This past decade, triple j's fourth, has seen dance music and hip hop become two of the most popular styles of music in the country. triple j has been there throughout this change, striving to find rappers, producers and DJs who would shape this new sound. From the rise of Hilltop Hoods to the impact of dubstep, the station has been getting amongst it, helping artists and audiences connect and defining the soundtrack of Australia's youth.
While triple j now encompasses three national networks, utilises various new technologies, and appeals to a wider audience with a wider range of acts, many parts of the station's rationale remain precisely the same as they were way back in 1975.
Join Zan Rowe for the final J Files celebrating 40 Years of triple j from 8pm on Thursday 26 February.
Unearthed, which launched in the previous decade, had become an enormous success by the time we entered the new millennium. Former station manager Linda Bracken saw potential for the initiative to grow in tandem with online music distribution.
"When I came to triple j, what I knew we needed to be was more than a radio station," she said. "When we launched triplejunearthed.com it really was moving the whole concept of music discovery and putting it back in the hands of the audience."
It was another way Australian bands could reach an audience outside of their home town, without necessarily having traditional music industry support.
"It was a real democratisation of the whole idea of Unearthed," Linda Bracken says. "Part of that was to give some of the power back to the artists rather than the record companies. So if you're a great artist, to give you the opportunity to connect with your audience right across Australia. You didn't have to wait for that mystical recording deal to come through.
"It also spoke to the fact that, in the past you couldn't so a particularly good recording with the old four-track technology in the garage. But anybody that had a half a decent laptop was able to record music at a level that was pretty close, if not broadcast quality."
The new system led to a greater volume of just about everything: more songs by more artists in more areas and more opportunities for people to listen to them.
"It started off as 'send your best two songs in on a cassette tape' to what it is now, with hundreds of songs being uploaded to something that everyone could access," says triple j music director Richard Kingsmill. "It wasn't just us going through bags and bags and bags of mail, it was something the audience could buy into.
"For a fan it's really exciting. Music's coming really fast, you can get it straight away. You can listen to it as many times as you like. You can give feedback and comment on it. You can tell everyone what you like about the song at any particular moment. It's interactivity and it's connection with the music in an extraordinary way."
In 1997, Richard Kingsmill hosted an episode of The J Files called The Greatest Hits of Hip Hop.
"I did a three hour program where I was looking at Run DMC, Public Enemy and a whole bunch of the groundbreaking acts that came through in the '80s.
"We were getting bombarded with all these requests for all of these underground local Australian acts who had just put out cassettes. A lot of this music was off the radar for us at the time."
Hau Latukefu, host of triple j's Hip Hop Show and member of Koolism, remembers the attitudes surrounding Aussie hip hop in the '90s.
"Hip hop has been made since the early '80s, there's been a strong scene ever since. In the '90s Australians really started to find their feet with what style they wanted and what persona we wanted to project."
Naysayers claimed there was no place in Australian music for hip hop, that it wasn’t authentic.
"[People would say] 'You're not American, you can't rap. You're not black. This is not your culture.'," Latukefu says. "But we could have said the same thing about rock music, the same thing about country music, about opera."
The Herd were able to break through in 2001 with 'Scallops', the first big Aussie hip hop track to resonate with triple j listeners. It spent 22 weeks in triple j's listener-voted Net 50 countdown.
"There was no local hip hop on radio," says Urthboy from The Herd. "There were no acts that had any national standing. 'Scallops' came along, there was real Australianness about it and people embraced the song."
But the nascent genre was yet to experience its biggest kick.
"Basically, it needed a leader," Kingsmill says. "The Hilltop Hoods took it to the masses and 'The Nosebleed Section' was the song that did it.
"It was our experiences. It wasn't on the streets of New York City or Los Angeles, it was growing up in the suburbs in Australia. Australian hip hop brought all of that rich storytelling in a way that guitar music hadn't done before.
"All of them had a little bit of a different take. All of them talked about where they were from, all about their own experiences as people. That was really important."
"I really feel like Australia crossed over for them," Latukefu says of the Hilltop Hoods. "I feel there was a mixture of time, good music, luck and who the Hilltop Hoods were that really took off.
"I think the youth at that time may have been looking for something new, to say 'this is what we want to be about'. It was great hip hop and when something is that great, it can't be contained to the underground, it has to spread out.
"Once they started getting that heavy rotation on triple j, I went to one of the shows and it was next level. Hundreds and hundreds of kids that you would never see at a hip hop show.
"I think a lot of suburban kids, specifically white kids, couldn't really relate to the stuff that was coming out of Compton or coming out of Brooklyn, but as soon as someone who looks like them and speaks their language, it was like 'yeah, I really like this music'."
More recently, Australian electro artists have become the new rock stars. Flume, the country's biggest artist in that field, came through the school of Unearthed.
"We were waiting for a kind of poster boy," triple j House Party host Nina Las Vegas says of Flume's success.
"It's like having someone to look up to, we finally had this person who could do it in their bedroom, upload it to Unearthed. We can follow that path because we've seen it. Not only did we see it, but we've experienced it, we saw it on Unearthed, people downloaded it and requested it."
"I think that triple j is always going to be in a state of ‘the best it's ever been’ and ‘not as good as it used to be’," says triple j station manager Chris Scaddan. "It's just the nature of that constant evolution of the audience. We're focused on a young audience and that just keeps refreshing itself.
"Every day there's new people who are listening to triple j for the first time. And that's totally different to the way that someone who might have listened to triple j for ten years or longer might hear the station."
Due to evolving musical trends, triple j's playlist sounds very different to how it sounded in 1995. Twenty years ago, it sounded a whole lot different to how it was when the station began in 1975.
"We want to make the decisions of what we play based on what we think the audience will really enjoy," Kingsmill says. "We know through social media and through the text line what they're responding to and what they're liking. They tell us and we give them stuff that they will hopefully enjoy and that we think they will enjoy and we hear back from them.
"The decisions we make here about what music we program and what music ends up on the radio is based around so many different discussions."
"I think it's really important to understand that triple j can't play everything," Scaddan says.
But the introduction of Double J, focused on an audience that no longer identifies as strongly with triple j’s music, and triple j Unearthed's digital radio station, launched in 2010, means the station can play more music than ever.
"Double J now is really important as a place for artists at a different era of their career to still be featured and to still have a high profile on a national network. That can connect them to an audience of music lovers right around the country.
"Unearthed is really important as another place, particularly for artists very early in their career, to get a start and get some encouragement and start to find an audience and develop their sound."
A lot of things are important to making triple j what it is. It's a large, often complex beast. But a simple slogan the station adopted in recent years perhaps shows where the station's true dedication lies: 'We Love Australian Music'.
"Australian music was important back in ‘75 and it's still the highest priority for us now," Kingsmill says. "We keep on raising the quota. When I became music director I raised it again. It's 40 percent and we more often than not get up around 47, 48 percent.
"So we're nearly half Australian music content in any given month and that's the main reason why we exist. We are here to support local musicians. We're not going to basically make it 100 percent though, because there's a rich world of music out there that we also want to reflect."
Live music has also been at the centre of triple j's focus since the very early years. While it used to be recordings of gigs in inner city Sydney, it's now sets from festivals and towns all around Australia.
"Live At The Wireless has always existed, it's probably the longest-running program on the station," Kingsmill says.
"Things like the One Night Stand, where we take Australian bands to regional parts of Australia that doesn't always necessarily get a lot of live music," Scaddan adds.
"The biggest broadcast we do each year is Splendour in the Grass, three days of live music. Live music is absolutely fundamental to what we do. And we're really proud of that history and that archive of live music."
"People talked about live music dying, people talked about movies killing live music, DVDs killing live music," Kingsmill says. "Nothing has killed live music and triple j stands side by side with live music."
triple j’s evolution over the past 40 years is fascinating. Holger Brockman's smooth, albeit nervy diatribes between tracks from Deep Purple, Leo Sayer, The Rolling Stones and, of course, Skyhooks sound nothing like the energetic irreverence of Matt & Alex as they joke about today's “bangerz”. Helen and Mikey offered listeners a very different experience to that of Veronica and Lewis, while George Wayne chatting with Lou Reed and Zan Rowe talking to Bon Iver sound worlds apart.
Fascinating as these differences are, it makes a lot of sense. Music, like all other trends, changes through the years and so does radio and what listener expect from it. Dubstep may have sounded abhorrent to young Australians in the mid-'90s, just like the music of Blind Melon and Hunters & Collectors might appeal less to today's youth.
In 2025, triple j will sound and feel a lot different to how it did in 2015. Whether that's agreeable to you or not, it’s a good thing for young Australia.