Tim Blackwell chats to Peter Saxon
Today, as everyone knows, is April 1st And, no, this is not an April Fool’s joke. It just happens to be that 20 years ago today the first of the Nova stations, 96.9 FM Sydney, went to air. Seriously.
In the same year, 2001, a 19 year old Tim Blackwell joined Melbourne’s Nova 100 which launched December 3rd.
From humble beginnings, “I learned to cut up calls on reel to reel during work experience at Triple M when I was using a splicer,” he recalls.
And now? “Now I’m kind of looking at a VoxPro system and doing it in a split second.”
Of course, he’s achieved much more than that at Nova. Perhaps one his greatest achievements is staying relatively humble in this egosystem we call radio.
“Luckily, I’ve been a part of some pretty successful shows. I’m not going to lie. That helps – especially if you’re on the air. It helps to bring in some half decent ratings every now and then. And I’ve been pretty lucky with that. So, yeah, let’s let’s put it down to going with the flow and also a little smidgen of luck as well.”
After doing nights for a year in Melbourne, he moved to Perth and a freshly minted Nova 93.7 to host the local drive show. His initial claim to fame came when was the first voice on air in Perth with a Red Hot Chili Peppers interview. Tim tells the story…
“Back then we were allowed to do junkets. And Warner Brothers took me to L.A. I went over for the Chili Peppers Stadium Arcadium album. And, you know, you go out to dinner with the record company people and you think you’re on top of the world and go and see the band on Top of the Pops and then you interview them. Then about a year later, they come to Australia.
“From what I’ve been told, they really liked hanging out in that (previous) interview. So, I got the honour to chat to them when they found out I was on the on the list at Nova. And it just happened to be live on air. It was the first big thing that ever happened on Nova in Perth.
“So, I was shitting myself, you know, I was really nervous. Not only that, because everyone was in town, including Lord Rothermere, who was Running DMG (Nova owners) at the time a young billionaire, came along to watch it all. (Nova program heavies) Dean Buchanan and Dan Bradley, had all the TV networks there. So, for one minute you’re taken out of your own body and you’re looking down at the studio with what’s actually happening.
“I know Gary Roberts (Nova GM at the time) had one photo up in his office for years and years and years, and it was the Red Hot Chili Peppers in the studio. And then just in the background was my blurry shoulder. So, the fact that I was up in the general manager’s office for all those times, I think I held a special place in his heart.
“And I know for a lot of the guys who were working in Perth at the time, these were huge moments. Absolutely. I mean, those guys (Chili Peppers) were only supposed to do about 10 or 15 minutes, but they ended up staying for an hour and a half.
Jebediah was supposed to be the first live band on the station. And the Chili Peppers saw their instruments out in the hallway and actually went and grabbed them and played a song for us, too. So, I think management was just amazed that this 10 to 15 minute event turned into a much bigger event with one of the world’s biggest bands.
It was the most memorable experience of my career/life. It was a pretty massive moment to not only be the first voice on air, but to be a part of a launch of a radio station. I got to do that twice with Nova Melbourne, too. It’s a pretty rare experience because we don’t start commercial radio stations that often anymore.”
With that and a successful Drive show under his belt, in 2004, Tim was moved to Sydney to host Drive on Nova 96.9 before going back to Melbourne to anchor Nova 100’s Hughesy and Kate’s Breakfast Show.
He was the anchor which is not necessarily the same as being the talent.
“I became pretty good friends, and still am, with Kate Langbroek, who kind of encouraged me to stop talking like a jock and start talking like I talked to her in the office. She said, ‘You know, you actually don’t have bad things to say once in a while. You’ve got the odd good story. But we don’t like, (in a deep, voice-over jock talk) ‘hi there, and welcome back to the show.’
“She said. ‘cut all that stuff out and we’ll let you in.’”
It’s clear Tim feels forever grateful to everyone who helped him make the transition from anchor to talent- none more so than Hughesy and Kate.
“Who gets to have live on air training like that?” says Tim, “That breakfast show with two of the greatest radio talents that we’ve ever had in this country, Dave Hughes and Kate Langbroek, to this day are great supporters of mine. They helped me grow on air for those three years I was there. It’s is really the only reason I’m doing what I’m doing now.
“I think I would have been very happy playing 14 songs an hour and talking for 20 seconds because I still love it. But thinking of myself as that weird word ‘talent’ I never thought of before – and still don’t really. But anchoring is definitely what I was doing then and I sitill feel I am. I just get to talk a little bit more.”
To paraphrase Shakespeare: Some people are born funny, some achieve funniness and others have funny thrust upon them.
Yet, Tim Blackwell doesn’t see himself as particularly funny.
“Look, I’m good at reacting to things. If you told me to write a funny speech… I’m terrible at speeches. I’m terrible at getting up in front of crowds and making them laugh. But I’m good at reacting. And I think that’s what radio is in its purest form.
I’ve always thought that three people are the best kind of on air team, as well. Two can be a little bit challenging at times, especially if one person has an off day. But three is already a big conversation with laughs and a bit of talk-over – a much better vibe. And again, I’ve been lucky to work with some pretty funny people.”
Next stop in Tim’s career was a stint in late nights with Hayley Pearson on Nova 100’s Launch Pad before he was shifted to Brisbane in 2009 to co-host NOVA 106.9’s breakfast show with Meshell Laurie. It was such a success that they were joined by Marty Sheargold and the program became, Meshell, Tim and Marty national Drive show in September of 2011. Three years later, Meshell was replaced by Kate Ritchie.
For the first couple of years they were up against the Hamish and Andy juggernaut on SCA. But after the duo left radio for TV in 2016, the Kate, Tim and Marty trio really took off. Nova’s national Drive show has now notched up 30 winning surveys in a row.
In September last year, Joel Creasey replaced Marty Sheargold who went to Triple M Melbourne to replace Eddie McGuire in Breakfast. The new Kate, Tim & Joel drive show remains number one nationally. And while co-hosts have come and gone, the one constant, through all those changes is the “Tim” in the middle.
Apart from the line-up changes, management and owners have come and gone – yet Tim Blackwell is still there.
“I’m incredibly grateful for that because we all worked very hard in putting these shows together. Even (content boss) Paul Jackson mentioned that it’s very rare when a key member of the show leaves – they tend to just blow the whole thing up. But luckily, they didn’t they didn’t feel the need to do that this time.
“We had a very quick conversation about Joe Creasey. Like all the good things happen – Paul McCartney used to say, all the best songs are written in 60 seconds. And this is kind of the thing. I think if you if you’re looking at trialling 40 different people, you’re probably not going to land on the right one. But we’ve had a great relationship with Joel as a guest in the business for years. So, the fact that he was available and willing to jump on, means that we could here for another ten years.”
Nonetheless, as Tim says, lot of long running shows get blown up because one person leaves and the chemistry’s no longer the same. It’s like the steak on the menu’s been changed from pepper sauce to mushrooms. Some people just don’t like it.
“Social media is the death of us all,” says Tim. “As soon as something or someone is announced, you kind of have to weather that two or three week storm of negativity. But that also shows that people care. You know, I mean, Marty and I and Kate were in peoples ears for eight years, Marty and I for 10 years.
And there’s radio shows I absolutely adore. And if there’s a line-up change I get the shits, too. So, the fact that people care so much is actually the beauty of the job in the first place. If they didn’t, you’d be worried.
“But as soon as the social media warriors die off, I love that people kind of say to me, ‘I hate to say this, I loved Katie Tim and Marty, but I’m really loving this too.’ Like, well, that you’re allowed to like both. And just because you like Marty doesn’t mean you don’t like Joel and vice versa.
“I think that was the hardest job in the country for someone to come to a very successful show already. And, you know, there’s that pressure that you put on yourselves: if this doesn’t work, then it’s all his fault. And luckily, we’ve had 100 conversations generally over a few G&T’s that Jorl knew that he had our support the whole time. And the fact that the audience has kind of stayed with us, he’s been fantastic for everyone.”
The question remains, why has he stayed at Nova when so many around him have left?
“I guess I haven’t had a reason to leave. I haven’t been swiping on working at the same desk at H&R Block for 20 years, parking my car in the same spot. I’ve packed a lot in, done a lot of very different things in four different capital cities (except Adelaide) into that 20 years. So, it hasn’t felt like I’ve been in the same place for 20 years and it’s a very different place than it was 20 years ago.
“But look, I get to walk in and basically talk about whatever I want every day to a national audience with two people I get along with immensely and a great back end team. And, you know, I have three children, too. So, I’ve got to kind of start thinking I can’t be taking huge risks at the moment either. Things are pretty good at the moment. I’m not I’m not quite at that stage to be looking around at what’s next.”
After 20 years, now that he’s put his ‘toe in the water,’ does Tim Blackwell reckon he might give it another 20?
“Who knows? No, I wouldn’t be surprised.” But with a hint of humble he adds, “Whether they’d have me, is a different conversation.”
Note: This interview has been slightly edited for readbility and length. You can listen to the full Rough Cuts interview below.