Music and media mogul Glenn Wheatley dies aged 74
Glenn Wheatley, who built an empire covering music and sports management, and introduced commercial FM radio to Australia, has passed from COVID-related complications.
He turned 74 on January 23 this year.
Wheatley had been hospitalised with COVID-19 for a number of weeks and died yesterday evening (Tuesday) in Melbourne.
Two clients, John Farnham and Delta Goodrem, had the best selling domestic albums with Whispering Jack and Innocent Eyes.
“He’s not an aggressive man. But he’s a great deal maker,” LRB’s Glenn Shorrock once said.
“Little River Band was a learning experience for him as much as it was for us, and Glenn learned to make better and better deals as we got more successful.”
Wheatley used to say that his desire to succeed came from growing up poor in Brisbane – his father was a truck driver and the family sometimes had to go without meals.
“I’ve always had a strong work ethic,” Wheatley said, leaving school at 14.
At 17, he made his first fortune, and lost it a year later.
It was running a blues club in a church hall, which made enough to buy a brand new sports car until rivals put him out of business.
During his time as bass player in the Masters Apprentice, his business acumen noticed that promoters would make $35,000 from sell-out shows, but the band pocketed only $200.
The Masters tried their luck in England. It was unsuccessful and they split in 1972.
But Wheatley made business contacts in the UK music industry – including in the company which managed David Bowie – and was given the chance to manage the New Seekers.
It took him to America where he observed the growing market for adult contemporary music.
Wheatley returned to Australia in 1974 and put together Little River Band to take to America.
When he flew to Los Angeles with the first album to get a US deal, 10 turned him down.
One executive said it reminded him of the sound of fingernails being dragged down a blackboard.
Disillusioned, he was set to return to Australia. But a day before, Capitol came through.
Behind 13 US tours between 1976 and 1983 they sold 25 million records and notched up 13 Top 40 singles there, with nine going Top 10.
They set a new record in Billboard magazine as being the only band to have a Top 10 single for each year between 1977 and 1982.
LRB was the first to prove an act could achieve global success while still based in Australia.
Wheatley’s management clients included Australian Crawl, Ross Wilson, Moving Pictures, Pseudo Echo, Wayne Gillespie, Kate Ceberano and Real Life.
He also managed A-1 sports champions: golfers Ian Baker-Finch and Wayne Grady, tennis player John Alexander, cricketer and footballer Simon O’Donnell, footballer Paul Salmon, racing car driver Peter Brock and jockey Darren Gauci.
He sold the sporting division to sporting company Advantage International.
He was a founding director of Melbourne radio station EON-FM, which was later bought by the Austereo network and rebranded as Triple M.
In 1987, he was a key player in the formation of the national FM radio network Hoyts Media.
In 2013 his EON Broadcasters purchased 91.9 Sea FM and 92.7 Mix FM on the Sunshine Coast, and 2CH in Sydney.
His energy was relentless. He was part of a 2005 consortium that pitched for the $500 million redevelopments of Melbourne’s St. Kilda Triangle, as an entertainment precinct with music venues, a fairground, retail stores and a Hall Of Fame.
He was director of the Sydney Swans club, a director of the AIDS Trust, Tourism Australia and music education company Ausmusic.
He also organised concerts for Australian armed forces serving in East Timor and the Hay Mate appeals for drought-hit farmers.
In 1986 he famously mortgaged his house to finance Farnham’s Whispering Jack album.
Propelled by ‘You’re The Voice’, it was a phenomenon, staying at #1 for 25 weeks and breaking into Europe, grossing $56 million.
It was financially one of the most successful artist-manager relationships in Australian music.
In 2003, he master-minded Delta Goodrem’s breakthrough, getting her a role in Neighbours as a singing wanna-be, and featuring the songs on her first album Innocent Eyes before millions of viewers in Australia and the UK.
Its release had a ready-made market. But Goodrem reportedly felt her career was being overshadowed by Farnham, and their relationship was short-lived.
In 2007 Wheatley was sentenced to 15 months in jail for tax evasion of $650,000, following a $300 million investigation by the Australian Taxation Office into offshore tax-havens.
At a keynote address at the Fuse conference in Adelaide, he told an audience of aspiring music entrepreneurs of the importance of “getting the right advice, always”.