Where It All Began...
The basis for Triple J’s Hottest 100 began all the way back in 1989.
At the time, the station was slowly becoming a radio station that was aiming to become more focused on the tastes of its listeners; catering to what they wanted rather than just what the station's 'powers that be' deemed popular.
Lawrie Zion, a new face at Triple J, came up with idea of a music poll named the Hot 100 in November 1988 and presented the idea to then station manager Andy Nehl. Nehl, who, had been a guitarist in the independent Brisbane band 'The Black Assassins', had also worked at the radio station 4ZZZ in Brisbane where a similar poll had been in place since 1977. Seeing the potential, Nehl gave the green light to Zion’s idea, and the Hot 100 was born.
The First Countdown
The station then asked all of its listeners to write in, outlining 10 songs that were their favourite songs of all time. Triple J have long been adamant that they want listeners to vote for only their favourites, and not what they deem to be the ‘best’ songs.
Votes came into the station in droves, many of which featured interesting and unique methods of listing their favourite songs. Votes were sent to the station in numerous creative ways, with some in the form of large paintings with the songs names painted in and others as large sculptures with the names carved in.I even got one entry from a guy in prison, in Sydney, and it was 10 rolled up joints with the names of his favourite songs on each joint.
— Lawrie Zion, Hottest 100 creator
Eventually, a few months later on Sunday March 5th 1989, the first Triple J Hot 100 was counted down. The name of the countdown was changed to the Hottest 100 after the 1990 countdown, as to not conflict with a Darwin radio station of the same name.
For the next 2 years, the voting and counting down process remained the same. However, following Joy Division’s subsequent wins in 1989 and 1990, and Nirvana’s landslide win in 1991, the presenters felt there would be very little diversity between the winners, and decided to change the format of the Hottest 100 to keep things interesting.
What Happened Next?
After having a year off in 1992, the countdown returned for the year of 1993 with an altered format; only songs released in the previous calendar year could be voted on. Thus, in January 1994, the 1993 Hottest 100, the first yearly Hottest 100, was counted down and has continued ever since.
There have been occasional Hottest 100 Of All Time countdowns as the years have gone on, though. 1998 saw the 4th one, 2009 saw the 5th one, and 2011 saw the introduction of a Hottest 100 Australian Albums Of All Time.
The voting process changed over the years in line with the technologies of the time. Votes progressed to being phoned in, and in 2000, the Triple J website posted the songs that people could vote from, but were not limited to. SMS voting was introduced, removed in 2003, and re-instated for 2004 and 2005, all while the online voting system was ongoing. These days, only online voting is possible.
So there you have it, the Hottest 100 is now the world's biggest music poll. With more than a million votes every year now, and voting records breaking frequently, there is no doubt that the Hottest 100 has indeed achieved the goals of the station back in the eighties by not only becoming a musical democracy, but becoming the biggest, and most popular musical democracy in the world.