Welcome to a 3-part article with personality radio success secrets from Hamish & Andy, one of Australia’s most popular media brands on radio, TV & online.

Craig Bruce, former content director at SCA, spoke with Hamish & Andy for his excellent Game Changers: Radio podcast that is worth listening to when you wish to be a successful radio personality, show producer or talent coach. Here are lessons from his talk with the first half of the duo; Hamish Blake, who’s learned a lot from early mistakes. “We were young enough and dumb enough to think that you can crack the code, and scientifically put things on that are guaranteed to work.”



“You are playing with friendships”



Hamish Blake, here playing electronic drums during their last radio show (for now), says that success and money in some cases change relations and friendships (image: Hamish & Andy)



Build your self confidence

“Lightning in a bottle” and “a once in a generation show” is how Craig Bruce describes Hamish & Andy, who mastered all rules of radio, and then broke them one by one, developing their personal style — a combination of comedy and stunts. Their syndicated drive time show reached over 2 million listeners across Australia, and a 20 percent share in Melbourne. Hamish Blake and Andy Lee meet at the University of Melbourne. Together, they do stand-up comedy and community radio (at SYN Radio). “Just winging it”, in Blake’s own words. Another talent that’s heard on the station back then is their mutual friend, Australian radio personality Wippa.

Through their buddy (and head producer) Sam Cavanagh, who goes to work for Melbourne’s Fox FM, they meet Craig Bruce in 2001, who is a presenter at the station back then. He records a trial show with Hamish, Andy, and their friend Ryan Shelton, after which Bruce goes to the station management, convincing them to hire these obvious talents. Even if Hamish doesn’t recognise that himself at that time: “Maybe it was a lack of self confidence. I was able to somehow have a deep love and passion for radio, yet the thought had never occurred to me to follow that dream.” He describes his radio partner as having the exact opposite mindset: “As soon as Andy’s got a sniff, he’s just like: we’ve got this. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to be side by side with someone that I think is so funny, but is also so driven like that.”



Develop your mass-appeal mindset

“It started to dawn on us: this was a really rare opportunity, even though on that stage there was no guarantee that this could become a career.” The trio soon became a duo. “Maybe Andy and I were a bit more in step for that kind of radio; we’ve never had to bend our personalities to fit commercial radio. In the early days, when there’s no money; no [big] opportunity; no stakes on the table, everyone’s making a decision purely based on: do you want to do this? There’s no pressure. It’s not like you’re turning down a breakfast show in Sydney, [where] you’ve got that carrot.”

Hamish and Andy felt like they really wanted to proceed, while Ryan was not really that eager. It seems like that was a good development for structure: “We struggled with three voices, and I think we all just knew: sometimes, when it’s just two of us talking, it’s a lot easier, for whatever reason. We had six guys on the basketball team, and it just seemed like a few too many on the court.” In hindsight, it was both a great and a tough time: “I highly recommend getting into [radio] with friends, but you are playing with friendships. You’re essentially going: can we commercialise our friendship, but at the same time keep it real?”



“You can’t break it down until you have built it up properly”



Hamish Blake advises to learn radio’s rules before breaking them (image: Flickr / Thomas Hawk)



Show your positive attitude

Hamish went to work as a script writer and street interviewer for Tracy & Matt in the Morning, where Matt Tilley took the 20-year-old under his wing, whether he would already bring a lot to the table in such a pressure-cooker environment or not. “He, a hundred percent, gave me a total year-long apprenticeship for free, and with his blessing. At such a young age, it was like I had a training with Yoda or Darth Vader, and I’d luckily got Yoda, because he was just so good to his team, such a great personality to work with, and voraciously creative, too. I was really fortunate.”

Craig Bruce recalls from his aircheck sessions with Hamish & Andy that they would always have a high willingness to learn and improve, taking notes with great eagerness: “You’d hear the show the next day, and all of the things that we talked about in the aircheck, you could hear them being executed on the air, and I got: ‘these guys are really embracing the opportunity of: how do we get better’. It is rare, as a programmer, to see that level of trust, I guess. You trusted those people around you.”



Leverage your radio knowledge

Looking back, Hamish Blake thinks that was because they respected and appreciated the experienced and professional team at Fox FM, also because there was a positive and confident vibe at the radio station. “There was no scrambling; it was just at a very assured air. It made sense for us to go: ‘How do we get up to speed as fast as possible? We have to listen to people that have been in radio for a long time.’ I think everyone’s the same; you come in, going: man, we’re going to break all the rules, and then you realise: at least 95% of the rules are there because they work.”

“You come in, wanting so hard to be groundbreaking, creatively, but you can’t break it down until you have built it up properly. You can’t throw the rulebook out of the window until you’ve read the rulebook.” The duo figured that once they would have learned all rules of radio, they then would be able to get a better perspective of where they could perform above average, or challenge the status quo a little. “It’s just the process of finding your voice, and I think we’re probably just nerds, too. We both had almost finished, or finished, uni — so we were just used to taking notes!”



“We were young enough and dumb enough to think that you can crack the code”



Hamish Blake recalls an early adventure in TV, which taught them that having fun and following intuition beats success statistics and proven formats (image: YouTube / Hamish & Andy)



Find your comfort zone

Although Hamish & Andy have hosted breakfast shows for short periods, like as a temporary show or holiday substitute, they both felt from an early stage that drive time hours suited them better. It also had to do with the gravity of topics in a morning show, compared to their young age (and less life experience) back then. “Breakfast is a much different dance to drive. We could have done okay, maybe, but it doesn’t play to our sweet spot, because drive is essentially: let’s create a bit of a silly world that’s kind of an escape for the day. When you look at grim news in the world, our first response is: how do we ignore this, and make a fun thing out of something else?”

After spending several years doing late nights and weekends on Fox FM Melbourne, Hamish & Andy were promoted to the station’s weekday drive time slot in 2006, while the Commonwealth Games were taking place. That was a very lucky coincidence, because they would have something to talk about that would relate to their audience during these first few weeks of their first daily show. “We had done an Olympics special show in 2004, so we were like: let’s just drag out a few tricks from there; that gives a couple of free hits. We had a few fun moments on air, where we began to get a hint of going: this is what a live show in the afternoon can be about.”



Keep your joy alive

“Certainly, the first few months were just fear”, Hamish Blake says about a period when he and Andy Lee were just finding out if they were good enough for this. Then, they realised: when they would have fun in the studio, listeners would have fun listening to them. “It also is a self-preservation mechanism. If we’re having the most fun, it’s all right. We all know that’s what we wanna’ do this for, and if it tanks, way better for it to tank with us having a ton of fun, than for us to constantly being panicking and trying to put things on air that we think people will like, and it’ll still fail.”

They learned this lesson when doing a comedy show, carrying their name, for the Seven Network in 2005, which was cancelled after a couple of weeks. “It was our name, but someone else’s show completely. We were young enough and dumb enough to think that you can crack the code, and scientifically put things on that are guaranteed to work because there’s some magic formula — and there’s not. The only formula you’ve got, is you having fun.” He observes that in radio, many things are done from an opportunistic perspective, rather than pure joy. “You can just see so many ideas were done because someone’s gone: ‘how do we get attention?’, and then reverse engineered from there.”



“Hardship and suffering, we do find a bit funny”



The duo’s natural attraction to adventure thrills got them to do this (image: Hamish & Andy)



Expand your personal horizon

Their focus on having fun led to several storylines around a greyhound named Fred Basset. “This was the first time we were doing an idea [where] it didn’t matter where it went, because: going on this trip is funny, so it doesn’t really matter where we go.” Hamish Blake speaks of a “seminal moment” when they discovered that finding original ideas is easy once you dive into things that many people have heard of, but haven’t been involved in. “Ideas like going on big caravan trips came from that experience with Fred Basset, going: we don’t know anything about this world, but the more we dig into it, the funnier it is. This whole world exists… we just never played in it.”

Craig Bruce points out that they have always had a completely different tone & attitude than other radio shows: “In Sydney, we had Kyle and Jackie O and Hamish & Andy on the same roster. Two shows couldn’t be more diametrically opposed. Brilliant shows, but one was about abundance; how do we win together, and one was about scarcity; how do we make sure than no one else wins.” And Hamish remembers: “I’m pretty sure, quite close to each other, ‘Kyle and Jack’ were doing their show from the Oscars, and we were at the Greyhound of the Year Awards, hahaha.”



Match your personal life

Being young and single made it easy to leverage a generational advantage compared to established shows at the beginning of their career, allowing them to be chained together for 48 hours, or to travel together for several weeks for Caravan of Courage. “The fact that those were fun shows and popular trips didn’t work because that’s the magic recipe. It only worked because we loved those trips.” The idea was born from a road trip they did together, years before, when they were students. “My car was a piece of sh*t, and [Andy] bet me that it couldn’t make it to the top of Australia.”

“A big adventure that has a low chance of success, and a high level of uncertainty, is what turns us on, comedically, and hardship and suffering, we do find a bit funny. That’s why we did those things. We got excited about it. We kind of loved that no other team would do it, too, and we extra loved that we just loved doing it. We didn’t have kids, mortgages, anything… we could just take off for three weeks, and it didn’t matter.”



“Just do what you want to do”



Hamish Blake, here with Andy Lee (left) during their Tall Ship Adventure, has one advice for becoming successful in radio and life: doing what feels good (image: Hamish & Andy)



Earn your management’s trust

Hamish Blake appreciates that, especially during their early drive time years between 2006 and 2010, they were always able to get great support from the radio station. “We just never heard the word ‘no’, maybe because we [got] it off to a good start. By the end of that first year, we were rating well — I think we were easily number one. It’s easier for people to say ‘yes’ to everything when you’ve got a show that is working, but they were just such a great team. We gave them some crazy stuff, like the Tall Ship Adventure it is a huge undertaking.” He feels like the team spirit and logistic effort at Fox FM to turn plans like overseas camping trips and The People’s Cruise into reality, is unique.

“We’ve got good mates at all the other radio networks, and I don’t underestimate for one moment the rarity of the candid team in our building. It’s just such a big power of the station”. It was their main reason to stay loyal to Fox FM / SCA, even though they did receive competitive offers: “Even when pretty solid approaches were made, apart from the fact that we just didn’t want to move, and we had no reason to move, it was the people that kept us above & beyond all else. There were a lot of other factors, but the main linchpin was a team that from CEO and chairman, all the way down to us, and everyone in between, was just aligned. We would never risk trying to build that team again.”



Take your recharging breaks

In 2010, Amish & Andy decided to take some time off (radio). They were both approaching the age of 30, while doing quite some recording & editing for television before and after their radio hours. “We were going: radio is such a full time job; we’re trying to also sometimes have another full time job on top of it. If we want to do TV seriously and have a crack at it, we probably just can’t do full time radio, or we have to massively sacrifice the quality of our radio show, which we didn’t want to do.” Together with Fox FM, it was decided to continue their drive time show on Friday afternoons, which allowed them to move to New York and produce the first season of Hamish & Andy’s Gap Year for Channel Nine. They wanted to keep doing their radio show live, which meant staying awake between 2 and 4 in the morning.

Like in the early radio days, they were on a new learning curve. This time it was how to do TV: “We had massive moments over in America, going: we have no idea what this show is, or what we’re doing; we’re just trying to assemble this plane in mid air. No way you could have done it with full time radio. But we missed it.” Approaching a moment when both their current TV and radio contracts would end simultaneously, a situation that was new, they spoke about what would be next: do nothing, launch solo projects, or keep working together, based on what felt good to both. It was a matter of finding out what they desired, apart from what others would think they should do. “Just do what you want to do. The path to take is: do what makes you happy.”



“If you’re ever worried about a decision, that’s your decision”



Hamish Blake (left) lives by his personal philosophy that when something feels like it will become a good memory, it will most likely become a good memory, indeed (image: Hamish & Andy)



Refresh your mind regularly

From January 2013, Hamish & Andy were back on The Hit Network (and therefore also on Fox FM) every weekday with a variety of shows on a variety of time slots, including Hamish & Andy’s Business Brunch and Hamish & Andy’s Happy Hour, but first they, again, took time off. “I’m just a big believer in: to be creative, you have to have clear space. A boardroom, full of everyone frantically trying to think of an idea, is the worst place to think of an idea. They just come to you — you just have to give yourself some space.” December 1st, 2017 was their last radio show in its current form.

Now that Hamish & Andy have left radio to focus on television (for now), although their podcast will continue in 2018, Hamish Blake looks back at their radio adventure (up until now) as a time full of good memories. “It is sort of my mantra in life, and the only thing that I truly do live by. If you’re ever worried about a decision, that’s your decision: is it gonna’ be a good memory? Are we gonna’ love looking back on the physical photo, or the mental photo, of this? I thank those that have allowed me to have extraordinary memories; the best memories that I could have ever dreamed of.”



Header image: James Penlidis