to get his comments on air about the operation. I expected him to tell me to "get lost" but he actually liked the idea. He laughed and said he'd need to get some detailed information and I was able to read him the AAP copy describing exactly where the bullet had lodged.

He then started to put his thoughts together and I could hear him saying, "Oh, they'll have to go in via the (some technical name for a body part) and, gee, they'll have to be really careful there because they can't hit the (another technical name)..." He was rambling on, rehearsing the operation in his head, so he could give me some sort of meaningful analysis of what the surgeons over there were facing.

Suddenly, I'm listening to him and I said, "Do that... Don't give me a summary... Do the operation for us on MMM NEWS... Just simplify for us and tell us what the doctors have to do."

And he did. So, as the doctors operated on President Reagan, MMM NEWS had a leading surgeon describing exactly what they were doing. I read the SMH the following day, which carried a detailed description of the operation, and our surgeon had got it spot on.

I still think this is as good a story as I've ever been involved in. We took the story and transported our audience right into the middle of the drama. This one is up there with the best. (How I wish I'd been programming a News and Information station that day...)

When it went to air, I think Terry Mabb was reading, I sat in the newsroom and waited for someone to run into the newsroom and say, "That was brilliant." And I waited and waited. We hardly got one word of praise from within. I still find that stunning. The only reaction I ever received was a phone call from another Sydney News Director (really nice bloke) who simply laughed and said, "You bastard," and then hung up still laughing.

To be fair, I don't think news was a MMM priority. It was the music so I guess we couldn't expect people to be hanging on our every word. In fact, something very unusual happened just a week or so before we went to air. Rod was taking one of our shareholders, radio celebrity Bob Rogers, on a tour of the building.

He brought him into the little newsroom and said, "And this is our news department," to which Bob responded, "What do we need news for?" and walked off.

So, I think we have to accept that it was the music which was the 1,.2 and number3 priority at MMM.

And I say again, I absolutely loved the playlist. The music was marvelous.

There is one interesting sidelight to the Reagan shooting. The John Lennon assassination was also a huge story during my tenure at MMM. Of course it was much easier to merge our news coverage into the station's programming, because of the stature of the victim in the musical world.

So it should have sounded pretty good, overall. But the truth is our news coverage was absolutely traditional... Dead straight... I just couldn't find any inventive way of doing the story, so we did it just like everybody else, including a couple of the dreaded "voicers" from LA.

When I got home that night I thought, "Boy, that was ordinary... Very, very ordinary."

Imagine how embarrassed I was when I found myself being congratulated by senior management on how we tackled the story. I even got a really nice memo from Rod saying how good it was.

I didn't have the heart to tell them that it was just about the most predictable effort we could have given them: nobody listening in would remember any part of it in six months time. I'll bet a few remembered the Reagan coverage a lot longer than that.

Now for the difficult part. It was becoming increasingly obvious to me that the lifestyles of Frank Avis and MMM were increasingly moving poles apart. I offer no further comment on this issue except to say that I discussed my problem with the news staff and told them I'd decided to get out. Needless to say we had a few intense discussions but in the end I decided to get out as quickly as possible. I'd known Brendan Sheedy since 3AK days and he had now taken over Mike Willesee and Graham Kennedy's 2 DAY FM at Crows Nest. Brendan needed the newsroom set up and I put my hand up as the man to do it.

There was a difficult period of legal debate as Rod demanded I serve out my full resignation term, and I know Brendan Sheedy was placed under a lot of pressure. But, it was resolved in the end and I was able to make the move to Sydney's other FM'er, 2 DAY FM, situated, was it on the 3rd floor, of a motel-office complex on the Highway at Crows Nest.

I can tell you one thing... The view was a lot different.

At least, we had a hospital next door, in case it all became too much for me.

The 2 DAY FM adventure will be the next chapter of my radio story which will also feature the "worst decision I've ever made" as I break one of the cardinal rules of the industry.

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Trevor Harwood

by Trevor Harwood | December 23, 2017

Hi Frank,
Just read your memories of MMM. I was the fellow that built the station. I worked with Tom O'donohue and I got Frank Mancini the job there. Rod Muir wanted me to be the chief engineer, but I wanted to continue building stations, not maintaining them. Anyway great memories.


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About me

This is the history of radio newsman Frank Avis who worked in the Australian electronic media from 1954 to 1996.


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