Australia’s longest running, most successful FM Breakfast Star (Pt 1)
Fox FM’s Matt Tilley is Australia’s longest running, most successful FM Breakfast star.
Here he reveals all to Brad March in a Radio Today exclusive – including the headline-making controversy he caused with South Korean popstar Psy, his honest opinions about Kyle Sandilands and Alan Jones, how originally he got into radio to “just do it for a week – until we can afford to buy a fan” – and the infamous “coin up the coight” game.
Part 1 starts below…
Brad: Matt Tilley, thanks very much for talking to us at Radio Today. You’ve been in radio over 20 years now, it’s been an unbelievable run.
Matt: Yeah, 22 years. 20 in breakfast and 15 on this show.
Brad: As someone with that sort of longevity and a great track record of ratings success, you keep a fairly low profile both in terms of the industry and the mainstream press.
Matt: That’s why I’m doing this interview Brad, it’s time to turn things around.
Brad: (laugh) Is there a reason for that, is it just you’re busy, you’d rather concentrate on the show ?
Matt: Yeah mostly. It’s not like I’ve avoided profile or run from the paparazzi, it is what it is. I don’t know how people can do all this multi-dimensional stuff. I always say the reason I’ve been in radio so long is that anyone who would have matched that record went onto something better, like TV or movies. You only have to look at the amount of coverage that radio gets in the Melbourne press to know that it’s not really a story down here.
Brad: Everyone describes you as incredibly normal. Do you think that’s true ?
Matt: Yeah, I think so. I think that’s probably what gives you longevity in radio because you get found out if you’re a phony maybe.
Brad: I’d suggest it’s got something to do with your success actually, that people can relate to you as an everyday, normal bloke.
Matt: I remember having dinner with you in a Japanese restaurant in Crown and you were saying how you found that most good radio talent generally had some sort of disturbed childhood or something like that. I didn’t, I actually had a middle class upbringing and I was quite happy. You were quite disappointed that I punched a hole in your theory.
Brad: Yes I remember that, I think that might have been my experience up until then (laughs)
Matt: The 2 women dominating the radio landscape at that time were Wendy Harmer and Tracy Bartram so there was a degree of truth in your theory I guess.
Brad: Matt, who originally hired you ?
Matt: It was a guy who was writing comedy for Fox and he was writing with Mick Molloy at the time. Mick Molloy left to join the D-Generation. It was a guy called Richard Cornish. He had been at school a few years ahead of me and I’d done a couple of school reviews and stuff with him and Mick.
He saw me speaking at a 21st doing a few impersonations and came up to me afterwards and gave me a bit of an aircheck and I was like ‘I don’t know who the hell you think you are but I’m just here to get drunk and have some fun with my mates’ and he kept badgering me saying it was a terrific opportunity.
I didn’t really know what FM radio was, I’d grown up not really listening to the radio. He said there’s no money but obviously the opportunity and I said ‘mate I’m a uni student. I’m not going to do it for nothing’.
Then it got to holidays and he said he could offer me $100 a day and I nearly dropped the phone. That was a lot of money for a student. I wondered whether he thought I was negotiating or hanging out or something. I was living in a share house with three other blokes. We had 3 power points in a 4 bedroom house, it was about to be condemned. They said ‘just do it for a week ‘til we can buy a fan’, because it was a heatwave. I said I’d do it and that was it from there on.
Brad: You actually didn’t grow up listening to the radio ?
Matt: My Dad was a classical music freak so it was ABC FM on the whole time. I used to listen to mix tapes, Midnight Oil, Madness, whatever someone else’s older brother was listening to.
Matt: Yeah as a writer and we used to do these little news bulletins with punch lines at the end. I wrote, and did a few characters. Not long after that Fast Forward was going through the roof so they got Peter Moon and Michael Veitch and built a bigger crew.
Brad: Did you ever write in that show with Peter and Michael ?
Brad: You also worked at Triple M with James O’Neil. I remember you back then Matt, I hope you don’t mind me saying this, as a bit of an angry young man. Is that fair to say ?
Matt: Maybe a bit of a smart arse. I don’t think I was ever angry. I always saw radio as a bit of a lurk and then I’d get found out eventually.
Brad: Maybe a little anti-establishment ?
Matt: Definitely. I remember once getting into trouble for picking the Fox logo off my floppy joe because I thought it was uncool to wear to uni.
I liked working at Fox coz it was normal people compared to the toss-pots at uni, and then I liked going to uni because I thought Fox was full of commercially minded idiots who didn’t really understand what real music was, which at that time was Nirvana, the Lemonheads and bands like that.
Brad: Would you consider yourself commercially minded now ?
Matt: I’d say I’m a complete radio slut.
Brad: (laughs) How did that change come about ?
Matt: I don’t think it ever came about. I loved working for the company and I really enjoyed the people, so it wasn’t about whether my tastes matched theirs but I never felt like it was a great hypocrisy because I loved the shows I worked on. I liked the people and I enjoyed their humour so it wasn’t like I could hide it amongst my friends.
Brad: For Fox breakfast you originally auditioned with Judith Lucy. True ?
Matt: Yes that is true.
Brad: Who set that up ?
Brad: (laughs) How did that go ?
Matt: Very badly. She had a significantly long lunch and arrived for dinner at quarter past 9. We had a great dinner but she’d had a big day. I remember farewelling her and she was like a pinball machine, she bounced off the walls.
I just remember the next morning the phone rang about 7.30 and it was Judith, bright as a bell, clear as day saying ‘oh my god I’m sorry. I had quite a big day because someone who I had worked with that I didn’t like called in sick so we went out and celebrated’. It just ended like that.
Brad: Then the big breakthrough I guess for you was ‘The Tracy and Matt Show’ which at that time I remember we re-launched Fox, switched the format to CHR, changed breakfast and ‘The Tracy and Matt Show’ was a really massive success for about 5 years.
Matt: Amongst the few things you remember I think we went number 1 overall which was unusual for FM. It was the day of September 11. It made the newspapers but they pulled all the copies to cover September 11.
Brad: You and Tracy (pictured) were very, very different people but it did actually create quite a chemistry and something new in the market and was very successful.
Matt: Yeah, undoubtedly. I certainly think different back on it now than I did then. It was traumatic in terms of job satisfaction because we were very different and there was tension and drama. She looks back on it as a time where she was deeply unhappy. From my point of view, although it’s not the ideal strategy for creating a great radio team, it bonded the rest of us like araldite. It created a frustration that we were all working at to release.
Matt: It’s been different from the perspective that Jo and I are actually really similar in our outlook. She has an amazing work ethic. The difference is I’ve actually seen her grow. I liked her a lot at the start but now I really like her and I really respect her and I learn a lot off her. Particularly as we’ve both gone through parenthood which is often quite a dramatic change in your outlook on life. It’s been a lot closer relationship.
Matt: I don’t think it can be underestimated. I think Troy has probably been the greatest single influence on my career and definitely the longevity of it. I would include Program Directors and everything in that coz he’s just a great friend, great sounding board, a terrific supportive person on-air in what can be a very uneven dynamic. His humility and his humour is unrivalled.
I’m kind of indebted. It’s all well and good to talk about my longevity, it’s only through the good fortune of being able to team up with a few good people along the way that’s kept that going.
In part 2 Matt tells Brad about how heavily planned the show is, and how many airchecks he does(n’t) do, and who his worst ever aircheck was with (hint: it may have been with Brad). Read it here
Brad March is a former CEO of the Austereo Network and is Managing Director of Marchmedia.