Ben Harvey and Liam Stapleton are two of Australia’s most beloved radio icons. At the ages of just 27 and 24 respectively, they’ve achieved more than most in their age bracket can even dream of.
Having started in community radio when they were both just teenagers, they quickly rose through the ranks of the radio world, winding up hosting the triple j breakfast show in 2017. They cite Noel Fielding, Southpark, Eddie Murphy, and Billy Connelly as the inspirations for their brand of brazen, off-the-wall humour that made them household names.
In 2020, after three years at the helm of one of the country’s biggest radio slots, they made the move to NOVA and a return to their home territory of Adelaide. Both of them are in long-term relationships, with Ben having purchased a house and recently proposing to his now fiance.
It seems like they’ve got the dream job and ticked a lot of the life ambition boxes that so many of us aspire to. All the while they’ve kept Australia laughing with their antics on and off mic, amassing large social media followings and big landings like hosting the Adelaide Fringe.
“Eight years together now doing the show, which is a fair while,” Ben tells us.
“We’ve done all the radios. We’ve done community radio, we’ve done the public broadcaster, and now we’ve done commercial radio, so there’s nothing left to do”
“Except,” Liam chimes in, “for AM radio, which we will look to conquer in 20…73.”
They’re not wrong. It’s a good innings and they’re only just getting started. So, how good is it being Ben and Liam? As it turns out, pretty good. The question is, why don’t more people do radio? How hard can it be?
“We’re quite lucky to do this job. Even on the hard days you still look at what you do and you go well, at least I don’t have to get up early and empty bins,” Ben explains.
“We had two weeks off recently and I was like ‘urgh, gotta go back to work’ but then as I was back to work I was like ‘I actually really enjoy this, it’s good to be back’”.
Watch Ben and Liam playing lockdown tennis with Novak Djokovic
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Their shows feel fluid and unrehearsed and on the surface what they do looks like just turning up to work and chatting with your best mate for a few hours before clocking off. The reality is that there’s a lot more to it than that.
“Some weeks it just flows but to be honest this week we’ve been a bit rolled, sometimes we struggle for ideas but other times they just pop out,” Liam tells us.
“We don’t script stuff per se, but it’s all very planned”, Ben says.
“We work really long days to come up with ideas and flesh them out and whatnot. But when you speak to callers and stuff, everything’s gotta be off the cuff and there’s no way you can actually prepare for what’s going to happen there.”
Radio is an odd medium. It’s one of the oldest forms of mass-media communication and in the hyper-connected, on-demand present, it can feel like an archaic way to entertain and inform, particularly for the younger generation.
Broadcasting live radio essentially means doing improv – something Liam took classes in while working at triple j – with no second takes and no edits. Once the shows live, it’s done and it’s out there for the world to hear. In the pre-internet era, that meant it might never be heard again. But then along came podcasting which put an entirely new dimension on things.
“The biggest thing radio’s got going for it is the fact that it’s live. Recently, Spotfiy said you could be getting the Joe Rogan podcast live and everyone was like ‘that’s wild’ but I was like ‘that’s just radio’. That’s exactly what radio is. It’s almost come full-circle,” Ben tells us.
“I think radio has got this taboo on it where it’s like this old thing but in reality radio is just live audio.”
Their shows are recorded, of course, and released as catch-up podcasts, but the secondary market warps the live element of the shows and there is a hard-line between podcasting and radio. Podcasting is necessarily a response to events or creating something new that’s less directly tied to the news cycle. Once something happens though, there is nothing that can react faster than radio.
“I kind of really like that live element”, Liam says. “We were on holidays the week that dance routine happened in front of the defence force. Goddamn, I wish we were on radio that week”.
Watch two things you never knew about Liam
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So, how do you make it in radio? The boys have been at it since the age of around 15 and while that gave them a good head start, it’s by no means essential.
“Community radio. That’s the place to start. Most people don’t think about it but you can actually walk into a community radio station and be on air within a week, depending on the station,” Liam explains.
“Most of these places are run by volunteers and they’re just looking for people that are passionate to get involved”
“It’s one of those rare industries where you can actually just do it, you know. There’s no such thing as community law where you can just go in and be a barrister for three nights a week”
“No one in the industry really has any degree, they’re not qualified or anything. They just sort of earn their stripes through and bits and bobs and different stations and that goes right up to the top.”
In the era of unpaid internships, work experience, uni degrees, and years of qualifications to even get a look in, it’s a startling reality to know that you can be broadcast out to millions – well, dozens probably – just by putting your hand up.
The world of radio is however highly competitive, with a few top spots changing every few years. If you’re doing it for the passion though, it seems a deeply rewarding career path.
“If you said it wasn’t competitive, then you’re probably getting a bit too comfortable but it certainly does seem sometimes that there should be more people in radio. It’s a great gig, sort of like a dream job. I’m amazed there’s not more people trying to be in radio,” Ben tells us.
The boys are now at the stage in their career where they get recognised on the street and returning home to Adelaide has certainly ramped up that feeling of celebrity, though not always in the way they might have hoped.
“The other day there were two garbos taking the bins out and they saw me walk out of the front door and they’re like, ‘Oh, hey Liam! Hey, we were listening to you this morning! Do you live here?’ And I was like, ‘oh uh, nah, not really’. I didn’t have a leg to stand on as I locked the front door. So those guys are welcome over anytime, they seem like good dudes.”
Watch Liam pranking Ben with fake ad reads
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It puts them in a bit of an odd position as they too have to meet celebrities all the time and talk to them very casually. Ben says it comes with the territory and that you get used to it after a while but Liam says interviewing Liam Gallagher made him “super nervous”. Their early-morning phone in with Kendrick Lamar also got their hearts racing, though it later turned out to be a wind-up.
For many of us, listening to the radio is part of your daily routine and the background noise of life. It can feel quite separate, as the hosts can’t be seen and their voices are transmitted from some often unknown location. It’s amazing to think however that anyone can do it and that choosing to get involved in a community radio station can end up landing you the gig of a lifetime.