From Adelaide to Australia, the making of triple j’s Ben & Liam
Last week ABC confirmed Ben Harvey and Liam Stapleton would return to triple j Breakfast in 2018, signing to the network for another year, along with newsreader Brooke Boney.
They arrived at the national broadcaster’s doorstep in January after honing their craft on community radio, replacing the much-respected Matt Okine and Alex Dyson – a challenge the boys admit has not all been smooth sailing or without trial.
“I think that first week, you don’t have any self-doubt, you’re just running off pure adrenaline,” Harvey tells Radio Today, thinking back to his on-air debut.
“Jeez, we’ve learned a lot, I think,” Stapleton adds, from the Ultimo studio they now call home. “Learned that jumping in the deep end is going to sting when you start, but in the long run, we’re all going to make it.”
As one would expect, there was initially some backlash from triple j’s faithful audience, as is always the case when a heritage breakfast show encounters a changing of the guard.
Harvey and Stapleton have had to find their ‘voice’ and connect with a national audience; a real test of strength and character for two twenty-somethings thrust into the national spotlight. They have also had to adapt to the culture of a Government-owned radio station that likely lacks some of the creative freedoms found within community radio.
“Everyone tells you what the station represents, what it’s about, and the culture that it’s got,” Stapleton says. “I’d listened to triple j growing up, but then to be in the building, you learn a lot about the people, and a lot about the culture.”
So how did two young lads from Adelaide, who also grew up listening to SAFM, end up hosting a national breakfast show for 18 to 24-year-olds in almost every nook and cranny across the country?
Late last year Harvey and Stapleton found themselves recording demos and pilots, often in the early hours of the morning before their Fresh 92.7 Breakfast gig.
One of their early supporters was triple j content director, Ollie Wards. Although, at least according to Stapleton, Wards had originally dismissed the idea of Ben and Liam as triple j material.
“[Wards] told us then and there that we wouldn’t get employed at triple j, which was fair enough, but he liked our Facebook page later on that day,” Stapleton says.
“We were turning over demos every two or three days, or whenever we’d get an email asking for another one, we’d get one to [Wards] by the next day.
Then, in October last year, it all happened. Harvey and Stapleton got the call out following a change of heart by Wards. Just weeks later, 21-year-old Stapleton and 24-year-old Harvey were officially confirmed to replace Okine and Dyson.
“We made sure we never made the same mistakes twice and made sure we took Ollie’s feedback on board,” Harvey recalls.
“He’s always like, ‘Alright, we can hear that you’ve done some funny ones here, why don’t you do a show on mental illness and cancer and see how that goes?'”
A quick Google of ‘Ben and Liam’ and you will quickly identify a few key moments from their short time on the air at triple j, with at least two of those search results responsible for a turning point among listeners in favour of the new kids on the block.
“The first time we ever did something that got a good reaction on the text line was with Zipper and the Shit-stick,” Harvey recalls.
“Triple M had a bit of a crack at triple j, and that was the first time I think we won some people over, and people were like, ‘Oh, yeah, this is the least shit thing they’ve done in three, four months’.”
Second, in September, there was R U OK? Day. Stapleton bravely shared his own story about dealing with online trolls and harassment.
“It definitely, it takes a toll, and I don’t think there’s an easy way of dealing with it. All you can do is stay switched on and kind of keep believing in yourself and doing what you’re doing.
“Not a lot of people experience hate on that level.”
It would be fair to say that Harvey and Stapleton, faced by the same challenges of any new show, are determined to win over the audience one listener at a time.
Next year, as Stapleton points out, they are not replacing Matt and Alex, but returning to the Ben and Liam show. Ratings this year have been promising for the pair, and for triple j, in most markets.
The boys are beginning to hit their stride.
“I’m just super amped next year to be starting on my own show with Ben, if that makes sense? You know, you’re not starting in someone else’s shadow.”
Harvey agrees, ready for a well-earned break but equally eager to begin the New Year with some runs on the scoreboard.
“Being more familiar with your audience and your audience being more familiar with you, it makes everything a hell of a lot easier, and we’ve felt that over the last couple of months at least, anyway.
“I think that’s only gonna get more exciting from here, which is the real fun bit.”