Leaving on a high

10 December 2010

Written by: Renee Tibbs

Their drive home show began in 2006 and has become Australia’s most successful and highest-rated radio program in Australian history, reaching over 2.7 million listeners nationally and holding the number one spot in each capital city market.

From prank calls to unconventional ways of match making, ghosting (a close form of stalking whilst walking) and food challenges, you can’t help but smile and laugh whilst listening to popular radio personalities Hamish and Andy. It’s their playful shenanigans that have seen them climb to the top of the ratings chart for the drive home program over the last five years and claim recognition as the modern day ‘kings of radio’.

As Andy Lee’s famous words, ‘Good afternoon everybooooody,’ echoed for the last time in 2010, there was a slight hint of sadness but mostly excitable screams from the 7,000 fans who packed the Sidney Myer Music Bowl in Melbourne on Friday afternoon for the Hamish and Andy ‘Thank You’ tour.

Sitting amongst young fans who had either wagged school for the event, or adults who had sheepishly told their bosses they wouldn’t be in for the afternoon, it was evident what a wide audience these comedians attract. Touring from Perth to Adelaide, Brisbane and Sydney, Melbourne was the last stop on the tour as the boys paid homage to their home town with a show full of entertainment and surprises.

Crowd members were invited to the free event and encouraged to dress up as their famous Hamish and Andy memory. Hoping to avoid the predicted rain with a prepared poncho and umbrella,  I was surrounded by a bunch of look-a-like Hamishes and Andys, Fred Bassett signs, gravy chip packets, pirates, miniature ‘Caravan of Courage’ cars built out of cardboard boxes and groups in silky tights and capes resembling the superpower food challenging force, ‘the Hungry Hungry Heroes’.

At 3.55pm, Hamish and Andy made their way to the stage wearing colonial style outfits with nothing but briefs and boxer shorts in honour of the famous weekly ritual, ‘Pants off Friday’.

They launched into their ‘afternoon delight’ with a Frank Stallone tribute song and were singing a ditty called ‘We are better than U2’, when the real band themselves, lead by Bono, along with ‘The Edge’ Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr, interrupted the song and surprised the crowd by strolling on stage and singing the 1989 U2 hit ‘Desire’ followed by ‘Vertigo’.

It seemed the boys wanted to go out with a bang and that’s exactly what they did. With performances by Michael Paynter, Daryl Braithwaite, a live cross to popstar Pink and none other but the original ‘Voice’ John Farnham himself, my $3.70 daily concession Metlink card turned out to be the best spent money of the day. And what show would be complete without a final recap of useless invention ideals by Andy’s mate Horgs, an appearance from Cackling Jack, and one last attempt by Hamish to read his profound but often criticised and pointless comic, Fred Bassett.

For five years the troublesome pair has entertained the ears of Australian listeners as they sat in traffic on their drive home from work, or uni, or even whilst doing their groceries in shopping centres.

Hamish and Andy announced in August that they would be cutting down their show to a single program each week from 2011 onward. The duo explained to the crowd on Friday that they didn’t want to risk the chance of the show getting tired and being known ‘as those guys who used to be funny but just aren’t anymore’. Andy added that they didn’t know what they were doing next year but whatever it was, they would keep their fans informed and they would go away over the summer break, have a few beers together and come up with a plan.

But what is it that makes them so unique and popular? Is it their typically Aussie nature? Or perhaps the rugged good looks of 2006 Cleo Bachelor of the Year winner Andy Lee -­ not that you need a face for radio! They have this ability to turn somewhat unimportant topics into the most entertaining talkback segments show on radio; such as ‘the dangers of eating hot food’ or ‘the layer order of ingredients inside a hamburger’. And while their interviewing style is far from informative, it seems that against all the complicated politics of world issues and current affairs, listeners prefer to tune in to a simple and humorous show that focuses on the little things in life.

Maybe it’s their humble beginnings as two university drop-out students who opted for a career in radio or the fact their programs are largely unscripted and instead consist of plain old fashioned banter, sarcasm and impromptu humour.  They have a carefree attitude to sharing their daily life encounters with an audience of approximately two million daily listeners and are willing to endure pain or put themselves into awkward and often embarrassing situations just for ‘the people’s show’.

Whatever the secret ingredient is, it’s enough to make their program win a total of 13 Australian Commercial Radio Awards.

Unlike typical resume qualifications, Hamish and Andy have achieved quite a few accolades over the years. They invented a new potato crisp, the ‘gravy chip’, purchased the people’s dog, Fred Bassett, were conjoined twins for a week, sailed a Tall Ship across Bass Strait, travelled to Afghanistan, Beijing and India, embarked on three Caravan of Courage journeys across Australia, America and most recently Great Britain and Ireland, recording live on location for the daily shows. And while their early TV success is questionable, Hamish and Andy also released compilation albums from the radio show including Unessential Listening in 2008, and Celebrating 50 Glorious Years in 2010.

So as the year draws to a close, so does the regular Hamish and Andy weekday program. Regular listeners will miss the daily comical rituals of Australia’s most loved comedy duo, but rest assured they will be back to mischief on our radios and in our lounge rooms next year. As Andy said in his final comments to the Melbourne crowd: ‘This is not the end.’

Sarah Baker is a La Trobe Journalism graduate who blogs at http://iiswideopen.wordpress.com.