Television City Sounds (TCS) was a significant early recording studio of the early 1970s that captured Melbourne’s burgeoning bohemian rock sounds. The studio was an expansion of the GTV9 television recording studio at 22 Bendigo Street, Richmond. Established by Colin Stevenson, head of television audio at channel 9, as a recording space for the live variety show In Melbourne Tonight (IMT) (1957-1971).

The atmosphere of GTV9 was hectic and exciting due to the demand of Australian audiences for the new variety show entertainment platform. Live transmission was required due largely to a lack of broadcast-quality tape machines. This meant that pre-recorded vision was unavailable and the studio was buzzing with the hundreds of people required to bring Melbourne audiences their variety shows each night. The television and radio industry have been synonymous with the development of the recording studio industry in providing a training ground for engineers and producers to work with the latest technology and the technical and industry knowledge to be able to establish their own studios.

Live musicians were an integral part of television and radio staff since the introduction of television to Australian in 1956. In the late 1960’s the acquisition of a four-track Optro tape machine by GTV9 for audio recording, designed and installed by Graeme Thirkell (who also installed machines for Armstrong’s), allowed for the pre-recording of audio for the IMT show. This new technology necessitated an operator and the role was offered to a young boom-operator John French.

This would prove to be an important career opportunity that saw French develop into a pioneering record producer and audio engineer after accepting the role of tape operator for the new recording studio. French’s father was a musician at GTV9 and also previously worked at the ABC as a musical director where he was an associate of Bill Armstrong during the time he was an engineer at Broadcast House. Music was an integral part of French’s upbringing with a father who would practice up to 12 hours a day. This upbringing, surrounded by music, would serve him well in his new role as Optro tape operator. As the audio operator for the IMT show, French was regularly recording music performances by international guests and rapidly developing his production skills. In these early days of recording French describes the focus on microphone placement and the organisation of players within a space as the key to capturing a great performance.

The TCS Optro machine also doubled as a location recording machine and this fridge-sized contraption was transported to the first Sunbury music festival (1972-75) to record the live concert. This recording became the first ever release by Mushroom Records. Very quickly the studio expanded from its basic beginnings as a 4-track studio to the comparatively expansive capabilities of a 24-track tape machine. Along with the upgrade of equipment, the studio was also refurbished by studio designer Dave Flett (see Chapter 3) to improve the acoustics of the space and suitability to record music. French’s natural development as an engineer led him to making albums for bands such as Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs from Melbourne’s bustling live music scene during IMT down-time.

New Zealand-born John Sayers who also worked at Armstrong’s in Albert Road, South Melbourne, came to work as an engineer at TCS, a studio that became a rival player in producing some of the biggest names of the early 1970’s in Melbourne, second only to Armstrong’s. French recalls that the studio was always booked and people would come from record labels in Sydney to record there if they didn’t quite have the budget, or were unable to get a booking at Armstrong’s.

The demand for recording both for television and music acts meant that TCS operated around the clock. Significant iconic Australian recordings, Most People I Know Think That I’m Crazy by Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs, and Livin’ in the Seventies by glam-rock outfit the Skyhooks from the Carlton theatre scene were recorded at TCS. Ross Wilson of Daddy Cool produced the debut album for the Skyhooks at with John French as engineer. Other local artists such as Russell Morris, Company Caine, Madder Lake, Chain, Ted Mulry and soundtrack for films including Morning of the Earth with Tamun Shud as backing band were some of the acts that came through the studio doors. High-profile international artists either mid-tour or making promotional appearances on IMT also recorded at TCS with French, among them Paul McCartney, Frank Zappa and Melanie Safka. French describes this period as one where he rarely slept and that demand for the studio and equipment was so great that he recalls a studio session booked for the Skyhooks where they arrived for a session and the tape machine was out on another job.

Activites at TCS show the close relationship between the television and the music industry in Melbourne and how integral these facilities were to developing and nurturing new talent and exploring the new possibilities of multi-track recording. Technicians from television and radio turned their craft to the music scene and developed music recording techniques and approaches to album-making with local bands and artists usually late at night and into the early hours of the morning. Both John French and John Sayers worked freelance at Armstrong’s after executives decided to cease operations at TCS in 1976. This was a period when distinct Australian sounds and identity in music was being established. Local references were beginning to appear in lyrical content, artists were using their natural accents rather than affecting British or American voices, and defining what it meant to be an Australian music creative. The parallel development of technical careers and the musician’s careers was paramount to this development. Recording spaces such as TCS provided the facilities for artists to explore new ways of developing their sounds and creativity. The role of studios and technicians in this process was often overlooked and is evident in the trend at the time not to credit technical personnel on album sleeves besides the producer. It became more common from the mid-1980s for technical credits to appear on physical copies of recorded music on CD, Tape and Vinyl to credit all production personnel including recording, mixing, mastering and assistant engineers. During the establishing period of Australian popular music production in the 1950-70s there was no formal creditation for production personnel and many engineers an studios are not listed on recording liner notes. Engineers and producers responsible for the smooth operation and function of recording sessions were often overlooked for their contribution to recording during this time. The Australian Record Industry Awards (ARIA) now includes artisanal awards specifically for the recognition of engineer and producer contribution to the process of recording.

Television City Sounds recording artists included: Madder Lake, Jo Jo Zep and the Falcons, Skyhooks, Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs, The Dingoes, Blackfeather, Sherbet, Lobby Loyde, Alison Durbin, Chain, Ray Burgess, Phil Manning, Skyhooks, Ross Wilson, Morning of the Earth soundtrack, The Sports, LRB.
David Nichols, Dig: Australian Rock and Pop Music 1960-85, (2016) Verse Chorus Press, Portland. pp.145-189
Peter Smith was a voice-over presenter on In Melbourne Tonight and he has continued his work until current-day with GTV9 since 1964. This interview footage is prior to the partial demolition of GTV9 22 Bendigo street site for residential development. (.Published on 6 Jan 2011 9NewsAustralia official Youtube channel. Accessed 13 September 2017
Jordy and David Kilby, ‘Rare Collections: The Studios of Bill Armstrong’, ABC radio, [sound recording] 16, August, 2013., Canberra.>, accessed 3 July 2017. Graeme Thirkell at this time had a successful audio electronics company called Optronics that serviced much of Melbourne’s Television and radio industry. Thirkell was a friend, peer of Bill Armstrong.
‘John French interviewed by Lilith Lane’, sound recording (unpublished Latrobe University 30 August 2017).
Mushroom Music Publishing, [website] (2017), Curated by the founder of a blossoming Mushroom Records (1972-1988), Michael Gudinski booked the first-ever Sunbury Music. John French and Gudinski also looked at starting their own studio after the closure of TCS and French recalls travelling to L.A. with Gudinski in 1974 researching studios.
‘Dave Flett interviewed by Lilith Lane’, sound recording (unpublished Latrobe University, 26 September 2017)
John Sayers website (acessed 14/9/2017)
Peter Evans, [website] (2017), (accessed 13/09/2017)
“There was an added benefit of working at GTV. At the rear of the premises was a recording studio known as Television City Sound (TCS for short). Mostly it was used to record backing tracks for IMT. However, a new audio console built for the OB department by Melbourne firm Optronics was installed here and whenever the console was not needed for an OB, the studio was hired out to bands. Late one night in early 1971 after completing the set-up for a Yooralla telethon, I was on my way out to the car park when a familiar sound caught my ears as I passed the doors of TCS. I was already into the Blues and buying Robert Johnson, Sleepy John Estes and Howling Wolf records from Discurio. The band in the studio was Chain, and I was a huge fan from seeing them at clubs like Berties on the corner of Flinders Lane and Spring Street. This was too good an opportunity to miss. I wandered in the side door, introduced myself and offered to get some lights for them. TCS was pretty basic at that stage and all the lighting was fluorescent tubes. I dragged in some lights and the Lighting Department’s small stock of gel to colour them, and managed to improve the ambience somewhat. This resulted in an invitation to stay for the rest of the recording and the offer of something to smoke. Naturally I accepted. As a result, the very ripped and rather flat “we’re groanin” in the left channel of the album version of “Black and Blue” is a very tired member of the GTV Lighting Department who probably performed at less than his optimum on the opening of the Telethon a few hours later. It was a great night, the only discordant note (apart from my vocal) being an argument between the band and engineer John Sayer over the amount of bass on the tracks being laid down. Since the monitoring at TCS at that stage was a rather tired pair of horn-loaded Altec A7 cabinets better suited to a country picture theatre, the lack of bass was probably a perception rather than a reality.” Peter Evans, lighting manager at GTV9 1969-1972
‘John French interviewed by Lilith Lane’, sound recording (unpublished Latrobe University 30 August 2017).
The midnight-to-dawn shift was a common studio occurrence from the late-1960’s through to the mid-1980’s at a time of accelerated technological advancement, a bustling live music scene, when budgets from record companies were increasing for bands who were high, and when bands would have to book well in advance to secure a spot in the studio. This exciting time meant that many musicians and technicians were sleep deprived and nurturing some dangerously unhealthy lifestyles.
David Nichols, Dig: Australian Rock and Pop Music 1960-85, p.215
Digital distribution and the streaming of music in the 2010’s has seen a disappearance of production credits and recording information from the final presentation of music as the industry transitions into different methods of music consumption.
David Nichols, Dig: Australian Rock and Pop Music 1960-85, p.189
‘GTV9 Tonight show shuts down dramatically’, The Age Newspaper, Melbourne (March 25, 1971) p. 1
French eventually established his own custom-designed studio in Warrenwood called Fast Forward which continued the tradition of recording high profile artists into the 1980’s before being sold to John Farnham who re-named it Gotham.