Ash London on championing Australian music, and why evening radio gives her more flexibility with content
Sitting across from Ash London, it’s hard to believe that she hosts a nightly radio show with her name on it.
In an industry where the spotlight is often more on colourful personalities than great tunes, the 31-year-old is as warm and authentic in person as she is on her music-focused Hit Network show. This is a woman who knows who she is and what she’s here to do, and she’s is flipping the script on radio, in more ways than one.
Pointing out the glitter curtain that hangs on the glass window in the studio – and attributing the touch of fabulousness to two of her team members – the 31-year-old radiates authenticity. It’s a word that comes up a lot during our chat, but it feels right for her.
“I’m not the kind of person who can get on air and fake it and talk about something I don’t care about,” London explains.
“Whereas I care deeply about music, and I love it and I get to talk about my favourite thing.”
“Also, I think I’m just not in a stage of my life where I’m willing or interested in talking about me and talking about my life. I think other people do that better. For now, I know I’m very intentional about what I want to do and that is to help people fall in love with music and build a really strong music community in Australia, and champion Australian music. I think that really sets me apart, so it puts me in a good position.”
London is well aware that the radio audience isn’t tuning in for her personality – they’re there for the music. “It’s something we always say here, if I’ve not got something interesting to say we play a song,” she adds.
But it’s the music she plays that further cements her authenticity. From hosting The Loop on Eleven alongside Scott Tweedie, to Take 40 Australia (and its reincarnation, the Shazam Top 20) with Angus O’Loughlin and now Ash London LIVE, she has a long history of bringing the latest music to anyone who wants to know about it.
“I firmly believe that Australia just makes the best music in the world, we’re the best,” she says. “I love it. I love Australian music and I say it all the time, ‘If we don’t champion it, well, who the hell’s gonna do it?’.
“triple j have had to carry the burden for far too long, and have done an incredible job. Where would we be without the platform that they’ve given Australian music?”
London makes it very clear that it’s time for radio networks to take more of a risk on local music, particularly Aussie pop. She leads by example too, having everyone from Meg Mac to Vance Joy to rockers Kingswood on her show.
“There’s a whole commercial world out there. My view is that, kids are cooler than we ever give them credit for, they’re all over cool music. The internet exists. We either play the boring stuff that everyone’s playing and we play them the music that they can expect to hear, or we can actually go back to a time when people in the music world were tastemakers, and setting trends, and taking risks. We have so many Australian artists to choose from.”
“A good song is a good song. I think it’s us that need[s] to get over it. We’ve been able to play some amazing music that probably wouldn’t ever get a spin otherwise; I’m proud of the music we play and I’m proud the network lets us play it.”
But between the ruthless pressure of ratings, financial expectations and the ever-looming fear that the next person is waiting in the wings to steal your seat, how does a radio host stay so true to something they believe in?
London believes the evening timeslot gives her more flexibility, and lets her fly under the radar in a way.
“No one’s riding my arse. That’s the beauty of a night show – they kinda let you do what you want to do and if you mess it up, they’ll clip you on the ears. I’ve got great support around me, and a great content director, and assistant conductor. I think I wouldn’t cope with a survey day coming around and being grilled over every percentage point.”
But that flexibility comes from a trust earned through hard work – as much as London is quick to put it, at least partially, down to luck.
From starting in radio as a copywriter and a content creator at MCM, London has come full circle and earned her place at Hit.
“I was in a great position when I was at MCM. I was doing the interviews and they [were]re cutting my voice out of it and putting their talent in, which is awesome because I got to learn how to do interviews without any real consequences. I got to make mistakes and that was really lucky in that respect.
“That meant that by the time that I did it on a public stage, on radio and on TV, I wasn’t scared of the artists. I knew I was good at what I did. I knew that I was presenting something different and that we could have a really respectful relationship, even if it’s just for four minutes.”
Just because she’s created a show she loves, doesn’t mean the hard work stops now. The evolving nature of radio, fuelled particularly by the medium’s competitive yet complementary relationship with the internet, is keeping London on her toes – and she doesn’t mind one bit.
“Before, you’d wait til the labels were servicing the music before you play it – but now it’s out, [on] SoundCloud, Spotify, and Shazam, and everything. The choices are endless. It’s amazing.”
But London knows her night timeslot will always play an important role in how radio listeners discover music.
“At the end of the day, we entertain the masses and people are always gonna be in their cars or always gonna be driving home, they’re not always gonna want to be proactive about their music choices. That’s why I take my job really seriously.
“For many people, radio still is the way they discover new music. You can’t forget that. We live in a city, in an entertainment company, we’re on the forefront of everything we know, what’s going on – most people don’t live like that. It’s really easy to get stuck in this bubble of, ‘Oh, radio’s dead’. Radio’s not dead, no way.”