FEATURE: Costa Zouliou’s Incredible Ride On Radio
When Costa Zouliou began his radio career with the ABC nearly 40 years ago, little did he know he’d soon have a front-row seat to a musical and cultural revolution.
These days, Costa works as a sound engineer for ABC Classic FM, one of many and varied roles he’s undertaken during his 36-year tenure at the national broadcaster both behind the mixing desk and on-air in front of a microphone.
But during the ‘90s, Costa lived a rather headier existence at Triple J in Brisbane amidst the glorious and noise known as grunge.
“It’s been a good ride, that’s for sure,” Costa says.
“I was a POT from 1986-1989 and then worked in many of the different departments at the ABC, from local radio to radio national to regional radio and all that sort of thing.”
Given his background as an electrician, radio naturally appealed to Costa’s technical aptitude as well as his love for music.
Finishing his training in 1989, Costa was perfectly positioned for the incoming grunge movement, which would come to define the music, fashion and attitude of an entire generation.
In 1991, Costa was tasked with facilitating the launch of Triple J in Brisbane. As Australia’s youth broadcaster, Triple J in the ‘90s revelled in being the vibrant and rebellious mouthpiece for alternative music.
The station brought prominent international bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains, TOOL, Bush, Radiohead, PJ Harvey, The Smashing Pumpkins, Oasis and more to Australian listeners.
It also championed quintessential Australian acts like Spiderbait, Regurgitator, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, You Am I and Silverchair among many others, helping to build them into household names.
“If you could have dropped me into a better decade, well, I don’t think it would have been possible.”
“It was just so much fun, and I think what I really appreciate about it now is that we did appreciate it then. Because in life sometimes you think: ‘I don’t think I really enjoyed that, or really realised what was happening.’ But we realised what was happening.
“I was very good mates with people like Francis Leach and Andrew Haug, and we realised we were in a rarefied time, that things had changed, that life had changed. Maybe it was the same kind of feeling when punk took off in the late ‘70s, you could feel it and you could feel the excitement.”
Working at Triple J gave Costa an all access pass to all the great bands of the day and to interview the era’s biggest names.
“The bands coming through; bands like Soundgarden, Nirvana and Alice In Chains, and boom, they were at the top of their game in the ‘90s,” Costa recalls.
“They’d been doing what they were doing in the late ‘80s but then once the ‘90s came around and grunge took off, we were so lucky to be in the middle of that and interviewing people like Kim Thayil of Soundgarden, Danny Carey from TOOL.
“I was in the right place at the right time to see them come through. To see Soundgarden when the first Big Day Out that came to the Gold Coast do a warm-up show at The Roxy, it would go down easily as one of the top ten shows I’ve ever seen. So yeah, amazingly fortunate to be around at that time.
“I look back now and think to myself: ‘I’m so glad I realised what was going on.’ It could have easily been snap your fingers and it’s gone, but I was happy to be in a really fortunate position.”
Costa’s incredible radio career also has a tidy parallel with Brisbane’s blossoming into musical maturity throughout the ‘90s, with an explosion of new bands and venues making their mark on the scene.
“Brisbane was going mad,” Costa says.
“The Zoo had just opened and we’d changed government from a National Party government for 20-odd years. Brisbane changed massively in that time as well. The city was able to breathe again and bands like Custard, Regurgitator, Screamfeeder – I don’t want to leave anyone out – but all those bands were having their birth.
“And they weren’t leaving Brisbane like bands used to have to, like The Go-Betweens, The Saints and The Ups And Downs to try and make it. In the ‘90s, bands stayed here and that had a lot to do with the fact that there was this bubbling cauldron of live music.”
Among the many bands birthed by that bubbling cauldron were The Daisycutters, who won Triple J Unearthed in 1999. The Daisycutters marked their 25th anniversary as a band last year and are now on the verge of releasing a brand new album titled ‘Become What You Are’.
The Daisycutters feature in two documentaries (produced by MADCAP Global) as part of their silver jubilee celebrations, hosted by Costa chronicling their dynamic career over the past quarter-century.
Costa and The Daisycutters have maintained a close friendship ever since the band first arrived at ABC Studios to record their single ‘Kiss Me Stupid’ after winning Unearthed.
“Costa’s been a good mate of ours for ages,” frontman for The Daisycutters Cameron Wilson says.
“Costa was there. He helped us load the gear in, set the mics up – he was there the whole time. With The Daisycutters and Unearthed, Costa often jokes: ‘yeah, I was wielding one of the shovels.’”
Costa has become a trusted voice for countless listeners over the course of nearly 40 years in radio. While the music may have changed, one thing for Costa remains constant – building an authentically individual rapport with his audience.
“The great thing about radio is that it’s a very one-on-one medium,” he says.
“If you’re doing your job right on the radio, the person thinks you’re talking to them, not to the nation. The one thing that was always drummed into us at Triple J was that you’re talking to one person. If you can create that intimacy with one person on the radio, you’ve done your job and you’ve done your job well.”
The Daisycutters release their new album ‘Become What You Are’ 31 March, via MADCAP Global Music and Caroline Records. Show your support for Australian independent music with your very own stylish The Daisycutters t-shirt, available here.