There have been some momentous contracts signed in the 20th century.
The 1945 surrender by Japanese Emperor Hirohito to end WWII aboard the USS Missouri (which coincidently sounds as if it were named after a Japanese soup) comes to mind. The oath taken in 1952 by Queen Elizabeth II upon her coronation is another.
But if we narrow our search to “great signings in Sydney commercial talk radio,” then surely there’s none more momentous than Alan Jones, who in 1985, signed on to become the Morning Presenter at 2UE.
Although David Maxwell was the General Manager of the station at the time, the actual signing on behalf of 2UE, was left to Mark Collier who was the Program Director. Back then, the word “Content” was associated with cows rather than radio executives.
Mark Collier recalls…
Laws left 2UE for 2GB and at 2UE, we were in a hurry to get Jones on air in mornings up against him. Management was taking a punt on untried talent but his demo session in the studio gave us great optimism. The legendary John Brennan was 2UE Sports Director having joined the station after a long career at 2SM and he was assigned to work his magic with Alan.
The only impediment to Jones starting quickly on-air was that he was coaching/managing the Australian team for the Hong Kong Sevens rugby union tournament a couple of weeks hence, buoyed by a recent victory in the Wallabies Grand Slam northern hemisphere tour.
We didn’t want to wait as the survey was happening so we decided to pull out all stops to get Alan to air. As UE Program Director, I flew to Hong Kong to produce and Richard Fleming came to look after the engineering side of what was to be a momentous series of outside broadcasts and a superhuman effort by a raw broadcaster. His self-confidence put him in good stead to succeed.
Alan started on-air at 2UE in North Sydney on the Monday before the Sevens, doing his first show. He was back again on the Tuesday, finishing at noon and then whisked straight to the airport to catch the Cathay Pacific 1pm flight to HK (which sponsored our broadcasts). Alan arrived Tuesday evening and went on-air at 7am HK time Wednesday (9am in Sydney) from an outside broadcast studio set up in my hotel room in the now long gone Hong Kong Hilton. Same on the Thursday. On the Friday he finished the show and was guest speaker at the famed FCC (Foreign Correspondents Club) lunch, notable among other things for being the second fastest sell out of tickets in the club’s history. Muhammad Ali was number one!
The audience was two-thirds HK business heavies, the remainder journalists. Normally the speaker would deliver a monologue for 25 minutes, there’d be polite applause, then questions for 15 more followed by more polite applause at the end.
Alan was in full swing and he had to pause on numerous occasions during his address for the raucous applause that drowned him out. The same again after each question was answered with a standing ovation at the end of it all.
The Chairman of the HSBC (then the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank) who’d been in the audience came up to me and asked if Alan and our crew would like to join him for lunch in the bank’s board room the following Monday after the tournament. I ran it past Alan and of course we accepted.
Then came the weekend, Australia walloped the Wanderers 24-10. Despite the euphoria of the Sunday night celebrations, Alan was back on deck to ‘kick off’ his program in the hotel room at 7 Monday morning.
Lunch followed in the bank’s sumptuous boardroom, it was stellar. Tuesday’s program went to air again from the HK Hilton then Alan caught an evening flight back to Sydney, had the Wednesday off, and resumed what was to be his stellar radio career on-air at 9am Thursday from 2UE in North Sydney.
An amazing start to an amazing career. With hindsight, none of all that is even a tad surprising.