In Part Two of his conversation with Peter Saxon, Merrick Watts takes self deprecation to new heights, acknowledging that he’s just a guy telling low rent jokes. He talks about his regret at making his boss at dmg cry and the legacy he wants to leave the radio industry making it a better place in which to work.
radioinfo: Apart from very early in your career when you were a solo stand-up act, you have always worked as part of a team. When your long-time comedy partner Tim Ross left, were you tempted to go it alone?
Merrick: I had thought about it while I was at Nova last year. I was kind of thinking about whether or not I could, would or want to be a solo broadcaster, and I think one day I’d love to. But not now.
radioinfo: Your predecessor in the Triple M Drive shift, Paul Murray, has gone on to become a talk presenter on AM radio at 2UE. Is that something that you could see yourself doing in the future?
Merrick: Muz is a lot smarter than I am. I need a few more years. I’ve worked with Muz at Nova and I’ve known him for many years and we’re good mates. He’s always kind of had, even as a young bloke, he had this incredible AM feel about him. It makes sense for Paul Murray to be on AM radio. It’s not so much that it doesn’t make sense for him to be on FM, it’s just not as logical a fit because he’s so good at it (AM).
The reason why he’s so good is because he can work well with others. He’s very generous, he’s not fearful of sharing. Which I think people in that role sometimes can be. He’s very generous to other people, very generous to his listeners. And that’s why he’s a good broadcaster.
radioinfo: So, you do or you don’t see yourself doing talk?
Merrick: I’d want to, I’d love to one day. But I’ve got a few more years of acting like a dickhead. Not that I’ll try and be like an Alan Jones, that’s not my bag, but I can definitely see myself as being a poor man’s Ray Hadley. A very poor man’s Ray Hadley. That’ll be something I’ll look at in years to come, when it feels right. It wouldn’t feel right, right now.
radioinfo: In August last year, you announced you were leaving Nova969 after 10 years as a foundation member. Was that all your decision or was it a mutual one between you and management?
Merrick: It was always my intent to finish up in breakfast at the end of last year. I couldn’t do it any more. I’d had enough. 10 years is a long time. It was getting to be very, very hard. It had so many line-up changes that every time it was like resetting a gear. It was hard work, and you’re trying to rebuild momentum all the time.
I had said to several people that 2011 would be my last year of breakfast, but I didn’t know in what capacity I was going to work in after that. I didn’t know whether or not I would continue to work with dmg. I thought I probably could or would, but it just didn’t work out that way.
They decided to make the move on breakfast earlier in the year, which, honestly, I was a little bit disappointed by because I would have liked to have finish the year. But that’s radio. That’s what happens.
I don’t have any resentment, because you can’t necessarily have a fairytale ending. I don’t look back at it with any bitterness. Doing Drive is definitely the right shift for me to be doing now in my life. It’s the perfect gig at the perfect radio station for me. I can’t believe how well it’s formed up.
radioinfo: Did you already know then that you had a job at Southern Cross Austereo if you wanted one?
Merrick: Pretty much. I think the industry knew, because it’s not such an illogical fit. Austereo (SCA) had let me know in a number of ways that they were interested in me or that they valued my talents as a broadcaster. But I was contracted to dmg and I always played with a straight bat with dmg.
I’ve always been extremely loyal, extremely loyal, to the point of my own detriment. I didn’t have any conversations with Austereo of any kind while my contract stipulated that I couldn’t. As soon as I could, I was on the phone within half an hour.
radioinfo: So you moved from Nova to Triple M and although FM hasn’t been around all that long, it’s kind of like moving from a relatively new club like The Dockers or the Titans to a heritage club like Carlton or St George. Did you get any feeling of putting on a legendary guernsey?
Merrick: Yeah, I love the heritage of this place. I really do. I used to look at it years ago and because of its heritage I used to think of it as lame, old and a little bit dusty and crusty. But now I feel like I’m part of a Renaissance. Triple M is coming back as a brand and people are enjoying it again. It used to be a powerhouse and there’s nothing to say it can’t be again. And part of that will depend on its ability to leverage its heritage.
Just yesterday we were walking around and saw that they’ve renamed some of the parts of the building, the studios and the meeting rooms, with the names of former talent who have worked there. There’s the Doug Mulray conference room. There’s the Andrew Denton conference room. The studio closest to where I work is named after Club Veg. And I think to acknowledge that heritage is awesome – to say these guys contributed to the building of this brand.
radioinfo: This year you’ve launched a new show, new team, at a new station. It’s sounding great. How would you characterise the difference between ‘The Highway Patrol’ and the Breakfast show you did at Nova?
Merrick: Breakfast is a different kind of shift, it’s a different type of comedy that you do. You have a lot more sense of the time of day. You have a lot more mechanical stuff, a lot more information you must put out in every show. On Drive, we don’t have to worry so much about information. We don’t worry about traffic, we don’t even do time calls. The housekeeping in the show is nothing, so we just do content.
This (at Triple M) is a straight up and down comedy shift. We have a little bit of sport in it, but there’s no-one saying to us, we want more sport. Or, you guys don’t talk enough about rock music. There’s none of that. We never have content discussions. It’s awesome! It’s just, keep doing more, we want more of the same.
It’s just awesome that I’m doing exactly the sort of radio that I want to do.
The people I work with are brilliant. They’re just bloody brilliant! Jools and Rach are veterans. They’re like me they’ve been around the traps, they’ve seen lots of changes. They know good radio and they know bad radio. And when you know both, you’re more likely to reproduce the good.
And our team behind us is just excellent. You can’t ask for better guidance than from Jamie Angel and Craig Bruce.
radioinfo: Who have been your idols, your heroes and influencers?
Merrick: I think it was the shows and therefore the people in them. I was absolutely obsessed with the Young Ones and Black Adder, Ben Elton and his writing. I loved Fawlty Towers as a kid. In cinema, I’m a huge fan of Chevy Chase and Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, of course.
radioinfo: Have you met and interviewed any of them?
Merrick: Not one.
radioinfo: Who was the biggest name, in terms of someone you personally admire, that you have met?
Merrick: Sir David Attenborough. It’s the only interview I’ve bothered to keep a CD recording of.
radioinfo: Are there any regrets, anything that you’d do differently if you could go back in time and take another shot?
Merrick: If you don’t live with regrets, you haven’t lived.
I guess I regret that earlier in my career, I didn’t really understand and truly love this industry as I do now. If I had loved it earlier, I think that would have helped me.
radioinfo: In what way?
Merrick: Unfortunately, some things, you only learn through hindsight. I know that at times I’ve made people’s jobs harder than they need to be. But I’ve never shouted at people or berated them and thrown things at them and carried on. I haven’t done that.
I don’t walk around seeing ghosts of people that I’ve destroyed haunting me. I don’t want people to confuse the way I talk about it, but people often don’t talk about their bad behavior because they have such regrettably bad behavior that they can’t even acknowledge it.
But I still have regrets that I just didn’t mature quicker.
radioinfo: Can you give us a specific example of Merrick behaving badly?
Merrick: I once made a person who I really liked, who was my superior (although unfortunately at the time I didn’t see her as a superior) but it was a manager… and through my own behaviour, forced them to a position where they got to tears. That was the only person I know that I made cry.
radioinfo: Can you tell us who that was?
Merrick: I’d rather not, only for them. Personally, I don’t mind, but they would know who they were.
radioinfo: It was at dmg at the time that your father was ill, right?
Merrick: It was, and just because I was so personally affected, I personally affected somebody else. I don’t need to go through a 12 step process at this point in my radio career, but this one day I flew off the handle and I brought this person down to my level of sadness. I know that there are people in this industry that make people cry on a daily basis. And I don’t want to do that.
radioinfo: Isn’t that sort of behavior sometimes simply the result of talented people being perfectionists and not putting up with anything less from others?
Merrick: I think, unfortunately, sometimes the industry allows people to behave poorly. I know, radio’s demanding and it’s stressful. I understand that. You talk to the AM guys – it’s a lot more demanding and stressful for them than it is for us. I’ve heard lots of hissy fits come out of AM radio from people I admire and respect.
But honestly, for me, now, to go around to make people’s jobs difficult in this building whether their job’s in sales, integration or in programming or producing or something like that – to make their jobs hard? Why? I’m just a guy who tells really low rent jokes. That’s what I do. Let’s not beat it up to be any more than it is. So for me to punish other people and make their lives difficult is just absurd.
What I want to do now is try and bring people up to my level and encourage people to feel good about their workplace, feel good about what they’re doing.
I’d rather people say it’s good or better when he’s in the building than when he’s not.
radioinfo: What’s the most important thing in your life?
Merrick: My family. Used to be my career. But now its my family. I think it’s the same for everybody. And if its not, I feel sorry for them.
Outside of that I would really love to leave a legacy in this industry I’ve chosen. And it’s not a legacy about ratings or fame. I think that would be a shallow form of legacy. I’d like to leave a legacy that has an impact on the industry that people don’t even know until later on they go, that changed, when…
I don’t think that’s happened yet. But I’d love to forge new ground.
radioinfo: Do you have an inkling of what that might be?
Merrick: I would love to start setting an example of how talent can work and behave. People look to the people on air as leaders, whether we like it or not. So, when you’re in a leadership role like that and you lead with poor behaviour, you’re setting a poor example. If you lead with good behaviour and helpful behaviour – and not even behaviour, but just positivity and creativity, that sets an example.
radioinfo: Have you ever been threatened with your job if you didn’t get your act together?
Merrick: Definitely. And I’ve deserved it. Nothing extreme, but I’ve been given a kick up the bum a couple times. Dean Buchanan gave us one once, which was really good. It was always well handled. I really admired the way that he did it.
You know, the life lessons that I’ve learnt have become apparent without being told. The strongest lessons are the ones you realise for yourself. They’re the most confronting because you have to say to yourself, I was wrong. I need to be better.
radioinfo: Thank you Merrick, that’s all I have for you – unless there’s something else that you’d like to say, that you’d like the industry to know, or young people starting out in the industry to know?
Merrick: This is the thing I hold really dear. This is what I’m trying to talk about, what I’m trying to leverage. I’ve been told by many people in this company that your reputation precedes you. And it’s always been in a good way. Whether it be the way I conduct myself with clients with the sales department or the way I conduct myself with other talent or the way I conduct myself just in the building.
People say your reputation precedes you. And I like to be in a position where I can prove that perception to be true. Because if that’s the perception people have of me in the industry then I’m really grateful for that because it is a good one, not bad one, which is probably why I have a job today.
I reckon if I’d kept on going the same way, being a pain in the arse, then why would this company want to hire me? Be a good person because one day it will save you.
Click here for Part One of the Merrick Watts interview.