32 years in the crucible of Talk Radio - and still he survives! | radioinfo

32 years in the crucible of Talk Radio - and still he survives!

Monday 30 November, 2020
John Stanley tells Peter Saxon how he did it.

By my rough count, John Stanley has seen more managements come and go in his 32 years at 2GB / 2UE than The Queen has Prime Ministers.

He's filled more positions than the Kama Sutra and with almost as many co-hosts.
How could he have possibly survived so many regime changes for so long?
“I'd like to think it's because I've got something to offer. I'm able to do a lot of different things. I can be a reporter and do election night coverage. I can do talkback. And I can do a lighter style of program. So, I'm probably someone that can do a whole range of things… at short notice,” says John Stanley, who I've previously dsescribed as the Swiss Army knife of radio announcers
Stanley, who has lost count of all the management changes is, as ever, the diplomat who won't be drawn into naming and shaming, says of them, “I’ve seen all extremes, let’s put it that way.”
What about the current one, the Nine conglomerate?
“It's very hard because I’m talking about the people that manage me. I mean Greg Byrnes and Tom Malone, I worked with them when they started out at 2UE. Tom was in the newsroom and then went to work with Mike Carlton and Greg was in the newsroom and then became the program director. I’ve known them for a very long time, and I think they're doing a pretty good job.
“I mean, you can only judge people based on their track record, and they've done a really good job in terms of the changes that they made because all those changes seem to have worked.”

Of the previous management, under the Macquarie banner, Stanley says, “I think Michael Thompson and Adam Lang had a pretty tough task because they were trying to deal with Alan Jones and the huge loss of revenue (from the advertiser boycott)." 
Then there was the time in the early 2000’s just after Jones and Ray Hadley defected from 2UE, to 2GB. The problem wasn’t so much a loss of audience or, even a loss of revenue, says Stanley, it was more to do with the cost of talent.
“When you look at the ratings at the time, the ratings were around a 6,7 or 8 (share) which is on a par with what most of the FM stations are doing. And you could have probably continued the station on as a profitable entity. The trouble was that we had people there being paid millions, literally millions of dollars a year. We had John Laws, Mike Carlton and Steve Price all on a million dollars plus, and they were being paid what you’d be paying someone on a number one rating radio station, while we were rating in the pack with everyone else. I think that made it almost impossible for management because you need to make a profit. You can't be bleeding money.
“There were some good decisions too, if you go back to when Ian Shepherd (GM) decided to put George and Paul on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. At the time people were criticising it, saying it would never work. They started off rating 3%. In the end they rated number one it became a phenomenon."

Coming back to the here and now, in Survey 6 - the first survey back after the Covid hiatus - Stanley scored an 18.5 followed by 16.9 share in survey 7 for the 2GB Evening session. His ratings have never been higher. Not even when Jones and Hadley were still at 2UE. 
“When we were rating number one on Drivetime in the 90s we had 13’s and 14’s but night time is prime time for talk radio. So, there's an expectation that if you're the number one station you're going to be rating well at night. And when I took over, (mid-last year) I wanted to try and at least consolidate that audience, and then try to build it, And we've been building it for the past year.”
Since survey 2 back in April, a lot has happened. COVID-19 and the US presidential elections have dominated the news agenda and, of course, Alan Jones left the station. Has all or any that impacted on the culture at GB and, if so, how?
As Stanley points out, the single, most identifiable change in culture was due to the demands of Covid-19 for most staff to work from home which left little opportunity to chat face to face with colleagues. Also, due to the new company’s restructure, the sales department have permanently moved to another building altogether.
"It’s a huge seismic change. It's really hard to assess culture when there aren’t as many people around and suddenly you've got fewer people. But I think the culture and the sense of camaraderie is better now than it was. 

"When you’ve got someone like Alan Jones, who's dominated the ratings for nearly 20 years on this station and then before that it was at 2UE, leaving, that's such a huge, huge shift and then Ben Fordham goes in there and does a different show - and there’s no doubt his show is different because he's not trying to copy what Alan did. People have tried that in the past and it's never worked - he's put his own stamp on the show and people in the audience are sticking with it."

 Certainly, compared to Ben Fordham, Alan Jones was considered to be more conservative in his views. But how does John Stanley describe himself?
“Everyone considers themselves a centrist. I try and play things straight down the line. And I try to have an opinion and even have a strong opinion about things and not be driven by ideology. So, you can have a strong opinion about what Annastacia Palaszczuk is doing about the borders, and you can have a strong opinion, for instance, about Donald Trump. And there are other people who just ideologically go down one path. 
"I think you can look at each issue and make a decision and have a stand on it. And if you think about ideology at the moment, there's a lot of conservatives that find the antics of Donald Trump disgusting and they’re saying so, both in the United States and here. But there are others who’ve just taken an ideological position and are supporting it.
"I suspect there's also a few people in our business, in radio and TV who…  well I call it commercial correctness. People talk about political correctness, I think there are people who take a commercially correct line. So they think, ‘well I've gotta be right wing on this, so I will be, even though I don’t necessarily agree with it. And I think people can pick that, they can pick phonies who are peddling a line that they don't actually believe. 
"I've heard people trying to copy what Alan Jones does and people can see through it. I mean Alan Jones feels passionately about everything he says and that's why he's successful.” 

Stanley is reluctant to buy into the left v right divide, pointing out that Jones is not as predictable as his critics (who mostly didn’t listen to his show) like to think.
"He opposed coal seam gas, he opposed the Adani mine and lined up with the greenies on those issues. He's often lined up with unions in relation to wage issues. So he’s not as predictable as people think on every issue.” 
Nonetheless, the popular perception of 2GB was that it was a conservative outlet with Alan Jones on Breakfast, Steve Price on Nights and George and Paul on Weekends – all of whom, having left the station over the past year or so, have been replaced by more centrist presenters such as Deborah Knight in Afternoons and Jim Wilson on Drive. Perhaps the station itself is moving towards John Stanley’s more measured, less combative style?
Again, Stanley shies away from the notion that presenters on 2GB or 2UE – at least while he was there – were chosen for a particular political leaning rather than the talent to argue any passionately held belief.
"You’ve got to remember that back in the 90s when Alan was doing Breakfast at 2UE, John Laws was doing the Morning show and would often have a different position. You’ll remember during the 90s when Laws was very close to Paul Keating, I was doing the Afternoon show and we had Mike Carlton doing Drive and Stan Zemanek was on at Night, so we covered the whole spectrum. 
"On the issues of our times, Ray Hadley, for instance, has been taking a different POV to Ben Fordham on (NSW Premier) Gladys Berejiklian, and they took very strong positions on that. I took Ray’s position because I think she's got some issues there. 
"Now that we're the only (commercial) talk station in Sydney and covering a pretty broad spectrum, I think people appreciate hearing other points of view. I don't think they want to hear the same thing over and over again.”


We’ll explore that POV further in Part 2 of our conversation with John Stanley, at Nine now, over the next few days.

Peter Saxon



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