From an interview at Tsunami Magazine with Richard Kingsmill:
Well, just because something is being played everywhere else on mainstream radio, does that mean that it doesnâ€™t deserve a place on Triple J? Deserve the airtime?
Well, weâ€™ve got a brief; weâ€™ve got a charter that says that we should provide young Australia an alternative to what theyâ€™re getting elsewhere, to a certain degree. Thatâ€™s a big part of our charter â€“ that we donâ€™t just mimic what is already out there in the marketplace. Mind you, itâ€™d be good if commercial stations that get new licenses could also abide by thatâ€¦but thatâ€™s another conversation point.
Coming back to those artists that are being played on commercial stations elsewhere: Kanye West, Lily Allen, Ladyhawke, Cut Copy, the Presetsâ€¦all of those acts were started by Triple J. All of those acts got their first airplay on Triple J. All of those acts have had absolute consistent airplay on Triple J â€“ every one of their songs have hit the mark, and weâ€™ve played every single album theyâ€™ve put out, or tracks thereof. Now, with the Sneaky Sound System stuff, we didnâ€™t support them in the beginning. We felt like that band was going to go somewhere else. That band was designed for commercial radio. There was no need for us to go there.
So anyone that criticises us for not playing them â€“ just because theyâ€™re Australian, just because theyâ€™re independent: fuck you.
Triple J’s Hottest 100 of All Time has been criticised by various people for the lack of female vocalists. My friend Mel Campbell writing for the awesomely titled The Enthusiast described it as an embarrassing shortcoming. Mel argues that there is a “danger […] that people use these lists to create an imaginary musical landscape that subtly omits the contributions of women.” And extends this critique to isolate a further “danger […] that radio music directors can look at these lists and think, ‘Clearly people donâ€™t want to hear songs by women.'” Mel then analyses the distribution of female workers across the main organisational structure of the expanded Triple J enterprise, which includes radio, magazine, television, but curiously no web? The organisational structure of a given istitution that serves as part of a scenes infrastructure is important. Various popular culture and music scholars have highlighted the importance of various kinds of businesses in the consiution and robust survival of a given scene.
I want to draw a connection between the critique of the most recent Hottest 100, mostly from the Left, and the more common critique of Triple J, mostly from the Right, that argues that Triple J is ‘out of touch’ with youth. I thought someone needed to defend Triple J. Firstly, the critique of the gendered nature of the Hottest 100 of All Time is problematic, not because it is wrong, but because I so far haven’t read anything that goes far enough. The Hottest 100 of All Time is merely symptomatic, the structural conditions of the social milieau to which Triple J mostly belongs needs to be critiqued. Secondly, the naysayers who argue that falling listener share in the radio ratings is evidence of a failure of Triple J and key Triple J personel is essentially flawed. I don’t think the people that make such criticisms are stupid, they just have accounted for the shifting terrain of the media landscape and how young people use various mediums to get their media.
Considering I cracked 30 earlier this year, I can’t be considered youth anymore or even young adult. Kate Crawford’s book Adult Themes explored the problematic location of people like me that haven’t yet assumed the specific roles associated with being ‘adult’ and yet retain tastes and cultural practices that are more ‘youth’ than ‘adult’. It means that I am writing about Triple J not as part of their target audience, but from somewhere on the periphery. I grew up listening to the Jay’s, my listening practices began just after they became a national radio network. I can distinctly remember laughing with my brother as the old Triple J announcer/personality and ‘resident dag’ Maynard Crabbes offered commentary while Pseudo Echo’s Funky Town played: “Guitar solo! weeeEEEheeEE” “Synth solo! waaAAAhaaaAA”
I spent many nights of my youth with the radio on as I drifted off to sleep. It was my connection to a world bigger than the comfortable and loving surrounds of the familial home and mainstream tastes of my mates that I with which I grew up. It was an opening on a world that I had little idea about. At this particular point in time, Triple J was almost solely a radio station charged with the responsibility of providing an alternative to the commercial radio stations. Various youth subcultures were given ‘air time’ and the more generalist shows played music that was at the time literally ‘alternative’ to the other radio stations and often produced by ‘independent’ record labels.
The alternative music generes were almost always collapsed into ‘alternative rock’. ‘Indie’ music hadn’t yet become a genre and actually referred to the structural conditions of music production. Now ‘indie’ is a genre, as is ‘alternative’. The structural conditions of the production of music has largely been elided as the big labels realised they could buy or create boutique labels in house for the purposes of capturing a slice of the various indie/alternative niche markets. This quasi-Marxist critique of the relation between Triple J and the music scene needs to be revisited in light of the Unearthed competition, created largely in response of the Indie-fication of the mainstream.
As Will Straw and other popular music scholars have argued there has long been a gendered binary within popular music between a feminised ‘pop’ and a masculine ‘rock’. The ‘games of distinction’ belonging to rock that valorised masculine cultural qualities of music, such as toughness, loudness, frankness, etc. were mapped on to the genre of indie/alternative as signifiers of the separation from the feminised ‘pop’ mainstream. (This argument is not entirely accurate the ‘mainstream’ side of the genedered binary had the big hair/cock rock bands of the 1980s and early 1990s.)
If we follow the post-structuralist feminsts in their separation of gender and biological sex in the production and distribution of difference throughout cultural formations, then the problem with the Hottest 100 becomes slightly different. The Hottest 100 of All Time is explicitly sexist due to the lack of female vocalists and preponderance of all-male ensembles. It would seem that Triple J remains properly configured around the sexist binary that defines appreciation of indie/alternative popular music. But if the question is posed in terms of gender and non-hegemonic masculinities, then the critique of the sexist character of the Hottest 100 of All Time loses some of its sting. A simple perusal of the list will demonstrate what I am getting at.
The other potentially more damning critique is that Triple J is ‘out of touch’ with its target audience of youth. Ratings figures are mobilised to demonstrate Triple J’s falling share of the radio listener pie (hmmm, tasty!). Radio listeners? How much of the Triple J enterprise is focus on the radio? If the Jay’s have lost some of the percentage share of the radio listeners in their target markets, then this is good thing. Listener numbers have been dropping for years, which is why ethically bankrupt people are on mainstream radio to try to grab attention anyway they can.
Triple J should be understood as a brilliant example of an old media model adapting to the new media landscape. I have often listened to podcasts, particularly of the nightly current affairs show, Hack. They have expanded into television with Triple J TV. Are the ‘ratings’ for these other media ‘channels’ taken into account when Triple is critiqued rather simplisitcally in terms of raw radio listener numbers? Nope. The other radio stations are dying slowly and fucking painfully for the rest of us mildly-sane people. The expansion of the Triple J brand into cross-media opportunities afforded by ‘new media’ is a very interesting model for the rest of us who may work in an old media industry who has yet to grasp the distributed character of brand management. The biggest success story is Triple J’s Unearthed competition. It largely uses popular music radio’s ‘old media’ function to valorise some music over others through exposure connected with the ‘new media’ function of connectivity. One of my students from a few years ago was in a band that won the NSW section of the competition and I witnessed exactly what happened in terms of exposure and new opportunities.
The contemporary Triple J has a strong and resonant identity across Australia, if not the world. Triple J is an icon of popular music and youth culture. It has inherited a cultural values and practices that emerged when a radio station was merely a radio station. There is a burden of cultural inheritance that has stumped many a canny media operator, my own experience is in the magazine industry certainly supports the thesis that many managers don’t really know what to do, even yet, after 10-15 years of the net. Triple J is not just a radio station, yet it has reinvigorated the best elements of the function of a radio station in different ways across a number of media channels.