Is It Time For A Changing Of The Guard At Triple J’s Highest Levels?

With the mass changes in the Triple J on-air lineup of late – the retirement of Matt & Alex, the moving on of Lewis McKirdy – one question has been a constant presence in the PEDESTRIAN.TV Facebook comments. Well, two questions. The first is paragraphs-long rants about Triple J political correctness and agenda-pushing from people with cars as their display photos.

The second is far more to the point: when’s Richard Kingsmill going?
It’s a question that gets asked quite a lot, and maybe deservedly. Kingsmill’s been in the music director’s chair since 2003, making him only the second music director for Triple J since Arnold Frolows kicked off the role with Double J back in 1975.
You can see why Kingsmill would have no desire to leave. He’s in a pretty cushy role at the national broadcaster, and even after 13 years there has to be a great sense of vindication in essentially being the Prime Minister of Australian music – the guy who, by dint of his quite unique position, acts as a gatekeeper for both new and established artists.
And despite the criticisms from some factions of the Triple J listenership, who might tell you Tripel J is only a couple of notches away from being Nova these days, there have been some undeniable benefits to his specific brand of managerialism when it comes to music distribution. The support for Aussie hip-hop throughout his tenure, for example, is important. Love it or hate it, Aussie hip-hop provides avenues for far more diverse and interesting expressions of Aussie culture and storytelling than is enabled by other offerings.
We’ve seen some corker Aussie acts come through the Kingsmill machine – some with incredible international weight, like Flume, Tame Impala and – not Aussie but close enough – Lorde.
Even though there is an uneasy relationship between Triple J and some artists, who resent the fact that popularity is mediated through the station and – ultimately – Kingsmill, it’s also undeniable that they’re meeting the remit thats laid out for them. They hit their Australian content requirements well, and Unearthed is a far freer institutional leg-up for emerging artists than has existed before.
Kingsmill had something quite interesting to say in an interview with music blog Collapse Board when he was asked whether it was accurate to say he the most powerful man in Australian music:

No, it is not. It is not anywhere near the truth. This is just such a misconception to think this place isn’t a team of people. There’s 50 people who work at triple j and without every one of those people trying really hard, and being really good at their jobs, we wouldn’t be in the place that we are right now. This station is built on teamwork. It always has been. If you’ve got a bad framework, or teamwork vibe happening in this place, it shows on the other end of the radio. When we all work together, we get the results. It’s as simple as that.

I have said this time and time again, and if people still think that I sit there and basically call all the shots, they are wrong. I can’t say it enough. The Unearthed team is running Unearthed at the moment. I am not in there 24/7 telling them what to do. They are running it. They’re good people. We hired them. We know them. We’ve employed them because of their skills and because of their talents. They’re running it. They’re doing it. They’ve got the objective, they’ve got the game plan – “now go and do it”.
There’s probably a sense that Kingsmill operates the Jay like a dictator, when it’s likely that’s less the case than ever: we know that Triple J is a massive, massive focus for the ABC generally, and the team is growing and growing.
Look, I think there’s always room for new blood, and I wouldn’t begrudge a fresh set of eyes on the equation – especially now that Triple J’s music offerings have diversified in both content and delivery since the heady days of 2003, when the number 1 single on the ARIA charts was Guy Sebastian‘s Angels Brought Me Here. It’s different now. Guy hangs out with Paces.
But let’s be honest: the debate about the Triple J music leadership won’t end until people stop having extremely strong opinions about the editorial direction of the station. And that will never, ever happen. Triple J’s always, always gonna be too commercial for the diehards. And there will always be structural issues when it comes to the Jay being a gatekeeper, and the responsibilities that brings as a national broadcaster.
Sound off in the comments – whaddya reckon?
Photo: Triple J.