Inside the ARIA Awards: Chuggie, Guy, Toni and Dean

• Celebration of Australian music couldn’t get much better
• Does it need more respect? Does it need more rock and roll?

As awards shows go the ARIAs is in a good place. Under the partnership of ARIA CEO Dan Rosen and ARIA chair Denis Handlin and his board plus the Nine Network, the awards night has gone from a near death experience to an evening that all can be proud of.

ARIA CEO Dan Rosen

The near-death experience was the forgettable 2010 event on the steps of the Opera House that resembled the Eurovision green room.

This year the ratings were down, but dipping FTA live audience numbers is a plague all brands and broadcasters suffer from and is no barometer of public acceptance.

The must-attend ARIA event now every year is the Chairman’s Cocktail Party in the Marquee nightclub prior to the Awards. This year guests who arrived during the afternoon got to see what was arguably the most important award of ARIA Week – promoter Michael Chugg being presented with the ARIA Icon Award.

Michael Chugg and Trevor Smith

ARIA chairman and Sony Music Entertainment CEO Denis Handlin always puts on a good pre-awards program and this year was no exception.

Handlin introduced the Icon Award formalities and had much to say about Chugg, with the rock promoter later accusing Handlin of using up his best lines.

Denis Handlin

To hand over the award to Chugg, ARIA called in a professional – the voice of rock and roll in Australia, Trevor Smith. The legendary radio announcer and program director later became the voice a promoter needed to use to sell his concert tickets. Record companies also used him for albums, but sadly you don’t get to see too many album releases advertised on TV or radio these days.

Smith left his leafy harbourside spot in Sydney several years ago for the delights of Suffolk Park beside Byron Bay. He still runs a studio up there and clever promoters seek him out for their ads.

Smith recalled a number of Chugg tales including one where they travelled together to the Woodstock 25th anniversary concert in 1994 where the local promoter ended up utilising the Australian promoter’s skills at running an event to turn what threatened to be a disaster into a successful weekend with close to half a million people.

Smith also retold the story of how Chugg worked initially as a sports caller for ABC in Tasmania until one day innocently dropping the F-bomb. It was the end of his radio career.

ARIA assembled a tribute video with comments from people from all parts of the music business.

Although Chugg accused both Smith and Handlin of stealing his lines, he didn’t have any trouble filling much of half an hour recalling the highlights of his 50+ years in the business.

Chugg remembered the Billy Thorpe and The Aztecs gig in Tasmania that motivated him to chase a career in the music biz.

The promoter talked about his long relationship with Michael Gudinski (who was watching on) and admitted that while they had been variously partners and competitors, they had never been enemies.

Chugg also told the story of how he never wanted to get into management again until one day Sheppard turned up in his office and he thought they were worth a crack. That story led him to talk about how the music industry was about to go into battle (again) with commercial radio over Australian music quotas.

Chugg said that it is easier (for his artists) to get airplay overseas than in Australia.
The comments were received with nods of agreement from the record company executives in the room.

Not so much the radio people perhaps – including SCA chief executive Grant Blackley and Nova Entertainment chief executive Cathy O’Connor. They were back a long way from the lectern, perhaps anticipating a drive by!

The Awards night was a great celebration of the best of Australian music this year. It did perhaps lack a major international artist that could have drawn in a few more viewers.

Not that there was anything wrong with the line-up. Australia’s biggest artists of the past 12 months were in attendance – they won and sang. Although Toni Watson has the hottest song in the world and for 2019, her brand is still new and growing.

Tones and I

There were some wonderful performances from the international guests including Khalid, Dua Lipa and Halsey.

The Aussie artists all shined too from Tones and I to Guy Sebastian, also a wonderful host, to Human Nature (an event highlight), Hilltop Hoods featuring Illy and Ecca Vandal, and also The Tesky Brothers (brilliant).

Dua Lipa

The ARIA Awards did have U2 live from Perth, but no matter how much Richard Wilkins explained to the audience how lucky they were to have them, there seemed to be general indifference during their segment from many in the best seats near the front of the stage.

Which brings me to one of the night’s problems – should the industry be giving the ARIAs a little more respect? Halfway through the Awards show the front 10 rows seemed to be less than half full. Many people were wandering in out seemingly taking little interest in what was unfolding onstage.

That certainly wasn’t everybody – the record company CEOs, their senior executives and the touring companies, band management and executives from Nova and SCA were paying attention. Guests from ARN watching on included KIIS music director Brad McNicol, iHeartRadio’s Brett ‘Nozz’ Nossiter and ARN’s content director Duncan Campbell. Meanwhile KIIS FM Sydney’s Intern Pete covered the red carpet.

Interested onlookers who didn’t move from their seat for long also included Nine’s head of programming Hamish Turner and Foxtel’s executive director of television Brian Walsh.


One interested onlooker every year is former Nova programming chief Dean Buchanan. Interestingly he was sitting right behind SCA’s Grant Blackley. It is a busy week for Buchanan. He flew back to New Zealand early this morning to attend his farewell from NZME and then it is his last day in the office on Friday.

The radio exec who has worked in the UK, Australia and New Zealand he is considering a few options about what to do next.

The Tesky Brothers

The nicest moments of the night were perhaps some of the artist speeches. There’s no room here to detail them all. But reward yourself and watch the Awards if you haven’t seen them on 9Now or YouTube. You might be surprised.

Highlights include Human Nature on their career and importance of family and their career defining meetings with Denis Handlin, Smokey Robinson and their manager Jennifer Fontaine.

Guy Sebastian also had some nice words about the hottest manager in the business – “the best business decision I ever made” he said perhaps alluding to the fallout he had in the past.

ARIAs Best of the Best

Best winner who should have performed: Amyl and the Sniffers
Most grateful winner: Music teacher of the Year Antonio Chiappetta
Most unprepared winner: Tones and I (“I only wrote one speech”)
Missing genre from live performances: Rock and roll
Best presenters: Former triple j team Matt and Alex, current triple j team Veronica and Lewis
Best (and longest) acceptance speech: Human Nature
Most neglected presenters: U2
Best international performers: Dua Lipa, Halsey and Khalid (All very classy, too hard to separate)
Multiple award winners: Dean Lewis, Guy Sebastian, Tones and I
Best video acceptance speech: Taylor Swift and her cat
Most in demand presenter: Justine Clark – Is there an awards show or Upfront she hasn’t been needed for?
Funniest line: Dylan Alcott – “I won’t be the only one who won’t be able to walk out of here tonight”
Most surprised winner: Kaiite

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