Radio's 30 year joke ends.
When 3AW's General Manager Denis O'Kane convinced the ever popular Keith McGowan to come across from 3AK in 1990, he couldn't have known that a flippant comment Keith would make would lead to a 30 year joke.
In 1989 3AW was in financial trouble following the unsuccessful relaunch of the station. The 1980s "Personality Radio" was dropped and "Thinking Person's Radio" had been launched.
By the end of 1989, the manager had moved on, and Denis O'Kane was appointed and tasked with the rebuild.
Ross Stevenson into breakfast (Lawyers Guns and Money), Neil Mitchell into Mornings, John Hindle in Afternoons, Paul Barber into Drive were the moves Denis made in early 1990.
Six months later there was another change. Keith McGowan had been hosting Midnight to Dawn when he agreed to meet with Denis O'Kane in a restaurant on Fitzroy St, St Kilda. Denis made Keith an offer to bring his show across to 3AW. Keith agreed and replaced Hal Todd.
ABOVE: Keith McGowan in the 3AW Bank St Studio (photographer unknown)
Denis O'Kane had planted the seeds, 3AW would not reap the fruits of his labour for a while yet. It would be 1993 before 3AW hit number one again. At this time in 1990, the station was broke. Denis was moved aside in favour of Tony Bell who was tasked with cutting costs.
This is where the 30 year old joke begins.
Keith asked Tony Bell if he could have newspapers delivered so that he might use them for content and talking points in his marathon five and a half hour shift each morning. The familiar cry of all radio station managers "We've got no money" was the reply Keith received from the new manager.
That evening, Keith opened the microphone and spoke directly to his audience which he knew involved many truck drivers who were delivering newspapers across the city and suburbs.
He said he needed a favour. He wanted newspapers delivered to 3AW.
Before I explain the conversation that allegedly took place on air I should explain how I know the story. I didn't start at 3AW until December 1995, and this took place long before my time there.
I was employed at 3AW to produce Bruce Mansfield and Philip Brady's "Nightline" and "Remember When" programs. Many was the night that I would still be in the office when Keith would see the delivery driver drop off the papers at the front door of the Bank St Studios which housed 3AW at that time. Keith would scream at the top of his lungs "GRANDBOY" (his nickname for me). His scream was so loud that I would come running down the corridor expecting to find him wresting with an armed intruder. Instead he would just say "Can you do me a favour and get the papers, I just can't be f***ed". The newspaper delivery was odd. It just didn't make sense to me which papers he received and why. So one day, when we had time to talk, I asked him about it. That's when he told me the story.
Whilst I can't directly quote Grandpa (my nickname for him), I have been told that I do a fairly good impression of him. So in my mind, the story was this....
Me: "Grandpa, how come you get six copies of the Australian and one or two copies of the Herald Sun?"
Keith: "Funny story. When I started here the station was stuffed. I asked Tony Bell if I could get a delivery of papers but he said no, we can't afford it. - I'm doing five and half hours and he can't even give me some ****ing papers.
So I went on air the next morning and said "I need some help. Apparantly we can't afford newspapers. But I know a bunch of you who are listening are truck drivers delivering the papers all over the city and suburbs. I need one of you to organise some papers for me.
So this bloke rings and says "I can help you Keith, what do you need?"
So, being a smartarse I said "I need a Herald Sun each morning, actually two on Friday Mornings 'cos Rick Milne's in for the Antiques and Collectables show and I know he'd want one. You can forget the Age, no one reads that rag. And I've got a large birdcage at home, so I could do with five, no, six copies of the Australian."
Me: "And that's what he organised?"
Keith: "Well I was just stuffing around. All I wanted was the Herald Sun, I didn't need all the others but a couple of days later that's what started arriving. So I went on air a couple of times in the next few weeks asking the guy to ring me back but he never did. And there's nothing on the delivery that tells me where it comes from so I can't ring anyone to get it changed"
So that was the conversation, as best as I can recall, that took place in 1996.
ABOVE - The newspaper delivery for 30 years: Six copies of the Australian and one Herald Sun
Successive managments have all at one time or another attempted to change the order, but they all faced the same problem. Where does it come from? Because it was organised by a listener, 3AW has never received an invoice for it.
In 2010 3AW moved from Bank St Sth Melbourne to Docklands.
The newspaper order kept coming.
In 2011 Keith McGowan retired and was replaced with Andrew McLaren
The newspaper order kept coming.
In 2015 Luke Bona took over the middawn program, broadcasting nationally from 2UE. The newspaper order kept coming. In 2016 Tony Moclair took over the program, returning it to Melbourne The newspaper order kept coming.
Tony took his annual leave at the end of 2020 and I filled in as host. I realised that, being 2020, this had been going on for 30 years.
6 copies of the Australian had been delivered every day for over 30 years.
To put that into perspective, that's roughly 11,000 days, or 66,000 copies of the Australian. So I devised a plan. A plan so simple, I am quite cross that it hadn't occured to me before.
There was one person who could help us. Whoever it was who was delivering the papers.
So I took a photo of the current order and made a few posters which I strategically placed in the loading bay where the papers were delivered each day.
ABOVE: The poster requesting the change to the newspaper delivery, placed on the floor of the loading bay. Still there after the delivery (the papers were dropped on the poster by the driver.
When I went downstairs to pick up the delivery, the posters were exactly where I left them. Untouched.
But the very next day, when I went down to collect the papers, the order had changed.
It was a success. 30 years after Keith had joked about needing newspapers to line his aviary with, and after over 66,000 copies had been delivered. I have ended Grandpa's long running joke.
Now, each morning we are the proud recipients of two Herald Suns, (One for Tony and one for his producer Bianca) and two copies of the Australian. There is no Age newspaper but I understand now after a message from a listener that the Age delivieries are handled by a different company.
By the way, if anyone reading this can get two copies of the Age delivered to us at 3AW overnight it would be much appreciated. And my Mum loves the puzzles in Take 5 magazine too (just throwing it in there just in case.)
So it's over. I'm proud of you Grandpa. The instigator or Radio's longest running joke.
Above: Simon Owens (author) (left) with Keith McGowan (right)