Signing Off: Graham Kemp
Tomorrow see’s the end of an era for Brisbane radio. It’s Graham Kemp’s last day in the GM’s chair.
Kempy’s career spans 54 years. We caught up with Graham to talk about his passion for the business. How he got his start, who he has worked with over the years and what did happen when an f-bomb was dropped during a Waynee ‘Poo’ Roberts Gotcha Call that changed Brisbane radio forever?
Blair: So where did it all start for you?
Graham: Mate, it was 1961 at 4BH. I went in as a technician and I was doing the Broadcast Operator’s Certificate of Proficiency, and I got into that and I realised along the way that I was spending a hell of a lot of time doing gimmicks and stuff for Dale Miles. He used to do a fun anti-TV show at night which was pretty much a dead copy of 2SM’s Anti-Television Club at night, and I started doing that and writing a bit and producing funny voices and stuff like that. So I got more into the production side of radio, and back in ’61 the recordings were still on the acetate discs. The first cart machines didn’t come into Brisbane until a couple of years after I started work so the panel booths for all the guys on-air were those ones equipped with either 6 or 8 turntables and even 15 second ads were all on disc, so it was a pretty hectic time then.
Blair: Wow, I started in radio obviously with carts and records and stuff like that, but I can’t say that I ever experienced the disc side of things like that, never.
Graham: You can imagine, particularly with Breakfast, trying to do a Breakfast shift and throw in all the commercials. Luckily back then there were only 18 minutes of commercials an hour, but the top 2 or 3 stations were all running maximum 18 minutes an hour.
Blair: That’s a lot. So, 4BH is where you started, what was next?
Graham: 4BH, I was there 3 or 4 years and then I went to 4IP when it was in Ipswich, stayed there until ’76, then ’76 to ’86 I was at 4BK, then ’86 to probably ’91 I was at 4BC, and then I came over to TAB, when it started in ’91 I think.
The interesting thing, the company of Radio TAB is 4IP Proprietary Limited, the old 4IP name.
Blair: So the 4IP Days, that would have been with David Greenwood?
Graham: That’s right David Greenwood, John McCoy, one of the breakfast team currently here at the TAB with the Sports breakfast show. Billy J Smith, although he was known as the Teenage idol. I worked with Billy in a couple of stations. I produced his breakfast show at 4BK for a while, as well as becoming the program manager at BK.
Before I became the program manager, I was there as their Creative Manager. David Greenwood was the Manager but Rod Muir and the late Rhett Walkerwere the consultants out of Sydney.
It was down to those two guys to appoint the Program Manager. I remember the very last question that Rhett Walker asked me, he said “Graham what’s your star sign”. I said Capricorn, he said “That’s great, I can work with you. Congratulations”.
Graham: True story, the last question was “What’s your star sign” and I got the job, imagine doing that today.
Blair: You have seen the Brisbane market in particular transform over the years.
Graham: Yes and not necessarily for the best, which is a sad inditement on sections of our industry.
I’ve always been a believer in localism, to quote what everybody uses. Live and local. But with the ways it’s gone, ok FM and DAB radio are great. It may not be local, and there is certainly a lot to choose from now in all the capital cities. In Brisbane I was lucky enough to see the switch over from what was known as middle of the road music to top 40 and formatted radio. I’ve always been a believer of formatted radio. Bill Gates when he was at 4BH had a service from the states that selected the latest music from the states he used to get.
4IP picked up pretty much the same service. And 4IP were probably the first station in the Brisbane area to put in such a tight playlist. We actually had some of the music there, we had a track known as the Power Play. It was a 90 minute rotate They had a jingle for that power play, it was the same as the others, they might have been “Here is Billy J Smith one of the good guys”, “Here’s one of the good guys David Greenwood” and this other one “Power Play on 4IP”. Then after a while of being on air, only after a couple of weeks, letters used to come in for an announcer called Howard Clay. We didn’t have a Howard Clay, it turned out people were mistaking Power Play as an announcers name Howard Clay. I used to get these bloody letters in for Howard Clay.
Blair: You were also PD at 4BC for five years through to the early 90’s.
Graham: Yes I was.
Blair: … the face of talkback radio has changed over the years – now the merger of Fairfax and Macquarie Radio.
Graham: The talkback side I did find interesting, they also had racing interspersed with the talkback. Some great operators at 4BC like Haydn Sargent and Greg Carey.
My first couple of weeks at 4BC, Haydn Sargent was away overseas. We had Greg Cary filling in doing Haydn’s shift. The number of letters and phone calls that came that said we love Haydn but we really love Greg. “I don’t want to see Haydn go but we really like Greg”. So that is how we started off with a dual morning show with Haydn and Greg. Because we could just not ignore the massive response to Greg. It was a good duo, they were different sorts of people and it worked.
Blair: When we talk talent, some of the big names you have worked with – Waynee ‘Poo’ Roberts,what’s the first thing that comes to mind when I say his name?
Graham: (Laughs) Waynee ‘Poo’ Roberts, a fun guy both On and Off the Air. A great talent. He got me into trouble a bit over the years.
I’ve always been a believer that if you have got these personalities, let them push the bubble and hopefully the program manager is quick enough to catch it before he bursts it every time.
Although I admit it didn’t. It was the early days when we had the magic word dropped. And it’s funny how I can hear someone say across a table say the word radio and I will hear it, my wife will say it’s got to be selective hearing because you don’t hear what I say. But I will hear the word radio.
Anyway, this particular morning I was in my office. The cleaner had the vacuum going, the radio is on in the background and I heard “fuck” come out of the bloody speaker.
I walked down the hallway and what was normally everyone in at that time having fun was deafly silent. They put him to air live without a delay system operating, a cricketer. They had him going with the infamous gotcha calls. He didn’t know who it was and ended up saying “Who the fuck is this”? And off it’s gone.
Wayne was just shell shocked and I said “what are we going to do?”
Richard Perno, the morning announcer was in the building and I said, ok we will put Richard on and Wayne said thanks for that. So we took him off air and put Richard on.
We’re talking now ’77, ’78 and that was a big word to drop On-Air back then. I would not have liked to hear it on any station I worked at, but it took until 11 o’clock in the morning before any complaint of what went to air had come into the station. All the complaints up to 11 o’clock to me as the manager were about taking Wayne off-air.
It was 11 o’clock before what’s now called ACMA had sent an old telex saying what’s going on? And then really nothing until after 3 o’clock when it made the front page of the afternoon paper, the Telegraph. And then all the people who didn’t hear it, they all started ringing in complaining about it. But in all honesty, the listeners that actually heard it did not complain about the word, they complained about him being taken Off-air. It wasn’t his fault.
The funny thing that happened was for the next fortnight on any radio station in Brisbane that had phones going to Air, you would hear them (we were 4BK), you would hear 4BC with Mike Ahern On-Air saying to people “Turn you radio off when you talk to us. We are in delay”. None of the stations had obviously been in delay. The Brisbane audience was not used to talking to someone in delay. It screwed up the whole lot.
Blair: What makes great talent?
Graham: Two things, two things only – passion and commitment.
Blair: What’s a career highlight for you ? We are talking 54 years here.
Graham: We are too, it’s a bloody long time. The highlight for me was…
Two highlights. The first seeing 4BK get to the top of the ratings. Once under David Greenwood and once under me. And we were there once the FM’ers came in and saw us disappear.
The other one was seeing the network build off this organisation, seeing over 100 plus radio stations in four states.
Blair: A low light?
Graham: Saying goodbye to some great people, purely to poor ratings outcomes. There have been some great people who just didn’t hit it off with the audience that we needed at the time. Again nothing to do with them personally.
The one time I needed to say goodbye to someone, he was starting work but we had to say goodbye was Alan McGirvan.
I rang Alan one afternoon and I said are you at home. He said yeah, you don’t often ring someone to pop over. I pulled up outside his place he was on the top steps, I opened my boot of the car and I pulled out a slab of beer. I’m walking in and he said “Are you here to sack me?”. I said “yes”. Alan then said, “Well come up and we will get pissed”.
We were still great mates after that, I had to get wife to come and drive me home.
Blair: You’ve called RadioTAB home since 2006 and have been the GM… this is not some small network either?
Graham: We are in Queensland, the Northern Territory, South Australia and Tasmania. In there we have got AM’ers, FM’ers, DAB.. around 100 sites.
Blair: Outside racing coverage, how does RadioTAB tap into its audience?
Graham: We run a sports breakfast show, it runs from 5 until 8am seven days a week. We just picked up Peter Psaltis, luckily for Pete. He had been a long time sports host on 4BC evenings. We picked him up at the beginning of the year to join John McCoy along with Paul Sawtell.
We are into that sports area. We use twitter a hell of lot to get feedback.
We don’t open the phones because our sports bet program is aimed at giving the prices and so people can lay a bet that anything that Ubet, the main company is covering.
We will talk to people overseas in the UK as well, for say football. It’s a large network of people in terms of sporting coverage.
Blair: Where do you see radio heading?
Graham: Radio will definitely keep on going but what I do see is transmitters as we use now in 15 years, I don’t thing we will use them to pick up radio. It will be coming off your iPhone, your tablet or whatever we call it, in 15 years’ time.
That will be a large cost saving to large network like ours. It will keep on going radio, it’s just the way it’s delivered that will change.
Blair: So you retire tomorrow, what will you miss the most?
Graham: Missing the most will be the people I have worked with over the years. To me that’s the thing that has probably kept me going.
As far as I am concerned Radio is a people thing and managing the group is also about people skills. Hopefully I’ve been able to contribute to people growing.
Blair: So what’s next for you?
Graham: Grandkids, Family, Rotary, trips – I joked that I am going to get a bank of radios receivers. I’ll have every manager and program manager on speed dial and I’ll be the grumpy old bastard that rings the radio station complaining you are playing such and such a song too much.
Good luck Graham and enjoy your retirement!