Stuart Matchett, played a pivotal role in public broadcasting
By Peter Garrett
The Sydney Morning Herald 12 April 2018
Chances are if you were a young person listening to ABC youth radio from the mid-1970s onwards a few distinctive voices would have stood out. And from the 1980s onwards, chances are most of the music you heard was overseen by one of those voices, Stuart Matchett.
A foundation presenter at 2JJ and then Triple J, also serving as program director and acting general manager, Matchett possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of post-war popular music. He became network program director at ABC Digital Radio and was widely respected for his pivotal role in the development and growth of public broadcasting in Australia.
He died peacefully on April 4, following an extended, valiant battle with cancer. No one was drawn into the epicentre of his struggle; instead, he projected a calm, cheerful demeanour throughout – no small achievement.
The eldest son of Victor, a clinical psychiatrist, and Cecily Matchett, he grew up in the inner Brisbane suburb of Indooroopilly. From an early age his love, bordering on obsession, of music stood out.
The advent of LP records, which he collected in great number, played on a bulky, primitive device known as a gramophone, and his grandmother’s gift of a radio, set the compass.
Hardly religious, he enjoyed singing in the local Presbyterian church youth choir. A drum kit, played loudly every day in his bedroom, later given to Go Between’s drummer Lindy Morrison, completes the picture.
In his teens, Matchett formed the group the Ides of March with local mates, and at school, took every opportunity to perform in drama productions. Later excursions into theatre followed, including a co-written play, Stuff A Duck.
Matchett abhorred violence of any kind. The signs were there early. As a young boy he refused to play the shoot ’em up childhood game, Cowboys and Indians. His secondary education was at Brisbane Boys’ College, where he sought refuge from school cadets to play drums in the school pipe band.
Attending the University of Queensland from 1968 to 1972, Matchett was active in radical politics and well known in the Brisbane arts and music scenes. This was the era of the Bjelke-Petersen government, where civil liberties were given scant regard. Matchett and fellow students were on the streets, among the first to call out the deficiencies of the regime. At night, he could be found searching out live music in clubs such as El Rancho and Foco at Queensland Trades Hall, run at that time by a collective that included the youth branch of the Communist Party.
Despite graduating with a science degree and armed with a teaching diploma, he managed only one year instructing students in maths and science in a small town in Central Queensland, before heading to the bright lights of London in 1974 to immerse himself in theatre studies. But this also was to be a relatively short stay.
At that time there were few opportunities for young Australians to access new music and ideas springing up, both overseas and on home soil, following the massive opposition to the war in Vietnam, and the explosion in youth culture that followed.
The Whitlam government, elected in 1972, had determined to address the issue of public broadcasting, and the University of Queensland student’s union was a vigorous proponent for specific public radio stations for young people.
Jim Beatson, one of the founders of 4ZZZ, observed that Matchett was the person who “more than any other”, popularised the idea of a radio station with a radical and satirical bent, that was fun to listen to because of the music it played, with content supported by professional journalists. This vision informed the student union’s submission to government, and the subsequent granting of public radio licenses around the country, and was synchronous with the establishment by the ABC of a new youth radio station, 2 Double Jay.
Matchett returned from London in 1975 to take up a position as one of four full-time announcers employed on the original 4 Double Z station, which later became 4 Triple Z FM, the first community stereo FM rock station of its time. He possessed a friendly radio voice and could draw on his exhaustive knowledge of music to enlighten the listener.
Matchett was lured to Sydney in 1978 to take up a position as a foundation announcer at Double Jay. He later became program director of Triple J and held that position when the station went national. He was central in devising the new music policy at Triple J. The changes to a more structured format saw Triple J increase its reach and popularity, a state that remains to this day.
One colleague wrote of Matchett in this period, “He was the epitome of calm, and in the face of a crisis he showed us that thoughtfulness would always lead you to the right thing to do and that good humour would always disarm aggression.”
From the very beginning Matchett was a passionate supporter of local music and up-and-coming bands, including Midnight Oil. He was the first person to consistently champion the Saints classic I’m Stranded, but there were many others – including Mental As Anything, the Models, XL Capris, Dragon, the Warumpi Band and Paul Kelly – that he supported early in their career. It was not uncommon to come off stage and encounter an enthusiastic Matchett referencing the songs, gently critiquing or praising the performance, and then giving a quick thumbs up and disappearing into the night.
Following a brief stint in commercial radio, in 2002 he returned to the ABC to manage the introduction of three new digital stations, playing jazz, country and rock, with the rock station reborn as Double Jay. He’d come full circle in a career he called “the most fantastic job in the world”. Overseeing a challenging technical operation, while at the same time programming the playlists for each station, was an extraordinary achievement, marvelled at by radio professionals, and yet carried out, typically, with wit and quiet determination.
In 1987 Matchett married noted comedian and writer Angela Webber, the marriage produced two daughters, Lily and Sally. Following her death from cancer in 2007, Matchett was a diligent single dad in what was a difficult time, a constant presence at sports days, all the time curating playlists that he tested on his daughters – their home, like his at their age, filled with music.
In 2012 he married Angela Conry, a member of the winning Australian women’s masters rowing crew in Sydney 2009 and Turin 2013, who nursed him with great compassion until he died.
12 April 2018