When I was in Melbourne last week doing a bit of background business, I went in to the 3RRR studios on Sunday night with my old pal Bruce Milne and did a special episode of his regular show Where Yo Is by way of celebrating the show we used to do together on RRR in 1979, Know Your Product. Know Your Product was not so much a punk as post-punk show – because by ’79, certainly as far as we were concerned, the shock and fury of the Class of 77 was already a spent force, and now music, from a clean slate, was opening out again (like the universe itself, music expands and contracts in a cycle with big bangs in between, and punk was a big bang that like any other added whole new dimensions in space, new generic galaxies to the music universe) – and Know Your Product, we'd like to think, well, it was well-remembered for what it did, because people virtually demanded we do this reunion/tribute while we could... here.
I had arrived in Melbourne from Brisbane at the very beginning of 1978 to continue work with Bruce on our trans-capital punk fanzine Pulp, the first issue of which had come out at the end of ’77. Pulp quickly folded, however, and Bruce left Melbourne to go over to Adelaide to work on our sort of panacea, Roadrunner magazine. I stayed in Melbourne and got a job doing paste-up in the art department of Coles in the city, while I served as RR’s ostensible ‘Melbourne Editor’. I can only say this with certainty now because for sake of this special show, I did something I’d long contemplated, which was go back to the State Library of Victoria and look up the archive of Radio City, RRR’s newsmagazine for subscribers, that started publication in April, 1978, around the same time the station took up residence in a new standalone studio in an old terrace house in Cardigan St, Carlton. Radio City would list the program grid. At long last I could get a bead on the true timeline, and put other things back together around it.
So it’s only now that I really understand that Know Your Product happened in ’79, not ’78, under which illusion I’d long labored. What actually happened was that when Bruce got back from three or four months in Adelaide, after the RR sands had shifted under his feet, we got back together again and went in to RRR to offer ourselves up as volunteer announcers. Bruce had previously, before going to Adelaide, done a bit firstly on 3SW and then 3RMT. It was the formidable Nadia Anderson I remember put us on. Starting in June, Bruce did Thursday nights 10-12pm, a nice slot, then - our routine became - we shot some pinball up on Lygon St, then we went back to the studio at 2am for me to head my graveyard shift.
It was a surprise for me to be reminded that I had done a solo shift at RRR in ’78 before Bruce and I came together as an actual two-header to do Know Your Product. But the timeline makes sense and explains other personal stuff besides. What I can’t figure out is how I got enough records to cover four hours every week, but Bruce and I shared stuff and he remembers borrowing stuff from record shops like One-Stop and Missing Link. When us two were doing those Thursday nights, the Saturday morning slot, I was delighted to be reminded, was done by our friend Linda Baron, with a show with ‘Little’ Mark Ryan called Teen Beat. When we all started in 1978, it was a bit of a new incursion on RRR. To us, the station was mostly older, refugees from Melbourne’s theatre underground like the Pram Factory and all that. Folks like us added a new necessary dimension to RRR.
By the start of 1979, Bruce and I were preparing to shift to Saturday mornings. When we opened at 9am on March 3, the show certainly wasn’t listed in Radio City as Know Your Product. It just had the generic ‘Weekend Radio’ tag. It took on the Radio City listing as Know Your Product in May, but I’m certain we’d long referred to it as that and always used the Saints’ track as our theme.
We did the show all up for four or five months in 1979, the winter basically. It was certainly a time of an extraordinary explosion of new new music coming out mostly on 45, and in a way that makes making a radio show easy. Although that’s easy to say now. But it was, and Bruce and I were reminded of the fact when after forty years we did another two hours together on RRR last week. Hopefully it won’t be the last two hours! We only managed to squeeze in twenty tracks amid all the mad chatter, and there’s still another twenty shows’ worth of tracks you could do just like that, such was the fervidity of the reinvention of rock that took place in that immediate post-punk era. One great record after another every week, mostly singles, some hits but many, mostly, not. But no different to any time when pop generally hits some kind of tipping point and changes.
Really, because I’ve long just wanted to hear how all the eras of music unfolded, I don’t think the excitement of my blank-generation experience is any greater than any other great flowering, and pop has so many such moments, but obviously for me a period that is my starting point has special import. And sometimes you can be embarrassed by listening back to things you liked, and think how awful they are, or other things you hated and think actually, they’re good. That’s just the ever-evolving brain of a true songcatcher.
But measure what we can only reconstruct in our memories as to what our playlists were with the RRR charts of the time, and I’d still back our strike-rate. Put it this way. The sign up in the studio in the late 70s that Bruce refers to in the show/lead image above, that asked announcers not to play Elvis Costello all the time, well, we didn’t play Elvis Costello at all! Never been enamoured of him myself, and I know Bruce wasn’t either – too many words crammed into too small a space for me, making for nothing but suffocation – and we didn’t play most of what the station’s charts rated highly either. Didn’t play the Sports, the Cars, I dunno, didn’t play the Clash, didn’t play most everything everybody else seemed to. But did play Ian Dury, other things. We played what we wanted. We thought it was the good shit, the best shit, and we thought that everything else was real shit. We were right and we were wrong. Which is the whole idea and glory of public radio. You can hear all the more detail – and here just a handful of the songs we loved and loved playing – by going here.
Know Your Product ended, for whatever reason I can’t remember, in July 1979. Teen Beat made a return to the Saturday morning slot and Bruce and I were shuffled around the schedule, Bruce in a sort of promotion back to Thursday nights 10-midnight, and me getting a real booby prize, one of the worst slots in radio, the graveyard shift on Friday night/Saturday morning. Go on air at 2am after being out at a gig or a party or the pub and somehow grind through to 6am. What I remember is being relieved at dawn by Ron Meerbeck and Julie Purvis, who were friends too, who were then followed by Linda Baron with Teen Beat and she was another friend too who, if I remember rightly, shared a house at that time with Julie. So there were more of us sneaking in there. Bruce was followed on Thursday nights at midnight by John Murphy, and Alan Bamford and others had started doing shifts too, and that was the ‘little bands’ scene that was eulogized in Dogs in Space. Most of the rest of the year played out like that until even I got a bit of a promotion, up to Thursday midnights, which meant Bruce and I were back where started, sort of, back-to-back and crossing over on each other’s shows. Playing pinball on Lygon St. I started doing Thursday-midnights in November, but did it only for a month because in December ’79, I moved to Sydney.
So I went to Sydney and started writing for the major music press and Bruce for one thing, continued on at RRR. His legendary, pioneering cassette-zine Fast Forward was conceived in and put together in the studio at RRR, which does beg the question as to why it wasn’t stand-alone show in its own right? Then in the latter 80s he and Phil Brophy fronted the legendary, long-running trash-pop culture show Eeek! And now he’s still there at RRR, doing Where Yo Is on Sunday nights – one of the longest serving announcers on the station alongside Johnny Topper and the aforesaid Geoff King – all of which is part of what makes, I reckon, 3RRR one of the world’s great not-just public-radio stations but radio stations period. For me, it did still remain all the Rs - I went from RRR and RR (Roadrunner) to RAM and Rolling Stone. I never went back to radio and now I think that's a bit of a shame. But I sit here at my desk in Sydney writing and streaming the many shows RRR broadcasts that I love. And now I can stream a podcast that even features me! if you need to be reminded again, right here!