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Hamish Blake and Andy Lee are one of Australia’s best-known partnerships. But as well as juggling life, friendship and work, the two have also had a first-hand seat to the dramatically changing media landscape. They have managed to not just adapt to but embrace massive shifts, starting in community radio, moving to commercial radio, then linear TV and now podcasting.
Speaking on the fifth anniversary of their self-titled LiSTNR podcast, which has dominated ratings since its launch, averaging about a million listeners a month, Blake says there’s a simpatico between the two that creates a sort of chemistry. It feels like a treat in their lives rather than a job, he says.
Hamish Blake and Andy Lee are still finding joy in their working partnership, as are about one million listeners each month.
“It’s 20 years now and there’s plenty of friends that I was into some things with 15 years ago that I don’t think I’m into these days,” says Lee. “And then you look across and Hame is still walking beside me.”
During our chat, they call each other Hame and Ando, reminiscent of commercial breakfast host nicknames. A cheeky, knockabout, average-bloke charm is part of what appeals to audiences and their friendship is real rather than confected, as seems the case in some radio pairings. They met at Melbourne University fresh out of high school, Blake doing Commerce/Science and Lee doing Commerce/Arts; their first foray into radio was at SYN FM at RMIT.
Asked about any no-go zones for discussion on air, they say it’s never been their intention to look at the big issues – the podcast is designed to make people, including each other, laugh. The one topic that’s off limits for our interview is the Voice to parliament referendum, even though Blake posted his support for a Yes vote on Instagram.
Australians are voracious consumers of podcasts. Research by Infinite Dial shows monthly podcast listening has jumped to 43 per cent listening monthly, ahead of the United States for the first time.
For Blake and Lee, a key difference between podcasting and their radio days is the amount of time they spend doing it. “[With radio] your brain is fried at the end of the day and then you start repeating that five days a week and then many weeks a year and many years on top of that and like you’re just cooked,” Blake says. “That’s a beautiful difference with podcasting, we’re not carrying that mental fatigue.”
The additional upside is that “people do listen to every single minute” of the podcast, he says. “It’s opt-in, it’s by choice. And people are choosing to listen to you on their walk or their commute or their run or the worksite or whatever. To us, there’s just no greater privilege than to be someone’s decision and we’re really cognisant of that relationship the whole time. It’s the most special thing – of the millions of podcasts someone picks yours to kind of form a relationship with and that’s massive.”
It’s only when they work with other people that it becomes apparent how in-tune with each other they are. “You realise that like 90 per cent of what happens between me and Andy is telepathy, which means you have like 90 per cent more bandwidth to do other things,” Blake says. “And then when you aren’t with someone that you have telepathy with, it just feels suddenly like a lot of work just to get to a basic level.”
Lee concurs. “I often say I won the lottery when I met Hame because suddenly my whole career path changed. Because when we met, we had it,” he says. Along the way you refine the skills involved with being a broadcaster or an entertainer, he says, but that initial connection and intuitive understanding – simpatico is how Blake describes it – has been critical.
Listening to cassettes of their first shows on student radio, recorded two decades ago and unearthed recently, they were braced for the worst, then pleasantly surprised. “The chemistry is there,” Blake says. “We were really surprised – we were like, ‘oh, this is gonna be so crazy’. There’s plenty of cringeworthy stuff in it, but I was kind of amazed.”
“You don’t know why, it’s kind of an alchemy, and you don’t really understand how it happens. We’re just grateful that it exists.”
The duo now live in different cities, Lee in Melbourne and Blake in Sydney. Initially, they thought recording in separate studios might affect the show and intended to take turns flying up or down but have realised it can work to make the podcast remotely. They have one 30-minute planning meeting a week, usually the day before the recording, and about half the shows are made in the studio together.
Hamish Blake and Andy Lee met at uni and started in community radio.Credit: Kristoffer Paulsen
As to whether we’ll see them back on our television screens, nothing is planned – but nothing is ruled out. “A lot of people talk about their seven-year plan to get this up or that up but that has never really been in our repertoire that move. In fact, it’s let’s do this, and then ‘are you still into this, let’s try something else’,” Lee says. “There’s been no real master plan to this very day… We do toss around TV ideas and none of them are floating our boat quite yet but I’m sure if something came up that was fun enough, we’ll just do it.”
So, watch this space? “Sort of watch this space. More this space has not been closed down. You don’t need to watch it today,” Blake says. “Check on it yearly and let us know if nothing’s happened in 10 years.”
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