Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Triple J (JJJ) is a nationally-networked, government-funded Australian radio station (a division of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation), mainly aimed at youth (defined as those between 12 and 25). Music played on the station is generally more alternative than commercial stations, with a heavy emphasis on Australian music and live music. In metropolitan rating surveys Triple J usually has less than one third the market share of its major commercial rivals , but its influence on Australian popular music belies the poor ratings, having provided a launchpad for numerous Australian recording artists and announcers.
Foundation and early years
Triple J originally commenced operation in Sydney as 2JJ or Double Jay. It is a legacy of the progressive media policies of the Whitlam Labor government of 1972-75. The station and many of its announcers appear to be significantly more left-wing than the usually conservative major political parties.
Double Jay was initially intended as the first link in a new national "youth network". However, this expansion was long delayed by the electoral defeat of the Gough Whitlam Labor government at the end of 1975 and by budget cuts imposed by the incoming Liberal government led by Malcolm Fraser.
2JJ commenced broadcasting on 19 January 1975, at 1540 kHz on the AM band. The station was largely restricted to the greater Sydney region, and its local reception was hampered by inadequate transmitter facilities. It was later relayed to other stations in the ABC network after midnight, when their regular programming ceased, but it could also be heard in outlying areas of coastal New South Wales after dark, thanks to the "ionospheric skip" effect.
2JJ was often embroiled in controversy, which began with the choice of the first song played on air on the first broadcast day -- "You Just Like Me Cos I'm Good In Bed" by Skyhooks, one of six tracks from their debut LP Living in the Seventies that had been banned by Australian commercial radio stations. The establishment of Double Jay marked an historic change in Australian radio -- it was Australia's first non-commercial 24-hour rock music station, one of the first rock stations in the world to hire female disc jockeys and, excluding the first experimental FM licences, was granted the first new radio licence issued in any Australian capital city since 1932.
The Double Jay programming policies were in many ways a radical departure from the narrow, formats and restrictive playlists then in place in commercial rock stations. Double Jay's programming was influenced by British pirate radio, early BBC2 rock programs such as John Peel's The Perfumed Garden and the American Album Oriented Rock (AOR) format.
Presenters originally were originally given a wide latitude in choosing the music they played, and few restrictions were placed on music, lyrics or topics discussed on programs. In the early days of Double Jay, the station was run co-operatively and all staff (including office staff) were given a say in programming decisions.
It featured unprecedented levels of Australian content, favoured long album cuts, played many tracks banned by other stations, championed many styles of local and overseas music that were being excluded from commercial pop playlists (including reggae, punk rock, electronic and New Wave music), and (following the trend set by the BBC) mixed its recorded music programming with an innovative blend of regular weekly live-to-air studio concert broadcasts. It also broadcast original comedy sketches and serials, groundbreaking audio documentaries, radiophonic works and in the early years of the station it regularly ran hilarious "anti-ads" which parodied its commercial competitors.
One infamous event in the late 1970s was an on-air launch party hosted by George Wayne to celebrate the release of the new AC/DC album Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, which got so out of hand that police were eventually called to the studio.
The station also regularly sponsored live concerts and organised a number of major outdoor concert events in the late 1970s, culminating in a huge outdoor all-day event in Parramatta Park in 1980, to celebrate the end of Double Jay and the start of Triple J and headlined by Midnight Oil.
On 1 August 1980 2JJ moved to an FM frequency of 105.7 MHz (again restricted within the greater Sydney region) and became 2JJJ, or Triple J. Through the mid-to-late Eighties, Triple J continued to pioneer new music and developed a wide range of special-interest programs including the Japanese pop show Nippi Rock Shop, Arnold Frolows' weekly late-night ambient music show Ambience and Jaslyn Hall 's world music show -- the first of its kind in Australian mainstream radio.
It was not until the late 1980s that the ABC was finally able to begin to development of the long-delayed national "youth network" and in 1989 JJJ expanded nationally to Melbourne, Hobart, Adelaide, Perth, Darwin, Brisbane, Newcastle, and Canberra.
1989-1991: going national
In the late 1980s commercial radio manager and program director Barry Chapman (ex-2SM Sydney) was appointed as general manager to oversee Triple J's network expansion. The expansion was not without its casualties, however. In 1989, a large portion of 2JJJ's Sydney-based staff was fired, along with almost all of its announcers, including its most popular announcers, Tony Biggs and Tim Ritchie (the station's dance-music maven). As details of the changes became known to the public, there were accusations of a "JJJ Bland Out" and several protests were held outside its then-William Street studios.
Concern was expressed about the introduction of a more highly programmed music format, and the appointment of Chapman, a former commercial program director, was seen as an indication of a more commercial direction. Management responded that to launch a national network meant that the station must broaden its then almost-exclusive focus on the Sydney music scene, requiring the addition of newer talent. When the dust had settled on the dispute, the radio programming was not nearly as free-form as it had been before going national, but neither was it as highly-programmed as its critics feared. In the pre-national era, there almost was no playlist, but the introduction of a playlist still allowed a significant input (at least initially) from the individual announcer, beyond that usually permitted on a commercial station.
The laissez-faire approach that had existed in the Double Jay days was gradually replaced by a more business-like top-down management style and after the controversial appointment of Chapman, as described above, many of the 'old guard' were dismissed from the station and replaced by presenters who were more amenable to the increasingly structured format.
The appointment of Chapman was a watershed for the station's programming, and although opinion remains sharply divided about the changes he implemented, it is undeniable that he was very successful in raising the station's profile and ratings. Chapman had previously been the program director and station manager of Sydney AM pop station 2SM , which had been Australia's top-rating and most profitable commercial radio station for most of the 1970s. As noted above, not long after his appointment, Chapman controversially replaced many of the established on-air staff (such as Tim Ritchie ) with younger and less experienced presenters such as Micheal Tunn, who at the time of his appointment was the youngest on-air presenter in the history of Australian radio. Chapman also reduced the amount of comedy, documentaries and news (compared to the late Seventies) and imposed a much more structure music playlist, although (as he did at 2SM) he maintained and strengthened the station's commitment to live music.
Chapman oversaw a radical overhaul of Triple J's programming, implementing a version of the music-and-talk format that had been so successful for him at 2SM. This basic format -- including an early morning comedy breakfast program with duo presenters; a late morning talk and talkback program and an light talk-and-comedy afternoon drive-time shift -- remains substantially in place.
1990s: regional expansion
Throughout the 1990s, Triple J commenced expansion to more regional areas of Australia. In 1994 it was extended to another 18 regional centres throughout the country. In 1996, the total was brought to 44, with the new additions including Launceston, Tasmania, Albany, Western Australia, Bathurst, New South Wales and Mackay, Queensland.
During the late 1980s and 1990s Triple J came under increasing criticism for its program direction and it has been accused of ignoring many important new developments in favour of a more structured rock-oriented playlist that, in the view of some critics, has become a sort of "Indie Top 40". Long serving former program director Arnold Frolows was also regularly criticised, and there was certainly some irony in the fact that the self-proclaimed "youth network", which was aimed at the 16-25 age group, was by the late 1990s still being programmed by a man in his late 40s.
In the late 1980s Triple J was (with some justification) accused of ignoring the emerging hip hop scene and related genres, in favour of the more marketable rock-oriented grunge style that dominated American music at the same time. In May 2003, Arnold Frolows, the only remaining link with the original Double Jay staff of 1975, stepped down after 28 years as Triple J music director. He was replaced by Richard Kingsmill.
Current programming mix
As well as general pop music broadcasts (with a strong bias towards new music, Australian performers, and against bubblegum pop), Triple J has nightly specialist programs in different musical genres (see the programmes section below). It also covers news and current affairs from a youth-oriented perspective, although this facet of their programming has been considerably reduced since the station's inception. The broadcaster retains a somewhat anarchistic air, and in its earlier days there were certainly times when anything could happen (see History section).
In common with other Australian radio stations, Triple J has also gradually increased the amount of talkback content in its programming. There are several reasons for this. Most importantly, talkback provides an inexpensive and popular source of program content, and also provides the appearance of listener interactivity and involvement. And, like many other former 'all music' stations, Triple J have had to respond to the advent of music file-sharing, the iPod and other digital music innovations, which have drastically reduced listeners' dependence on radio as a means of accessing new music and/or their favourite music.
Although the station still promotes itself as being "free and easy" and it remains far more open to new music than any of the commercial stations, there is in fact a high degree of programming structure at Triple J, and while presenters retain a degree of autonomy, most of the music played on air is part of a carefully structured playlist, posted in the studio, to which presenters are obliged to conform.
Evolution of programming
The evolution of Triple J's programming has always been contentious. In the Double Jay days, commercial stations and conservative types regularly cried foul over the station's free use of expletives on air and its ability to ignore the censorship restrictions that were in force on commercial radio. This situation stemmed from Double Jay's status as a special unit of the ABC, which at that time was only answerable to the ABC Board and the Minister for Communications, unlike the commercial stations, which were subject to regulation by the old Broadcasting Control Board (now the Australian Broadcasting Authority) and by their own peak body, the Federation of Australian Commercial Broadcasters (FACB), now known as Commercial Radio Australia.
Over the years the station gained considerable renown for breaking new local acts -- Midnight Oil are probably the prime example of this, and the group would almost certainly not have had anything like the success they enjoyed without the help of Double Jay/Triple J. The station also broke countless overseas acts who were being ignored in their home countries. Double Jay was virtually the only 'pop' station in Australia in the late Seventies to play reggae, dub, punk rock, New Wave, world music electronic music and ambient music. It is indisputable that scores of bands in all of these genres owe their Australian success to the support of the Jays.
Over the years the station moved away from its early style, which featured a high level of news, features, documentaries, current affairs and comedy, and was gradually steered towards a non-commercial version of the continuous music format that prevailed in commercial radio. Many original Double Jay segments -- the nightly "What's On" gig guide, its extensive news and current affairs coverage (which was often criticised for its alleged left wing bias), and its 'community noticeboard' segment -- were gradually eliminated, as were almost all the character comedy spots that had been popular features in previous years.
Effects on local record companies and radio stations
The station also exerted a noticeable effect on local record companies. For many years, local record labels would only import recordings that they knew would get a good commercial return and they were often unwilling to take risks on local releases of unknown acts. Much new music was routinely only available as expensive imports in specialist shops. This began to change almost as soon as Double Jay came on air. A good example of the stations influence was in 1976 when Double Jay championed a new album, 801 Live, recorded by a one-off group that included former Roxy Music members Phil Manzanera and Brian Eno. Although the LP was hailed overseas as one of the best live recordings ever made and set new standards of technical excellence, the Australian distributor at first refused to release it locally, in spite of the fact that it was one of the most requested items on the Double Jay playlist at the time. As a result of the remarkable import sales that Double Jay generated -- it became the highest selling import album that year -- the company was effectively forced into releasing it locally.
Triple J routinely championed many local and overseas acts -- e.g. Midnight Oil, The Models, Paul Kelly, The Clash, Sex Pistols, Public Image Ltd, Nirvana, Foo Fighters, Pixies, Ben Folds Five and hundreds more -- whose music would never have been played on Australian commercial radio. As with the ABC's long-running pop TV show Countdown, the support of Triple J in Australia also had a strong effect on the success of emerging overseas acts.
A classic case in point is American group The B-52's and it is believed that Double Jay was the first radio station in the world to play their debut single Rock Lobster. The support of the Jays had a significant effect on the worldwide success of many acts including Blondie, Devo and more recently Ben Folds Five and especially Ben Harper, whose popularity in Australia -- which was entirely the result of support from Triple J -- was instrumental in breaking him back in his home country, the United States.
It is also notable that Triple J was for many years routinely used as a free market research facility by commercial stations. As mainstream pop radio struggled to establish itself on the FM band, commercial stations like those owned by Austereo constantly monitored what songs and acts were doing especially well on Triple J and would then introduce the most 'saleable' of them into their own playlists. The huge commercial success of acts like The Police and Nirvana in Australia unquestionably stemmed directly from the support of Triple J.
Specialty music genres
Triple J programming schedule includes some shows featuring many specialty genres:
- Hip Hop Show (hip-hop and rap)
- Groove Train (electronic and trance)
- Full Metal Racket (heavy metal - formerly 3 Hours of Power)
- Short Fast Loud (punk)
- The Sound Lab (experimental)
- Roots N All (roots and blues)
The weekly J-Files show has had two incarnations over the years. From 1996 to 2003, it was a three hour late weeknight show hosted by Richard Kingsmill. Each show would be topical; it may feature an artist, a particular year in the past, or songs with a certain theme. Examples of themed shows include #9 songs (which was the theme on 9 September 1999's show), cats & dogs, New Zealand bands, or banned songs.
Today, the J-Files is a one hour Saturday afternoon show, hosted by various Triple J presenters. Generally it is pre-recorded, and only artists are featured.
Live at the Wireless
Main article: Live at the Wireless
Live at the Wireless is a long standing tradition of Triple J. It is a weekly broadcast of live music, of a number of forms - open air festivals, smaller concerts, or acoustic performances in the studio. Occasionally, Triple J will host a live performance in a secret location, and give away tickets to a limited number of listeners, to allow them to be a part of the special event.
Home and Hosed
Up until 2002, the Australian Music Show was Triple J's all-Australian music segment, broadcast as a three hour late weeknight show (10pm to 1am) and hosted by Richard Kingsmill. Starting in 2003, the format changed to a two-hour show every weeknight (9pm to 11pm, shortening Super Request and the late night specialty shows by an hour each) and Robbie Buck became the presenter. It proved to be one of Triple J's most popular changes, as the audience (and the station itself) has traditionally been very supportive of local talent and unsigned bands.
News and current affairs
Triple J has their own independent news team, specifically covering news and issues that are relevant to the youth of Australia, such as education, the environment, as well as general music news.
Current news staff:
Past news journalists (some of whom are still with Triple J):
Hack is Triple J's half-hour news and current affairs show, broadcast from 5.30pm weeknights. It is hosted by former Morning Show (Triple J's current affairs outlet in the past) host and reporter Steve Cannane. Controversial topics are often discussed on the show, which is typically against globalisation, human rights abuses, music piracy , commercial media, and the current Australian government.
The Breakfast Show
The Breakfast Show is one of the stations flagship shows. From 1999 until 2004, it was co-hosted by Adam Spencer & Wil Anderson. The pair were known for their unusual sense of humour, highlighted by regular segments including Mary from Junee, Essense of Steve and Are you smarter than Dools?.
At the start of 2004, Spencer and Anderson announced that they would be leaving the station at the end of the year. They broadcast their final program for the station on Friday 26 November 2004 from Sydney University's Manning Bar, a site that held sentimental value to Spencer, as that was where he got his start in stand-up comedy. In 2005, Jay and Lindsay from Frenzal Rhomb took over as hosts of Triple J's breakfast show.
This Sporting Life
Main article: This Sporting Life
This Sporting Life (TSL) is a parody of sporting panel programs, created and hosted by actor-writer-comedians John Doyle and Greig Pickhaver (under the name Roy & HG). As well as sport, the duo cast a wide comedic net that encompasses the world of entertainment, politics and celebrity in general. TSL is remarkable as one of the few successful comedy programs that is substantially improvised. As the longest-running show in Triple J's programming history, it still commands a large and dedicated nationwide audience.
Restoring the Balance
Main article: Restoring the Balance
Restoring the Balance was broadcast sporadically on Sunday afternoons during 2004. The primary concept behind the show is a satire of the contrasting political views between the conservative Australian Howard government, and the majority of the left-wing government-funded Triple J radio station. The show suggests that the station was forced to broadcast a segment of right-wing political views in order to restore the balance.
Main article: Triple J Hottest 100
The Triple J Hottest 100 is an annual poll of the most popular songs amongst its listeners. It has been conducted for almost a decade in its present form, and attracts nearly 200,000 votes - one of the largest music polls in the world. It has also spawned a series of successful compilation CDs, and more recently, music DVDs.
Main article: Unearthed
Unearthed, an ongoing project to find hidden talent, began in 1995. It originally focused on regional areas but now covers all areas of Australia. Many of these discoveries have been very successful -- some have even been successful enough to receive commercial radio airplay, such as Grinspoon, Killing Heidi and Missy Higgins.
The Unearthed competition was inspired by the success of a talent search on SBS-TV program "Nomad" called "Pick Me". This segment, co-produced by Triple J, discovered a trio from Newcastle called the "Innocent Criminals", who later gained international fame under the name Silverchair.
Beat the Drum
Triple J occasionally runs a competition known as 'Beat the Drum' - named for their logo of three drumsticks hitting a drum. It is competition designed to promote the logo whereby whoever displayed it in the most prominent place would win a prize. Notable entries include
- A girl who distributed postcards of herself with the Triple J logo painted on her naked buttocks
- A Triple J t-shirt being waved behind the presentation of a gold medal to an Australia swimmer at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics
- One of the 2000 Sydney Olympics opening ceremony participants wearing a Triple J T-shirt bearing the logo
- The placement of a large Triple J logo on the musicians platform at the closing ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
- The winner in 2000 who drove his car, converted into a large 3D drum logo, across Australia.
- A group of people erecting road signs with the Triple J frequency all the way up the east coast of Australia
- A farmer in Queensland who formed a drum logo shaped crop circle measuring 1 by 1.5 km in his wheatfields. This entry won in the individual/small group category in 2004.
In late 2004, the station's promotion for that year's Beat The Drum contest caused a brief but bitter controversy after it released a series of promotional images featuring the 'Drum' logo. Many were outraged by the ill-advised inclusion of a mocked-up image of the former World Trade Centre draped with a huge Drum flag.
Many Double Jay and early Triple J presenters went on to successful careers with commercial stations, the most notable being Doug Mulray , who honed his distinctive comedy-based style at the Jays before moving to rival FM rock station 2-MMM (Triple M) in the 1980s, where he became the most popular breakfast presenter in Sydney (and one of the highest-paid radio personalities in the country). Presenter Annette Shun Wah went on to host the popular Rock Around The World series on SBS TV and she is now a program executive with SBS TV and producer of The Movie Show.
Past presenters (since 1999)
- Nicole Fossati (Drive, 2002; The Club, 2003)
- Jaslyn Hall (World Music Show, -2001)
- Francis Leach (Creatures, -1999; The Morning Show, 2000-2002)
- Sarah MacDonald (The Morning Show, -1998-1999)
- Charlie Pickering (Drive, 2002-2003)
- Jim Trail (Weekend Breakfast, -1998-2000)
- Michael Tunn (Request Fest, -1997; Lunch, 1998-1999)
- Justin Wilcombes (Net 50, -1998-2000)
- Merrick Watts and Tim Ross - "Merrick and Rosso" (Drive, 1999-2000)
- Adam Spencer (Drive, -1998; Breakfast Show, 1999-2004)
- Wil Anderson (Breakfast Show, 2001-2004)
Past presenters (pre 1999)
- Jen Apostolou (Net 50, -1998)
- Angela Catterns (The Morning Show, 1990-1997?)
- Jane Gazzo (Super Request, -1998)
- Judith Lucy (Drive, 1997)
- Paul McDermott (Breakfast, 1997)
- Paul Murray (Request Fest, 1994)
- Jen Oldershaw (Breakfast Show, 1998)
- Helen Razor (3 Hours Of Power, 1990-1991; Breakfast Show, 1992-1996; Drive, 1997-1998)
- Ian Rogerson (Drive, 1990 -1995)
- Catriona Rowntree (Request Fest, 1994; Groove Train, -1996?)
- Mikey Robbins (Breakfast Show, 1991-1998)
- The Sandman aka Steve Abbott (Breakfast Show, 1998)
- Debbie Spillane
- Debbie Flintoff King (This sporting life 1974)
Presenters (before 1990)
- Triple J - includes live audio streaming of the station's broadcast, as well as archives of recent editions of shows.
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