Debbie Kruger, Public Relations Wiz, Journalist, Broadcaster
& Author: 12th July
Man Australia interviews once of Australia's most
knowledgeable, and experienced music industry and
public relations figures, Debbie Kruger.
been pretty diverse. As a teenager I was a devoted
music fan and concert-goer but at university fell
in love with theatre and the serious "Arts".
I dropped out of a Communications degree course deciding
that I didn't want to be a journalist, opting instead
for a general BA. I also got myself an MA in Theatre
Studies. But it turned out the best way I could be
a part of the arts industry in Australia was to write
about it, so I got into journalism to be a part of
an industry rather than to be a journalist. It just
happened that I could write well. Brief abridged resume,
then: First job was in 1985-86 as membership officer
at the Australian Writers Guild where I got to work
with people like David Williamson, then moved into
freelance journalism, then to staff writer with Variety
newspaper in Sydney and London, then to more freelance
journalism. Moved to Byron Bay in early '90s and started
my own PR business doing work for arts organisations
in the Byron/Lismore region and then the Biennial
International Music Festival in Brisbane and the Brisbane
International Film Festival. Also presented a radio
show, "Debbie Does Breakfast," on the local
Byron station, BAY FM, on and off for six years. Went
to live in Los Angeles in the late '90s to immerse
myself in the music scene there, then went back to
Byron for a while and then in 2000 came back to Sydney
to work with the Australasian Performing Right Association
(APRA) as its Manager of Communications and Public
Affairs while still dabbling in freelance journalism
and a bit of freelance PR on the side. Left APRA in
the first quarter of 2003 and am now writing a book.
are the highlights of your career?
have been lots of highlights so far. On the journalistic
side, my biggest achievement was spending a day with
one of the artists I most admire, Linda Ronstadt,
at her home in Tucson, Arizona in 1998. I interviewed
her for a story in The Australian. I turned up with
five pages of typed questions and she answered everything.
It was probably the most complete experience I have
ever had meeting and interviewing an artist. Second
only to that was sitting down with the two chief songwriters
in the group Chicago, Robert Lamm and James Pankow,
in LA in 1999 and interviewing them for a couple of
American magazines. The guys were so impressed with
my knowledge and understanding of their work that
Lamm actually suggested I write a book about the group.
It didn't happen, but that's another story
the PR side there have been two highlights. The first
was working with Chanticleer, a group of choral singers
from San Francisco, on the Biennial International
Festival of Music in Brisbane in 1997. I created something
of a publicity blitz for them in a very short period
of time and bonded with the group on a personal level.
A few of them are still very dear friends of mine
and I see them whenever I am in California. The second
and biggest highlight was doing the publicity on the
APRA Music Awards in 2001 when we announced the Ten
Best Australian Songs as part of APRA's 75th anniversary
celebrations. It was the biggest PR campaign I've
ever done - although I had no idea it was going to
turn out so big when I started. It just captured the
imagination of music lovers all over the country and
although it was no surprise when "Friday on My
Mind" was announced as the number one song, it
was a lot of fun watching the media whip themselves
into a frenzy trying to guess what all ten songs might
be. Working with all the songwriters on the list was
a terrific experience, too.
are you best well known for?
depends who you talk to. In the music industry in
Australia I'm known mainly for my PR work. Although
I think of myself more as a PR whiz than a journalist
these days, other people still think of me primarily
as a writer. In Byron Bay I'm Debbie who did breakfast
on radio for several years. My dog knows me best as
the one who feeds and walks her every day.
did you get your break?
had different breaks at different times in my career,
but the first was in 1985 when Wayne Harrison at the
Sydney Theatre Company commissioned me to write some
program notes for an STC production of Moliere's The
Misanthrope. It was the first time I got paid to display
my extensive knowledge of something. Much later on
in my career when rock music and Los Angeles were
all I cared about, hooking up with legendary photographer
Henry Diltz was a huge break as he introduced me to
a lot of people and helped me get closer to the experience
of LA that I wanted.
did the 2SM gig come about?
didn't work for 2SM - I just listened to it avidly
from 1975 to 1983 and documented that period lovingly
on my website.
and why did 2SM "lose the plot"?
Some time in 1979 when all the top jocks
started jumping ship, and then in 1980 when they got
rid of Barry Chapman. But the advent of FM radio really
sealed its fate, because 2SM had always been about
the music and then these new stations came along playing
the music in stereo. End of story, really.
media outlets did you most enjoy working for, and
haven't worked on staff for that many outlets as most
of my work has been freelance, but I guess my three
years writing for Variety in Sydney were the most
enjoyable of my journalism career. It was the high-flying
'80s and I was writing about the television and radio
industries at a time when media ownership rules were
changing and the main players were changing. Interviewing
Skase, Lowy et al was interesting to say the least.
At the time I was really into theatre and the arts,
so the most enjoyable part of being Variety's Sydney
correspondent was covering the live theatre beat.
In those pre-internet days, I was the only Australian
theatre reviewer writing about Australian theatre
for an international readership. The opening nights
were fantastic - the most memorable being the first
night of Les Miserable in 1987 - and it was a great
social life for a single girl in her twenties. I then
spent a year working for Variety in its London bureau
but that was a less enjoyable experience. The new
editor, Peter Bart, was one of the least pleasant
people I ever worked for.
have to be creatively stimulated in my work. When
I'm not, I am miserable.
aspects of the media and entertainment business do
you like the most, and why?
with the media and working with artists. In my PR
guise I love giving the media a great story and seeing
them run with it (eg Ten Best Australian Songs) and
earning their respect for dealing in a professional
way while having fun with them. And whether I'm doing
an interview as a writer or handling an artist with
my PR hat on, I really enjoy making a connection with
that artist and, in the best instances, getting a
real buzz from their passion for their artistry.
do you prefer to write about and why?
Especially songwriters. It's just what turns me on
the most at this stage of my life.
do you like about interviewing people?
a connection. Spending time in the company of someone
creative. Hearing them tell their story. Hopefully
finding out something that nobody knew before. Occasionally
making a new friend. I interviewed Nicole Kidman in
1986 when she was only 18 and although I was five
years older we became very close friends for some
years. I went to her wedding in Telluride. All because
of an interview I did with her.
did you make a positive difference to the often questioned
public relations industry?
never really seen myself as being a part of the "pubic
relations industry." I've been a part of the
entertainment industry with PR as my best talent.
So I don't think I've made a difference to the PR
industry but hopefully I've done some valuable things
to enhance the entertainment industry along the way.
are your current projects?
spending most of my time at the moment writing a book
about Australian songwriters, for publication in late
are or were your mentors?
first mentor was Wayne Harrison, who was first the
Dramaturg and then the Director of the Sydney Theatre
Company. He recognised my talents and burning ambition
to work on the literary side of theatre and gave me
my first paid work in the arts, and he is still a
great friend, although our interests have diverged,
with him running around the world producing and directing
plays, and me being focused on music. Justin Fleming,
a playwright and author whom I befriended at my first
job with the Australian Writers Guild has been a long-time
friend and mentor. At the moment my greatest mentor
is probably Paul Zollo, a journalist and author in
Los Angeles, from whom I have learned a great deal
about interviewing songwriters and who I'm very proud
to call a friend.
have been your biggest supporters?
mother, my high school friends, and people like Justin
Fleming and Paul Zollo. At the moment I have a great
deal of support from music media heavyweights like
Christie Eliezer of Billboard
magazine and Phil Tripp from Immedia!,
who really give a shit about what I am doing.
style of music do you prefer and why?
love rock and pop music, and my greatest affection
is for classic rock, especially where strong harmonies
are involved. American music from the 1960s and 1970s
is my big love, but I enjoy a lot of contemporary
artists from America and Australia - I just have to
dig through a lot of current crap to find something
are your favourite songs and bands of all time?
song is "Desperado" written by Don Henley
and Glenn Frey, as performed by the Eagles. After
that there are too many to name.
favourite band is Chicago, whose early albums were
incredibly groundbreaking and cutting edge. After
them comes the Eagles, and then in no particular order
are Heart, Queen, Bee Gees, Little River Band, Doobie
Brothers, Crosby Stills & Nash (& Young),
Beach Boys, Sherbet, Cold Chisel and Venice (a contemporary
group from LA). Solo artists I admire include Linda
Ronstadt, Jackson Browne, Eddi Reader, and dozens
do you find most admirable about Doug Mulray? (I am
a big fan also, having recently interviewed Doug,
in what many people are calling my best telephone
interview to date).
Doug was doing stuff on radio in the 1980s that was
so audacious and so clever that one couldn't help
but admire him. He is incredibly smart and so many
people in the media just aren't as smart as they ought
to be. It's often a thankless task to be really smart
in a country that still prides itself on a "football,
meat pies" mentality, where foot-in-the-door
current affairs rates so highly, and breakfast radio
now consists of morons making moronic jokes.
you know why Jon English never received the accolades
many think he deserved?
I have no idea. I don't think he was underrated in
his heyday, but I do think he is underrated in retrospect.
He seems to get left out when nostalgia programs and
tours are put together. I think his performance as
Judas in the original Australian production of Jesus
Christ Superstar still goes down as among the greatest
performances in Australian musical theatre history.
the Australian Rock industry deserve its tough reputation,
and it that a good thing?
didn't know it had a "tough" reputation,
but it is a very male-dominated industry where pub
rock rules, so that really explains it all. There
aren't too many women in powerful positions in the
industry. A good book to read is Stuart Coupe's The
Promoters, which just focuses on the area of concert
promoting but serves as a pretty accurate indicator
of what you're talking about.
is the largest audience that you ever performed to,
and in what fashion?
my journalism work, writing for Variety, which is
read all over the world, or for major newspapers in
your view on once legendary Australian bands playing
the RSL club circuit in NSW?
think the "Long Way To The Top" tour proved
that there is a huge market for baby-boomer-aged bands
and artists, and if the media would get off its high
horse and acknowledge that it is perfectly okay for
older bands to still be performing and recording,
then they could probably play larger venues and sell
tickets. "LWTTT" gave the baby boomers permission
to go and see the old bands in a big venue, but usually
the media don't allow that to happen through their
derisive attitudes. Radio is especially to blame.
Many of the great artists from the '60s, '70s and
'80s are writing and recording great work, but radio
won't play it. James Reyne, for example, put out an
album a couple of years ago that was really inspired.
But when he did the rounds of all the radio stations
for interviews, all they would play was "Errol"
and "Reckless." It understandably drove
much influence did Glenn Wheatley have on John Farnham's
career, and in what way?
a whole story of its own and not for me to tell it,
but yes, of course Wheatley had a huge influence on
Farnham's career. He mortgaged his house to fund the
making of the Whispering Jack album. Enough said.
are your thoughts on the contribution made by Glenn
A is a guru. He's the guy everyone always goes to
for an opinion on anything musical in Australia, and
he is also a phenomenal self-promoter, so it's easy
to knock him - in that tall poppy Australian way of
not liking people who get too good at something and
aren't modest about it. Modesty is a highly overrated
quality. I say all power to him. Glenn's been very
good to me and supportive of my work in recent years.
"big stars" have helped you in your career?
don't think any stars have helped me as such, except
indirectly by inspiring me and enabling me to do great
did you most enjoy about traveling abroad?
somewhere else and feeling like I was a part of the
fabric of another place. My cultural heart resides
in Los Angeles so the times I've been there, either
as a resident or as a visitor, have been glorious.
What I enjoy most about being there is that I can
freely relish music that is still thriving no matter
how old it is, whereas in Australia, where I am so
far away from it, my tastes are disparaged by people
who think that the latest grungy band from wherever
is all that matters. In America there is room for
everyone with all tastes and I appreciate that. Apart
from that, the shopping is so much better when you're
is a little known fact about you?
very open about myself and have a very extensive website
so there aren't really any secrets. Nothing I want
to share here, anyway.
note: An amazing, entertaining and educational interview,
by a great talent in the Australian entertainment,
public relations and music industry! Can't wait to
read her book.
Kruger official website
Basement official website (Doug Mulray's brainchild)
MacRae Radio School
Performing Rights Association
A history of Sydney commercial radio in the 1980s
APRA 75th Birthday Bash
Way To The Top: ABC website tribute