Where it all started:
I lost my radio heart to Melbourne's much loved community station 3RRR.FM in the early 1980’s sitting in on a midnight-to-dawn with a couple of friends but it wasn’t until early 1984 that I had my first show – an Australian Independent Music Show on Tuesday nights at midnight, co-hosted by Simon Drew - at Sydney’s 2SER.FM. I’d moved to Sydney to study media/communications at UTS and 2SER was literally on the top floor. So began my life-long love of radio. In Sydney I discovered DoubleJay (2JJ), which became 2JJJ.FM in 1983, and set my sights on a job there.
It was thanks to 2SER.FM that my TV career began simultaneously. A researcher for ABC TV was also involved at 2SER and I ended up on the telly – reporting and writing – for ABC TV’s youth programs ‘Out There’, ‘Behind the News’ and ‘Edge of the Wedge’ during 1984-1986.
By the middle of 1986 I got my dream radio job at 2JJJ.FM – as host of the Australian Music Show, a Tuesday night specialist music show and weekend breakfast. I was 23 and getting paid to be on-air at a pretty incredible radio station. I had some incredible mentors and colleagues: Pam Swain, Chris Winter, Tim Ritchie, Sammy Collins, Gayle Austin, Helen Thomas, Fran Kelly, Tony Walker, Mark Dodshon, George Wayne and Tony Biggs, to name a handful.
By 1987 I was hosting weekday Drive, then The Morning Show, with Richard Kingsmill as my producer, and finally went back to nights as a specialist music presenter 5 nights a week in 1989.
Launching the National JJJ network
In October 1989 I launched the national youth network in Melbourne, hosting the very first show of the new, national, JJJ and the following month hosted the first show from Hobart. During this time I was gathering interviews for a 10-part retrospective special on Australian Music in the 1980’s. I interviewed a range of musicians from Nick Cave to Chrissy Amphlett, to Jimmy Barnes, Paul Kelly and the late David McComb and the series went to air in early 1990. I later turned these interviews into my first book, ‘Your Name’s on the Door’, (1992/ABC Books).
‘Fuck Tha Police’ – how I remember the JJJ sackings
By mid 1990 the old 2JJJ had become a fully-fledged national network and where we’d previously sailed under the radar with some of the more colourful language contained in the music we sometimes played suddenly we were in the national spotlight. In particular NWA’s ‘Fuck Tha Police’ came in for some criticism by parliamentarians in Adelaide and the West Australian police service who claimed the song incited racial tension. (WA at that time had the highest black deaths in custody rate in the country). They pressured ABC management to ban the song and in an unprecedented and extremely unpopular move station management introduced a censorship policy and banned us from playing the song. We were outraged and in response the station’s daily current affairs program, The Drum, prepared a story on the use of the word ‘fuck’ in the modern vernacular and included just over 20 seconds of the song in the produced story. JJJ management got wind of it and instructed the EP, Nick Franklin, not to play it. He refused to acquiesce, played the piece and was suspended without pay on the spot. The rest of us went on strike but not before we’d rigged up a loop of Heaven 17’s ‘We Don’t Need This Fascist Groove Thing’, which played for sometime before management twigged what was going on. Those were the days…
Sadly our fiesty, youthful defiance was rewarded by each of the fulltime announcers involved in strike action over ‘Fuck Tha Police’ losing our jobs. I chose to resign over the issue before my on-air colleagues, the likes of Tim Ritchie, Tony Biggs, Gayle Austin and Amanda Collinge, were replaced by a new regime of broadcasters. Despite a huge protest rally over our ‘sacking’, that was held at Sydney Town Hall and attended by thousands listeners, we were out on our ear.
It’s in the songs
During my time at JJJ I had the great honour of having two songs written for me. The first by Louis Tillet, ‘From Me to You’ on his 1989 album ‘A Cast of Aspersions’. The second, ‘Tracee Lee’ off The Chevelles EP ‘The Kids Ain’t Hip’, penned by Richard Lane, came out after I left in 1991.
I ran away to Darwin after the JJJ business and wrote ‘Your Name’s on the Door’, from the 10-part JJJ radio series, for ABC Books, and picked up some work at 8DDD – on-air and producing Drive and Afternoons. It was a great opportunity and training for the next phase of my career. I travelled extensively throughout the Top End and spent many a weekend in my swag under a wide open sky with my faithful hound-dog by my side.
In 1992 I got a gig hosting the ABC’s morning show at 2NR throughout the NSW Far North Coast, it was all part of proving my chops as a serious, credible broadcaster. I worked hard and really learned the craft of talk-based, issues-driven radio. And it was a beautiful place to do it. I lived an idyllic life just outside Byron Bay, in Ewingsdale, and walked that glorious beach at Belongil with my dog, Rhani, every afternoon.
I came back to Sydney in 1993 as a reporter/producer for an ABC TV show called ‘All in a Days Work’ and worked with people like Paul Clarke (Recovery, Long way to the Top, Bombora) and Karen Leng (Recovery, 3RRR). By mid-year the show had folded and I was offered some work on SBS TV’s then-fledgling music show, ‘nomad’ – which had been conceived and developed by Simon Marnie (702/Sydney). By episode 6, I moved into producing the program together with Associate Producer Amanda Duthie (ABC TV Arts/Entertainment, Adelaide Film Festival). Our featured artists included The Dirty Three, Pavement, Barry Adamson, Ben Lee, Living Colour, the Underground Lovers, Mandawuy Yunupingu, David McComb, Michael Franti and the Disposable Heroes of Hypopricy, Bjork (in Icelandic), the creative partnership of Ed & Judi Kuepper and – ironically – Ice Cube (formerly of NWA).
My great excitement at meeting the bloke I’d lost my job over turned out to be one of the most intimidating - and disappointing - experiences of my professional life – and one I’ve regretted ever since. Instead of sharing that great JJJ/Fuck Tha Police story of defiance with the man himself, Ice Cube walked into our interview set surrounded by about 20 men from the Nation of Islam and proceeded to stare me down as the white, middle class woman they perceived me to be… Sadly I didn't have the nerve to tell him what a waste of effort it now seemed to lose a much-loved job fighting to play one of his songs…
‘nomad’, Pick Me and silverchair
In 1994 SBS moved ‘nomad’ into a prime timeslot at 8pm on a Thursday night. But a couple of months into its new season I'd got word that the show was vulnerable to an upcoming mid-year hiatus to accommodate the World Cup broadcast. We needed a flashpoint bargaining chip and developed 'Pick Me' a competition that would reward the winning unsigned band with one day’s recording at JJJ and a filmclip shot on 35mm Kodak film – and they would own it 100%. The terms of ‘Pick Me’ was to tell us in 25 words why they should win and we’d shortlist from there.
So many Australian bands had been done over by bad record deals or simply miss out completely due to the fickle and random nature of opportunity in the music industry. 'Pick Me' would create a totally win/win situation for the artist, to give a new young band all the negotiating cards and a financial head start beyond their imaginings (and also beyond the realities of the music industry).
But I also wanted to save our TV show! And I figured if the 'Pick Me' competition discovered a classic SBS charter-friendly band/singer songwriter then I could demonstrate to SBS management that the show had merit and a place in the SBS production schedule. We received about 800 entries – one of which came from 3 young teenagers from Merewether, NSW, called the 'Innocent Criminals' who were channeling some fine Seattle grunge with a touch of Led Zep and Deep Purple. Amongst the other acts we short-listed were an Aboriginal hip-hop girl-duo from Alice Springs and an eccentric ensemble from Melbourne called the Von Trapp Family Singers.
It was pretty clear from the outset that the Innocent Criminals had the strongest song and the most potential, but what I wasn’t looking for to keep an SBS TV music show on air in 1994 was three white teenagers from a east coast surf-town playing grunge-rock. In all honesty I really wanted the hip-hop girls from Alice to win – but when Amanda and I flew out there to shoot a mini-clip with them it was clear that they weren’t developed enough to really benefit from the prize on offer. The Von Trapp Family singers were wonderfully madcap and were classically Melbourne in the multi-cultural diversity they possessed – but they were a novelty act that I was trying to convince myself could become something else if they won an SBS TV music show competition.
By this stage ‘nomad’ had disappeared from SBS’s post World Cup TV schedule – I was desperate to come up with something to save it. What I did have was a cracking song from a great young band that had a helluva lot going for them. Their song 'Tomorrow' had all the makings of a hit for them but I doubted it would save our little TV show.
In the end I went with the strongest entry and in June 1994 the Innocent Criminals made their TV debut with their song ‘Tomorrow’. I came into work the next day to find phone messages from every major record company in the country on my answer phone and by lunchtime got the official word that ‘nomad’ had been axed. I hooked the band up with a great music lawyer and wished them well. In November 1994 myself and the director of the ‘Tomorrow’ filmclip, Robert Hambling, (who’d lobbied hard for the song to win the competition while I was distracted with other objectives), were presented with platinum CD’s for record sales of ‘Tomorrow’. Sadly neither of us had negotiated points!
By that stage I was working as a reporter in the SBS newsroom - learning how to make TV news and current affairs.
News and current affairs reporting
For the next 2 years I worked in the SBS newsroom – reporting, acting chief of staff and producing a weekly news-review program. In September 1995 I covered the resumption of nuclear testing at Mururoa Atoll – under tear-gas and stun grenade fire at Papeete airport – and did a piece to camera to prove it. The following year Channel 9 came calling…
Getaway & “I Forgive Catriona Rowntree”
My old mate from SBS John Walsh, the EP of ‘nomad’, had scooted over to the evil empire Channel 9 after ‘nomad’ got the boot and rang me with a question – “Do you want to go to Russia and the Artic Circle as a Getaway producer?” The Howard government had been elected and had gutted the SBS budget – and I had a choice of repackaging news vision from around the world from an edit suite in Artarmon (Sydney) or go travelling with a film crew on Kerry Packer’s payroll. I went to Nine and spent the next two years travelling for ‘Getaway’. I saw Carmen, the opera, performed at the Kirov Theatre in St.Petersburg, we had guns pulled on us in the CBD and the mafia threatened the film crew outside the hotel, I went to Santa’s House in Lapland and saw 24 hours of sunlight - and that was just the first trip. It was an incredible adventure – Uluru, the Kimberley, Melville & Bathurst Islands, the Great Barrier Reef, the US, Canada and Italy all come to mind - but it was also the hardest job I’ve ever done due to constant jet-lag… And I wasn’t always that comfortable on the less-glamorous side of the camera either and, after plotting how I might concoct the demise of one of the program’s star presenters in New York, I decided it was time to leave…
Years later I wrote and performed a sell-out show at the Melbourne Fringe Festival in her honour – ‘I Forgive Catriona Rowntree’ – but it took many years before I could laugh about it!!!
The Girl Who Killed Moomba
After ‘Getaway’ I worked as a reporter at ‘Today Tonight’ for 2 years in Melbourne. For the most part I had a charmed run at 'TT' - which was trying hard to be a credible current affairs show under the direction of Peter Manning from ABC TV and Shane Castleman (The Age/7.30 Report). I interviewed the likes of Tom Jones, Ronan Keating and a very young Heath Ledger. But I also broke some big stories; filming 'undercover' at the Royal Melbourne Hospital to reveal chronic understaffing and hygiene issues that plagued Melbourne's signature public hospital and led to then-Premier Jeffrey Kennett changing legislation about filming in public places. In early 1999 I broke the story about TV personality and child entertainer Zig the Clown (of the TV duo Zig & Zag fame) being a convicted paedophile, having pled guilty to several counts of sexual assault on his 13 year-old grand-daughter under his real name of Jack Perry. Zig and his TV clown partner, Zag, had been crowned Moomba monarchs and were due to lead the annual Moomba Parade through the streets of Melbourne. His grand-daughter came to us with the story and I drew the short-straw to confront him with the revelations. Moomba was all but cancelled that year and the Monarch title disappeared. Yes, I am The Girl who Killed Moomba.
Back to Sydney, back to the ABC, back to radio... back to Melbourne again
I retreated to the much hoped for comfort of 2BL/702 Sydney in 2000 – and hosted the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the Paralympic Games from Stadium Australia. It was fantastic to be back on air at ABC radio and I'd hoped for a nice long run in the timeslot. Sadly my contract wasn’t renewed so I went back to Melbourne and spent the next couple of years picking up work at 774/ABC Melbourne and at ABC TV Sunday Arts.
3RRR – Back to the Heartland
In 2001 I went back to the old radio heartland and started a weekly show at 3RRR called ‘the word’. It was everything I wanted in a radio show – politics, the environment, social justice issues, cooking and footy – with complete autonomy and editorial independence. It was an incredible - and rare - privilege. By 2002 I’d become fully ensconced at 3RRR as Program Director, responsible for 60-odd programs in the weekly grid and overseeing about 150 volunteer broadcasters. And, by association, I became part of the annual Community Cup charity footy match and coached the RRR/PBS Megahertz in my first year on-staff.
My regulars on 'the word' included: David Manne (Refugee & Immigration Legal Centre, who led the successful challenge to the Australian Government's so called Malaysia Solution in 2011), Monash University's Nick Economou talking politics, Big Issue editors Simon Castles, Meg Mundell, Martin Hughes, Alan Attwood and Mel Cranenburgh, Cam Walker (Friends of the Earth), Gav McFadzen (Wilderness Society), Loz Mooney doing laughs, Sam Lane talking footy and Rebecca Barnard with some rockin' recipes.
I interviewed some cool folks - including Billy Bragg (whom I'd interviewed first at JJJ in the 1980's), Archie Roach, Pete Postlethwaite and the grandfather of reconciliation Patrick Dodson. It was a privilege.
During this time the station bought and Moved Our RRR’s to purpose-built studios in Brunswick and my main contribution to the relocation campaign was pulling together the 'Lost My Heart to Triple R' retrospective that featured over 60 former programs and presenters doing their old shows to kick start the fundraising campaign over Valentine's weekend in 2004. It was a wonderful reminder of all the incredible people who'd got their start at 3RRR and a great celebration of the iconic place the station occupies in Melbourne's cultural landscape. It was an incredible time to be involved but shortly after we'd settled in our new studios ill-health forced me to quit the job, very reluctantly, in 2005.
I stayed on presenting ‘the word’ on until early 2008 - and managed to play in 5 Community Cups as a self-procalimed glamour midfilder and won the inaugural Rilen/Wells/Lloyd medal in 2007 as best veteran. The last 'word' was on February 12 2008 and featured live performances from James Reyne, Tim Rogers, Rebecca Barnard, Lisa Miller, Shane O'Mara, Shane Howard, Neil Murray, Amy Saunders and Sally Dastey.
During late 2005 and into 2006 I worked on Series 2 and 3 of Rockwiz as Talent Producer and scriptwriter – setting up the famed duets of Chrissy Amphlett & Chris Cheney, Martha Wainwright & Dan Kelly, Linda Bull & Glenn Tilbrook, Gareth Liddiard & Taasha Coates, Archie Roach & Sara Storer, Chris Bailey & The Spazzy's, Angry Anderson & Sarah McLeod, Sarah Lee Guthrie & Chris Wilson, Kim Salmon & Jodie Phillis and Jimmy & Mahalia Barnes – to name a handful. It was fantastic to be involved in the very early, formative seasons of what would become a national treasure of a TV show.
DIG TV was my absolute dream gig – but sadly it was also a short-lived experiment in the early days of the ABC2 digital channel during 2006/2007. Co-hosted by myself and James Reyne (from the legendary Australian Crawl) – the show was 18 episodes of contemporary adult music that featured interviews and live performance from Martha Wainwright, Adrian Belew, Gareth Liddiard (The Drones), Chrissy Amphlett, The Audreys, Tim Rogers & Tex Perkins, Lisa Miller and the last TV performance by the late Ian Rilen. I still miss it!
The 7.30 Report/ABC TV
After working over the summer of 2007/2008 at the 7.30 Report I took a fulltime reporting job at the Melbourne Bureau, which began with my reporting on the National Apology from Canberra on February 13th 2008. During a two year contract period I had the great pleaure of reporting/producing some wonderful TV; I interviewed people like Neil Young, Ray Davies, Lou Reed and All amazing experiences! And did some stories of which I'm really proud: the Kev Carmody musical tribute, a feature on the Victorian Koori Court, the cycling comeback of Darren Lapthorne and the Homeless World Cup soccer event. I was also acting Bureau Chief in Melbourne over the summer of 2008/09.
During this time I also filled in as co-host of ABC2 'News Breakfast' on several occasions which was a great experience and then moved back into radio at ABC NewsRadio with my old JJJ colleague, Helen Thomas, at the helm.
“Tracee Hutchison was an easy choice as co-host for DIG TV, the ABC’s new TV series on music on ABC2. Tracee has a long, highly credentialed and credible background as a dj, writer, TV host and commentator, as well as being an unashamed fan. Her knowledge and experience is matched by her warmth, charm and sense of humour as a broadcaster and her on-camera appeal”.
Chris Winter, DIG TV/ABC2
|Radio Australia/ABC Newsradio -
Pic: James Penlidis
|Tracee at Triple JJJ - 1989|
|Launching the National JJJ network in 1989|
|ABC TV's 'Edge of the Wedge' crew. 1986|
|'Tracee Lee' - The Chevelles 1991
Listen to the song
|The Band, The Mums and Robert & Tracee with the platinum discs for 'Tomorrow' - 1994|
|With 'Getaway' cameraman Mike Mckenzie at Whistler - 1996|
|Tracee on air at 3RRR - 2007|
|With Billy Bragg at 3RRR Radio|
|With Chrissy Amphlett|
|With James Reyne, 'Dig TV' - 2007|