Following the news of the passing of Adelaide radio legend David Day overnight, Stuart Coupe contacted me this morning and asked if I would post the interview he did with David for Roadrunner, published in the June 1978 issue.
At the time, David was music director at 5KA Adelaide, generally considered the most progressive radio station in the country for most of the 1970s, with a reputation for breaking new acts and records. He went on to work on air at SAFM Adelaide in its early days of FM broadcasting in the 1980s, and later with Triple M Adelaide. In his latter years, he was chief executive of the South Australian Music Hall of Fame.
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A Day in our lives
by Stuart Coupe
In Roadrunner 2 we featured an interview with Ian Meldrum—Australian rock ‘n’ roll personality extraordinare. In future issues we intend to feature interviews with people on the side of the star making machinery—record company reps, record shop owners, promoters …. and radio DJs. so gang, here it is, the Rolling Stone-style David Day interview done live in the staff coffee room at Life Station 5KA (Adelaide).
The interviewer is Stuart Coupe (S), and in case you can’t figure it out David Day is (D) so with a “Hi I’m your friendly local DJ” let’s roll the interview—no advertisments.
David ‘Daisy’ Day and Ian ‘Molly’ Meldrum on Countdown
S – FIRST OF ALL WHAT ABOUT YOUR PAST EXPERIENCES AND EXPLOITS BEFORE YOU CAME TO 5KA?
D – Well this year’s my tenth year in radio. It’s my fourth year here at 5KA. The other six years prior to this were just the country gigs like starting out in the bush—I was 16 when I started and it was just working for a little local station answering phones. I always wanted to get into radio and I was lucky enough to do it while I was going to school. A country station is just like doing an apprenticeship. It’s where you learn everything. Not so much learn everything but you get to do everything like you read the news, write the news, read death notices, lost dogs, C.W.A. notes, Red Cross notes—all the fun things of radio. The things you bitch about but when you get somewhere like this you say “Oh but it was good fun”.
S – WHEN YOU PUT TOGETHER YOUR PROGRAM EACH NIGHT HOW MUCH CONTROL DO YOU HAVE OVER WHAT YOU PLAY. IS THAT PREDETERMINED FOR YOU?
D – It is because I’m music director of the station so I guess I determine myself what I play, along with determining what the other guys play as well. But it’s a pretty free, open type of thing. We don’t say “You’ve got to play this record at 5 past” sort of thing. They’re given a list of records that I compile for a week and I say, “Well this is what we’re gonna do for this week fellas, within that and within your style, work out something that is you and go ahead and do it.”
S – WELL HOW DO YOU GO ABOUT PICKING THOSE RECORDS YOU PUT ON THE LIST?
D – I have up here, somewhere in the brain, an idea of what we’re doing as a station so I have to program a musical sound around what the station is trying to do.
S – LAST YEAR THERE WAS A BAN ON WHAT THE MEDIA WOULD CALL ‘PUNK’ ROCK, BY 5KA AND 5AD. WAS THAT INSTIGATED BY YOU? DO YOU WANT TO TALK ABOUT WHOSE DECISION THAT WAS AND HOW IT CAME ABOUT?
D – No not really. I’d just like to say that I put it on. We were the first station in Australia to play that record (Pretty Vacant – ED) and we got it charted. There wasn’t a ban on punk records—just on the Sex Pistols themselves but it’s one of those things where I had people over me. I was the musical director and it’s the first time, really, that I’ve ever been told that “We can’t do that” but I realised that I was working for a place that if they say “That’s what you do” then that’s what you do. But that’s the only time ever that someone has said that but we did get it away and off the ground, and that to me was good anyway. Shit, before that we were playing people who are classified as New Wave—Graham Parker and all those guys. We’ve been playing them for years, and all of a sudden someone labels them a punk group, and what do you do?
S – DO YOU THINK THAT THE BAN ON THE SEX PISTOLS WAS MORE A SOCIAL ISSUE THAN A MUSICAL ONE. FOR INSTANCE, MUSICALLY BOTH GRAHAM PARKER AND THE SEX PISTOLS ARE MUSICALLY, MORE, OR LESS HARMLESS THAN EACH OTHER. DON’T YOU THINK THE BAN WAS A RESULT OF THE MEDIA IMAGE OF PUNKS AND THE SOCIAL RAMIFICATIONS OF IT?
D – Probably a social thing. To me, it all started when the Australian music papers were all looking for a buzz and this thing was taking off in England. I really don’t think Australia’s got a punk culture because it’s one of the freest countries in the world and the punk thing was something that grew out of a culture in England. Kids had to get out and say “this is what’s happening and we want to talk about it”. I think if the Australian kids were doing that maybe they might have a little personal hassle or something but, it’s like, back in ’68, it was cool to wear floral T-shirts, and you said “I’m a hippie” but you’d probably never got into what the hippies were getting into in America. People were just saying “Let’s follow it because it’s what’s happening now.” I’ve seen about 3 real punk rockers in town. Jeez, I was a punk rocker 5 years ago and I didn’t have to wear chains. It’s a follow the leader thing and the Australian press were wanting something to write about so they blew it up as though we had this huge mass of kids walking around bloody knocking over old grandmothers, the whole works. They really wrote it up sky high and I guess there were a lot of older generation people who were saying, “Oh we can’t let this happen” but it wasn’t happening and that was that. So I’d like to get the guy who did that!!! He spoilt a lot of things.
S – WELL NOW THE STATION IS PLAYING ELVIS COSTELLO, NICK LOWE AND TOM ROBINSON. IS THAT LIKELY TO BE A CONSISTANT POLICY, BECAUSE PREVIOUSLY THE MEDIA WOULD HAVE INCLUDED THEM AS PUNK?
D – Yea, because like I just said, we were playing that stuff like Parker before, and a new guy like Costello comes along. I don’t look at whether he’s a country and western singer or a jazz singer. If his music’s good, it’s the sound of the station I’ve got in my head, I’ll put him on.
S – ARE THEIR ANY POLITICAL BANS ON RECORDS? THE CURRENT ONE I’M THINKING OF IS TOM ROBINSON’S “GLAD TO BE GAY”. IAN MELDRUM ASSURED ME THAT THAT WOULD BE ON COUNTDOWN THE NEXT WEEK, 2 MONTHS AGO. IS THERE OR ARE THERE BANS ON RECORDS THAT MAY BE DEEMED OVERTLY POLITICAL?
D – The only bans that come out are from our Federation which is like a little watch eye that sits around. They’re pretty cool. They don’t really ban things unless if a record says FUCK or something like that. They let you know that this could be embarrassing to someone who’s listening, because we’ve got such a large audience who’s listening, if you offend one person—you’ve got to be careful. If the Federation says, “That record’s banned” then we have to stick by that but if it has no ban it’s just a personal thing whether we play it or not.
David Day in the studio at 5KA
S – ARE YOU IN A POSITION WHERE THE STATION HAS TO WAIT FOR THE LOCAL RECORD COMPANY TO RELEASE A RECORD BEFORE IT IS CONSIDERED FOR AIRPLAY?
D – The ban on import records still exists, although most record companies have got themselves together in a way that there’s more co-operation between here and overseas and they realise that Australia’s such a big thing. The American big record companies I think realise that Australia’s now a good market and, in fact, a lot of records crack here first before America so they’re getting it together to release them at the same time.
S – WHAT ABOUT QUOTAS ON AUSTRALIAN MATERIAL – IS THERE A SPECIFIC PERCENTAGE?
D – There’s a definite quota. Whether it’s good or bad I don’t know but we’re always above it. It’s 20 per cent. I don’t think that because someone’s Australian that we should have to play them and the only way we’re going to get the industry to be very good is to put them on a par with the other guys from overseas and to say, “If you want to get on you’ve got to be as good as those other guys.” Then they’re going to work harder to get on. What worries me sometimes is the standard, but sometimes, because of the 20 per cent, we’ve got to look at playing it because it’s Australian. I’d prefer to go ahead and put it on because it’s good—not because it’s Australian.
S – HOW DOES 5KA FUND ITSELF? IS IT TOTALLY OR PARTIALLY FROM ADVERTISING?
D – Totally from advertising. Just about every station in Australia is owned or tied up with different things, like 5AD has got the Advertiser and Channel 7, but we just exist by ourselves. We’re sort of run by the church, we’re part of the Mission thing (the Central Methodist Mission – Ed.) but the money we make goes to doing things like Youthline, Lifeline and community work. It’s a good situation to be in because we can go ahead and do things straight away without having to go to a board, who goes to another board who goes to a board who ring up the owner in America and says, “Hey, can we put this on?”
S – HOW IMPORTANT DO YOU THINK IT ISFOR A COMMERCIAL STATION TO BUILD AN IMAGE AROUND THE ANNOUNCERS?
D – At the moment we’re more into music than personalities which is good for me. AD are really into personalities. It’s just a personal thing.
S – HOW MUCH INFLUENCE DO YOU CONSIDER YOU HAVE ON KIDS’ MUSICAL TASTES AND THEIR WAY OF THINKING?
D – I guess as I’ve got the choice of programming the station and I program it the way I like to hear it, I could influence a lot of people. If you keep hearing something often enough it’ll be in your head and you’ll be whistling it.
S – IS THERE A FAIR AMOUNT OF PRESSURE ON YOU FROM RECORD COMPANIES TO GET A PARTICULAR ALBUM OR SINGLE PLAYED ON AIR?
D – Yes, there’s pressure on everyone but I think the record companies in town know me. If I don’t like something I just say, “This is a load of crap—it’s not going on.” But you’d do the same if you were in a record company. You’d make a point of seeing and getting on with people. So I’ve got a dart board and I just throw a dart at the new releases!!! It’s a good excuse.
S – HOW DO YOU SEE COMMERCIAL RADIO IN AUSTRALIA DEVELOPING IN THE NEXT FEW YEARS? DO YOU THINK FM WILL EVER POSE A SERIOUS CHALLENGE?
D – I think the two can survive pretty well together and I don’t really know what the government’s going to do with FM. The latest story is that it’s going to ethnic groups and all that sort of stuff and the commercial stations like ourselves won’t be able to get FM licences. I think it would be good because like America the FM will be album orientated. If you look at KA, really you could say we’re an FM station broadcasting on AM. We probably play more album tracks than any other station in Australia. A few months ago I went round town and got heavily into what sells, and singles are only a minute part of total record sales. So really, we play the singles, but are more into the album music. It’s like a car yard—if you’re a Holden dealer you don’t want to push the Volkswagens, you want to push the Holdens. What we do here is if an album track is released as a single we’ll still play the album cut instead of the single cut because the single is usually cut down and made into a little 3 minute thing. Love Is Like Oxygen, the Sweet thing, the single goes 3 minutes something and the album track goes six and a half minutes. I look, when I’m programming, for what’s on the album because that’s the big seller.
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Postscript. In response to this, Frank Calabrese posted this great video from ABC TV Adelaide of David on 5KA explaining why they played the Sex Pistols’ Pretty Vacant on air – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aYvTl1act-w Thanks Frank!