Australia’s longest running, most successful FM Breakfast Star (Pt 2)


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, who his worst ever aircheck was with (subtle clue: it was with Brad), his honest opinions about Kyle Sandilands and Alan Jones – and the infamous “coin up the coight” game.

Read Part 1 here

Read Part 2 below….

Brad: How do you actually prepare for the show each day ? I guess it’s changed from what it was to how it is now ?

Matt: It’s heavily, heavily planned and we’re a show driven by planning and process. That’s largely about how the commercial landscape has changed as well. I call myself a ‘commercially integrated content facilitator’ (laughs). The role of the producer has grown in radio and that’s enabled us to try bigger things and take bigger steps.

With something like Big Brother, while I might have watched in the past, now I watch it and it’s a bit of a chore. The preparation to remain relevant used to be something you’d just consume but now it has to be a bit of a task. I can’t just bang on about what I did in my life the day before with my kids.

Also the expectations are so much higher. It might have been alright for you to interview someone 10 years ago and think that your cheeky humour would drive an entertaining interview. Once people know you, you've got to constantly reinvent, and be new and exciting and different and relevant.

I’ve been lucky, as I’ve grown so have the target. We used to think once people turned 40 they’d drop off but 40-50 year olds are staying with FM and not going across to talk like everybody feared they might. No one wants to sound old or act old or take that step where they suddenly become mature and out of touch. Who goes ‘I can’t wait to not think young anymore’.

Brad: Do you still do airchecks ?

Matt: Hell no (laughs)

Brad: What’s the worst advice you’ve had in an aircheck ?

Matt: It was you. You didn’t do it to me but you used to make the writers (or performers) give themselves a score out of 10 and you’d give the spot a score out of 10. If it was greater than the differential of 2 you’d talk about it.

Brad: (laughs)….I think that’s true.

Matt: You know the terrible thing, I can’t remember any advice I was given in an aircheck because, as I say to every Program and Content Director, I’ll hate something I do way more than you ever could.

Brad: So you’re your own best critic ?

Matt: Yeah.

Brad: Do you ever privately listen back to a show or a break ?

Matt: Occasionally my kids want to hear something, so I’ll sit there, but it’s no less cringe worthy.

Brad: So your kids listen to the show ?

Matt: Just as part of the general brekky landscape like any other family getting ready for school.

Brad: How old are your kids Matt ?

Matt: 11, 8 and 7.

Brad: How do you feel about them hearing some of the racier content like 'Diary of a Call Girl' ?

Matt: I’m okay with it because I’ve got the home Program Director on top of it (laughs). She gives more feedback to me than anyone does at Austereo. It’s a great filter for me, if I’m not wanting them to hear it then I probably shouldn’t be doing it. But that’s not to say it doesn’t come with an explanation or a warning.

Brad: You and your wife Susie (left) have been together a long time. Do you think that stability has been important to do breakfast radio successfully for so long ?

Matt: Absolutely. Without wanting to sound like a sook, it’s absolutely exhausting on the whole family. It’s okay when you’ve got really young kids and everyone’s in bed early but once you get on the treadmill of having to be at your best at 2 ends of the day, which you gotta do with kids, that relies on Susie to pick up where I sometimes fall over.

Jesus, I had 2 kids on life support for 10 weeks each and I was getting up at 2 in the morning, driving to the hospital, seeing them, then going and doing the show. But I think everybody has that stress and drama at some point in their lives.

Brad: So she’s honest with you ?

Matt: We have this thing where if she doesn’t laugh I know it’s going to work (laughs).

Brad: You and FM radio have been involved with some crazy radio stunts over the years. Any that spring to mind as the most memorable for you ?

Matt: I loved riding up the Hume Highway for 24 hours. It was a surreal experience. We had a phenomenal support team, engagement from the community and we raised over $100,000. It felt like something worthwhile. Radio doesn’t always feel like that. I don’t agonise over that but there are other things we’ve done where I think they’re cool but I don’t look back and go ‘it’s no big deal’, whether it was all of us living in a house together for a week or flying upside down in a plane without a roof. All those radio stunts I think are largely driven by hype more than being anything truly astounding.

We’ve raised nearly $1 million on the show with Gotcha record sales. I reckon that’s what you remember the most, the rest just comes and goes so quickly. I look at Jo all the time and go ‘how did we end up in this room with this star with me dressed as a woman and Russell Brand looking at me ?'. They all just roll into one, and all radio shows do them so I don’t think we necessarily stand out above and beyond.

Brad: As well as raising a lot of money, a lot of people say how generous you are and you donate a lot of your time to charity. You seem to give back a lot.

Matt: I reckon it’s important. I actually feel lucky and blessed. It’s a lesson I learnt from seeing a lot of people come and go in radio. A lot of very funny and talented people who felt like the radio station was lucky to have them. I feel like it’s the opposite. I think I’ve had a charmed opportunity.

Brad: The Melbourne / Sydney rivalry is famous. Is there a sense of rivalry with your network mates in Sydney…Fox and 2Day breakfast ?

Matt: Yeah…..there’s only rivalry with Kyle.

Brad: Not from your side ?

Matt: I think there’s rivalry with Kyle from all sides, but from our side I think it’s particularly warm because I don’t mind stirring the pot. Others are more intimidated, I’ve had phone calls from (name withheld) saying you’re not to talk about him on-air again and I got in trouble for photographing his luggage ‘coz he had a crown stencilled on it. I don’t mind stirring things up a bit. We just spoke to Kyle today for his book launch. There’s no sense of intimidation for me, so if that’s considered rivalry that’s fine but I don’t think Kyle’s any way intimidated by Melbourne.

I take great pleasure in the fact that we’ve always had more listeners than him in a smaller city. It just gives me a wry smile that for all his bombastic ways, more people listen to our show without all the hoopla than he has in Sydney.

I enjoy him as an entertainer, that doesn’t mean I like him or what he stands for.

Brad: Do you think he’s a good broadcaster ?

Matt: Yeah I do.

Brad: Will you read his book ?

Matt: I’m halfway through it and I was determined not to. But I’m someone who likes to go to movies and pick holes in them as well. I picked it up first to see if I was in it, like everybody does (laughs) but then I saw he didn’t have an index. What I’ve read so far I already knew, I kind of felt like it was a bit of a tired tale to be honest. I was partly doing it because I thought I’d find something to use in the interview with him and partly out of curiosity, to see his take on people that I knew and worked with.

Brad: Could you see yourself writing a book one day ?

Matt: Not about me. Maybe in the one step removed sense. It would be like Clive James’ Unreliable Memoirs. Here’s some stories that rolled around when I was in radio but I would want to write them in an entertaining and colourful way and the truth might ruin that.

Brad: What are your thoughts on Alan Jones ?

Matt: I think in the end you probably get what you deserve. Whilst he might be able to hide behind the fact they were private comments made at a private function, if you’re going to present yourself as the battlers friend and someone who is the embodiment of integrity, then you gotta live by the sword and die by the sword. I think he could achieve what he sets out to achieve in less bully-like fashion.

The degree to which he thinks he can hold people to account does not seem to apply to him and I think there’s a great mystery that surrounds his personal life that leaves a gaping hole in any sensibility he might have to judge others.

Brad: Compared to the guys we were just talking about, you’ve always resisted the temptation to get nasty. Are you just a nicer guy ?

Matt: I’d like to think, and I’m not saying I’ve achieved this, I think you can say more by being clever and funny than you can by just being blunt. I’ve always liked the fact that you can say something far more effective, even politically, in a humorous way. The last thing I ever want to do is lecture my audience. That’s why our show is littered with callers, we see that as a strength. We don’t want everyone to agree with us. I think that becomes boring.

Brad: Back to the rivalry. Any exist between Fox and Triple M Melbourne ?

Matt: I wouldn’t say there’s any. There probably will be if they go any better (laughs).

Brad: What about between you and your main competitor, Hughesy & Kate ?

Matt: I don’t know. It’s been reported they say they don’t care about ratings but I don’t believe that. I don’t have any rivalry but of course I want to beat them. I think Dave Hughes is a phenomenal performer and I suggested that Kate Langbroek would be good before they found Tracy Bartram. I said there was this chick on Triple R that all my mates thought was fantastic and we should look at her.

The other one to think about is Chrissie Swan who we’re very respectful and mindful of. I reckon the whole nature of brekky radio is that with everyone who’s doing it, you kinda feel like you’re in the same club. So I don’t wish anyone ill, I just want to make sure we’re winning.

In part 3 Matt tells Brad what went on behind the scenes in his headline-making controversy with South Korean popstar Psy, how he approaches celebrity interviews, working in television versus radio,  – and the infamous “coin up the coight” game. Read it here

Brad March is a former CEO of the Austereo Network and is Managing Director of Marchmedia.


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