Radio’s angel of rock. The story of Doctor Dan


When it comes to Australia‘s most memorable TV ads, the Colgate commercial with Mrs Marsh and her magic stick of chalk used to be about as cutting edge as things got.

That was until a new character burst forth from our screens and completely blew our minds.

Half man, half kangaroo. A winged, guitar-wielding angel.

He was known to mere mortals as Doctor Dan, a mesmerising, mythological representation of the rock powerhouse that a newly-minted radio station called Triple M would become.

A legend had been born.

Doctor Dan – both the character and the music theme – was synonymous with Triple M throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

I recently had the privilege of hearing the stories of two men who were at the forefront of FM radio’s launch in Australia and were both there for the birth of Doctor Dan.

Legendary former Sydney radio executive Rod Muir and former Triple M CEO and Promotions Manager Hamish Cameron took Radio Today on a journey back to where it all began.

In 1979, Muir was granted one of only two FM licences to serve the Sydney metropolitan area. With broadcasting due to commence on August 1st 1980, Muir quickly turned his focus to the marketing and launch of the new station.

He and Cameron began the process of researching the critical elements of the radio station’s call sign, logo and TV commercial.

Focus groups were presented with a number of different call signs, including SUN FM, WOW FM and DAY FM.

All were quickly dismissed. Then one of the respondents piped up: “If music is so important, why not call it MMM FM?”

It made sense. All the focus groups were unanimous. And so Triple M FM was born.

Next came the all-important TV commercial.

“Rod was keen to expend a large proportion of the radio station’s limited advertising budget on the creative concept and sacrifice frequency for impact,” Cameron explains.

Creative colleagues of Cameron who worked at McCann Erickson Advertising were invited to present their concept for a 60 second TV commercial.

Within weeks, Creative Director Mike Heffernan and Art Director Albert Vos had come up with storyboards which promised to deliver an amazing, almost surreal message, never before seen in the marketing of a radio station.

All this, plus an inspiring music track and clever tag line: Because Your Ears Have Brains.

Of the TV commercial, Heffernan said at the time “I’m especially proud of this, the legendary one and only original psychedelic Triple M commercial which launched the new Sydney FM station in 1980 and blew the city out of the water.”

The striking Doctor Dan image was the creative work of Vos.

“He gave birth to an enduring symbol of Australian modern music, with Doctor Dan depicted as animated superhero,” says Cameron.


In later years, the character would take on different permutations. The marsupial tail gradually became shorter and then seemed to disappear altogether, while the original kangaroo feet transitioned into hooves. In other logos, Doctor Dan appears to have human legs and feet.

The Doctor Dan theme music came from an album called Tarot Suite by the group Mike Batt & Friends.

It was written by Mike Batt, creator of novelty pop act The Wombles and writer of international chart toppers including the Art Garfunkel classic Bright Eyes.

With the legendary Rory Gallagher on guitar, the music was contained in track #1: Introduction (The Journey of a Fool).

You can hear it at the 3 minute, 15 second mark of the video above.

Heffernan chose this music as the soundtrack for both a three minute vinyl record and the 60 second TV commercial.

Muir says Heffernan knocked it out of the park with the client pitch.

“Standing ovation to Mike Heffernan! Thank you for blessing us with the most thrilling, artistic and enduring journey of 60 seconds that the radio broadcasting industry has ever seen.”

Muir licensed the music, which was re-recorded in Australia, played by Kevin Borich and produced by Jimmy Sloggett and Peter Clark.

Muir is quick to acknowledge the work of the late Albert Vos – Heffernan’s partner in crime.

“Your inspired design of Doctor Dan as half kangaroo and half rock ’n’ roll angel was a world ahead of its time.”

Cameron says the response to Doctor Dan – both the character and the promotional campaign – could not have been better.

“It speaks volumes that within twelve months, Triple M Sydney was number #1 in three demographics, 10-17, 18-24 and 25-39.”

More TV ads would follow, as Doctor Dan became a beloved staple of the Triple M sound throughout the 80s and 90s.

It was an incredible era for Australian music, and for radio, with the likes of Doug Mulray playing classics by The Angels, Midnight Oil, Rose Tattoo, the Divinyls and INXS, to name just a few.

But what did Cameron and Muir make of Triple M’s 2010 revival of Doctor Dan, this time featuring Slash from Guns ’n Roses on guitar?

“Slash is an eminent guitar hero and he performs the track in his own gifted style. But it misses the vibe of the very Australian half kangaroo, half man, Doctor Dan. It seems to be more attuned to the half man, half horse logo that emerged in 2010.”

According to Cameron, the enduring success of Doctor Dan was a true team effort.

“The choice of legendary animator, David Deneen and the award-winning team at Film Graphics was just another sparkle on the shooting stardom of Doctor Dan.”

Today, the spirit of Doctor Dan lives on through Triple M’s distinctive news theme.

And the shine has never really worn off. Even today, the punters still can’t get enough of Doctor Dan, as recent online comments reflect:

“I absolutely loved this ad. I have never seen a better one since I first saw it back in the 80’s. MMM should do themselves a favour and resurrect it.”

“I was always mesmerised every time I saw this on the tube and then sat there wondering when it would be repeated.”

“After 30 years, you deserve a truckload of beer as a reward for creating one of the best ads ever seen on TV.”

“It really hit the mark. Triple M should put it back on the box, unchanged, right now!”

*Doctor Dan hot air balloon photo credit: Balloon Man 

Comment Form

Your email address will not be published.

Recent comments (5)
Post new comment
Craig Moore
8 Jul 2024 - 5:23 pm

What a great article! Thanks for publishing. Brings back many memories as a fan of the Ms in my ‘younger’ days.

8 Jul 2024 - 7:46 pm

Triple m, a pale imitation of what they once were!

9 Jul 2024 - 9:50 am

Great to see the initiative of bringing back the old 80s logo with Triple M doing their Retro Merch recently, I know I personally picked up a bunch!

9 Jul 2024 - 10:33 am

Triple M was not No.1 with those three demographics within 12 months of their launch. At the end of 1981 they were only on a 6% share (and The New 2UW was on 13.1). By 1984 MMM were No.1 with 18-24 year olds, 2SM owned the 10 – 17 group and 2WS was in control of the 25-39 year olds.

Mike Batt
9 Jul 2024 - 6:21 pm

Nice to get my name-check for writing the music- the most unusual pitch I ever made (no pitch at all!) when I cut the track on my solo album, that solo was a short part of a composition, and I had no idea someone would have the imagination to take it (with permission of course) And make it into a legendary theme- giving it a new name. It’s endured in so many versions- a really nice “career memory” for me.


See all