Once were panel ops
Panel operators. They’re the unsung heroes of successful radio shows. After all, the entire on-air presentation is reliant upon their ability to keep the show running smoothly.
But what about the Aussie panel ops who ended up on the other side of the mic, destined for unexpected superstardom … even soapie stardom?
Here, we take a look at some of the fascinating stories and ‘sliding doors’ moments of those who started their media careers manning the console.
Let’s start with Peter Lochran – panel op turned ‘80s TV heart throb.
Prior to his role as the dashing Doctor Holland on TV soap The Young Doctors, Lochran was panelling at Melbourne’s 3AW.
Lochran later moved to the US, where he continued his soap career with roles in Another World and Capitol.
Then there’s Andy Lee.
Before he became one half of the radio powerhouse that is Hamish & Andy, Lee’s first gig was working as a panel op for Kyle and Jackie O during the Hot 30 days.
Lee recently reminded them of this, revealing he once broke the golden rule that is panel op 101 – NEVER let a show go to dead air.
“I thought I’d put you guys to air for one entire break and I’d gone to the toilet and hadn’t. So Melbourne just had nothing for a fair bit.”
Former 3XY, EON FM and Nightmoves host Lee Simon also spent his early radio days as a panel op.
In a 2015 interview with Radio Today, Simon said “1972 was the year I first started working in radio at 3AW. I’d been one of many eager students at the 3AW Radio School and ended up working as a panel op thanks very much to conscription. It had pretty much depleted the ranks of their panel operators.”
The great Bob Rogers followed up his childhood passion for radio by getting a job as a panel operator at local station 3XY when he was just fourteen.
Bob recalls a neighbour had heard there was a job going in the ‘record room’ there. His mother came along with him for the interview.
That was the beginning of a radio career spanning almost 80 years.
Respected radio executive Graham Mott began his career as a panel op at 2GB.
And then we come to Graham Kennedy. One of the Aussie TV legend’s first jobs was as a radio panel op in the early 1950s.
As in Lee Simon’s case, Kennedy’s opportunity came about as a result of conscription. When the panel op who worked for legendary 3UZ host Nicky Whitta turned eighteen and was promptly called up for national service, Kennedy took over the role.
Many were initially surprised that Kennedy was chosen as Whitta’s panel op and comic feed.
Kennedy was considered quiet, polite and very shy.
Whitta’s wife Nancy told her husband in no uncertain terms that she didn’t think Kennedy would work out.
But the rest, as they say, is history.