What better way to mark our second installment of the Wankly Awards (celebrating excrescence in Australian journalism) by marking the passing from Channel Nine of industry luminary and five time Gold logie award winner Ray Martin.

Despite announcing his decision on Sydney radio last night (listen to it here), rather than issuing a statement with his employer, Ray insisted there was no animosity between the longtime jewel in the Nine crowd and the struggling network.

“I’ve had the best 30 years that I could ever imagine,” he told 2GB. “I have nothing else but kind words about Nine.”

Ray “I’m the piano player” Martin joined Channel Nine in 1978 as a reporter for the new current affairs program 60 Minutes. He went on to host Midday with Ray Martin from 1985-93, where he interviewed the likes of John DenverBoy George and  James Blundell, and then anchored A Current Affair from 1994-98 before returning to the host’s seat in 2003.

No word yet on whether Martin will retain his coveted Carols by Candlelight gig.

Ray’s casual, true blue interviewing style leant itself well to a multitude of interview specials, including this frank exchange with Madonna which opened with Ray’s internal monologue, finger placed over mouth, eyebrow raised: “Now, sitting in the loungeroom next to her, you’ve gotta remind yourself that Madonna is … almost 37. She’s in good shape, maybe a bit too much makeup.”

The Oz reports today that privately Martin had been “sounding out colleagues for years about ideas for a new showcase program for his talents” while making his feelings known about “Nine’s unwillingness to give him a chat show after the success of Andrew Denton’s Enough Rope.” Presumably Ray had his top-rating mid nineties special Top Blokes and Aussie Sheilas in mind.

During his time with ACA, Martin presided over exposes such as the controversial case of the Paxton family, which involved Mike Munro sending teenage dole-bludgers Shane and Bindi Paxton to Hamilton Island to offer them jobs only for them to refuse them.

RAY MARTIN: “How could three young people who say they’re desperate for work knock back jobs in a tropical paradise and still expect to collect the dole?”

MIKE MUNRO: “You don’t think you’re selling your future out by just not wanting to have your hair cut?”

The Paxton family were hounded by the national media and received death threats. But despite this, Shane Paxton remained a model of restraint (“it’s not worth it Ray”) while attempting to break up the fisticuffs that broke out between Ray, his wife, and John Safran on Ray’s nature strip:

Ray’s never been afraid of getting his hands dirty. As he told Monica Attard during a revealing interview on the Sunday Profile, the journalist spent a month in Aceh reporting on the devastating after effects of the Tsunami in 2005:

RAY MARTIN: You’re aware that I recently spent a month in Aceh, as I say, sleeping on the concrete there and eating rice and covering what was one of the most extraordinary stories of my life.

As The Herald Sun reported at the time:

Nine’s Ray Martin was criticised in Banda Aceh by Australian military personnel for keeping about 50 members of the army’s Field Hospital team waiting in monsoon rain for 15 minutes during the live telecast from outside Doctor Zainal Abidin Hospital. He also encouraged the medics to sing an improvised version of the cricket song Come On Aussie Come On, but one digger said: “This is offensive. People died here.”

More recently Ray covered the Federal election, most notably by standing up for free speech with his crusading worm work. Ray defended the use of Channel Nine’s debate worm:”the National Press Club … has become a bunch of lobbyists and hangers on and political hacks, we cover it as journalists, this is a free press here and we cover it the way we want to.”

Unfortunately we couldn’t secure Ray to accept his award so instead, we’ll mark the occasion by replaying the Logies acceptance speech that made Terri Irwin cry.

Ray’s Terri Irwin interview special, shot just weeks after her husband’s death, beat out Dateline SBS — “Abu Ghraib”, Dateline SBS, “Four Days in Dili”, and Australian Story ABC TV, “The Mourning After” to win the logie for Most Outstanding Public Affairs Report.

As Ray stepped on stage to accept the award, he seemed not to notice that Terri had teared up. It later emerged that she had become upset upon seeing the footage of her emotional retelling of the moment she learnt of her husband’s death, given that no one had warned her that this footage would be played on giant screens in front of her and the thousands of TV starlets surrounding her.

Instead, Ray said this:

Gee I used to think that this particular Logie was the absolute private property of the ABC and SBS, I was wrong again… Thank you, I’m very honoured to be part of the team that won this… Funny too, in this business, as someone said earlier, you get a prize for doing what you love to do, and I really love what I do… thanks to Gary Linnell… etc… Tibbi Hawkins who shot beautiful pictures… and Paul Thompson the soundo who again collects wonderful sound he’s a real craftsman… but most of all Terri Irwin, I’d really like to thank Terri, I think a novice interviewer could have done this one Terri, she’s such a fantastic woman, and so capable and so strong when we did that. When you get a team like that together, it’s good to be the piano man, so thanks very much.

We give you Ray Martin, our first Crikey Wankley Award Hall of Fame Award.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey