BRW Rich Listers Hamish Blake and Andy Lee and other success stories are nowhere to be seen as Melbourne’s Channel 31, the struggling community TV station that gave them a start, struggles to raise the $300,000 needed to upgrade its studio facilities during its current subscriberthon.
Channel 31 has been hit hard by the Federal Government’s mandated switch to digital television and the need to upgrade its studio facilities. Without an immediate cash injection the station could be forced to stick with its second-rate analogue signal, which is being switched off around Australia.
For years, Channel 31 has served as an incubator for talent that has then been poached by commercial networks keen to exploit the youth advertising market, with megastars Rove McManus, Corinne Grant and Peter Helliar all making the jump to the big league.
Yesterday, on Melbourne community station 3RRR, Channel 31 manager Richard McLelland urged the station’s alumni to dig deep, highlighting the discrepancy between the cash-drenched commercial world and Channel 31’s shoestring operation. McLelland said the station would ”disappear into dust” without the extra cash to upgrade the station’s facilities, which were “way behind the eight ball”. But the station’s alumni had remained silent.
Presenter: “So you haven’t heard from Rove or Hamish and Andy, they haven’t stepped up?”
McLelland: “Haven’t seen any cash yet…I think you should name and shame.”
The ratings-topping duo, who are reaching the end of a record-setting three-year contract with radio conglomerate Austereo and are looking at a looming breakthrough on the lucrative US television landscape, did not respond to Crikey queries this morning over how much money they would donate to the community TV station.
In 2003, Hamish and Andy got their break on the sketch comedy show Radio Karate before Seven swooped with offers (the Hamish and Andy Show had a short life before the pair switched to Ten). Their talent was quickly recognised by Austereo, who made the duo drive-time stars across the country.
Last month, the Victorian state government gave $350,000 to the station, to build on a previous last-ditch rescue package of $650,000 received from federal authorities. But this falls well short of the amount needed to keep the digital stream flowing.
McLelland told Crikey the response rate to the subscription drive in general has been marked by a distinct “lack of enthusiasm”. The station relies on donations and sponsorship for 80% of its revenue.
Rove’s Manager Kevin Whyte said the former star of Channel 31’s The Loft, which also featured Helliar, was in the United States and would be difficult to contact before Crikey’s deadline. Speculation has been swirling for months that Rove will soon stitch up a lucrative Los Angeles-based chat show deal following high-profile appearances last year on the Jay Leno Show. Tweets directed at Rove, who wished Helliar luck for the debut of his new TV show on his Twitter account this morning, went unreturned.
Whyte said Rove had supported the station in the past through numerous PR appearances but was unable to say if Rove had donated any money to Channel 31. In 2005, Rove hired Hamish and Andy to create a Network Ten show, Real Stories. Like Rove, Hamish and Andy also appeared last year on Leno.
Helliar got his break on Channel 31 stand-up show Under Melbourne Tonight before joining The Loft in 1997. Rove and Helliar then went on to repeat the successful formula on Channel 10 with the Sunday night variety show Rove Live.
But Helliar’s publicist told Crikey the star was busy rehearsing for tonight’s premiere of Channel 7’s The Bounce and would be “difficult to contact”. Seven lured Helliar from Ten to helm the new show, reportedly for a six-figure sum.
The station’s last-ditch live telethon will air on Sunday at 7:30pm, hosted by Vasili from cult gardening show Vasili’s Garden.