Countdown was a weekly music television show on the ABC from 1974 until 1987.

On reflection of more than 50 years of Australian TV it’s hard to imagine a show that has made more of an impact on Australian culture than Countdown.

In the late 70's and well into the 80's, Sunday's at 6pm, millions of Australians could be found sitting in front of the television tuning in to Countdown. It was all about sharing the music chart's hits and misses, barracking for favourite artists, bagging the dags and puzzling over Molly's monologues.

Countdown was Australian pop music for most of its thirteen year run. The influence Countdown had on the Australian music industry is remarkable. For thirteen years, the program held sway over what became a hit in this country. One appearance could create overnight rock gods and pop divas, in effect generating the biggest break an Australian music act could hope for. Countdown changed the face of the local music industry. The program played a crucial role in moving the focus of pop music marketing away from radio to TV, and was instrumental in ushering in the music-video era both in Australia and overseas.

Countdown beginnings

In 1972, ABC Director of Television, Ken Watts brought Michael Shrimpton over from Perth to Melbourne to take over the ABC entertainment unit and asked Shrimpton to find him the next generation of ABC viewers aged between 10 and 40.

Shrimpton had met Robbie Weekes who was directing and producing lots of different things at the time, from classical to cabaret shows, and figured he was the right man for the job of actually putting a show on the screen. The two of them went over to the Botanical Hotel in South Yarra to have a beer and think about what program they could come up with. What they formulated – over about 25 beers – was a pop show. Australia hadn’t had one since the days of Uptight and Happening 70 and they felt the time was ripe.

At the time there was a growing movement of Australian bands in pubs and on campuses but not many had record contracts. The decision was taken to use Australian bands and to try and make them look every bit as good as David Bowie and Elton John.

Next, the producers needed somebody who could find these bands, in particular, somebody who wasn’t already in the pocket of the record companies. Enter Ian Meldrum whom Weekes knew was just finishing as editor of Go Set.

Late in 1974, the ABC agreed to let Shrimpton do a series of six 25-minute programs at 6.25 p.m. on Friday nights. Shrimpton and Weekes wanted an AM radio type of TV program where something was happening every three and- a-half minutes. To fit in with this theme and to maximise promotion they decided that the host of each of these six programs would be radio DJs from the most successful commercial radio stations around the country. Their plan was that these DJs would promote the show on their radio stations and increase viewers. The first host was Grant Goldman.

Though these programs were shot in colour they were broadcast in black and white to most homes in Australia. Weekes and Shrimpton found themselves in a Myers Bourke Street store in Melbourne, which had colour television sets. Michael Shrimpton remembers that, ‘There probably were 200 colour television sets of various screen sizes arrayed around the walls showing black and white, and then at twenty-five minutes past, up came the Countdown titles in livid colour and the place was jampacked with families. There would have been a thousand people on that floor and it was extraordinary. It went off like a rocket. We didn’t know until that moment what we had. But we stood at the back of this bunch watching what was happening and Robbie pulled my coat at the elbow and said, ‘We’re onto something here you know,’ and then we hopped in the car and we went up to The Age pub on Spencer Street and the place was full of journos doing the same stuff … so we thought, ‘We’ve got the market that needs to watch it and we’ve got the journos who are going to tell them.’

Those early shows were so successful that Countdown was commissioned as a fully fledged show for 1975. The rest, as they say, is history.

Australian Acts

During its lifetime Countdown launched and supported a huge range of Australian acts. They include Skyhooks, Sherbet, Hush, Dragon, Mi-Sex, INXS, Machinations, Dugites, The Church, Eurogliders, Jo Jo Zep & The Falcons, Paul Kelly, Kevin Borich Express, Mother Goose, The Saints, Split Enz, Crowded House, Mental as Anything, Men At Work, Little River Band, Flowers/Icehouse, Pseudo Echo, Christie Allen, Richard Clapton, Andy Gibb, The Ferrets, The Swingers, The Reels, The Go-Betweens, Models, Kids In The Kitchen, Moving Pictures, Uncanny X-Men, The Radiators, Spy Vs. Spy, Wa Wa Nee, Sharon O'Neill, Kim Hart, and Australian Crawl.

Ian (Molly) Meldrum

Ian MOLLY Meldrum was the first and most important ‘personnel’ element of the show. He was chosen as a talent coordinator, whose job it was to select what music would be played and what artists would appear live.

Before long Ian, rebadged and branded as ‘Molly’ became the face of Countdown.

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Ian [ MOLLY ] Meldrum Ian [ MOLLY ] Meldrum

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