DOUG MULRAY: 1951 – 2023
The broadcaster Doug Mulray, who has died aged 71, was Australian radio royalty. Affectionately known to his listeners as “Uncle Doug”, he was much-loved for his rapier wit that always skated a little too close to the edge, as well as his outrageous skits featuring a variety of madcap characters.
In 1982, he became one of the most influential voices in Australian radio at the newly-launched Triple M. As Sydney’s breakfast presenter he grew the show from a ratings share of 2.6 per cent to an astonishing 18 per cent.
Doug Mulray was one of the most influential voices in Australian radio.
His breakfast show was famed for its quirky group of fictional characters who caught the listeners’ imagination, making morning commutes bearable and brightening breakfasts across the city. They included Madam Zenda, who made outlandish cosmic predictions about the future; Jack Africa, a permanently paranoid man who was convinced that the chooks were out to get him; the Prime Mincer, a parody of Bob Hawke; and Gloria, who was based on rival broadcaster Alan Jones.
Never just a one-man band, Mulray brought in the talents of fellow presenters, writers and producers to complement his work.
It was Mulray who hired a young Andrew Denton as his head writer, dubbing him “Andrew the Boy Wonder From Indoor Cricket”. Denton, who considered Mulray a mentor, later described him as “single-handedly putting commercial FM radio on the map … the first ever to take a commercial FM radio station to number one against the then dominant AM radio”.
Doug Mulray in action for Triple M in 1989 with his wife, Liz Muir aka Miss Lizzie.Credit:Steven Siewert
Mulray was also joined on air by his then-girlfriend, later wife, Miss Lizzie (Liz Muir), the sister of Rod Muir, Triple M’s owner.
His success at Triple M was followed with stints on the drive time slot on 2SM with Peter FitzSimons. He then worked for 2WS, although he never quite captured his earlier ratings success.
In 1992, he hosted the infamous Australia’s Naughtiest Home Videos, with the show’s only episode pulled from broadcast on Channel Nine, publisher of this masthead, by owner Kerry Packer after just 34 minutes.
Aimed at an adult audience, the show was a spinoff of Australia’s Funniest Home Videos, featuring racy and risque content that the producers were not able to use, due to the family-friendly nature of the program. Packer, who was advised of the show’s content while having dinner with friends, tuned in to see a boy pulling a kangaroo’s testicles and was so horrified that he immediately phoned the studio and shouted: “Get that shit off the air!” Within a few minutes the show was pulled and viewers had to contend with a Cheers rerun instead.
Mulray in January 1983. Never just a one-man band, he brought in the talents of fellow presenters, writers and producers to complement his work.
Mulray was subsequently fired from Nine, although he returned in 2002 to be part of the special Brian Henderson Toasted and Roasted, managing to slip in a subtle joke about his ban while Packer was in the audience.
Douglas John Mulray was born on December 1, 1951 in Sydney, and grew up in Dee Why. After being expelled from school, he travelled around Europe and worked as a salesman. His father, a lawyer, suggested he consider a career in broadcasting after playing the tapes that his son used to send home from his travels in lieu of letters to friends in radio advertising. (Mulray found writing and spelling difficult and his exacting father used to send letters back to him with corrections in red pen.)
These friends suggested his funny, eloquent musings would work well on radio and not long after, Mulray heard an advert from the Digamae Radio School (co-founded by his later brother-in-law Rod Muir). He auditioned, they accepted him, and his career began.
Mulray started out at small country radio stations before hitting the big smoke.
Like many broadcasters of his era, he started out at small country radio stations in the 1970s, first at 2AD in Armidale, before heading south to 2GO Gosford. He worked on Melbourne station 3AW before moving home to Sydney in the late 1970s, where he joined the ABC’s alternative rock station 2JJ (later Triple J). He built up a sizeable following there that piqued the interest of Triple M, who quickly snapped him up.
Outside of radio, he recorded several comedy records, including I’m a Punk in 1982, which was number one in NSW alongside the Rolling Stones’ Start Me Up. His single You Are Soul reached number 34 on the ARIA singles chart but was banned from the air. The B-side was just as controversial, featuring the song Smoked Two Joints.
As well as his notorious appearance hosting Australia’s Naughtiest Home Videos, he appeared on several network television shows including Channel Ten’s Beauty and the Beast and as a judge of Starstruck on Nine (after Packer’s death). He hosted Mulray, which ran briefly in the early 1990s on Channel Seven.
In 2019, he was inducted into the Commercial Radio Hall of Fame for his outstanding achievements and unique contribution to Australian radio. Speaking at the time, Joan Warner, then chief executive officer of Commercial Radio Australia said: “There is no disputing the enduring place that Doug Mulray has in the fabric of the Australian radio industry. His formative impact on breakfast radio and broadcast comedy still resounds what is heard on air today, making him one of the most respected and unforgettable voices in Australian radio.”
Mulray described the award as “a great pleasure and a great privilege,” going on to thank the writers and producers who he had worked with throughout his career. “It would be dumb of me to receive this award without acknowledging those people … genius people. And I think too often when my success is discussed they’re overlooked and I really couldn’t accept this award without including them in my thank you.”
Mulray is survived by Liz and their children, Tom and Rosie.
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