Nova stalwarts reveal their favourite station memories (that they’re willing to put on the record)
Nova turns 20 this month. A bold and brave – and at times boyish and bratty – radio brand which reshaped the Sydney market. Here, former and current execs and talent share their favourite ‘loose unit’ memories from the station (although, we suspect there are some more juicy ones out there, which they just can’t share yet!)
Have you ever driven a 1000CC Ducati straight through your workplace?
Not many people – particularly those working in the thin and winding halls of a radio station – could say “Yes”, but Merrick Watts can.
The foundation Nova 96.9 Breakfast co-host says nothing sums up Nova’s commitment to crazy ideas (or the fact he was a “recalcitrant ill-behaved child with too much money and too much access”) like the time he took his motorbike for a spin inside.
“One thing that really kind of reminds me of just how loose Nova was in those days, compared to now, is that there was a promotional scooter that had been brought into the building, and it was out the front of our studio. And I said to [my co-host] Rosso ‘What’s that about?’ And he goes ‘I don’t know’.
“I was joking, but I said I was kind of annoyed that somebody could have a scooter in the building, but I can’t park my motorbike on level five. And he goes, ‘Well mate, it’s up to you’. So I went and got my Ducati from downstairs in the garage that I’d driven into work, and I put it just smugly into the elevator. And then I rode a 1000 CC Ducati through the corridors of Nova. Like, actually rode a motorbike through the radio station, and opened up the doors to the studio so all the listeners could hear it. And then I just revved the bejesus out of the motor.”
It’s fair to say the response to the stunt was mixed.
“After that event, I had one boss, and they will remain nameless, but I had one boss, go through like a dossier explaining to me how stupid it was, how irresponsible it was, and about how I could never do it again, then I had another boss – let’s call this boss a programmer – the programmer said ‘That is the greatest thing I’ve ever heard on radio in my entire career. Do it every week,” Watts recalls.
“And that to me epitomises what radio, particularly what Nova was like at that time, which was about having an impulse and following it through. So long as nobody was getting hurt, it was okay.”
Tim Blackwell, meanwhile, two decades ago was helping to launch Nova over in Perth. His was the first voice heard on air, and his interview with the Red Hot Chilli Peppers attracted Dean Buchanan, every TV network and Lord Rothermere himself.
In recounting the story, it’s hard not to hear Blackwell’s nerves and uncertainty through the space time continuum as he grappled with the gravity of the situation.
“The Lord of DMG [then owner of Nova] Lord Rothermere – who is a real person, who was only 36 at the time, and I’m now 39 – and he came. That was the only launch of any Nova he went to, because he was a massive Chilli Peppers fan, and I remember sitting at the Llama Bar in Perth with a couple of Coronas, and he’s just looking at me going ‘I’m just so amazed at what you do, you’re pushing the buttons and you’re talking, and its just so great’. And I’m like, ‘You’re a billionaire Lord. You can’t be impressed with me. I’ve got blonde tips, and I’m a skinny, skinny radio nerd’,” he explains, his excitement, nerves and cringe-factor at the poor hair choices still evident.
“So, I mean, I listen back to it sometimes, and I go, I was so nervous, I can’t believe the opportunity I was given by Dean [Buchanan] and Dan Bradley at the time, but that’s the story that I keep going back to, because that really set everything else in motion.”
In retelling her favourite moments, Bianca Dye‘s vivid memories and excitement in 2001 is equally palpable.
She can’t pick her favourite at first – whether it was the legendary survey parties, or the fact radio stations used to have unlimited budgets for good times, or the incredible stars and celebrities she got to meet as the network’s national interviewer.
She called Justin Timberlake “a big, dirty spunk” causing all sorts of confusion and controversy before she realised the very different meaning of the apparent compliment in Timberlake’s home turf of the US.
The heart-stopping confusion reminds her of a less-favourable memory, but one which now draws laughs and a metaphorical face palm.
She’d been sent to interview former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell – “and I forgot to press record”.
“Isn’t that an interviewer’s worst nightmare? And I literally got back and was in tears. I was too embarrassed. I think I hid from my PD because I was like ‘He’s going to fucking kill me’. And he wasn’t happy, but it made a funny story that I forgot to record. But they weren’t happy. It’s safe to say they weren’t happy. It was very typical of me, because I was all over the shop – still am,” she laughs.
Former programmer Dean Buchanan, who may or may not have been one of the people Dye was hiding from at the time, says asking him to pull out his favourite Nova memory is akin to asking him his favourite child.
After I assure him that I’m certain every parent does in fact have a favourite child, he chooses one.
Unsurprisingly, it’s from right back where it all began – with Merrick & Rosso for Breakfast, illustrating their (then unproven) new take on Sydney radio.
“One of my favourite memories is actually Merrick & Rosso, who I think deserve incredible credit for setting the brand tone of Nova, which exists to this day,” he says.
“One of my favourite memories, as you can imagine, when you’re building something from scratch, there’s so much to do from the building right through to the format, and it all builds up to that moment when we launched, by memory midday on April 1st. And, I chose Christine Anu with her song ‘My Island Home’ to be the very first song played on Nova. And that was critical. And that was very purposeful, because we wanted a young woman and an Australian artist to really dial in that we were going to do things differently and we were going to stand for Sydney and stand for Australia.
“So with all this hype and all this expectation and all of this planning, Merrick & Rosso get on there, and their vey first voice break, they said ‘We’re Merrick & Rosso and we’re going to show you how to flush $155 million down the shitter’. Quote unquote.
“So I’m standing back going ‘Right, interesting start. Probably not thew words I would have chosen, but in retrospect, what a brilliant start. Because it just set the brand tone, which is about being real and irreverent and funny and not taking ourselves too seriously. No humour at listeners’ expense, just having a great time and doing some wild and wacky things, which we did for many years.”