It’s all about the show (pt.1)
Foxtel Executive Director of Television, Brian Walsh (left)
Brian Walsh is one of Australian media’s great leaders and greatest success stories. Long after leaving the legendary 2SM, his passion for radio remains – and his acute insights are invaluable for radio in 2012.
In a conversation with radiotoday’s Scott Muller, Brian discusses his career, the lessons he took from radio that remain at the core of his philosophy today – and the exciting opportunities presented by the rapidly changing media landscape, technology, and competition.
For Brian, our business is all about one word – Showmanship…
Brian’s career at a glance
Brian started his career at the ABC before joining the legendary 2SM during it’s heyday, followed by Network TEN where he launched “Neighbours” and mini-series such as “Vietnam” and “The Bangkok Hilton” starring Nicole Kidman. Later, he headed up Promotions & Publicity for two Olympic Games, consulted to the UK’s B.Sky.B and Asia’s Star Television, and launched Channel V into over 50 countries.
In the mid-90s, Brian was a key executive in the launch of Foxtel – and is now Foxtel’s Executive Director of Television, where he is currently working on the historic Foxtel-Austar merger.
“I started at the ABC as a specialist trainee – the ABC was a training ground for careers in the media, it taught you everything. I enjoyed my 12 months there, which I coupled with part-time studies towards a Bachelor of Communications degree.
While at Uni I started road showing surf movies around Australia, learning the tools of the trade from a van – mostly the South coast of N.S.W. I’d show surf movies most of the year on selected holidays – and over summer would extend the road show to include S.A and W.A. I did that for 3 years while at Uni, and learned a lot – about promotions, publicity, showmanship – it’s held me in good stead ever since”.
The Legendary 2SM
By the end of his degree Brian had decided he wanted to work fulltime in promotions & publicity.
“When I was at school and had a desire to get into radio, a friend knew (John) Brennan’s family, and that was my first exposure to Brenno. He’s had an influence on me since I was a 16 year old – it was a great pleasure working with him at 2SM.”
Brian was at 2SM from 1978 to 1983, starting as Publicity Manager working for Mandy Maier, and eventually working his way up to Promotions & Publicity Manager.
“2SM was a dominant force. I saw all the changes, the Concert of the Decade at Sydney Opera House, many Rocktobers. The most notable Rocktober was when two Popes dies within 4 weeks, both in Rocktober – which ruined it that year!”
The introduction of FM heralded a new era – and a period in 2SM’s history many won’t remember: “2SM-AM Album Music. The whole DNA of 2SM was a Top 40 station, so album music (as a means of defending against the introduction of the FM stations) was controversial, radical … and ultimately unsuccessful”.
That brief historical interlude aside, “2SM was unique. I don’t think there’s been another player that’s combined (Top 40) music with talk and current affairs”.
2SM’s Greatest Radio Promotions
Hearing Brian talk about the promotions campaigns at 2SM is inspiring – clearly the station was playing in a different league …
“We did some pretty amazing promotions. For (the James Bond film) ‘For Your Eyes Only’, John Newell provided seven brand new Porsches! They were located all around Sydney, and the first twenty people to get there would win doubles to the movie”.
And what was the greatest promotion you did?
“A lot of people would expect me to say the pinnacle was the Concert of the Decade at the Sydney Opera House. And it was an amazing event – the largest crowd ever assembled in Australia, with well over one hundred thousand people. It completely changed the way Sydney City Council approached (big live events). It was quite controversial, with a big stampede of people, a lot of natural bush and fauna trampled”.
“But for me the ones I remember were the quirky ones. Macca’s (Ian Macrae's) most famous one was the Jumbo under the Bridge (one of the legendary Australian radio promotions of all time – a tease campaign like no other, as part of Rocktober – listen here).
Another winning promotion asked listeners for Crazy Ways to Spend $1,000. “One guy said he’d swim to Canberra. We filled the back of a semi-trailer with water and he swam all the way while it drove to Canberra”.
“Gibson and Moore’s (Mike Gibson and George Moore's) Supermarket Raid created a lot of national television coverage. It was a PR stunt – the prize winner won $1,000 worth of supermarket goods. The trick was it was delivered all live – chooks, roosters, geese, all running around the station foyer when he came to collect”
“Then, in 1979 when (the space station) Skylab fell from the sky, 2SM gave out helmets. We had heaps of people flocking to the Milsons Point studios to get their helmets”.
“And we gave away ‘2SM for a Day’ as a big station promotion. A family at Ashfield won, and we did all of the shows from their house. All the big talent and actors and music artists performed live from their house, their living room, their shower! … and a parachute team landed (in their yard)”.
What sets Brian apart from many is his humility in describing his role in so many great campaigns. “I can’t take the credit. I never came up with the ideas – my role was to deliver it”.
Launching Channel V in over 50 countries
“By 1994 I’d been working for Newscorp for 3 years, largely in London. Sam Chisholm had taken me over there, and then I transferred to Star TV in Hong Kong. There was a falling out between MTV and Newscorp, and overnight MTV was dropped from Star, so we had to come up with a new music channel. We didn’t lose the VJs, but we lost the right to use the MTV brand. So, overnight, we came up with Channel V – and we had just 3 weeks to launch it in 53 countries.”
“For that I went back to my radio days, remembering one of the most popular bumper sticker campaigns was 2SM Rocks – as in 2SM Rocks Chatswood, 2SM Rocks Bondi, etc. We adapted it for the launch of Channel V – so in every city you’d see Channel V Rocks (insert city) – we had posters, bus-sides, stickers, elephants.”
“Yes, we even had ‘Channel V Rocks’ on elephants.”
In part 2, here, Brian discusses his ongoing passion for radio and how it’s the medium closest to the DNA of Foxtel subscribers, his view on the challenges and opportunities presented by the changing media landscape – and the people who have been his key mentors, heroes, and influences.
Scott Muller is Director of MBOS Consulting Group, a media management and consulting firm.