The Good The Bad – The Ugly
October 20 saw Ugly Phil O’Neil rack up his 35th year in radio. Where did he start and how did AC/DC get him into trouble day one? For Phil, he will tell you it’s been a “rollercoaster ride”, extreme highs and like for all of us, times when it has been pretty shit “But I’ve been the architect of my own experiences”.
We look back at his days with Jackie O on the Hot30, his time in the UK, Nova 969 and the changes he has seen over 35 years.
Blair: Where did it all start Phil?
Phil: 6NW Port Hedland. I was 17 years old living with my parents in Kempsey NSW when they sent a letter saying they had one shift a week (Sunday night 6-10) if I wanted to avail myself of a start in the industry for $5.70 per hour, and I would have to meet my owns expenses. I took a bus that took about four days to get there and lived in a caravan and stocked shelves at the local Coles after hours to pay the rent. The first 3 hours were pre-recorded religious shows, then I had an hour to play records. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. My first song was Highway to Hell – AC/DC – straight after the religious shows. The manager wasn’t impressed.
Blair: The name Ugly Phil…. how did you get it… and it’s trademarked right?
Phil: In 1993 when I was filling in at Sea FM Gold Coast. The Budskis left and I got put in as a temporary replacement util they found a new team. I didn’t have an intro or anything but Dennis Guthrie and Greg Easton found a song that had, “I’m ugly and attract flies” in the lyrics so we used that and it just stuck.
Blair: Now the Hot 30 days…. You and Jackie O.. tell us about that.
Phil: It started to gather momentum on the Gold Coast where Guy Dobson, Jeff Allis, Irene Kanaris (Hulme) and Grant Tothill and I found ourselves with a headful of ideas and unending exuberance.
From there to Adelaide where they were changing to Triple M from KAFM. I guess I knew we had something when the show increased by 6 points in one survey.
From there to Fox with Guy, Jeff and Irene where we started networking to Adelaide and Canberra initially. The first 14 months didn’t rate at all (in fact went down .4,) but Greg Smith and Brad March believed in it and we had unbelievable freedom. This was pre internet so we used to write individual newsletters and post them out to the listeners. The aim was to win over every listener one at a time and make them feel as though they were the most important person listening. A philosophy that carries through to this day.
We eventually rated 25% and picked up Newcastle, then it was off to Sydney.
There the TV show came along (Ground Zero on Channel 10), then networking to Brisbane and that continued till June 2000 when I needed a break and went to London to do drive at KISS 100.
Blair: In the early 2000’s I was the Group PD for the HOT FM Network in Queensland… and I remember you, Merrick & Rosso, Rabbit and all the others as you were about to start Nova969 in Sydney. Was it good to be part of the team that launched one of Sydney’s first FM stations is ages?
Phil: It was interesting but really I left London too soon
Blair: After Nova… you headed back to the UK right?
Phil: Yes, for the launch of Kerrang 1052 in Birmingham. The enfant terrible of the EMAP Group and the greatest radio experience ever.
Andrew Jeffries was an incredible visionary and found the most eclectic bunch of radio misfits from across the UK to put together a station were the emphasis was on making the most creative broadcasting possible without a budget or marketing campaign.
We launched by putting broken TV’s outside hotel windows to give the impression they were thrown by some belligerent rock stars. The day we launched with Tony Iommi from Black Sabbath, we had (real) bikies riding to the station in Kerrang colours.
The local incumbent station (BRMB) sent their promotional vehicle’s around to try and intimidate us but took one look at our listeners lined up around the block with their piercings and tattoos and fucked off really quickly.
The highlight was Kerrang being awarded 5 Sony awards in 2006 including station of the year.
Blair: What’s the biggest difference with UK radio compared to here?
Phil: The broadcasting authority – Ofcom are very powerful and reactive to complaints. So you have to be very careful with what you broadcast. With that in mind, that means you have to be creative with your output and not go for the lowest common denominator.
Also workdays are personality shifts so you’ll find personalities doing longer content during the day.
Blair: What about the listeners?
Phil: Very much into the music. Probably very indicative of the British culture of having been brought up on a diet of the Beatles, Kinks etc and the important roles the pirate radio stations had in the 60’s, which made radio a very personal inclusive experience.
Blair: When did you make the move back to home?
Blair: So back to SCA… where has that taken you?
Phil: Like all radio experience – a roller-coaster. But I’ve been the architect of my own experiences, so when I was unemployed in 2010 I spent a lot of time self-analysing and sorting out why I kept making it so hard for myself and how I could be a better employee, because you might be the greatest broadcaster ever but nobody wants a pain in the arse walking around their building.
Blair: Biggest changes you have seen in the biz over those 35 years?
Phil: Wow. So much. From carts to Maestro. Cueing up records. Splicing tapes. Networking. Still the greatest job you can ever have though.
Blair: Best PD or CD you’ve worked for here or o/s?
Phil: Jeff Allis – anyone who worked with him knows where I’m coming from
Guy Dobson – maniacal genius and a great mate
Andrew Jeffries – no wonder he now programs half the west coast of America
Fitzy – a visionary
Corey Kay – the future
Special mention – Shaun Gough. Totally gets it
Blair: Any regrets along the way – like ‘I wish I hadn’t done” or “Maybe I should have”?
Phil: Loads. But learn from it. There’s no point blaming anyone for your situation. Become the best person you can be.
Blair: Working Days or Nights – which is better?
Phil: Nights. Definitely.
Phil was recently unleashed into the Rubber on Triple M Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. Take a listen to how Real Rock fans love their T-Shirts.