Australia’s longest running, most successful FM Breakfast Star (Pt 3)
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, how he approaches celebrity interviews, working in television versus radio, – and the infamous “coin up the coight” game.
Read Part 3 below….
Brad: The Gotcha calls have been an incredible success. The albums have raised a lot of money for charity, over $350,000. I think something a lot of people don’t understand is the amount of time and preparation that goes into doing a successful one.
Matt: Oh yeah….and more than ever now. It’s my job but you could do 3 hours and get nothing. Obviously the more successful they became the more people that were onto it. At the end of your day, which is when they take place, you can leave work having had a good show but being quite dispirited about it all. Generally when you do something at work it comes to fruition but that can be all for nothing.
Truly, it became the bane of my existence, and still in a way is, but I’m respectful of the fact that’s probably a reason why I’m still around.
Brad: Do you have a favourite one of all time ?
Matt: The one that sticks out the mos,t because it was sort of a first, it was where I rang as an old bloke this shop to ask them about their sausages. It’s not crass, it’s just sort of gentle. It wasn’t even going to make it to air, I thought it was hopeless, no one even responds. Then we thought maybe it’s the fact this old bloke keeps annoying and they’re all getting exasperated and passing the phone around. It just really seemed to strike a chord with people of all ages.
Brad: Interviewing celebrities is a big part of your job. What would be your tips for young players in getting the great interview ?
Matt: No matter who it is, you need to butter them up a bit. Everyone likes to be liked. If you go in there with an agenda then you’re probably tying one hand behind your back. I always try and remember that they’ve done heaps of these. Anything that can give it a little tweak and make it fresh or fun for them, is probably gonna be a winner.
Brad: What’s the best celebrity interview you’ve done ?
Matt: Matt Damon was ace. I remember when we did Will Smith I took a big risk and started the interview by intro’ing him as if I thought he was Eddie Murphy. I think he’ll get it and I think he’ll go with it. We were in a hotel suite and I said ‘well we know him and love him from some great movies like Beverly Hills Cop…’ then there was like a half second where he was ‘what ?’ and then he got it. That’s one where you take a bit of a risk and it pays off.
Brad: What’s the worst interview you can recall ?
Matt: It was with Chris Isaak and I was by myself. It was kinda boring and he was not looking to laugh. So he chose to be insulted and mono-syllabic. I also think he’s used to having people swoon around him and I was a guy. It was a long time ago.
Brad: Didn’t you have a bit of a problem with that South Korean popstar Psy recently ?
Matt: Yeah…..subsequent to the interview I did so it came as a bit of a shock. There was a misunderstanding, because it was on a landline in Sydney. I asked him about something that I thought was in the public domain and I thought we had a bit of a laugh about it.
The interview continued on for sometime but I learnt about an hour later that he hadn’t quite seen it that way. Whether he was offended or he wanted an excuse to pull all his interviews ‘coz he was sick of them, I don’t know.
Brad: You’ve been in quite a few TV shows – The Chatroom, Surprise Surprise Gotcha, The Fugitive….how do you find TV ?
Matt: Well……I don’t think I was very good at it, and I don’t think it ever was what I’d thought it was going to be. I find TV to be largely out of your control. You don’t get a chance to fix it in the next break. People are sitting down to watch tele and you must grab them and entertain them straight away. Whereas with radio you’re in the background, people are forgiving, they’re doing other things.
There’s an intensity to TV that maybe I’m not very good at. But also they were projects I chose to do and they ended up being nothing like I thought they were going to be, so I was out of my comfort zone.
Like with Surprise Surprise Gotcha I just ended up being a host in the studio when initially it was meant to be about me doing live gotcha’s. In the end I thought 'I’m sitting here introducing someone else’s work as if it’s my own and reading an autocue'. No room to inject your own personality because there was no time, I just had to read what’s there.I
was probably naïve but I don’t sit here going ‘I would have been fantastic on TV and I got screwed over’. I think it’s a different beast, it takes too long, it’s not spontaneous.
Brad: So no desire to further your career in TV ?
Matt: No I don’t think so, unless it was something live and spontaneous.
Brad: I genuinely could see you as a strong tonight show type host. A cross between Letterman and Rove.
Matt: If you said to me, what do you think you could do on tele, I think that’s a fair summation given what people would know and have seen of me. I also don’t know if Australia has got Tonight Show mentality.
But as you remember with The Chatroom, it was almost being written-off the day before it started. More so today people are lining up to crucify something in the first 5 minutes.
Brad: I was Executive Producer of that show, the funny thing is it did about 900,000. Which these days would be considered a good number.
Matt: So much oxygen gets given to negativity that it makes it even harder for a success. The one thing, and it was very brave of Channel Ten, is how they stuck by The Project. They said 'look we’re not going to axe it by the end of the week if it’s not meeting these numbers, this is a show that will take time to find its feet.'
Brad: What could you see yourself doing after radio ?
Matt: I’ve got no idea. Do you remember that show that used to be Clive Robertson, where he read the news but he sort of had quirky comments. I always thought I’d love the idea of that kind of show.
Brad: Could you see yourself doing talk radio on, say, 3AW ?
Matt: I don’t think I’m right wing enough and I’d have to compromise my own principles which is ‘why the hell do FM refugees then go and get a government job on the ABC, why aren’t we developing new talent ?’. But now that I’m getting older I think it would be quite nice for a man of my experience on the ABC. But it has been made known to me that the ABC consider me far too commercially tarnished to even be a consideration.
Brad: You’re managed by Liz Adams (left), former Fox/Triple M General Manager. Would you recommend management for talent working in radio ?
Matt: My manager remains to this day to be the only person that kicked me off the air. When she was GM and Jeff (Allis) was PD. It was because of a reaction to someone who said they’d played this trick with cats.
For a long time I was more interested in having someone just negotiate my contract and that’s it. I didn’t feel the need to have a manager and mostly I had an agent because I did a bit of voiceover work and I wouldn’t be available ‘til midday, so it was just someone to field calls.
So Liz used to just negotiate my contract, then she said 'that’s a bit untenable, I can’t really have other people that I work as a manager for and then just you on an hourly rate'. I think that was entirely reasonable. She’s become someone who’s great counsel. I would recommend you get someone whose opinion you trust and is going to tell you the truth. She’s very good at that, she’s very honest.
Brad: What’s the difference between the old Austereo days and the new Southern Cross Austereo days ?
Matt: On a day to day basis it hasn’t changed at all. On an old, old Fox basis (which is like pre-Triple M), where there were ratings parties and an intimacy where when you walked from the studio to the toilet you knew everyone there, it’s changed dramatically. We’re a large company now and I get emails from people and I don’t even know where they’re from or who they are. It’s just a big organisation but they certainly haven’t imposed anything upon us where I think ‘this is terrible’. It’s business as usual.
Brad: For breakfast talent reading this, what is the most important thing working as a team ?
Matt: To value everyone’s contribution. I think what’s kept me involved with this for a long time is that I’ve been involved with some very sturdy teams. And I really appreciate the work that everyone does.
Matt: I’m always awake before it, 10 minutes or half an hour or something. That is horrendous. Troy (Ellis) reckons he has 3 alarms or he wouldn’t get up. This morning it was 3.30 because we had to do an LA interview but most days it’s 4am.
Brad: Would you rather do drive than breakfast ?
Matt: No. Because I would spend all day stressing about material and I also think the expectations are higher when you’ve had all day to come up with your treatment of it. Whereas breakfast I kinda go well we’re up early, we did the best we could and then when the day’s done, it’s done. The standard that Mick (Molloy) and Tony (Martin) set was so high because it kinda had to be.
Brad: You’ve worked alongside 2 of radio’s most successful network national drive shows – Martin Molloy and Hamish & Andy. I’m interested in your thoughts on both of them.
Matt: I really love Mick and Tony as comedian’s. I thought they were very, very funny and very clever and a familiar form of radio. It was still very much a radio show in the traditional sense with sketches and character calls and silly competitions. Whereas I think Hamish & Andy were 2 guys that pushed the boundaries more and did crazy things like Caravan of Courage. So they weren’t so much about crafting comedy but about crafting entertainment.
They’re both so different but you can’t really compare them and I’m glad you don’t have to.
Brad: In your time you must have seen quite a few General Manager’s and group people and CEO’s speeches to staff. Anyone or anything that springs to mind ?
Matt: Jeff Allis and his samurai sword. I think that was confiscated off him in the end. There was a General Manager that would deliver a red rose to every girl in the office on Valentine’s Day in exchange for a kiss. When I started the General Manager at ratings parties used to do this trick ‘Coin up the coight’ where he’d walk across the station and drop it in a cup. Who would do that now ? you couldn’t do that. (laughs)
And of course I had a lovely relationship with Peter Harvie (left), who was the Chairman for so many years. I loved just being able to wander into his office and he was just a really gentle and generous soul who got it.
Brian Ford taught me an incredible amount and was such a devoted and brilliant programmer and I think Dave Cameron equally, if not more so, because it’s in the modern era and I suppose it’s more pertinent to me.
Brad: You get to make a lot of people laugh in the morning, what makes Matt Tilley laugh ?
Matt: My mates make me laugh. People have asked what comedian’s do you like. Tennis players don’t always watch other people’s tennis. There’s shows I like, I love Modern Family, anything Ricky Gervais does. I think some people have become such fans they end up being derivative of their favourite artists. Whatever comes along.
Brad: What makes you cry ?
Matt: Predictably anything that involves kids. We have a pretty big heart at Fox so there’s often occasions where we do (cry). And we’re blessed to be in a position where we can help people out.
Brad: Is it true that you bring an apple to work everyday ?
Matt: It used to be 2 and then I became convinced it made my voice a bit raspy. I think I calculated a short while ago how many I’d had since starting at Fox. It was thousands.
Brad: Is it true you’re a bit out of sorts if you forget your apple ?
Matt: Hell yes. I’ve never asked producers to go and get me something other than, 'when Coles opens you reckon you could duck down and get me an apple ?' (Laughs). I often think how pathetic that is, in terms of all the difficulties and demands you could have as talent. I’ve heard that Kyle Sandilands used to have a Freddo Frog stapled to live reads so that he’d read them.
Brad: So you obviously have a healthy lifestyle ?
Matt: Not really, at the other end of the show I have to go and have a coffee and a muffin before I can face the meetings.
Brad: If you had to put it in one sentence, what’s been the key to your success and longevity in radio ?
Matt: Not getting ahead of myself and remaining remarkably unremarkable.
Brad: Matt, thank you very much for your time. You’re a clever, funny, very genuine guy. It’s easy to see why you’ve been so successful for so long.
Matt: My pleasure. I love to talk about myself.
Brad March is a former CEO of the Austereo Network and is Managing Director of Marchmedia.