Triple J (stylized triple j) is a government-funded, national Australian radio station that began broadcasting in 1975 as a division of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). It aims to appeal to young listeners of alternative music,[1][2] and plays more Australian content than commercial networks.[3][4]

Triple J
Broadcast areaAustralia: FM, DAB, DVB-T Ch-28 & Online
Worldwide: Internet radio
FrequencyVarious
Programming
Language(s)English
Format
Ownership
OwnerAustralian Broadcasting Corporation
History
First air date
19 January 1975; 49 years ago (1975-01-19)
Links
Webcast
Websitewww.abc.net.au/triplej/ Edit this at Wikidata

In his tenure as Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam wanted to create a youth-focused radio station to extend the appeal of the ABC. Originally broadcasting solely to Greater Sydney as 2JJ and later Double J from 19 January 1975, the station quickly set itself apart from commercial networks by playing mainly Australian content as well as songs censored or banned elsewhere. From 1981, the station began broadcasting nationally as 2JJJ or Triple J as FM-only, and continued to expanded regionally throughout the 1990s. From 2014, spin-off digital radio station Double J was launched to appeal to more contemporary audiences. In 2015, Triple J dominated national ratings in the 25–39 demographic, but it has since been losing its audience due to the rise of streaming media.

Triple J has had a significant impact on the national music landscape, being a major supporter of Australian music festivals and tours of domestic and international artists. Every year, they broadcast the Hottest 100, a public music poll that has been called the "world's greatest music democracy", as well as the J Awards, a listener-voted music awards series.[5] They annually champion Ausmusic Month and founded the nationwide Ausmusic T-Shirt Day initiative in 2013. Further, the network's music discovery platform, Triple J Unearthed, provides pathways for independent artists to be broadcast on the network.[6] However, the station has been criticised for promoting a homogenous Australian music scene.

History edit

1970s: Launch and early years edit

Calls for a new radio station edit

The launch of a new, youth-focused radio station was a product of the progressive media policies of the Whitlam government of 1972–75.[7] Gough Whitlam wanted to "set the station up to woo young voters," and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), worried about its declining audience, "wanted a station for young people who would grow up to be ABC listeners."[8] A new station was also a recommendation stemming from the McLean Report of 1974, which suggested expanding radio broadcasting onto the FM band, issuing a new class of broadcasting license which permitted the establishment of community radio stations, and the creation of two new stations for the ABC – 2JJ in Sydney, later known as Double J, and the short-lived 3ZZ in Melbourne.[9][10]

2JJ was initially intended to be the first link in Whitlam's planned national youth network; but the expansion was greatly delayed by the election of the Fraser government and the subsequent budget cuts it imposed on the ABC.[11][12] By the time 2JJ went to air, the Whitlam government was in its final months of office. In the 1975 federal election, Labor was defeated by the Liberal-National Party coalition that was led by Malcolm Fraser. During the more conservative media climate that emerged in the Fraser years, 2JJ staff were frequently accused of left-wing bias.[13]

First broadcasts and radical policies edit

2JJ commenced broadcasting at 11:00 am, Sunday 19 January 1975, at 1540 kHz (which switched to 1539 kHz in 1978) on the AM band.[9] The new Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) station was given the official call-sign 2JJ.[14] The station was restricted largely to the greater Sydney region, and its local reception was hampered by inadequate transmitter facilities. However, its frequency was a clear channel nationally, so it was easily heard at night throughout south-eastern Australia. After midnight the station would often use ABC networks – during their off air time slot – to increase its broadcasting range.[15]

Its first broadcast demonstrated a determination to distinguish itself from other Australian radio stations. The first on-air presenter, DJ Holger Brockmann, notably used his own name, which, at his previous role at 2SM, was considered "too foreign-sounding". After an introductory audio collage that featured sounds from the countdown and launch of Apollo 11, Brockmann launched the station's first broadcast with the words, "Wow, and we're away!", and then cued Skyhooks' "You Just Like Me 'Cos I'm Good in Bed".[14] The choice of this song to introduce the station was significant, as it represented several important features of the Double J brand at the time. Choosing an Australian band reflected Double J's commitment to Australian content at a time when American acts dominated commercial pop stations. The song was one of several tracks from the Skyhooks' album that had been banned on commercial radio for its explicit sexual content.[16][11][17] Because Double J was a government-funded station operating under the umbrella of the ABC, it was not bound by commercial censorship codes, and was not answerable to advertisers or the station owners. In contrast, their Sydney rival, 2SM, was owned by a holding company controlled by the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney, resulting in the ban or editing of numerous songs.[citation needed]

The internal politics of 2JJ were considered a radical departure from the formats of commercial stations. 2JJ's presenters had almost total freedom in their on-air delivery, allowed to "access all areas". Both the presenters and the station staff participated in major policy decisions. For example, as Austin reflected: "In early March, women took over the station as announcers to celebrate International Women's Day", and "The listeners owned the station ... and if they wanted to come to the meetings and join the debate, they were welcome".[8]

In its early years 2JJ's on-air staff were mainly recruited from either commercial radio or other ABC stations. Later, in another first, the roster also featured presenters who did not come from a radio industry background, including singer-songwriters Bob Hudson[18] and John J. Francis, and actor Lex Marinos.[19] Francis commenced broadcasting in the Saturday midnight-to-dawn shift in 1975, and the program became so popular that it was expanded to include Friday and Sunday nights two years later.[20] Other notable foundation staff and presenters in January 1975 were Webb and Ron Moss,[12] Arnold Frolows, Mark Colvin, Jim Middleton, Mac Cocker (father of musician Jarvis Cocker).[12][21]

Rise in popularity edit

The station rapidly gained popularity, especially with its target youth demographic: media articles noted that in its first two months on air, 2JJ reached a 5.4% share of the total radio audience, with 17% in the 18–24 age group, while the audience share of rival 2SM dropped by 2.3%.[22] Despite the poor quality of reception caused by the Sydney transmitter, the station still saw rapid growth.[23] Austin explained that station staff threatened industrial action in July 1975 due to the transmitter issues, but officials of the BCB still refused to meet with 2JJ representatives. A new transmitter was not provided until 1980, following the transition to the FM band.[8]

Controversy emerged after the station hosted an open-air concert in Liverpool, New South Wales, in June 1975, featuring Skyhooks and Dragon. The city's Sun newspaper claimed that attendees were "shocked" by "depictions of sexual depravity and shouted obscenities", which allegedly caused women in the audience to clap their hands over their ears, and reportedly prompted Coalition frontbencher Peter Nixon to call for the station to be closed down.[24]

The station regularly sponsored live concerts and organised a number of major outdoor concert events in the late 1970s, culminating in an outdoor, all-day event in Parramatta Park, Sydney on 18 January 1981 to celebrate the end of Double J and the start of 2JJJ. Attended by 40,000 people, the historic concert featured Midnight Oil and Matt Finish.[25][26]

1980s: National expansion edit

On 1 August 1980, 2JJ began broadcasting on the FM band at a frequency of 105.7 MHz (again restricted to within the greater Sydney region) and became 2JJJ – later known as Triple J.[7] The first song played was another track then banned from commercial radio, "Gay Guys" by the Dugites.

On 19 January 1981, the AM transmissions ceased, and 2JJJ became an FM-only station. It was not until the late 1980s that the ABC was finally able to begin development of the long-delayed national "youth network", with JJJ expanding to Adelaide, Brisbane, Canberra, Darwin, Hobart, Melbourne, Newcastle, and Perth from October 1989.

In the late 1980s, EMI manager director Barry Chapman was appointed as general manager to oversee Triple J's network expansion. His tenure, and the expansion of the network, generated controversy, most notably in 1990, when a large portion of 2JJJ's Sydney-based on air staff was fired, including the most popular presenters Tony Biggs and Tim Ritchie. Several protests were held outside its William Street studios, and a public meeting that packed the Sydney Town Hall with angry listeners spilled out onto the street.[citation needed]

Concern was expressed about the introduction of a more highly programmed music format, and the appointment of Chapman 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 new talent.

Chapman oversaw a radical overhaul of Triple J's programming and marketing, introducing an early morning comedy breakfast program with two presenters, a late morning talk and talkback program, and a light talk-and-comedy afternoon drive-time shift. He also maintained and strengthened the station's commitment to live music, as he did at 2SM.

1990s: Regional expansion edit

Throughout the 1990s, Triple J commenced expansion to more regional areas of Australia and, 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. As of 2006, Triple J's most recent expansion was to Broome, Western Australia.

2000–2009: Frolows' departure and digital expansion edit

In May 2003, Arnold Frolows, the only remaining member of the original Double Jay staff of 1975, stepped down after 28 years as Triple J music director. He was replaced by presenter Richard Kingsmill, who joined the station in 1988.[27][28]

Adapting to the digital streaming age, in 2004, the station began to release podcasts of some of its talkback shows, including Dr Karl, This Sporting Life, and Hack.[citation needed] In 2006, Triple J launched JTV, a series of television programs broadcast on ABC and ABC2 including music videos, live concerts, documentaries, and comedy, as well as a behind-the-scenes look at Triple J's studios.[29] In 2008, JTV was rebranded as Triple J TV.[30]

 
Bands playing at Triple J's Come Together festival in 2005.

In 2014, ABC's Dig Music digital radio station was rebranded and relaunched as Double J on 30 April 2014.[31][32] The new station featured both new music and material from Triple J interview and sound archives.[33] Former Triple J announcer Myf Warhurst, who hosted the inaugural shift, said "it's for people who love music, and also love a bit of music history."[33]

In ratings released in August 2015, Triple J was the highest or equal first in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth in the 25–39 demographic.[34]

2017–2022: Hottest 100 controversy, refresh and ratings decline edit

Triple J attracted significant news coverage in the lead-up to the Hottest 100 of 2017, when the station announced they would move the countdown date to the fourth weekend of January, rather than on Australia Day, due to Invasion Day protests and the Change the Date debate.[35][36]

In November 2019, the station began a major overhaul of its hosts, replacing longtime presenters including Gen Fricker and Tom Tilley with younger talent including Bryce Mills and Lucy Smith.[37]

As radio ratings continue to decline across the board due to the rise of streaming media, Triple J has seen a 2.5% decline of listeners across the major capital cities between late April and June 2022.[38] Compared to the audience share of 7.7% in the Sydney 18–24 year-old demographic in 2021, the station had dropped to 4.4% in 2022.[38]

2023–present: Kingsmill's departure and station restructure edit

In December 2023, it was announced that Richard Kingsmill, who had been the music director of Triple J, Double J and other related stations, would be leaving after 35 years at the ABC.[39] During his tenure, he doubled the amount of airtime given to Australian artists, from 30% to 60%, and increased the station's audience from 980,000 in 2006 to 3 million in 2022.[40][41] According to The Music, a "heated meeting with staff in Sydney" regarding the changes involved audible "shock and disappointment", particularly over Kingsmill's redundancy.[42] Several news outlets including The Guardian and Mumbrella wrote pieces about Kingsmill's importance to the Australian music scene,[43] with Nathan Jolly of the latter calling the broadcaster "the most important single figure in the history of Australian music", on par with Michael Gudinski and Molly Meldrum.[28]

Further, the corporation's head of music and creative development, Meagan Loader, announced her departure.[42] Ben Latimer, former head of the Nova network, was announced as the new head of radio at the ABC, amidst a major board restructuring.[42] Host of Triple J's Weekend Arvos programme Jess Perkins also announced she was leaving,[44] along with Breakfast newsreader Tim Shepherd, while Good Nights with Latifa Tee was axed.[45]

Music and programming edit

Music evolution edit

In the station's early years, Triple J primarily played pop rock, but the range of music programmed was far wider than its commercial rivals, encompassing both mainstream and alternative rock and pop, experimental and electronic music, progressive rock, funk, soul, disco, the emerging ambient, punk and New Wave genres of the late 70s and reggae.

The station played an unprecedented level of Australian content, and was a pioneer in its coverage of independent music. Early presenter Gayle Austin reflected in 2006: "At that time Australian music didn’t have much production put into it because there wasn’t much money made out of it."[12] Staff at the station were expected to "provide an alternative to the mainstream, with a heavy emphasis on Australian content".[12] This is because the station has always had a 40% minimum Australian content quota, well above commercial radio's 25%.[38]

In recent decades however, this commitment to Australian music has waned, according to Shaad D'Souza of The Guardian. In 2022, he reflected, saying their music has "more in common now with commercial stations: pop A-listers including Billie Eilish, Olivia Rodrigo, Lil Nas X and the Kid Laroi are all playlist fixtures, with Eilish even winning the Hottest 100 in 2018 – an outcome that would have been unthinkable even a few years earlier."[38][46]

Programming evolution edit

Through the mid-to-late 80s, Triple J pioneered 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 on Australian mainstream radio.

Nowadays, as well as broadcasting a number of genre-specific music programmes throughout the week, Triple J has a several live music segments including Like a Version – a weekly programme which sees an artist perform an original and a cover song, and Live at the Wireless – broadcasts of exclusive concert recordings.

Triple J's news updates are produced from a youth-oriented perspective. Hack, the station's flagship current affairs programme, is broadcast every weekday evening and features investigations into relevant issues impacting young Australians.[47]

Impact edit

Homogenisation of music edit

In January 2014, Fairfax newspapers published a report questioning if Triple J could be blamed for the homogenisation of Australian music.[48] Reporters interviewed a number of notable musicians who remained anonymous. One respondent talked of a certain "Triple J sound" that artists require to be played on the station.[49] Music director of Triple J Unearthed, Dave Ruby Howe, acknowledged there were some similar sounds on the discovery platform, but said bands purely chasing airplay will get caught out.[49]

In 2022, these concerns were aired once again with a report from The Guardian.[38] D'Souza interviewed longtime listeners who agreed the station is "dominated by garage-pop bands", particularly referring to the bands "Spacey Jane, Lime Cordiale, Skegss and Ball Park Music" who "are consistently among the most played artists on the station every year." Another respondent said the "station's programming is consistent to a fault."[38]

Effect on mainstream media edit

With a more adventurous music catalogue than that of commercial radio, especially throughout the 1980s, Triple J has been responsible for popularising some of Australia's most well-known acts, including Midnight Oil, Nick Cave, Silverchair and the John Butler Trio.[50] They have also been given credit for creating local audiences for overseas acts, like Blondie, Devo, Garbage and the B-52s – Double Jay was the first radio station in the world to play their debut single "Rock Lobster".[51] Reflecting on the station's 30 year anniversary in 2005, former presenter Steve Cannane said "Plenty of musos, comedians, announcers and journos got their start courtesy of the station."[50]

There have been low points. But at least [Triple J] has been prepared to take risks, try new things and give people a go. Australian culture is the better for it.

Steve Cannane

Triple J also had a significant effect on record distribution in its early years. Labels would previously only import recordings that they knew would yield good commercial return, leaving them often unwilling to take risks on local releases from unknown acts. Australian distributors initially refused to offer 801's 1976 live album 801 Live in the country, but constant airplay on Double Jay made the record the highest selling import album of the year. Thus, the label decided to release it locally.[citation needed]

Triple J's programming approach was copied by succeeding commercial stations. Notably, Nova, who had also branded themselves as a competitor youth station, had a "clearly borrowed" catalogue from Triple J, but was slightly more conservative with its song selections.[52]

In 1990, Triple J had been playing N.W.A's protest song "Fuck tha Police" for up to six months, before catching the attention of ABC management who subsequently banned it. As a result, the staff went on strike and put the group's song "Express Yourself" on continuous play for 24 hours, playing it roughly 82 times in a row.[53][54] In 2014, when launching Double J on digital radio, the station played nothing but "Express Yourself" for 48 hours.[55][56]

Initiatives edit

Triple J Unearthed edit

 
Missy Higgins says her 2001 Unearthed success led to her initial record deal and subsequent success.[57]

Triple J Unearthed is an online music discovery platform and digital radio station that features only Australian content and focuses on discovering hidden local music talent. Originally beginning as a talent competition in 1996, notable winners of the time included Killing Heidi, Missy Higgins and Grinspoon.[58][59] The modern Triple J Unearthed was launched as a website in 2006, and in five years, grew to host 30,000 artists and 250,000 users. Musicians can upload their songs to the site, and users can rate tracks and leave comments.[60] In 2011, Triple J Unearthed was launched as a digital station in five Australian capital cities.[6] The website received a major redesign in 2021.[61]

Unearthed hosts a number of competitions and initiatives to improve the recognition of independent artists. Unearthed High, for example, is an annual contest held since 2008 aimed at musicians and bands in high school. The winner receives mentoring, recording opportunities and airplay on Triple J. Recent acts to have found success with the initiative include Hockey Dad (2014), The Kid Laroi (2018), Genesis Owusu (2015) Japanese Wallpaper (2014) and Gretta Ray (2016).[62]

Ausmusic Month edit

Every November, Triple J, Double J and Unearthed celebrate Ausmusic Month, where Australian acts are heavily promoted across all three stations.[63] A number of events are organised, including major concerts – in 2010 this included headlining acts Bag Raiders and Ball Park Music and in 2018 featured performances from Paul Kelly, Crowded House and Missy Higgins.[63] Triple J hosts the J Awards during the month,[64] and encourages listeners to wear their favourite band's T-shirt on Ausmusic T-Shirt Day, which the station founded in 2013.[65]

Events edit

Hottest 100 edit

The Hottest 100 is an annual poll of the previous year's most popular songs, as voted by its listeners. It has been conducted for over two decades in its present form, and in 2016 attracted 2.26 million votes from 172 countries.[66][67] It is promoted as the "world's greatest music democracy" and has also spawned a series of compilation CDs released via ABC Music. The countdown of the poll had regularly taken place on Australia Day from 1998 to 2017.[67] In response to controversy surrounding the Australia Day debate, it was announced in November 2017 that future countdowns would be aired on the fourth weekend of January to avoid associations with the public holiday.[68]

The station also runs irregular speciality Hottest 100 countdowns, such as the Hottest 100 Australian Albums in 2011, the Hottest 100 of the 2010s in 2020, and the Hottest 100 of Like a Version in 2023.[69][70]

In July 2023, the network launched Triple J Hottest, an online radio station featuring a playlist of tracks from all previous Hottest 100 countdowns.[71] It is the first sister channel to not be available on digital radio, instead only available via streaming (including the website, app, and streaming services such as TuneIn and iHeartRadio).[72]

J Awards edit

The J Awards are an annual awards ceremony held at the start of December each year to celebrate Australian music. The four award categories are Australian album of the year, Australian music video of the year, Unearthed artist of the year and Double J artist of the year. The most recent J Award winners for Australian album of the year include 14 Steps to a Better You by Lime Cordiale in 2020, Smiling With No Teeth by Genesis Owusu in 2021, Angel in Realtime by Gang of Youths in 2022, and Drummer by G Flip in 2023.

Beat the Drum edit

In the early 2000s, Triple J occasionally ran a competition known as Beat the Drum, named after their logo of three drumsticks hitting a drum. It was a contest designed to promote the logo, whereby, whoever displays it in the most prominent place would win a prize. Notable entries included: a girl who distributed postcards of herself with the Triple J logo painted on her naked buttocks;[citation needed] one of the 2000 Sydney Olympics opening ceremony participants wearing a Triple J T-shirt bearing the logo;[citation needed] and a farmer in Queensland who formed a drum logo-shaped crop circle in his wheat-fields.[73]

In late 2004, the station's promotion for that year's Beat the Drum contest caused a brief controversy after it released a series of promotional images featuring the logo, one of which including a mocked-up image of the former World Trade Center draped with a huge Drum flag.[74]

In 2015, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Triple J, a one-off, seven-hour concert called Beat the Drum was held on 16 January at The Domain, Sydney. Hosted by Peter Garrett, the list of performers, all of whom are the beneficiaries of the station's support, included Hilltop Hoods, the Presets, the Cat Empire, You Am I, Daniel Johns, Joelistics, Ball Park Music, Adalita, Vance Joy, and Gotye. The majority of performers played a combination of their own music and cover versions, including Sarah Blasko and Paul Dempsey's rendition of Crowded House's "Distant Sun", and the Preatures covering "At First Sight" by the Stems and the Divinyls' "All the Boys in Town".[75][76][77][78]

Impossible Music Festival edit

Broadcast annually from 2005 to 2008 was the Impossible Music Festival, a radio event that consisted of 55 live music recordings played consecutively over one weekend. The lineup of artists each time was decided by listeners, and recordings were derived from festivals, concerts, pub gigs and studio sessions.

One Night Stand edit

Every year from 2004 to 2019, Triple J hosted One Night Stand, a free, all-ages concert at a different small town, featuring three or four Australian musical acts, with each lineup curated by Kingsmill.[79] Entries needed to include examples of local support, including community (signatures), local government (council approval), and a venue for the concert.[80]

Tribute concerts edit

In November 2009, Triple J hosted the live show Before Too Long: Triple J's Tribute to Paul Kelly,[79] which was run over two nights at the Forum Theatre in Melbourne, with various artists performing tracks by Paul Kelly.[81] In 2011, another tribute live show was presented by the station, this time for Nick Cave, and packaged in the compilation album Straight to You – Triple J's Tribute to Nick Cave.[82]

J Play edit

J Play was a B2B resource showcasing and tracking artists and songs played on Triple J. Launched in 2006 by Paul Stipack, J Play created a large archive of statistics of every song played by Triple J over 12 years. It showed an artist's trajectory from their first airing to full rotation. The privately-owned site was acquired by Seventh Street Media (Brag Media) along with music publications Tone Deaf and The Brag, in early 2017.[83][84] Owing to changes in the music industry, J Play's usefulness diminished, and it ceased operation in January 2019. The Brag Media retained the J Play database of 40,000 songs, 11,000 artists, and 15,000 playlists.[85]

Presenters edit

Many 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 ABC 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 and is now a program executive with SBS TV and producer of The Movie Show.

As of August 2023, Triple J presenters included:[86]

See also edit

References edit

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