Razer’s defence of Triple J: it’s all in the mix, and the kids like it

A hundred years ago when I was very young, the world was different. Women were yet to be freed from the yoke of compulsory pubic hair and everyday people were forced to survive on a bitter diet of a stuff called “sun-dried tomato”. They forced us to eat it on a doorstop-dough amalgam called “focaccia”.

A lot has changed. For example, people now believe the Foo Fighters are a “band” that makes “music” instead of the sound of retching into a corporate void of dread. But, some things are exactly the same. Like a Sunday Age/Sun-Herald piece that could have been written when I were a lad. Only the Names Have Been Changed.

Plus ca change, plus c’est la même complaint.

The piece has been much-discussed. By which I mean “much-discussed by dudes in upcycled cardigans who write dreary songs about SSRI medication who have been so over-parented by their unjustly proud and unjustly rich white families that they possibly never understand that no one is interested in their lazy abuse of a banjo”.

I didn’t want to read to the end of a critique of my former employer, ABC “youth” station Triple J, because there was no need. I’ve read it literally dozens and figuratively dozens of times. From 1990 until the end of the decade, I must have said a weekly “fuck off” to journalists who rang me to ask “don’t you think you’re selling out?”.

I was not selling out and Triple J was not selling out. First, we were paid very little. Second, we participated in the stimulus of a pop-boom that saw some very average independent musicians buy some very nice houses. Third, the organisation that did then, as it does now, serve its young stakeholders with maximum efficiency. Back In My Day, the station represented a tiny portion of the ABC budget and I am pretty sure this remains unchanged. It’s cheap and it’s good.

But every week, someone who earned three times as much as I did called to ask me questions like, “Why don’t you play Mark of Cain?”, or my least favourite, “Isn’t it wrong that Triple J has a playlist?”.

We did play Mark of Cain on Triple J, but not in the breakfast program. This is because Mark of Cain sounded like a pneumatic drill slowed to the pace of a Fitzroy junkie looking for his tram ticket and so were only played after 9am. We called this dayparting. This is an industry term used only by people who know about music scheduling for radio.

But no one participating in the online discussion about Triple J as a result of the Fairfax piece knows anything about music scheduling for radio.  So I effing will. Otherwise, all you’ll hear are promoters and venue owners and brats with a banjo protecting their self-interest and unassailable belief that Triple J should be entirely programmed by them.

I know about playlists and how they are made and sustained.  I also know that everyone thinks they can successfully build one just as everyone thinks they have great taste. They can’t; they don’t. Successful music scheduling requires diligence and talent.

Triple J’s playlist is immense. There are so many songs in that music database there may as well not be a playlist. A rather funny piece on FasterLouder is the only one to identify a Triple J sound as a confusing “genre clusterfuck”. The data (songs) in the playlist are so abundant they have none of the meaning, or the benefit to musicians, that recurrence provides.

No journalist really ever wanted to hear about the need for a tightly rotating playlist at the national broadcaster. But I tried to explain it in any case.

No one listens to Triple J for the seven hours a day required to get a real feel for the shape of its playlist.”

Why do you have a playlist? Because, if I didn’t have a playlist I would have just whacked Bikini Kill in the CD player for 15 hours a week. Why do you have such a small playlist? Because if I had a yottabyte of tunes (as Triple J does now) you’d never hear that great banjo song more than once because of maths.

Consider that even the primary listener spends just an average of 12 minutes a day listening to your radio station; usually at the same time each day and rarely for more than a continuous single period of seven minutes (these are rough figures; I haven’t had access to granular Nielsen data for five years). And because you only heard Oh My Idle Whimsical Fancy on banjo only once, you wouldn’t develop any affection for it or remember to Shazam it or buy it. Or go see its under-appreciated authors, Daddy Bought Us A Nice Van With Side Air-Bags.

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44 Responses

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  1. Chris Winter, Captain Good Vibes, Holger Brockman, I remember what an eye-opening breath of fresh air 2JJ was for 20 year old kid. What a world they opened up.

    by klewso on Jan 17, 2014 at 1:35 pm

  2. Excellent article, thanks! As a not-so-loud old scrote who at once laments the passing of the triple-j (double-j..?)I once loved and saw as my own, and admires the slick new triple-j with its smorgasbord of often unfathomable yet tasty toons and features, I believe that “the jays” are in good hands.
    I only hope that recent criticism isn’t just part of the orchestrated campaign currently being run to undermine the ABC generally…

    by Big Jimmy on Jan 17, 2014 at 1:51 pm

  3. It’s just Gen crY & Z doing what they do best…

    by Itsarort on Jan 17, 2014 at 2:00 pm

  4. An interesting read - thanks.

    Presumably Dig Music is going to be the Logan’s Run destination for those on both sides of the Triple J microphone from now on.

    by Frank on Jan 17, 2014 at 2:18 pm

  5. Correction:
    “Everyone should leave Triple J before their 30th birthday (except the 50 year old Kingsmill TEENGIRLSQUEE)”

    by Crunt Another on Jan 17, 2014 at 2:18 pm

  6. I grew up listing to JJ and JJJ - Rusty Nails, Tim Richie, Off The Record, whispering Arnold Frollows, then Bigsy, Razer, etc. Started to lose touch and realised it wasn’t them, it was me. JJJ is still doing what it is supposed to do - provide music and entertain “the kids”. It’s just that I’m not a kid, so I need to move on, not JJJ. Fortunately, DIG Digital is getting a bit of a revamp, so there is hope. My solution is to flip between the 2 - keep connected to the young stuff on JJJ, and south my troubled soul by reconnecting to the music of my youth on DIG.

    Everybody is happy.

    Thanks Helen - loved the article.

    by John Donovan on Jan 17, 2014 at 2:24 pm

  7. I’m delighted to hear about Razer’s ongoing, one-sided involvement in the fortunes of the station. It’s actually endearing.

    by Luke Fabish on Jan 17, 2014 at 2:28 pm

  8. Whilst Razer takes a razor to the J’s critics claiming they don’t get it; from a local musical standpoint (which is where the vocal criticism has been angled from), she don’t get it.

    by Keith MacQueen on Jan 17, 2014 at 2:31 pm

  9. Hear, hear! I was a big Triple-J listener in the 90s and it opened my ears to all sorts of music I’d never heard before (growing up as I did in Central Qld). It was a welcome relief from commercial stations whose playlist consisted mainly of !!!!!!BARNSEY!!!!!!! with a few pop princesses thrown in now and then. I’m well into my forties now, and no longer a listener, because it’s no longer aimed at me and that’s exactly how it should be.

    Triple-J is a great institution that doesn’t talk down to its audience or assume they’re fools. Triple-J also produced some great comedy in its time. I used to list to Razer and Robins, and remember driving to work trying not to wet myself listening to Captain Pants!

    by cassandra.richardson on Jan 17, 2014 at 2:41 pm

  10. #TheirJJJ … and indeed we’re bloody lucky to have it.

    by Coaltopia on Jan 17, 2014 at 3:12 pm

  11. Very interesting & informative rant Helen. Funny how the whiners are always complaining that it’s their music the rest of us should be listening to. They don’t get the irony.

    by mikeb on Jan 17, 2014 at 3:35 pm

  12. Ha ha! Noice! Did they ever play The Pheromones though? Or were they pants (not my call). For a great example of “high contrast programming” check out the stream from WXYC. Though I’m not sure if any “technique” has been applied…

    by The Pedanticist on Jan 17, 2014 at 3:46 pm

  13. Quite pleased to see some of these comments about growing up from JJJ. I’ve long felt guilty for “abandoning” the station, not realising that I’d simply graduated. This is good.

    I’ve also since learned that morning glory is a natural phenomenon, and not the result of waking up to Razer’s voice when my clock radio alarm told me to wake up and get ready for school.

    by Wexford on Jan 17, 2014 at 3:53 pm

  14. Its not soul, its solipsism.

    by Derp A on Jan 17, 2014 at 4:48 pm

  15. Damn you Klewy, you beat me to it - Capts Goodvibes & Kremen, even the curmudgeonly Bob Hudson (but the bastard knew music - nearly got thumped for asking the Ramones if they were punks),Angela Cattern when she rocked, so many others down the memory hole, no doubt deservedly.
    After Double Jay, the Station Built on Rock, became JJJ I listened for a while.
    Were it not for Kingsmill and Saffran & Father Bob, I’d never tune in now.

    by AR on Jan 17, 2014 at 4:53 pm

  16. BTW, over 3,000 words! Long form journalism, way to go Crikey!

    by AR on Jan 17, 2014 at 4:55 pm

  17. Whilst not exactly succinct, this article nails it.

    And if you’re relying on triple J to be heard, you’re f**cked, in more ways than one.

    by Anth Anth on Jan 17, 2014 at 5:21 pm

  18. Triple R and PBS subscriber here. What is this Triple J of which you speak ?

    by Andybob on Jan 17, 2014 at 6:17 pm

  19. Also, and especially for Klewso, as the Good Captain once famously said ‘We have reached the crossroads of bullsh-t and reality; down scoobs and start w-nking’.

    by Andybob on Jan 17, 2014 at 6:19 pm

  20. over 40 and still like JJJ, and no one can stop me.

    by Kez on Jan 17, 2014 at 6:25 pm

  21. TL/DR.

    Here’s what you do, You get the playlists Helen played. You get the playlists today. You add up all the artists, where they’re from, their sex, the race they identify with, the genre an average person would place those songs into, and you compare them.

    Is one more broad than the other?

    Bang, done, and f*ck of with the debates… until next year.

    by FunkyJ on Jan 17, 2014 at 7:01 pm

  22. sorry about to turn 47 on Sunday and I still listen to triplej, voted in hottest 100 but didnt enter the comp to see120 gigs in a year, it would kill us! I don’t need to hear old stuff I put on a cd if I do. agree about kingsmill btw

    by JennyWren on Jan 17, 2014 at 9:32 pm

  23. Razzy is right, but in being right she’s also showing that the opinions of old white people will determine what runs on triple j, sure as Mark Scott votes liberal.
    Her vision of “giving it back” to the youths is by tightening up the playlist and doing less rock. It’s a vision at least. But is it a comprehensive solution? I dunno. rock can still be good, can’t it? I suspect the smaller playlist idea is an old bugbear of hers and she’s just bundled it in.
    The real good idea gets just one sentence: “possibly undertake some research in those demographic profiles they may be failing.”
    If the role of triple J is to support local artists, then they don’t just need a smaller playlist, they need to play lots and lots of local artists. What even is the point of triple j? That’s what we need to figure out. It’s awful to say it, but that “figuring out” will be done by senior ABC employees, aka old white people.

    by Jason Murphy on Jan 17, 2014 at 9:37 pm

  24. Having returned from the UK in 1981 aged 16 to Newcastle NSW I was desperate for some decent radio. I ran a wire from my dads tuner to the top of the chimney on our 2 storey terrace in Cooks Hill & on a good day could pick up 2JJJ on FM from Sydney. I still remember lying in bed with the headphones on full blast!

    Today my teenagers have tuned the car radio to JJJ & I never complain. :-)

    by mikehilliard on Jan 17, 2014 at 10:31 pm

  25. Nicely argued, restrained even, and love the disclosure of post-jjj career - if that doesn’t stop the idolators nothing will! But idolism is part of jjjs trade, even when they fluff it, and thats a little sad. Consumerism is deadening, even when the govt subsidises it.

    by Liamj on Jan 17, 2014 at 10:51 pm

  26. Although this is too long and could use a good edit it is really, really good. It takes a position I was initially in disagreement with and talks me round (largely, I still wonder why the Aus quota is 40% not 50).

    It feels like everything else I have read from Razer recently has been the same article with different gimmicks. That is “The left aren’t talking enough about economics because they are too distracted by symbolism. Here watch me ignore everything the left *is* saying about economics, and completely fail to say anything new or significant about economics myself while I spend 1000 words telling them everything they are doing is pointless”.

    It’s really good to see her use her prodigious writing skills for something else.

    by Stephen Luntz on Jan 18, 2014 at 2:15 am

  27. Another, alternate, reality? Who is it hurting?

    The funny thing about playlists is how hit-and-miss they are. I used to work for periods at a place that had the radio going, on one highly commercial “pop” station, and it was funny how crap and gold come in lumps - one day was agonising, the next flew by, because of the songs listed for play - depending on who got to compile them? Some I’d love to meet, others, I reckon, I’d rather have my toe nails pulled and replaced in my urethra?
    …. “Some people call me the space cowboy, some the gangster of love…”? “I’d call you a gobful of alfoil, jerkin’ into a glove ….”

    …. as for trying to “educate a journalist”, that is funny?

    by klewso on Jan 18, 2014 at 10:26 am

  28. I can’t stand old farts (like myself) whining that they don’t like the youf music And I have no interest in “pub rock”. But to dismiss all performers (even successful ones) who question the Triple J fiefdom as exhibiting sour grapes and everyone else as being the cheer squad for old whitebread values is puzzling from a writer who is usually so keen to question. But not as puzzling as the defence of Kingmill’s tactics by essentially saying, well, I used to know him and he seemed OK then, and I can’t imagine some people don’t think he’s “upright” is …well, I guess that’s very diplomatic.

    by Cathy St on Jan 18, 2014 at 10:36 pm

  29. I really disagree with this article. Whilst not a musician myself I really love the Brisbane music scene and have found there to be several artists of quality (and yes I am in triple J age demographic) who do not play the banjo, are unsigned, dislike Brittney Spears and who are not middle class who pour their money into quality recordings and still do not get played.

    One in particular has played at a significant pre-party event and been featured in a NewZeland newspaper, who have also not received less then a four out of five stars for their EP.

    Considering I hear crap quality recordings or whiny artists whenever I listen to Triple J. I no longer do.

    by not correct on Jan 19, 2014 at 2:48 pm

  30. Good to know that it’s the Colour of my skin that determines if I’m involved in their Demographics, cheers for clearing that up. How’s that self hating whitey thing going for you?

    by Garlick Roast on Jan 20, 2014 at 9:30 am

  31. It’s just really disappointing that Razer uses similar tactics to groups such as Destroy the Joint—take a little known, off-the-cuff and probably silly article on a subject that annoys or offends you, then dissect it online in order to dismiss ALL other valid voices on the subject. The fact that the King Parrot loving Cherry Bar manager is a bad writer should not dismiss the many other voices of the young bands who have had first-hand experience of Kingsmill’s unacceptable practices. I understand that maybe one shouldn’t shit where used to eat and nostalgia means one wants to stand up for their old mates, but if a writer hasn’t researched any of the many voices raising concerns and the only defence of Kingsmill is that he used to say he didn’t like payolla (when payolla is not the issue anyway), then using Crikey to voice gripes about an aging metal bar manager and those damned “indie kids” is pointless.

    by CathyS on Jan 20, 2014 at 12:06 pm

  32. Geez Helen, wish you’d get to the point sooner. Defence of triplej - what? white men? what the? I have to be under 30 to listen to music on the Js? shit….wish I knew that 17 years ago. I’ve been listening to triple J since you and mikey were on breakfast - and you are still rabbiting on…I say that with utmost respect of course.

    by 4567 on Jan 20, 2014 at 7:12 pm

  33. Helen, I have only one question for you that’s been gnawing away at me for decades:

    Although I’m not a huge fan of your writing or much of anything else you’ve done, at 16 I started listening to The Three Hours of Power which I believe you were the inaugural presenter for. I have to admit - you were really, really good at it. You opened me up to a lot of music that fell under the very widely-defined umbrella of a heavy metal specialist show. Hearing Megadeth, Mudhoney, Poison Idea, Bathory and Suicidal Tendencies all in the same hour is an unthinkable radio-programming proposition nowadays; and yet back when you were presenting, that was all in a night’s work.

    So my question is: why the hell did you move on? When Francis Leach took over, the show was still okay. But towards the end of his run, the then-cutting edge extreme metal genres seemed to start getting phased out and replaced with the by-now-standardized “white rock” genres (Pearl Jam, Silverchair, Soundgarden, RATM et al) you have mentioned. All that stuff got played incessantly on JJJ during the daytime and just barely classified as “metal”; so it was always a mystery why it needed representation in the playlist of a late-night metal slot.

    As each presenter after Francis Leach took over, that disparity seemed to grow, to the point where there almost was no “metal” in the classical sense of the term left on The 3 Hours of Power. I can’t speak to what happened after about ‘94 because that’s when I gave up on it.

    But why did you leave, Helen? I can’t help thinking the 3 Hours of Power would have retained its potency - at a time when alt rock ruled and metal really could have used the exposure - if it retained you. What happened? Did you just get bored of the music? I really hope you see and answer this.

    by Robert McCabe on Jan 21, 2014 at 12:56 pm

  34. I stopped listening to Triple J when I was about 19 and it went national - and bland! And all the quirky presenters were wheeled out (Tim Richie, Rusty Nails, Arnold Frollows) - there were huge street protests about all this, but sadly to no avail. A station that would play Bach followed by some underground New York artist rapping about putting belgian waffles in her c*nt became smothered in ‘indie rock’ and boring presenters who thought they were cool and alternative.
    But I didn’t complain, I just listened to other stuff and wondered how on earth people could still think the Js were ‘alternative’.
    So, Helen, as much as I like your writing style, you were the generation that stole JJJ from me at the tender age of 19 …

    by Bob the builder on Jan 22, 2014 at 10:57 am

  35. s

    by Bob the builder on Jan 22, 2014 at 11:00 am

  36. My formative teen years were in the beginning, JJ and quite a bit later JJJ. Frankly, they always looked like nerds trying that little bit too hard to appear cool, much as Razer can often appear to be.

    I didn’t listen to them that much, and when I did always seemed to be in that period where the entire playlist was obsessed with the latest cool, but not so cool to be popular, crap music. Rap just went way overboard, Heavy metal, so much rubbish, so little time.

    These days should be perfect for JJJ. For the first time in our history you can be both independent and sell records (oops, downloads) big time, perhaps even merging into popular (oh god no, get that tune off, other people like it)

    JJJ has always suffered from trying too hard to be cool, while trying at the same time appearing not to be trying at all. You all know it, it’s true, and it hurts to have someone say it, but I’m a party spoiler.

    On the up side, I’m 52 now, and I think JJJ is just coming into it’s own. These are the days where anyone can make music, and by fluke or planning or sheer quality, actually get it heard. Only the punk era came close in that regard, but there is a big difference now, and it is this.

    These days, these kids are leaving school, or barely even that, and they are producing fantabulous music of real quality. Punk was bullshit, always was, just banging away, 2 chords was one too many etc, farking noise (with occasional quality accidentally slipping through)

    These kids today, they are accomplished freaking musicians and they are barely out of their teens, not even. My kids ‘rock band’ program last year was astonishing in its quality.

    This should be the golden age for JJJ. They are reaping some of the benefits of being in the right place at the right time.

    And good music is always good music. I’m loving being re-introduced to fresh sounds, and not a little surprised that so many fresh sounds are still there to be made.

    Maybe Homer Simpson wasn’t right about rock being finished in 1974.

    by Dogs breakfast on Jan 22, 2014 at 5:59 pm

  37. Kids had departed in droves after the ’90s and the station’s core audience returned to the 25-39 age range for whom it is not intended.”

    As a 25-39 year old who listens to Triple J, fuck you. :)

    Although I must confess, there have been times when I wished I had a little red button sitting on my desk that when pressed, would immediately can the current song and play the next one.

    Oh and heavy metal night. I hate heavy metal night. Metal is the one genre I’ve never gotten into.

    by John64 on Jan 26, 2014 at 8:12 pm

  38. Is it not a coincidence that these attacks on the Triple J are occurring just as the Abbott Government plan to gut the ABC or am I too cynical? The station may not be perfect and will never of course please all the people all the time but it is a breath of fresh air compared to virtually any other radio station in Australia and many overseas too. I am 54, I don’t listen to Triple J much now but wouldn’t miss the Hottest 100 for the world.

    by tim stredwick on Jan 26, 2014 at 8:49 pm

  39. What a load of absolute undergraduate bollocks.

    For starters, this article is openly racist. Apparently if you are white you have no business either listening to or being played on the radio. Do some basic word substitutions - would Crikey publish this trash if it included phrases such as “people too black to complain” or complaints from “unjustly rich Asian families”? No it would not.

    Secondly, as far as a point can be discerned, it’s that JJJ now appeals to a wider audience via ‘variety’. I cannot believe anyone with ears could listen to the endless parade of samey, lightweight garbage which made up most of the Hottest 100 this year and assert that music has “variety” now.

    Thirdly, the people Razer apparently believes are the critics ARE THE AUDIENCE, that is, tweeting, tumblring, over-privileged, white bread tweens, teens and early 20-somethings who live at home on the parental teat and have little to no life experience. Contrary to what she thinks, they are NOT Nepalese tribespersons tuning in via satellite radio or “urban” youth living in some Australian version of the set of the Wire. They are rich white kids wearing fluro tank tops who don’t give a crap about anything, and JJJ is giving them what they want - music that doesn’t ask them to care.

    by Patrick Bateman on Jan 28, 2014 at 2:02 pm

  40. But why did you leave, Helen? I can’t help thinking the 3 Hours of Power would have retained its potency - at a time when alt rock ruled and metal really could have used the exposure - if it retained you. What happened? Did you just get bored of the music? I really hope you see and answer this.

    Good post, and I have a related question - when did JJJ’s mandate change from exposing people to great and often challenging music they weren’t familiar with to a basic popularity contest?

    If “rock is dead”, which it isn’t, where is JJJ exposing these feeble gen Yers to the power of the dominant force in popular music since the 1960s? Or metal, or indie, or all the other things that Razer sneers at?

    by Patrick Bateman on Jan 28, 2014 at 4:12 pm

  41. ”..The arguments against ABC youth station Triple J — from people too old and too white to be making them ..” A bit of reverse racism here, but why would one of these sort of blokes (or sheilas passing as blokes) care, since JJJ isn’t quite their demographic. Isn’t ‘Aussie pub rock’ played on MMM????

    by Yuval Legendtofski on Jan 29, 2014 at 8:56 am

  42. What an ungrateful pup i was. Hope i was more eloquent than quoted, but your memory of my boozy insouciance reminds me how much i love getting older. Always enjoy reading you Helen. TR

    by Tim Rogers on Feb 5, 2014 at 8:09 am

  43. That’s all well said, Helen. But, try explaining how the song I nominated as number 1 for the 2013 Hottest 100 got ranked 173rd (out of 100!)?

    Clearly, this is proof of subversive youth infiltrating Triple J and their audiences.

    by BoxingCandle on Feb 6, 2014 at 3:57 pm

  44. Surely the correct answer is more Tull.

    by luke goodfellow on Feb 13, 2014 at 11:24 pm

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