“News and trouble,” as Owens puts it.
In 1959, 3AW opened Australia’s first radio newsroom. And in 1967, the communications laws were changed to allow the broadcast of live phone calls – but with a catch.
“You had to give your name and address, the producers would have the white pages there and check that person existed in the phone book. Then they hung up and called them back to make sure they were who they said they were.
Talkback as we know it today – people calling from anywhere, pretending to be anyone, and being broadcast – wasn’t legal until 1980.
As Ross Stevenson, 3AW’s breakfast review powerhouse, puts it: “In many ways, it was the original social media.”
It is Stevenson, Mitchell and former host Derryn Hinch who are most associated with the station’s decades-long dominance of the modern Melbourne market. Hinch knocked down radio king Bert Newton with a morning show that made headlines almost as often as it reported. Mitchell, a press man, went from the occasional replacement for Hinch at the weekend breakfast, then to driving, then to the morning slot he’s run for 32 years.
“It was always going to be short-term,” he laughs today.
“We do what no one else can really do and that’s that immediate connection with people,” he says. “They’ll get grumpy with you and they’ll agree with you and disagree with you and think you’re an idiot, but in the end you need that personal relationship.”
In the latest audience survey, 3AW beat all stations on the AM and FM dials, with an overall audience share of 16.6%, well ahead of ABC Melbourne and Gold with 10.1%. In the 55-64 age bracket, 3AW captured over 20% of Melbourne’s radio audience. Among those over 65, this share rose to more than a third.
The pandemic was the most impactful story of Mitchell’s time on the air — “Nothing like it, ever” — and underscored the vital role radio plays in the daily lives of listeners.
Stevenson says the station knew what the role of the breakfast program had to be during those pandemic years.
“We decided our job was to be the happy place.”
Station manager Stephen Beers describes the pandemic lineup this way: “We deliberately had camaraderie at night…so it’s not about going to bed thinking, ‘It’s the end of the world.’ – and then you woke up happy with breakfast.
It’s a delicate radio balance, both a companion to loyal listeners and a witness to the people and events that shape a city and a country. And on the radio, serendipity sometimes plays its part.
In 1955, a Sydney schoolboy was on Jack Davey’s quiz show trywhich was syndicated to 3AW.
Davey introduced him: “He’s a nice lad and he’s been here two nights, fighting and he just hasn’t had much luck.”
And with that, 3AW captured the first on-air appearance of a man who would deserve many hours of airtime four decades later.