Australian radio legend Doug Mulray died this week. Nearly every article mourning Doug briefly mentions that he got his radio start at 2AD in Armidale, my birth town. But exactly when did that happen?
2AD was the station I grew up with in the 1980s. By that time Armidale had three local radio stations. 2AD was the AM veteran, founded in 1936. The two FM contenders were 2ARM (the community station, which started in 1976) and 2UNE (the university station, which kicked off in 1970). But where we lived, some 10km out of town, reception was patchy for 2ARM and non-existent for 2UNE. 2AD was the only game in town for me.
But Mulray was already in Sydney by then. When was he in Armidale? Pinning down the date for the 2AD Mulray era is a little tricky.
Most of the obits simply say “1970s”, and effectively seem to rely on Mulray’s Wikipedia entry for that information. The source for the 2AD claim in Wikipedia is a 2003 Media Man interview with Mulray. These are the relevant quotes:
I had been travelling around Europe doing the Great Aussie Trek . . . I was in my early twenties. I sent back tapes cause I didn’t have very good writing. My father played them to a few friends in the advertising radio industry, and they said “Doug’s pretty articulate and reasonable eloquent, has he ever thought about a job in broadcasting”? Within a week of the suggestion, I heard an ad for the broadcasting school – the Digger May Radio School, on 2SM back in the mid-70s. So I thought ‘hello, that’s fate, the windows opened’, so I rang ’em up, and went and did the audition, and they said, ‘congratulations, you’re good enough to do the course’. I later discovered that there were people in there with speech impediments; being good enough meant that you had to have 300 bucks, but that was me, and they did some audition tapes, and I got a gig at 2AD Armidale.
(Pedant note: the published interview actually says 2RD, but that’s obviously a transcription error.)
So we’ve got mid-1970s. Mulray was born in 1951, so the “early twenties” mention lines up with that too. Subsequent to 2AD, Mulray worked for 2GO in Gosford and then 3AW in Melbourne, before heading to Sydney’s JJJ and then eventually to his hugely successful run on MMM.
Newspaper interviews from Mulray’s 1980s Sydney radio heyday often mention the 2AD stints and flesh out the history a little.
In a 17 May 1986 interview for the Sydney Morning Herald‘s ‘My Sunday’ feature, Mulray notes that one of his current housemates is film producer Ian Bremner, an old friend:
He was actually my first on-air tutor at 2AD (in Armidale, NSW). By ‘tutor’, I mean he spent half-an-hour showing me how to use all the buttons before he went out to the pub.
Mulray recalled his 2AD era in more detail for an 18 October 1982 Herald feature about on-air gaffes:
I thought the station (2AD, Armidale) had gone off the air but I had to continue talking. So I started this ‘I am the ignored radio announcer’ rave, saying that people didn’t care about me, that I was living and dying in this station, that I had terrible wind, my guts were in turmoil and I named the local restaurant where I’d been eating. The catch was that all this was going over the air. It was only the monitor speakers in the studio that weren’t working. I nearly lost my job.
Most helpfully, a 14 February 1988 Herald piece on Mulray’s television plans provides some more concrete timings:
His outstanding radio career began at Rod Muir’s Digamac School of Radio and a posting to 2AD Armidale. In 1976 he was at 2GO Gosford competing with Sydney radio and stole 92.3 per cent of the available audience. This phenomenal result led to 3AW (“I was in Melbourne for 10 years one year”), then back to Sydney with Triple J.
So Mulray’s Armidale stint must have ended by some point in 1976. But when did it start?
Initially, 2AD itself seemed unlikely to be much help on the issue. In a 2016 interview with New England Focus to mark the station’s 60th anniversary, then station manager Steve McMillan effectively suggested the station archives weren’t much of a resource:
I cannot find out about some of the announcers in the early years. Doug Mulray worked here in the 1960s; he went on to bigger things on radio and on TV, and is probably the highest profile announcer.
We know the 1960s detail can’t be right. But it turns out McMillan just hadn’t looked in the right place at the time.
After I published the first version of this story, it ended up being shared in a Facebook group for former Australian radio staff. And in there it emerged that a list of former announcers and staff had been put together for 2AD’s 60th anniversary back in 1996.
Subsequently, McMilan himself shared the crucial dates:
Doug Mulray was with 2AD Armidale from Monday 15 September 1975 to Friday 19 March 1976.
That timing also ties in with a detail my old schoolmate Sandy Butler shared: her dad was a bouncer at the University of New England in 1974 and 1975 (he was completing a Masters there). During that period, Mulray was “asked to leave” the bar on campus after (I assume) a night on the tiles.
So now we know. Doug Mulray’s career in Armidale only lasted 6 months. But every glittering career has to start somewhere.
Big thanks to Steve McMilan for digging out the dates, and Brenden Wood for alerting me to them.