‘Happy 20th, you loose unit’: Execs & talent wish Nova a happy birthday

Former Editor & Content Director

Nova turns 20 this month. A bold and brave – and at times boyish and bratty – radio brand which reshaped the Sydney market. Here, former and current execs and talent wish their favourite media love child a ‘Happy birthday’, and pay tribute to the station which they say was ‘all heart’.

As humans, when we focus on age, moments, milestones and misadventure – we tend to save the best stories up for a 21st. How often when a recalcitrant child does something which is meant to inspire anger, but simply makes you giggle at their ineptitude, do you hear a parent whip out the refrain: “We’ll be telling this one at their 21st”? And then, as recalcitrant children evolve into more independent young adults, variations of the same phrase come out as tipsy teenagers threaten to reveal all when the big 2-1 roles around.

In business, however, we tend to mark things in decades, and the industry’s radio baby – Nova – is now 20. And the people who grew up alongside it have a few things to say to mark the occasion.

‘I forgive you’: Merrick Watts

Watts (left) with Craig Bruce and former co-host Tim ‘Rosso’ Ross

Foundation Nova Breakfast co-host Merrick Watts notes his time at the station was “insane”, with many moments which simply wouldn’t fly 20 years later.

It could be forgiven for its ‘loose unit’ approach, however, because behind the bravado, it was all heart, he says.

“I would literally just say ‘You started as one of the loosest units anybody could have ever imagined, but you’ve got a great heart, you’ve got a great soul, and you care about people, so everything else is forgiven,’” Watts says in his birthday message to Nova.

“It’s true. Nova was all about heart. It was always about being different to other people, and doing things differently, thinking differently. That was always encouraged. And I think that’s admirable. We were always encouraged to not push the limits in regards to we were never, ever, ever, ever allowed to jeopardise other people or hurt other people – we never wanted to anyway. We weren’t about hurting listeners or putting them in a position where they would walk away feeling terrible. It’s not what we did. What we did was stupid, stupid things like dumb stunts, and they were just insane. Insane stuff.”

‘Loyalty pays off’: Tim Blackwell

Tim Blackwell was the first voice heard on Nova in Perth with a massive Red Hot Chilli Peppers interview.

Looking back, he’s most thankful that he’s no longer rocking the blonde tips which sat atop his self-confessed ‘skinny radio nerd’ head at the time, but he’s also incredibly proud of the two-way loyalty between himself and the radio brand.

If he’d been at H&R Block for all this time, he says he can understand people thinking that would be a long, drawn-out, slow crawl to the 20-year mark, but with Nova, he says, it’s all been up and up and up, and it’s anything but boring.

“[I’m] most proud of the fact that they have really looked after me, this group of people. Like, I mean, I’m not going to say I haven’t worked hard. I’m not saying I don’t deserve to be doing what I’m doing, but they’ve been a really great company,” he says.

“I started with them when I was so young, and obviously there’s a huge element of trust in that too, especially when you’re moving interstate and all that stuff. But I’m also proud that so far, I haven’t really put a step backwards. Like, every job I’ve been offered is the next step up, so I’ve kind of been moving in the right direction. So I feel that if I give them that loyalty they’ve shown me, so far it’s been a winning combination.”

‘Be proud’: Dean Buchanan

Former programmer Dean Buchanan wants Nova to be proud of its impact – both then and now.

“I would say, ‘Be very proud of your heritage, continue to be proud of how you execute today, and how you’re thought of in the market, and the wider market’. I think Nova’s become an iconic brand in Australia, and I think anyone who’s worked in Nova shares in that pride.

“And, I think I’m very proud of the part I played in the beginning, and it’s a real pleasure to 20 years later see the brand across the country still doing so well, and a lot of those original people I first hired flourish in their careers. That’s a real buzz beyond any ratings or anything else we achieved.”

‘You’re a game-changer’: Bianca Dye

Bianca Dye wants Nova to know it was a game-changer, and looking back, she says it’s very sobering to remember the station’s – and her own – “sheer, innocent enthusiasm”.

She has stories of legendary survey parties, before radio stations were competing with every man and his dog for the advertising dollar, negating the need for tight budgets and cost controls.

There’s also her many memories from interviewing stars and travelling the world – whether it was accidentally confusing Justin Timberlake by calling him a “spunk” (which has a very different meaning in the US), or forgetting to hit record on an interview with former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell.

Beyond the every day shenanigans though, Nova’s game-changing impact can’t be underestimated, she says.

“This was a big change. ‘Never more than two ads in a row’ had never been done, and there was so much ‘Yea, as if, it’s never going to work. I don’t think anybody expected [you] to be the game-changer [that you were]… It was done in a way that was very clever. It was humble,” she says to Nova on the eve of its birthday.

“I think radio then had been very cocky, and I think [Nova] came in not cocky, and I think listeners and the advertising industry loved that, because nothing had been done the way Nova had done it before. They totally shook up everything. They turned everything on its head. Everything that had been done before, they did the opposite.”

‘I love ya’: Antonell Doyle

Antonell Doyle came on board once Nova launched in Perth and has been there ever since.

As soon as she heard about the Sydney brand, she wanted to be part of the launch out west. Everything since then, she says, has been a success story – from its game-changing ‘Never more than two ads in a row’ initial proposition, to its commercial evolution under Lachlan Murdoch.

To send a birthday message to Nova, however, she has to pause to think what her mum and dad may say to her on such a milestone.

“I’d probably say ‘Congratulations. You’ve made us pretty proud. You’re pretty special. You’ve delivered a lot, and I love ya,’” she says.

‘Where’s the money?’ Phil O’Neil

Radio veteran Phil O’Neil is perhaps less nostalgic in his approach to the speeches and simply wants Nova to show him the money.

“We’re still wondering where all the merchandising money went,” he laughs. “It was something everybody used to say all the time. ‘Where’s all the money gone?’

“Mind you, having said that, we did have a lot of toys – we had a lot of merchandise.”

Stay tuned to Radio Today in the coming days as Nova hosts and execs reveal their favourite memories from the station’s early years (or at least those they’re willing to put on the record), as well as their reflections on radio then versus now. 

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David Eon
7 Apr 2021 - 9:58 am

I remember when Nova first went to air. It was so different to to the staid offerings on 2DayFM, MMM, WS and Mix – these crazies at 969 were playing extended versions of dance music at 9am in the morning. It was 100% Sydney and Sydney was 100% grateful to have such a station. Nova sounded so different. Now it sounds like Capital 95.8 in London.

Thanks Nova – it was bloody fantastic while it lasted.

7 Apr 2021 - 10:46 am

@David Eon
Capital ( CHR) and Nova (AC) sound bit different . I would say KIIS sounds like Capital.

7 Apr 2021 - 6:25 pm

Nova was great when it started now it’s very much like the capital fm brand in the uk. Even the news intros at one stage were almost the same. It all went down hill when they dropped the never more than 2 adds in a row. It’s sad in most markets they only have a local breakfast show and the rest is done from Sydney and Melbourne. Not local anymore and very predictable. When nova launched in Brisbane they had bevan. He was so funny and sounded very brisbane as he was broadcasting from the carindale carpark. Bring bevan and local content back.

Good Memories
7 Apr 2021 - 9:11 pm

Only 2 adds guarantee – Remember those promises ? They were the good days when your were competing against wildfm


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