Who is Australian music’s best friend in radio now?

It was poignant on reflection that I was waiting for Missy Higgins concert ticket presales to open when I heard that Richard Kingsmill was leaving ABC Radio and triple j. For three decades he has been Australian music’s very best friend.

The music and radio industries yesterday rose and gave him a well-deserved standing ovation, as did two generations of listeners and concert goers.

Nine years ago, I attended the concert Beat The Drum: Celebrating 40 Years of triple j at the Domain alongside 25,000 other people. Kingsmill curated the lineup and won an ARIA for the live recording of the event under Best Original Soundtrack/Cast/Show Album.

I have been to hundreds of concerts. Burned forever into my memory is a harp being brought onto that Domain stage and Midnight Oil front man and recent Federal Minister Peter Garrett coming out. Surely he wasn’t going to play it?

Who Garrett introduced, after wishing triple j a happy birthday, was equally unlikely.

Daniel Johns, who had caused himself strife with Garrett a few years earlier over some flippant comments, strolled out, sat at the piano, and accompanied by the harp, turned Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit into a ballad.

You can hear it took us a while to get our heads around what was happening, but I’m so glad I was there and I’ve never forgotten it.

I was lying awake this morning at 3am when I realised that Kingsmill must have had a conversation with Daniel Johns where all of the above was suggested. And Kingsmill not only said yes but added Peter Garrett into the mix.

It appeared to me, an outsider, that Richard Kingsmill truly was able to dabble in alchemy to make magic, as well as see twenty years into the future for then totally unknown performers who crossed his path like Grinspoon, G Flip, Genesis Owusu and Missy Higgins.

A personal opinion. I think Higgins’ The Sound of White album, for which she is touring to celebrate its 20th anniversary, is one of the greatest Australian albums, song for song, ever released. She was 21. Kingsmill had discovered her at 18 when her sister submitted All For Believing, a song Higgins had created for a school assignment, into triple j’s Unearthed competition for unsigned artists. It not only won but was added (likely by Kingsmill) to the station’s playlist.

Four years ago, I scored $50 tickets to an underground spontaneous gig of sorts that Amy Shark was gifting fans (I get around). Also performing were 5 Seconds of Summer and this artist I’d never heard of, Genesis Owusu.

Amy and 5SOS were both 10/10 fantastic. Genesis Owusu was something somewhere beyond that. I’ve become a fully fledged member of the cult of Owusu ever since.

Again, Kingsmill discovered Owusu via Unearthed. Owusu was 17. The song was The Day After Valentine’s. It gives no hint of the full on experience of seeing Genesis Owusu on stage but yet Kingsmill knew this Canberra teen had “something”.

Australian music has had some good friends, including ARIA and PPCA who together are representing the industry towards Fair Pay for Radio Play.

In the last fifty years I feel Australian music has had two very best friends, who have always looked out for the best interests of the industry and have the capacity to see potential, and fulfil it, where others have looked away.

They are Mushroom Records founder Michael Gudinski and Kingsmill, with a special mention to Michael Chugg. I’ll give Gudinski the 70s, 80s and first part of the 90s, Kingsmill, from then on.

Who takes the getting Australian music airplay mantle from here?

New ABC Head of Audio Content Ben Latimer? Michael’s son Matt Gudinski? ARIA’s CEO Annabelle Hird? Someone else?

Let me know who I should be keeping an eye on as they fly the Australian music on radio flag. Whoever they are they have Kingsmill sized shoes to fill.

Jen Seyderhelm is a writer, editor and podcaster for Radioinfo & Radio Today
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