Tony Martin Tuesdays (FINAL)
Welcome to Tony Martin Tuesdays.
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.