This interview was originally published by news.com.au 10 May 2016. You can find it here.
Hamish Blake and Andy Lee are arguably the biggest radio stars in Australia, but they didn’t rise to the top on their own. Since the beginning they’ve had a secret weapon by the name of Sam Cavanagh.
He’s one of the most respected radio experts in Australia and has been executive producer of the Hamish & Andy show since it became the national drive show on the HIT Network in 2007.
Cavanagh has helped guide the duo to unparalleled heights and although he’s a man who prefers to stay out of the spotlight, he has opened up in an interview with Craig Bruce on the Game Changers: Radio podcast in which he recalled the moment he realised the Hamish & Andy show was “something special”.
“My first memory, and keep in mind we’ve been doing it for 10 years or something now, but my first memory of ‘this is something special’ was in the first year (going national),” Cavanagh said.
“We bought a greyhound called Fred Bassett. We raced it around the country and the idea was it was the people’s greyhound and we’d enter it into a race in every state. We got to Perth after it had raced in three or four states and 6000 people turned up on a Tuesday night.
“They were all young people, they’d all made signs, they’d got dressed up. It was like a huge festival environment and all we’d done is enter a dog in a greyhound race and it was just this moment of, wow, this is amazing.”
Since that night, Hamish and Andy have thrown hundreds of listener events and they refuse to leave until they’ve had a chat to every single person.
“It just made logical sense that you don’t invite someone somewhere unless you’re prepared to meet them,” Cavanagh said.
“When the show became really successful we would just make sure we didn’t have events that were too big that you couldn’t meet everyone.”It’s little team rules like this and frequent team meetings, sometimes with brutally honest feedback sessions, that have helped Hamish and Andy remain such a tight and successful unit.
“I would put 50 per cent of my energy into the content/show and 50 per cent of my energy into the team and the culture around the show,” Cavanagh said about his approach to producing.
“Having conversations like, what do we stand for? Why did that big thing we do work or why didn’t it work? It’s having really honest conversations with each other. Those sort of conversations are a skill that you need to practice.”
In the podcast, it becomes clear from Cavanagh’s stories that the work that happens behind the scenes is just as important as what happens on air.
For example, maintaining good relationships with other people in the industry helped Cavanagh convince one of the biggest bands in the world to perform on what was meant to be their last ever drive show in 2010.
“When we were wrapping up the Hamish & Andy drive show we wanted to do this Thank You tour and we didn’t know at that stage obviously that the guys would come back to do fulltime drive again,” Cavanagh said.
“We wanted to go to each capital city and do one outside broadcast and get as many bands as we could on the stage for that two hours. It was an amazing week and the crowds just got bigger and bigger.
“When we got to Melbourne for the Friday, and I’d like to claim it was through excellent producing, but we figured out that U2 were in Melbourne at the same time and so I thought, ‘well, it’s worth a crack’.”
Hamish and Andy had recently interviewed Bono and The Edge on the phone and the interview went well.
“Through that process I had spoken to a woman called Francis who ran their PR and media,” Cavanagh said.
“She was this Kiwi woman who was hilarious and I remember when we did that phone interview she contacted me and said, ‘We want to do something fun with you guys. Can you come back to me with an idea?’
“We had a think about it and told her the idea and she went, ‘No, that’s not funny enough.’ At that stage, Hamish & Andy, it was a big show and we were super successful and it was the first person in a really long time that had gone, ‘nope, not funny enough. You can do better.’ We came back with another idea that she liked and to her credit she was right: the other idea was nowhere as strong.
“Through that I kept her email … so when we found out they were in town (for the final Thank You tour show) I was just harassing her on email. I was hassling, hassling, hassling … The show was on the Friday and then on the Wednesday … I get a phone call from her saying, ‘Sam, the Irish rock band U2 will perform on stage with Hamish and Andy on Friday, but, if anyone finds out about this, we’ll walk and no one will know. You have to keep this a secret because if word gets out it won’t be a surprise’.”
Cavanagh admits he was “sh*t scared” that he’d somehow stuff up the deal, but he didn’t and U2 went on to perform in what is still one of the most memorable Hamish & Andy show’s of all time.