For 25 years Peter Ford has been a contributor to some of Australia’s biggest radio shows.
These stations sit alongside a long list of smaller capital cities and regional stations. It also includes the Kyle and Jackie O Show as well as radio stations in New Zealand.
His career began as an office boy at 3UZ in Melbourne 35 years ago.
I met Fordie, as we call him, as a twice-weekly contributor to Heart 107.3‘s (now Triple M Hobart) Kim and Dave Show, and he was a character of his own.
We would tease out of him details about his dinner parties, his pet monkey, his love of handwritten cards and airline pyjamas, as well as suggesting directly to him that he has actually never met anyone famous.
We would constantly ask for photographic proof, but he would say “I have nothing to prove to you.”
Even this pic he has provided is with a bird in LA. OK it’s Carrie Fisher’s bird Archy.
“He misses Carrie & meows like a cat. “
Fordie was there last weekend to attend the memorial for Carrie Fisher & Debbie Reynolds.
“I was invited by the family. Hence I ended up being photographed with the bird. It shows how I do things a little differently to others.”
I contacted Fordie while he was away to ask if he would like to share details of his career reporting on radio ‘stars’, the relationships, the rules etc.
I begged and must have caught him in a weak moment hence he agreed to this exclusive interview for radioinfo readers.
Fordie, I was prompted to ask you for an interview when a Facebook group recently shared a newspaper story with pics of Chrissie Swan and her children going to McDonalds. The story didn’t mention weight but it was inferred.
The Facebook thread ripped into her about her overweight kids, one still sucking on a dummy blah blah when someone quoted you: “ As Peter Ford says, she doesn’t like me I don’t like her but kids are off limits.”
Is that your rule and why?
“Yes kids are off limits unless of course the parents are quite happily showing them off and allowing them to be photographed as you often see at say the opening of a family friendly movie etc. Some celebrities seem perfectly happy to have their kids on display so when you are dealing with those kids there are very blurred lines. As far as I’m aware Chrissie hasn’t eagerly wanted her kids to be up for public consumption so I thought the pics at Maccas were wrong. Having said that I actually didn’t think it was ‘fat shaming’. There was nothing in the copy that referred to her weight or the kids. It was only those people angry in her behalf who introduced the word ‘fat’ into the discussion. If it had been Jessica Rowe and her kids at Maccas with same pics and words would that be ‘fat shaming’? Other people will make and play to their own rules and that’s for them to decide or justify. I just don’t like the idea of kids being papped. But in terms of my own work I find kids quite dull so am rarely tempted to report on them anyway.”
Why doesn’t Chrissie like you and vice versa?
“Well I’ve never met the woman so there is no personal encounter here at all. When she did I’m A Celebrity I posed a teaser, on Twitter, to the effect of ‘how keen must someone be to be in TV to leave an infant under 12 months and head to the jungle.’ I forget the exact wording. It sparked some level of debate and claims I was sexist and misogynistic and whatever other labels they came up with. And like all those social media outrages it takes on a life of its own and quickly ceases to be any fair level of debate or criticism. It just becomes about anonymous people grabbing pitchforks and demanding you be fired etc. The headlines became I’d said ‘Chrissie Swan is a bad mother’. I never said that at all. It was question posed about the quest for fame. I have no reason to doubt she is great mum or that her kids weren’t thoroughly cared for in her absense. When it died down I actually wrote to her and said ‘this isn’t an apology for what I did say but I hope it’s a clarification what I didn’t say and that was you’re a bad mother’. We have mutual friends and they speak highly of her. I’m sure she is a perfectly nice person and she’s enjoying great success on radio now. It was all a bit silly.”
Now that’s addressed, how did you get into Entertainment reporting?
“I’ve always been very lucky. That isn’t false modesty. I am extremely good at what I do but I’ve never sought to be on radio or on TV but opportunities have just landed in my lap. I started as a radio producer and became a TV Producer. It was Bert Newton who pretty much told me ‘ you’re an OK producer but you’re great talent on air – that’s what you should be doing’ So I just embraced opportunities as they presented themselves. In a sense because I’ve never craved it I have much more of freedom on air. I’m not seeking to be loved or impress anyone.”
I know you are not popular with everyone in the industry – is it tough to form friendships?
“You can’t be around for as long as me doing what I do and not end up with a few people who don’t send you Christmas cards. I think as the years have passed I’ve gained a level of respect from most people in the game. But they also know that I don’t pull punches. Ultimately if you’re breaking news as you get it, rather than waiting for the press release, and you offer forthright opinion or analysis, it does sometimes piss some people off.”
How do you build trust so celebrities share with you?
“Honesty and fairness.”
In 2007 2UE‘s Mike Carlton dropped you as a result of a scandal involving the late Stan Zamanek. Apparently, you didn’t go to his funeral but professed to be his friend – it all sounds rather bitchy. Does it feel like that at times?
“That simply isn’t true. I wasn’t dropped from his show. I quit. But stayed under contract at 2UE and was re-deployed. Mike Carlton said the most dreadful things about Stan Zemanek on the day of his funeral. His widow Marcella was listening and it upset her terribly. She was literally getting dressed to to go to her husband’s funeral. Worst of all some of it was said whilst I was onair with him. It put me in a insidious position. I’d flown up to Sydney to attend and was rattled that he had implicated me into his vile rantings. Carlton has every right to his opinion but Personally I wouldn’t have gone on the attack on the day of the funeral. That to me was evil. It was his show he could do what he wanted but he involved me without warning and that pissed me off. I told the management I wouldn’t appear on that show again. Stan was a great mentor to me and Marcella remains a great mate. In fact I’m going to Sydney next month to celebrate what would be Stan’s 70th birthday.”
How do you build sources?
“I have been building my contact book and sources from the day i walked into 3UZ about 430 years ago and started as the office boy. I worked for a number of years behind the scenes so I know the mechanics of radio and TV and have worked with hundreds of people. Having actually worked in the game gives me a much richer knowledge of the industry. I loved being a TV producer and as the various radio and TV producers I currently work with will tell you- I can’t resist telling them what they should be doing.”
Do you ever get gossip that you don’t think is worth sharing and what’s your filter?
“I don’t consider what I do to be gossip. It’s news. I apply the same diligence and research to my work that any other journalist does to their respective brief. The same as someone working in a Canberra bureau or a sports reporter covering AFL. I don’t delve into he private lives of people. If something is out there in public domain being discussed I may offer my two bobs worth and maybe bring some reason or analysis to it but I’m not the one to instigate those stories. Having said that many years ago when I was younger and way more gung ho I think I was less conscious of how some stories can be hurtful or damaging. I’m not the arbiter of what is right or wrong for others in the industry- i can only decide for myself.”
Which radio announcers respond best to you?
“I am incredibly lucky that, at present I work with such a diverse range of broadcasters. They all seem to ‘get’ me and what I bring to the table. They know I can be a bit unpredictable but they trust me. Everyone from Ross Stevenson on 3AW to Kyle and Jackie O to Ben Fordham to Legendary Jeremy Cordeaux in Adelaide. So the list goes on. Each of them is a unique talent. So I tweak my style in their shows to be appropriate. I will say things with Kyle and Jackie that I wouldn’t dream of saying on 3AW. This variety keeps me on my toes and makes each cross I do a bit different, I am seriously lucky through the years to have worked with probably 90% of the major stars of the radio game in this country from John Burgess to Ernie Sigley to Johnny Young, Brian Bury and Bert of course.”
You have told us about Chrissie what other radio ‘stars’ don’t you get on with and vice versa?
“The previously mentioned Mike Carlton but he’s not relevant these days. I’m not aware of any others. John Michael Howson turned on me a few years ago, which was very sad as we’d been great mates, but it all changed after he returned to Australia to live and I’m not sure why. Others may exist and that’s OK. You learn not to obsess about others people’s decisions and reactions.”
Would you say the life of an Entertainment Reporter is glamorous – you have certainly shared stories about your dinner parties?
Back to rules, what are your top three?
“Don’t accept its automatically true because you’ve been told. Be upfront and ask outright what you need to know. Be fair and present the info with honesty.”
Why do you normally have a no-interview policy and what prompted you to agree to this chat (without Baileys)?
“I don’t give interviews. I have never sought personal publicity as I just don’t see what it would achieve for me. And I’m largely devoid of ego. I’m a story teller not the story. I’m actually fairly boring so I’ve always thought it would be terribly anti climatic for whoever had to go away and write it up. I’m only doing this as we’re old mates. Even though I’ve done a lot of TV, mostly daytime, I can still walk down the street and not a soul will recognise me and I like that I still have that level of anonymity. Richard Wilkins and Angela Bishop – who have utmost respect for and always enjoy spending time with them both – are superstars in their own right. I don’t think I have the mindset to deal with that well. I’m in fact quite shy.”
Fordie in Hobart with myself, Troy Barrett and Dave Noon for my last show 2014
What is the biggest change you’ve seen in your time reporting?
“The very fact you ask me that makes me sound ancient! But without a doubt it’s the rise of everything being online and social media. Total game changer. It’s much harder now for me to break stories. In one sense it’s made the game more interesting and challenging. I’ve somewhat repositioned myself to be offering more discussion and dissection of the stories as much as breaking them. I love the instant nature of the business now but I won’t lie it was daunting at first. It’s also meant the rise of about 6,400 different people announcing themselves as ‘showbiz reporters’ . I’ve only bothered to learn the names of about 5 of them.”
- Peter Ford is also seen regularly on Sunrise, The Morning Show and A Current Affair.