It was the early 80's and I'd made the move from Bondi Junction to Crows Nest - MMM to 2DAY FM.
Part owner Graham Kennedy continued to call it TWO DAY FM despite our recommendation that it was TODAY FM, essentially for marketing purposes, but THE KING just wouldn't have it. I'd had a bit of contact with Kennedy since XY in the 60’s and he always remained totally supportive of my career. He was a very nice, extremely quiet bloke who did some hilarious routines on his old XY show.
Ask Producer Brian Newington about those days: he would have a stack of very funny memories.
When I got to 2 DAY, it really didn't take long to organize the newsroom and start putting out a moderately decent product, especially as news started out essentially as a peak-hour component.
Brendan Sheedy was in charge and if I remember correctly he soon hired Cherie Romaro to run programming along with Tony Hartney and Gerry O'Shea. Noel McGurgan was the Sales chief, but soon to take over as Chief Executive. I'm trying to remember the on air staff in those early days. I'm sure Laurie Bennett, from XY, was there and I know Tim Webster came over later on, but my memory is a big vague after that.
The Chief Engineer was The Admiral Graham Greenwood and he had organized the station to utilize an automatic system, which meant the station could run for hours without an actual "live" presenter.
Everything was mixed in the Control room, which included all of the music, commercials and the announcer “drop ins”, pre-taped prior to the shift.
It was good in theory and probably would have been effective for the late evening-mid to dawn arena, but I think it just drifted away as it became clear that all the programmes lacked immediacy.
I mean what do you do if Sydney's hit by a cyclone mid morning and the guy on air is running the show as if nothing has happened? You've got the news bulletins of course, announcing the imminent end of the Earth, but as far as the rest of the show is concerned, it's all fun and giggles.
I remember Tim used to come in an pre-tape his 9-1 shift and all I had to do every hour was pause for the news and then hit the programme start key for Tim's tape to go to the next hour.
It worked ok just as long as nothing untoward happened. Then we were in trouble.
My memory of this time is pretty hazy but I think Brendan and Cherie were already putting the fundamentals in place for the later successful 2 DAY FM "adult" contempory format, based strongly on album input. I remember at the time that I thought the programming was getting better and better by the day. Although, like MMM, there was a lot of pressure on Brendan because of the poor rating figures. It was pretty much like the earlier story of 6PR. We knew the actual listenership was improving every month but it just didn't show on the surveys. This is one of those phenomena which our peculiar industry just has to live with - there is this delay in what is actually happening among the mass audience and the confirmation of this in the monthly ratings. It can sometimes take a long time to move up the ladder, just as it can often take a long time to start moving down.
Then came one of those things that in retrospect you really can't explain.
I got a phone call from Brian Rangott, of channel 9 fame, who was a major shareholder in 3MP.
It transpires that the Board had decided to clean out the place after a series of rating disappointments.
The General Manager Ray Bean was leaving to be replaced by Norm Spencer. My pal Dean Matters had gone and Brian told me they were releasing News director Barry Owen. I was extremely sorry to hear this as I know that Barry really didn't want to replace me as ND when I left. He would have been much happier continuing in his role as the Senior reader, which he did really well. So I blamed myself for some of this, having put him in a difficult position when I resigned in the 70's. Basically, Brian was asking if I would mind assisting the station in vetting any candidates who might emerge from the Sydney market.
I loved 3MP of course, as we had a lot of history together, and I agreed to provide any assistance required. The trouble was no suitable candidates were coming forward. MP was looking for somebody to not only run the newsroom but to put ideas to Management to take the place forward. Weeks and weeks went by and no one surfaced.
Anyway, the long and short of this saga was that I decided to take up the challenge myself. I still don't know why. Just one of those things.
So, I broke the unwritten law of our industry, NEVER GO BACK.
Not only did I break it once but I broke it twice in succession. If you want to stir up the Gods of radio that’s how you do it.
I returned to Melbourne and resettled in beautiful Mt Eliza. I was actually met at the airport by Norm Spencer (I loved him... Everybody loved him) who briefed me on the trip back to the Peninsula.
I can't remember everybody but I know my old mate Ian Nicholls was in the newsroom, along with Chris Morris, Rob Curtain and the Traffic girls. Andrew Rutherford had taken over the Community Services sector including the Victoria Story and Rupert Macaw was the chief engineer.
I remember Leigh Mathews was our football expert. At DB earlier I'd worked with Ron Barassi, and earlier at XY with Jack Dyer, Bob Skilton and Barry Cable. Talk about getting close to the legends.
It was at this time that the most bizarre thing happened which I probably shouldn't even record here, but oh well, here goes. I'd come back into the newsroom late one night, I think it was a Saturday. I was probably editing a footy tape I'd done that afternoon, to be available for the Sunday breakfast. Anyway there were only two people In the place, the duty announcer and me. The jock hit the intercom and said could I take a call on what seemed to be a mysterious matter.
Anyway I picked up the phone and found myself talking to either a young police officer or the head of security at a leading Melbourne hotel. He said he needed to speak to a station executive. I said I was the only one there at that time of night, so he took my name, rank and phone contact.
Then he told me that he was questioning a group of men who had been found running naked through the hallways of the hotel. He had them in a room, apparently in various states of undress, and that several had told him they were from a country radio network, attending a meeting that weekend. He needed to speak to a 3MP official because another one of the men claimed to be one of our executives. He mentioned a name and a rough description and I was able to confirm that yes indeed there was such a person on our executive staff. The officer then thanked me and rang off. I never heard any more of the story and indeed I never mentioned this amazing tale to anybody else, until quite recently when the story surfaced while talking about old times with a former MP colleague. But it was most embarrassing and I wish I hadn't been in the newsroom that night. Funny, huh? Anyway back to the format problems.
I spent a month checking out the situation, only to quickly realize that MP's "something for everyone" policy was being shredded with the arrival of FM radio. I just stood back, listened to the market and looked at the last two surveys and realized MP couldn't survive unless it chose to make some major changes. Ideally, it needed to specialize. But I couldn't see that happening so I wrote a long memo to Norm suggesting that MP go totally mainstream by getting strongly into sport, including VFL broadcasts.
There was still one match per round available and I recommended we immediately negotiate for the spare spot with the VFL and our radio colleagues.
I think my memo came right out of left field for Norm: it was exactly the opposite to what he wanted to hear. He dismissed the whole idea and I think that may have ended his close relationship with me as the station's ND.
Norm and Brian were determined to continue MP's policy and set about cleaning up its on air sound.
Truly, they did this with a vengeance. Brian was there in the trenches, decluttering the on air content and reworking the sound of our local ads and community service input.
By the time he'd finished the station sounded magnificently professional. He did everything anyone could do to give the format a 100% chance of success.
Norm, for his part, ripped into the station's public image. He gave away a house, yes, I said a HOUSE.
He organized a huge bikeathon, picking up the concerns of the community over the abuse of energy, especially the impact of cars.
I came up with this wonderful story of a young lad who'd rescued several people on his surfboard, I think from a shark attack or perhaps a boating crash. Anyway we found out he had lost his parents and was being raised by his Grandmother. Norm opened up a special trust to pay for the rest of his education.
Norm and Brian did everything anyone could ask but the ratings continued to say "no"
It is probably the most demonstrable proof of the adage about radio that YOU CAN RATE DOING THE RIGHT THING BADLY, BUT YOU CAN'T RATE DOING THE WRONG THING WELL.
The whole radio landscape was changing and MP policy mix which had seen them flying high for some years, was now dragging them back to Earth with a thud.
The days of appealing to everyone had gone. Now you had to pick your audience and target them.
We worked our hearts out but to no avail.
This was an absolutely awful experience, particularly as I had to watch a group of really decent, dedicated people pouring everything they had into the place and going backwards.
In the end, the place was taken over by a provincial radio consortium and Norm retired to the farm, to be replaced by Wayne Browne.
I was immediately called into Mr Browne's office and told I was being dismissed. It was slightly unexpected and naturally I asked for a reason. He replied that he thought I'd be leaving anyway.
This left me just as puzzled, although some weeks earlier somebody had planted a nasty little story in one of the Sunday papers, alleging I was in talks with FOX FM. I must say this was news to me, and it must have been news to FOX as well, because we'd never even swapped a phone call.
My dismissal created shock waves in the southern capital.
With 48 hours I was called to a meeting with the Journalists Association in Melbourne. When I walked in the Secretary told me that the Association regarded my sacking as a disgrace and that it was placing a ban on the position of 3MP News Director. The station had tremendous trouble getting anyone to takeover. In the end they had to settle "in house".
Lots of stuff was happening at the time. The Sunday paper which had run the invented story of my talks with FOX then announced that I'd resigned from MP. I rang the reporter and told him it was untrue, I'd been dismissed. Given the boot. The reporter said he thought he was doing me a favour in making it sound as if it was my decision.
I pretty much decided that staying in Melbourne really wasn't an option.
I sucked in my pride and rang Cherie Romaro at 2 DAY FM, asking if she knew of anything going in Sydney and if she'd speak on my behalf. Two hours later she rang back to offer me a job as Breakfast Editor at 2 DAY, to start as early as possible. Warren Burr was the ND and Graeme Virgo his right-hand man.
Mike Jeffreys was taking over the Breakfast show and I was to be part of the team, doing the news and special features.
So I did it again. Twice in a row I broke the cardinal rule of Radio by going back to the place I'd left just a few years earlier. This time, fortunately, the results were significantly better, well for quite a while anyway. Nothing lasts forever in radio, or TV for that matter.