Radio Today

Tony Martin Tuesdays (FINAL)

Welcome to Tony Martin Tuesdays.

Tony Martin and Scott Muller caught up recently – you can read part 1 of the interview here and part 2 here.

This week, Tony talks about the best producers and production people, how he makes the show’s music part of the comedy, and some little known but surprising ratings facts … plus on-air talent from Fred Botica to the person he believes could be Australia’s answer to Howard Stern....

Scott: One memory I have of Martin-Molloy above all other shows I’ve been involved in is the level of prep and attention to detail that went into the show…

Tony: Yes, but at the same time – nothing is as hard to listen to than something that sounds overworked. Commercial radio always sounds best when it sounds casual. We make fun of the old-school jocks, but Fred Botica is my favourite jock in Australia. And people like Duck (Rob Duckworth), and Lee Simon. What they’re really good at is sounding relaxed on-air. As a result, they perhaps don’t get the respect they should.

(As a listener) you don’t want to feel the weight of the preparation. The art of it is to spend ages preparing it – then present it, casually and naturally, as “here’s something that occurs to me…” – trying to give it the feeling of ease that someone like Lee Simon does naturally.

With Martin-Molloy, our (over the top) rants were confined to the first half hours – then it was more casual after that. By the last half hour it got pretty silly.

But really you don’t want people to feel anxious and tense listening. Not every word was scripted. Having done the preparation allows you to be relaxed so you’re not worried (about what you’re going to do next).

On ‘Get This’, the best bit, the funniest bit, and almost always the most popular bit – and it was never on any of the podcasts – was the bit out of the ad-break in the first hour. We would always pretend we were playing that song – say it started with a drum, we would pretend we were playing it – and we would never prepare that bit. (During the ads we would say) “Play me the first 30 seconds of the song – what can we say about this?”.

Scott: On the other hand I remember that with Martin-Molloy each of you would do around 70 hours prep per week for the 10 hours on-air.

Tony: I call it ‘Going to War’. It’s where you give over your whole life to the show. When you’re doing anything, having a conversation, anything at all - you’re always thinking “how can I incorporate this into the show?”

Rob Sitch has a great phrase, the ‘comedy tap’. People think there’s a  comedy tap you turn on.

Scott: H.G is a great example. I remember at Triple M when John Doyle and Greig Pickhaver (who perform their characters, Roy and H.G) first came over from Triple J, Greig told me he didn’t mind guesting on the other shows so long as he got enough warning and knew what the topics were going to be, so he could think through what H.G’s response would be to those topics. He was very clear that his own view wasn’t the same as H.G’s view…

Tony: Most people don’t realise what goes into it. Dame Edna is another great example – how did he (Barry Humphries) come up with all that off the cuff?

(Note: the point is he didn’t).

Tony: Way back when TV and radio first started using comedians, the comedians would have been touring with the same half hour of material for 30 years! In radio and television they chew that up in 2 weeks! So they ran out – quite quickly on radio.

(In a way, that’s) why it’s harder work to do a weekly show than a daily show. The material has to be better in a weekly show. It’s the difference between putting a newspaper out every day – and writing a book!

Scott: I remember you playing me bits of Bargearse from the Late Show – an enormous amount of work went into those, too…

Tony: It was like stop motion animation. We would spend 9am to 9pm working on it and sometimes come away with 7 seconds worth of footage! The fun of that was going to so much trouble for something so ridiculous. There is no short-cut way to do that. The words have to match the mouth movements. And then make a story. It was impossible! One of the most impossible things I’ve ever done.

Scott: It’s bizarre behaviour putting in that much work for so little payoff – especially from the perspective of management, the payoff is often intangible…

Tony: Well, there’s a story from Hollywood that “Being John Malkovich” almost became “Being Tom Cruise”. But somehow Being Tom Cruise isn’t as funny as Being John Malkovich – he’s such a posh actor it’s funny him being in that situation.

In radio we’d get (from management) “could you just have Kylie on instead of Dave Graney?”. But Graney is funnier! Or, at least, he meshes better with the tone of our show. Then we’d get “mate, I don’t know who Dave Graney is but geez you did some great stuff with him on the history of Playboy”. You’re not going to get Kylie talking about a whole lot of Playboy magazines!

So, we weren’t trying to be difficult, we were just trying to protect the show. Our goal was still for it to be funnier, better, more popular.

Nowdays if you talk to a Program Director it can be like he’s having a competition with himself to see how many times he can put the word “branding” in the conversation. Worse though are those who use sporting metaphors. We had a succession of managers from the world of AFL. I remember we would have a ‘team meet’, and the manager would start with “If I can use a football metaphor…”. For God’s sake! Can someone just use a radio metaphor?!

Scott: You’re known for shows with exceptional production (if I do say so myself) – tell us about your relationship with production and the people who lock themselves away in studios to do it…

Tony: Aside from the time when we’re actually doing the show, my favourite thing in radio has always been leaning over the shoulder of the person producing the sketches. There was a great guy in Brisbane, Ian Shaw-Smith – and on the breakfast show in Melbourne there was Phil Simon who is now with Working Dog working on TV.

Other great production people I’ve worked with include Justin Checcucci, Nigel Haines, your good self, Vicki Marr (pictured) for the bulk of Martin-Molloy – she’s superb. And with ‘Get This’, Matt Dower who’s as good as anyone in this country, one of the great, unsung heroes of radio, certainly comedy radio.

As for the actual show producers, with Martin-Molloy we had incredible people in Peter Grace, Sancia Robinson, Emma Moss. All amazing,. And Gracie was perfect for Martin-Molloy. The ‘Bruce Gyngell of FM’, he was someone who knew radio inside out – but he was also a standup comedian – called himself “That Guy” for a few years there. And on ‘Get This’, the excellent Nikki Hamilton-Cornwall who came from television so it was quite an eye-opener for her

Scott: The radio shows you’ve done have all been big successes. And in terms of delivering the big ratings numbers, every show you’ve done has delivered big shares far above station average. Martin-Molloy was spectacular - enormous ratings that kind of set the stage and high expectations for many drive shows that followed. And the D-Gen’s success is legendary.

But what few people know is that “Get This” was just as big a ratings success. What’s surprising looking back at it is that, even though the show was moved around a lot, the ratings that show delivered were enormous - often double or more what the station average was…

Tony: Yes, when ‘Get This’ was on the average for 2MMM mornings might be around a 6% (share of all people 10+) and afternoons about the same – but there’d be a huge spike 11am-1pm when our nonsense came on…

Scott: If I can use a football metaphor … this chart shows the scoreboard for Triple M in Sydney and Melbourne at different stages of the game – comparing mornings and afternoons with “Get This” (Mon-Fri 11am-1pm for Surveys 4-6 of 2007). Very similar stories in Brisbane and Adelaide. And in Sydney “Get This” was one of the few Triple M shows of the time nipping at the heels of 2Day and Nova – sometimes beating them! Pity that shortly after Survey 6 the “show cancellation” announcement was made…

Editor’s note: Tony Martin’s multiple successes with the D-Gen, Martin-Molloy and Get This makes him one of the most successful FM radio host of all time – spanning different networks, decades, dayparts (breakfast, drive, mornings, afternoons). Few people get to number one once in their career, let alone deliver spectacular ratings with every big show they’ve done.

 

Scott: To finish off, what about people on-air on radio now – who do you like most?

Tony: I have to admit I don’t listen to a huge amount. But, as I mentioned, I’m a big fan of Fred Botica (of Mix 94.5 in Perth). He was at the very first station I worked at doing breakfast in Auckland in 1983. I was just a guy who did voices on promos and ads. I’m a big fan of Fred – I love how he never changes, just stays who he is, always sounds relaxed – just a great sound.

And in terms of people who do comedy … Marty Sheargold does a great job. His shows with Fifi were great – he was often mean-sounding, but always funny and truthful. When the Shebang finished, he went to Nova Brisbane, teamed up with Meshel Laurie and Tim Blackwell – they’re a great team.

I’ve always thought Marty Sheargold, if he wanted to, could be Australia’s Howard Stern. You always know what he thinks, he can’t lie, he’s always himself. But he also likes working with other people. I have a lot of time for Marty and Meshel and Tim.

And the other show I really like is The Sweetest Plum (with Nick Maxwell and Declan Fay), still available in podcast form here. And there are endless interesting things being done on what we might call alternative radio – ‘Lime Champions’ on 3RRR for example.



Thanks to Tony for taking the time to catch up and talk at length and so candidly – and a big thanks also to Nikki Hamilton-Cornwall for all her help with getting the facts right.

All radio ratings statistics are from Nielsen.

 

Scott Muller is Director of MBOS Consulting Group, a media management and consulting firm.

Click here to contact him.

Published on Published on Tuesday, 17 July 2012 06:00



Matt Thomas (9:09pm 16 Jul 2012)
My old bossing talking to my comedy hero. That was a pleasant way to start the day. Thanks for Tony Martin Tuesdays. It's been a good read. Now if only we could have Mr Martin back on the actual radio where he belongs. Having heard each podcast ep of Get This more than twenty times, and being able to recite entire fifteen segments from memory (sad!) I think I need new content.
Anonymous (11:57pm 16 Jul 2012)
Any reason why get-this was boned - with such high ratings?

was the show hurting the bottom line/the brand?

doesn't make sense.
Peter Holden (1:02am 17 Jul 2012)
@Anonymous

Going off memory (which may or may not be accurate), I think I recall Austereo management citing (at the time) two reasons for getting rid of "Get This".

1. They claimed they wanted a consistent music sound throughout the day, instead of a slab of music, then Get This, followed by more music.

2. They also claimed that wanted to use the money/resources to pour into the next year's new breakfast program (in Melbourne).

I believe that was for the Breakfast show with Pete Helliar and Myf Warhurst which was always going to fail - good talents individually, but just not the right mix as a duo.

What I'll never get is the decision to axe the station's best performing program. What ever happened to "building around your strongest performer"... to use a football metaphor ;)
johnny lonely (1:32am 17 Jul 2012)
Sometimes its not all about the ratings.
Anonymous (1:57am 17 Jul 2012)
My theory is that commercial radio these days is run by footy people who are intimidated by people with brains and people who don't like footy. I also believe they have little interest in around 50% of the population - ie women. I got the impression that they were angry that people who were listening might not be obsessed with footy and were possibly female. We did not 'fit' with who they wanted listening to their station. They had no idea how to deal with this and had to get rid of us freaks by axing Get This. It was the only explanation that made sense to me. There is certainly no reason for me to listen to the station I grew up with any more.
Scott Muller (3:46am 17 Jul 2012)
Thanks for the comments. To further emphasise the strong audience share that "Get This" was achieving, please remember: "Get This" was on 11am-1pm during those surveys - so it also impacted both the mornings and afternoons figures in the chart. In other words, without "Get This", the shares for both mornings and afternoons would have been lower.

What's more surprising is how quickly the audience moved to follow Tony and Get This - the show was briefly moved to 2-4pm, and looking at the numbers for Survey 7 (which we didn't publish, or this article would have been Chartfestorama) it created a similarly huge spike between early afternoons and drive. It's generally considered that radio audiences don't follow changes in show times instantly, but Tony and Get This were an exception to that rule of thumb.
RobC (4:21am 17 Jul 2012)
My understanding, from reading between the lines of things said both on-air and off, is that management (and I would speculate one name in particular) would have preferred a show to be done their way and get half the ratings Get This did, than to have a show done contrary to their way being so successful. They just didn't seem to get that people weren't tuning in to that timeslot to hear seven James Blunt, Nickelback or Pete Murray songs per hour, they were tuning in to hear the bloody talent behind the mics!

Basically, they couldn't control the show, thus they had no choice but to kill it.
Anonymous (4:59am 17 Jul 2012)
It's such a waste of talent for this man to not be a regular radio presenter. Someone should start an online petition. They solve everything!
johnny lonely (6:05am 17 Jul 2012)
i'll reiterate numbnuts...sometimes its not about ratings.
Anonymous (7:14am 17 Jul 2012)
@johnny lonely: if it's about sizzle, cut-through and traction, Get This had all this in spades. You don't need a Razzle Dazzle Filter to see that, surely ...
Anonymous (7:35am 17 Jul 2012)
It is about the Station ratings. It's, above anything else,about the Station ratings. Really easy to see who works in radio and who does not.
Todd H (8:19am 17 Jul 2012)
Despite his anger issues, johnny lonely is correct - by all accounts, the Get This axing was more about management egos than ratings.
Ross J (11:22am 17 Jul 2012)
johnny lonley, you sound like you've got something to say ? The dark-n-mysterious isn't testing well; I'm genuinely interested. (although I get the feeling non-industry just isn't too welcome here)

Even if it was about all the shows 'towing the party line' (or whatever the football metaphore is), shows still get cut for low ratings, and certain stations continue to support ... shock-formats... who draw so much negativity that it must baffle the rest of the 'team' as much as the dismayed public. How GT couldn't find a place within this system I don't (clearly) understand. Anyone help me here ?

As for the commercialisim, the only M sponsors I remember from the last 10 years are Mercedes Vito, Nissan Navara and Olivia Buckley of Cherrybrook. Now seriously, how many sponsors wouldn't commit hard crime for that degree of stickability ?

Thanks for the work past & present Scott.
Adrian, Melbourne (12:32pm 17 Jul 2012)
how can i get Tony to sign my copy of bad eggs and lolly scramble?

happy to pay.
Grant Spatchcock (3:40pm 17 Jul 2012)
The axing of get this was an incredibly sad thing for radio and for triple M. Since then Triple M have never had a show with such a devoted audience. Their listeners protested outside the bloody station and in this incredibly fickle sales climate, you simply can't buy that sort of brand loyalty. At the time they also had the highest rating podcast in the country and the highest hits on the station website, which are all now key sales factors for any show. It was a horrible decision based on hubris and complete contempt for their audience which has haunted the station to this day.
Casey Hribar (5:21pm 17 Jul 2012)
Get This! was for a specific demographic that the station doesn't cater for. The spike was people who were after good comedy, not to hear the music or the news or the rest of the day's programming. That's what the problem was technically.

The rest is due to the fact that Tony owned the company that made the show. There was no one coming in and saying can you do this, or have this attitude, because he'd managed to come back to radio as an entirely independent entity on his own terms.

Gracie's recent blog post shows how people in radio can feign interest as ordered when they can't get what they want - he wanted to put something like what became Martin-Molloy together.

Get This! was a square peg that doesn't fit in when there are just round holes. This went from the audience the show attracted to the philosophy behind the show. It simply couldn't last as it was so at odds with its own medium which calls for strict notes from management.

When you're a creative, you don't want that kind of interference, and when it comes if you've got very fairly modest needs and make amazing returns - and don't forget they did the second hour of Get This! for free - you're going to come up against management eventually.

And having to see the people who come up with the ideas for how to "improve" a show are in touch with what they see as radio and what someone wants to make, one thing has to give or it ends.

With a business model that puts its emphasis on even terminology that simply refers to the overall day's ratings and when you're just a blip off the charts in that landscape, you're not making the radio that those in radio think you should be. You're being different and original and creative, not something that fits. Get This! would spike ratings and then take its audience with it because, who wants to listens to Nickleback from choice?
Scott Muller (8:37pm 17 Jul 2012)
This thread seems to have struck a fruity note.

Ross / Johnny / Anonymous - yes, stating the obvious but it is almost always about the ratings, the ratings, and nothing but the ratings. As the Lord intended. No end of things will be put up with, tolerated, or worked around ... if a show delivers above average numbers. No surprises there.

However, the numbers for Get This were far better than just 'above average', so this one must fall into the "exceptions to every rule" category. Because, ratings-wise, there were a whole lot of reasons to beg Tony and GT to stay. Maybe even do breakfast or drive.

So, maybe Tony or someone used a permanent marker on one of the studio monitors or something? Stranger things have happened.

Adrian, not sure about Tony autographs - best ask Tony. Tone?
johnny Lonely (8:51pm 17 Jul 2012)
Scott its not always about the ratings.
You of all people should know that.
Scott Muller (9:18pm 17 Jul 2012)
Quite right, Johnny. It's not always about the ratings when it's late nights.
johnny lonely (10:22pm 17 Jul 2012)
Or 11am to 1pm...or 1pm to 3pm. Despite Martins ratings and cost it did nothing for the 10plus by the looks of those figures.
Anonymous (11:17pm 17 Jul 2012)
I loved Get This but the beatification of Tony Martin is one of the most tiring things in Australian media. Since GT he was given free reign on a TV show about TV, allegedly his favourite topic, and it was an unfunny, non rating disaster.
Scott Muller (4:51am 18 Jul 2012)
Thanks again for the comments.

I have to apologise to JL as my last comment was meant half-ironically, and certainly with tongue protruding through gaping hole in cheek. There are many factors beyond ratings that affect decisions about shows, though ratings are generally considered significant in decision-making. Unfortunately, the myriad other factors are outside the scope of this interview (and probably make for pretty dull reading).

So, back to the original point of including the chart in the article - which was that not many people would have been aware that Get This was right up there with other shows Tony has been involved with (D-Gen, Martin-Molloy) in terms of getting an incredibly strong audience following. I certainly wasn't, and was pleased to hear about it, and to help set that particular ratings record straight.

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