Tony Martin on Martin/Molloy

BY CRISPIAN WINSOR

To celebrate the groundbreaking 1990s radio comedy program Martin/Molloy being inducted into this year’s Sounds of Australia, we’ve published a new curated collection to showcase the show’s excellence and influence. 

Tony Martin generously answered some questions about his collection and how it ended up at the NFSA, and also shared his feelings with us about being a 2020 Sounds of Australia inductee. 

Tony Martin: 'Just the Good Bits'

Tony Martin painstakingly compiled Martin/Molloy highlights onto compact cassettes during the show’s run, and donated his collection to the NFSA in 2013.

Selections from these tapes – not previously heard on any of the three Martin/Molloy commercially released compilation albums – are available for listening in the curated collection, along with some other highlights. 

Why did you decide to make compilation tapes of Martin/Molloy at the time of the show? Was there a preservation element to the decision?

Yes, early on I realised that a lot of gold was disappearing into the ether. Also, we had the then-unheard-of idea of running ‘best-ofs’ during the weeks we weren’t on, and with so much material to wade through, having a compilation of just the good stuff made that possible. Later, these tapes were invaluable in choosing stuff for the three albums.

Years later, I remember Andy Lee saying to me that he and Hamish were doing an album of bits from their show and asking, ‘How did you manage to listen back to everything – it’s such a massive job?’. I explained that we couldn’t have even attempted it without the compilation tapes, and even then, it required weeks of listening back to our own nonsense. 

How were the actual shows recorded in the first place? Did you then transfer the highlights onto blank cassettes? 

Tony Martin holding up a cassette tape and its handwritten cassette cover

Tony Martin at the NFSA, 2013.

The first three weeks of Martin/Molloy were not preserved. In those days, each on-air shift had a set of five VHS tapes that would record the Monday to Friday shows, mostly for legal reasons. Every Monday, the previous Monday’s show would be taped over and so on (this was a few years before shows could be recorded and stored digitally). Three weeks in, we realised that if we kept every show, we could run the aforementioned best-ofs on Saturday mornings or while we were away. As we were constantly adding new stations, this old material would be all new to our new listeners.

We started recording every show on an individual VHS tape and storing them in this huge cabinet, which soon became a target for mockery around the station. People couldn’t believe that we thought our material was so good that it had to be preserved – radio was a very disposable medium in those days. It was seen as very precious behaviour and we were accused of being up ourselves. At that time, when a show took a week off between ratings surveys, the station would generally just run music. But once we’d done our first week off, entirely filled with the best segments from the previous three months, suddenly the mockery stopped, and every show had a cabinet!

And, in order to whittle it all down to just the highlights, every night I would take that day’s VHS tape home, listen back to it, taking notes on what worked and what didn’t, and transfer the best bits to a high-quality cassette. It was a huge and painstaking job and I really didn’t have time to do it, but it was the only way to make the whole thing manageable. If you missed a couple of days, it was impossible to catch up. At the end of the four years, I had 180 x 90-minute cassettes of just the good bits and those are the tapes that now live at the NFSA. 

Why did you decide to donate the cassettes to the NFSA?

The pressure of looking after them, especially after several house moves, became too much. And, thankfully, their relatively small size meant that the NFSA were keen to take them and – over many months – digitise them before they deteriorated. Luckily each tape came with a detailed running sheet in my serial killer-style neat handwriting. 

What does it mean to you for Martin/Molloy being inducted into the NFSA’s Sounds of Australia this year?

It’s a huge honour for someone like me – an audio nerd and a New Zealander – to be included in this collection. Too, it’s just great to know a show that was really quite untypical at the time (and even now), has been, to some extent, preserved – to hopefully amuse and probably mystify people in the future.

I could name several brilliant radio shows that were never recorded and now only exist in the fast-dissolving memories of those who heard them at the time. Great moments gone forever. Whereas Blimpy the Lactose-Intolerant Cat will now outlive us all. 

About Martin/Molloy

Martin/Molloy, hosted by comedians and former D-Generation and The Late Show co-stars Tony Martin and Mick Molloy, was nationally syndicated to 60 radio stations between 1995 and 1998. The style of a comedic, talk-driven drive program was unique at the time but has become a huge influence on countless radio drive shows to this day.  

The duo also released three compilation albums – The Brown Album (1995), Poop Chute (1996) and Eat Your Peas (1998) – that all went on to win ARIA Awards for Best Comedy Release. Here's their ARIA Awards acceptance speech for Poop Chute:

Visit the Martin/Molloy curated collection to listen to interviews with Tony Martin and Mick Molloy and hear highlights from all four years of the show, including the very last Martin/Molloy sketch that went to air.