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Sound Unlimited/Sounds

1 9 7 5 – 1 9 8 7 (Australia)

On 1 March 1975, colour TV officially arrived in Australia and Donnie Sutherland launched the pop TV show which was to change Saturday mornings around the country.

Pre-Donnie, Saturday morning was for part-time jobs, sport and sleeping in. With Donnie, suddenly 9:00 am – 12:00 noon became the time to get hip.

Barry White‘s Love Unlimited Orchestra theme – all sweeping violins and seventies guitar – signalled that Sound Unlimited (later, Sounds) was on the air and Australia was waking up to the best of pop and rock.

Like its contemporary Countdown, Sounds not only introduced a generation of Australians to rock & roll but (a decade before MTV hit the US airwaves) it ushered in the era of video music.

The show began life as Graham Webb’s Saturday Morning Show with ex-Blind Date presenter and former pirate radio DJ Graham Webb, who was the real pioneer of rock video in Australia.

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Frustrated at trying to find material to screen, he would commission a young Russell Mulcahy – then working as a newsroom editor – to film sequences to accompany the hits of the day. The results were the first real video clips to be consistently given TV airplay.

Record companies soon caught on to the promotional possibilities and a new industry emerged. Webb soon gave up hosting for production, entrusting the job to ex-Sydney DJ and former jockey, Donnie Sutherland. A star and a hit were born.

The figures on Sounds success are quite staggering. At its peak, it was shown on over 100 TV stations nationally and regularly reached 85% of the viewing audience. For three hours a week, 52 weeks a year until December 1987, Sounds had most Australians between 13 and 35 watching rock & roll.

It was an unprecedented achievement, held together by Sutherland’s impish grin and infectious spirit and a freedom unthinkable in today’s tightly controlled programming.

With three hours a week to fill in, Sounds had the time to run lengthy interviews, specials and non-mainstream clips. Guests could vary from Slim Dusty to Siouxsie Sioux. It became a magazine for young people and a reference point for all aspects of youth culture.

Unable to compete with Countdown‘s insistence on the right to premiere clips, Sounds instead concentrated on presenting an unparalleled breadth of artists.

In 1984, the show received international recognition with a bronze award for best TV music show in the world at the prestigious New York Film and TV Festival.

This was significant praise for the Australian industry and worthy recognition for the show which interviewed over 5000 people during its life, pioneered satellite and location shows and provided an essential outlet for local talent.

When Sounds failed to renew Sutherland’s contract in December 1987, it was at the whim of Channel 7’s new owner, Christopher Skase. It was still rating as highly as it ever had and no other show has ever effectively replaced it.

Sutherland continued to draw crowds as a DJ, while Christopher Skase couldn’t set foot in the country in his final years.

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