Frank Avis... Post Radio

Frank Avis by | January 1, 2010 | 2000s

I interviewed a lot of celebrities and news makers in those 45 plus years but my three favorites remain: Sir Edmund Hillary, Neil Armstrong and Harrison Ford. Now there’s a trio for you.

And the one link that pulls them all together is humility. Each man was humble. Whether this was genuine or not I can’t say for sure, but if they were acting all three were pretty good. They convinced me.

Hillary was the first person to walk on the roof of the world, as co-conqueror of Everest in 1953.

He was genuinely self effacing. We kept prodding him to tell us who really got to the top first... Was it him or Sherpa Tenzing? Hillary never blinked an eyelid. And he kept saying that the only reason he was first to the top was that his name, along with Tenzing, just happened to come up on the roster for that day.

He reminded us how many other people were involved in the conquest.

Armstrong seemed to be an incredibly introspective man. There was little doubt that he didn’t want to be there in the middle of all of the publicity about the landing on the Moon. He was very convincing, telling us over and over that while there were three astronauts up there making history, there were thousands of others down on the Earth keeping the lifelines operating. And he said that if any one of those failed the mission would probably have been a disaster.

Ford: We all loved him. He was a major star when he came out here to publicise Witness (excellent movie by the way) and it was just like talking to the bloke next door. When we asked him about movie stardom he said that every time he felt he was getting too big for his boots, and he noticed his head starting to swell, he’d go down to his workshop and start building a birdhouse. When he’d finished he’d look at it and say, "There, I’ve actually produced something real... Something that has a purpose." A bit of carpentry quickly brought him back to Earth.

I promised my top five list of best-ever voices. Here we go:

1. Mike Carlton
2. Brian Henderson
3. Steve Leibman
4. Michelle Aleksandrovics
5. Denis O'Kane

(Note: Obviously there are several voices I would have liked to have included. Two come to mind immediately: John Bailey, as I’ve said in previous chapters, "One of the best presenters I’ve heard anywhere," and an old 2SM name Terry Mabb whose voice was made for radio.)

I’ll take if from number five. Denis (I christened him DOK) had a wonderful voice. I guess he’s not as widely known as some of the others but he read news conversationally without losing any conviction.

He kicked off in Sydney - I think with 2SM - and moved south to Melbourne for the second half of his career.

Michelle: I’ve already written about her natural style and charisma.

I’m not sure where she is now... It’s my fault we’ve lost touch because I’m getting too lazy... But the truth is she was really, really good and should have been one of the best known women in modern radio. (Ed’s note: the two have now been reunited, well by phone anyway. Michelle is working as a Senior producer at SBS. Frank and Michelle have promised to have coffee in the new year and it may be appropriate that we publicly announce the time and place so that any parties interested can join their table... Er, just kidding!)

Steve sounded great during those heady days at 2SM. He had the voice and the style. In many respects you remember Steve as the voice of that era. He didn’t do himself any harm at Channel 9 either. Still going strong on TV.

Hendo: This guy was a radio marvel before he became a God on TV.

He didn’t lecture you when he presented this news. It was like he was sitting in an armchair next to you and telling us what happened today. I absolutely loved Hendo when he paired with Mike Gibson on 9 News. This was perfect TV news.

Mike Carlton: He has this classical, international accent combined with a strong, male presence.

I worked with him when 2UW switched to MIX 106.5 but you wouldn’t say that we were close, although I worked my tail off at 4.30 every morning to find funny/unusual stories which would add something different to his show.

A bit of a footnote here. When Carlton left MIX he made the strangest decision I could imagine by taking over the drive slot on ABC Radio. I was genuinely astonished that he’d make this move, something that the commercial sector would generally regard as just one step short of career suicide.

It turned out to be a huge success. Mike was perfect for Aunty, giving the ABC this lovely commercial/street smart "edge". I gave up on radio to be honest in the late 90’s because it became so engineered and plastic it wasn’t worth listening to, but I couldn’t get by without my "Carlton Fix" on good old ABC Radio in the afternoon. It was tragic that he opted to go to UE. I know the money was huge but it was a bit like Mike Gibson quitting 9 to go to 10 for the money. Carlton and ABC afternoon radio were made for each other. I can no longer listen to ABC Radio, sadly. I hope you don’t mind another tirade here and remember that you’re listening to an old man, no longer in the trade, who thinks the golden era of radio was back in the 50’s.

You also need to take into account one of the unwritten rules of life: that the older generation always regards what the new generation is doing as absolutely awful. Nothing compares with the old days.

But seriously, most radio today is dreadful and ABC radio may be even lower than that - Appalling - is that what I’m looking for? When you listen to some of the stuff, well here in Sydney anyway, it’s as if a senior bureaucrat walked into the front office at the ABC and picked the first six people he saw to go on the radio. I don’t know exactly how to describe the overall image of ABC Radio in 2009, it just seems to be so colourless. I know this opinion is not shared by ABC listeners. They remain loyal through thick and thin.

Well, it’s a bit on the thin side at the moment. I should add, as an afterthought, that watching ABC News on TV is just as frustrating: it’s almost as if the presenters are petrified that some viewer might discover that the reader is actually human.

When you go back to the days of Michael Charlton, who hit the screen like a guided missile, you’ll understand the extent of the loss. Even good old James Dibble is looking like as extrovert.

Sorry about that. I should have just shut up. None of my business really. And to be fair to the ABC I have to add I was forced to watch one of those breakfast shows on commercial TV recently and my feeling was it was probably written for a bunch of 14 year old giggling high school girls. So the malaise seems to be general or is it just me? Anyway, getting out of radio I kept looking around for something productive to do and I finally decided to put two interests together, journalism and my love for golf, to see if I could do something in that direction. After all, I’d interviewed many of the golfing greats of the last 40 years so surely I’d picked up something? (The answer to that question by the way if it means does watching and interviewing elite golfers actually help you to play the game? No.

I decided to do a story on 18 holes on 18 separate golf courses and call it "The Sydney Challenge". I personally checked all of the holes and they even wanted to toss me out of Bayview when officials found me on the course, checking out a famous par 4 one day. I’d got permission from the Pro Shop but the official decided that wasn’t good enough and gave me a bit of a lecture.

Anyway I thought the concept came up rather well and was very happy when it found its way into print in the comparatively new publication Inside Social Golf. I’m enclosing the article for your perusal, with a warning that the next few pages are really pointless unless you’re addicted to sports/golf journalism.

Social Gold, page 1

Social Gold, page 2

Well, what did you think of that? If Col Denovan is reading this in Victoria he might like to pack his clubs into the car and come north to give the "challenge" a try. Okay, I’ll even caddy for you mate.

I’m now advised that that the length of this entry has entered the red zone so may I thank you for reading my latest effort and promise another page or two in the near future, when I’ll print a few more of my articles (yet to be published) and continue my ramblings. I should also warn you my career included a lot of cricket and VFL/AFL coverage, along with a love of movies, so you may well get a bit of that stuff along the way, including my 10 Best Ever Movies of all time (Alex Shabs will no doubt have his say about that).

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by Andrew | August 10, 2014

Just discovered your blog, Frank. It's a very interesting read!

Also interested to see Michelle Aleksandrovics mentioned here. I'm assuming that's the same Michelle Aleksandrovics from the news room at 3AK back in the 1980s. I was just a kid doing work experience there in about 1987. I think it was Michelle working with David Armstrong (now 3AW?) in the news room.

I enjoyed that very brief experience at 3AK. I didn't end up in the industry but still follow what's going on.


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


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