Finding compelling, relatable, primal, trigger points: Jonesy and Amanda at AFTRS

AFTRS recently had a class with WSFM’s Jonesy and Amanda via zoom, on the topic Working in Duos.

The multi-award winning pair have given permission for us to share their chat with AFTRS Head of Radio Fyona Smith and the students in the radio course.

Fyona:  Thank you so much for taking time out of your incredibly tight schedule to join us. We really appreciate your generosity. We’re thrilled to have you talk to our Graduate Diploma Radio students about working in teams.

Radio content and program directors, not only in Australia, but globally would love to have the chance at working with a successful show like yourselves. You have an element that is hard to orchestrate.

Together for 15 years this year, a multi ACRA Award winning duo in an industry that’s seen a lot of change, particularly this year. Going back to the very beginning for a moment, Amanda, your first role was as an assistant producer for Simon Townsend’s Wonder World Show and Jonesy, I believe you started out in community radio at Bankstown?

Jonesy:  I actually went to Max Rowley Media Academy and he sort of taught me how to speak. As far as Australians, we always squeeze our vowels when we speak, so when we say things like “fi-yer”, “fourrrr”, “noice” and “fine”. So we don’t have it in our mouths when we speak. So I went to Max’s. He taught me how to speak properly. And then I went to community radio. Max didn’t like us doing community radio. Thought it was where you would learn a world of bad habits. But the problem was, for me, going from Max Rowley to a country radio station, they wanted you to be able to panel and Max didn’t have a panel, just a couple of tape decks. And that was it. So 2BACR was a secret from Max.
In the classes he used to say, “As long as none of you are dabbling in that community radio, then you’ll be okay.” And then one time I let it slip, he said, “Don’t let any bad habits slip in when you’re doing that.”

Amanda:  On the radio earlier this year, we played some of Jonsey’s community radio and some of his early Max Rowley tapes. So I’d say to all your students, don’t be discouraged if you’re hopeless, because of how Jonesy sounded. No offense to you.

Jonesy:  Oh, terrible.

Amanda:  I would never have employed you. Never, ever. So do not be discouraged. Seriously.

Jonesy:  But it is the basics. And that’s what Max taught, from vocal exercises and things like that. And to all the principles that still stand to this day. So he’d make us write a script, whether it be a new script or a little radio show. And you just had an observation about something. And so you had your script of what the weather is, your radio station, the weather, your name, and then, “The monorail. Mr. Greiner, what are you doing with the monorail in Sydney? Why would you build this deadly form of transport?”

Amanda:  I think the thing that’s probably changed since the early days, is the nature of the content. We can all get our music anywhere we want these days. It’s what you listen to, particularly on FM, between the songs, the content is king, as they say. So finding compelling, relatable, primal, trigger points, all the things that are happening in your city or happening in your lives. That’s the stuff. It’s not just the technique. It’s when you talk. It’s finding a way to connect to an audience that has been, what I think  the big shift from the earlies to now. What’s required of you on air is different.

Fyona:  Talking about the early years, Jonesy I’ve heard on the show before, that you have held onto some rejection letters. Did receive a letter that said you would never be successful?

Jonesy:  Yeah. There were a couple of ones like that. Even when I finally got into country radio, the thing about it was when I first got my first job at 6KA and it was so far away from Sydney, that was the only place I could get a job. And the industry had changed because in the ’80s, they used to have midnight to dawn announcers at the country radio stations. Then overnight, they got rid of those and automation started to kick in. And so all those jobs went. There was an era of the Mike Hammonds of the world. They all went and did a midnight to dawn shift to Cowra or somewhere like that. Whereas that all of a sudden went, so you had to go these far-flung places to get a job.

That’s not the case now in those places. It’s even less these days. But yeah, some of the letters, when you go from Karratha to Muswellbrook, and then you’d always want it to evolve to get to the next station, it became a bit addictive. I kind of liked the idea of, as soon as I get to a place, I’d go, “Where to next?” You’d be planning to get out of there straight away. There was one, Barry Bissell wrote me a letter saying, “Look, this is probably as far as you’re going to go.”

Fyona:  Karratha?

Jonesy:  No. This is when I was in Warrnambool. And that was the big hurdle for me. I made this sort of pact with myself that I wanted to be in Capital City Radio by the time I was 27 and I was very hard on myself and I still am a bit with certain goals.

So I had this midlife crisis looming at 27. And I remember that letter from Barry Bissell, who I used to admire and the way it was written, it was just terrible. “Well, this is as far as you’re going to go” and you think, “Hang on. I thought there’d be more to it than this.” I can’t tell other people how to take a rejection letter. I’m pretty thick skinned with stuff and if anything, if someone says no to me for something, that makes me more determined to do it.

Fyona:  National Content Director for ARN, Duncan Campbell, who’s a good friend of AFTRS and often speaks at our Programming Residential. I’ve got a quote from him that says, “Not only are they great to work with, they have the one ingredient that you can’t manufacture or buy and that’s chemistry. Listening to them each morning, it’s their chemistry and quick wit that makes them a must-listen.” Can you speak about your chemistry and when you knew that you were onto a winner there?

Amanda:  I think what is a real benefit with us is that we started before we were on radio, having an actual friendship. And for us, I can’t speak for other teams, because there are other teams that have been put together inorganically that have worked. I think that’s pretty rare. So for us, we had an organic friendship and it’s like any relationship. There are days and weeks where we like each other more than other times. And our audience is so attuned to our relationship, I think, that they hear us feud on air. They hear us make each other laugh on air. They know our history of our friendship and of our families and things.

Even some days, we might try and hide that we’re irritated with each other. Radio is hugely unmasking. So I don’t think we’ve necessarily thought about, “Hey, it’s a new year. How will we reinvent ourselves?” We might reinvent some stuff around us, but in terms of contesting or whatever topics may be, but the nut of you and me and the way we banter with each other, it just happens. And I’m very aware of how lucky we are that we absolutely have that. I think we’ve both worked in teams where we didn’t have that as easy.

Jonesy:  That’s true. And everything’s just multiplied in the morning. Everything’s magnified. As far as emotions are…

Amanda:  You’ve got no armour on, yeah.

Jonesy:  You’re so tired and you’re always… Breakfast radio. You always feel like you’re just jet lagged. The worst thing anyone could say to you is, “Oh gee, you look tired.” My mother says it and I’ve unleashed swear words on her when she’s said that. But it is. It’s just the worst thing that you could say. And I look at our history…it was more good luck that we became a duo, in that Andrew Denton was sick one day. I filled in for a day when we were on Triple M.

Amanda:  I was doing a breakfast show with him.

Jonesy:  And that went for a week. And then I remember when it finished and at that stage, I was in doing daytime radio, Triple M Sydney. But I’ve been in Triple M Brisbane, doing a drive show with two other people. And that had a different chemistry. It was like a really angsty chemistry. Mr. T, the guy who used to do the show with, people used to like how much I’d stir him up on air. But it was great chemistry. It was bad chemistry. Because it used to stress me out. I used to break out in hives because he would actually go off his cracker at me on the radio. But people listening to it used to really enjoy it.

Amanda:  I wouldn’t be able to survive that.

Jonesy:  Triple M audiences were like, “Oh, I love that you give Mr. T heaps. It’s just so funny and you stir him up.” And then the chemistry that we (with Amanda) had instantly in that week, it was just so easy to show. And this show, I almost feel guilty. It never feels hard.

Amanda:  It’s always challenging, but we’re at a point now where it’s not hard and I very much appreciate the difference.

Jonesy:  Yeah. There was a bit today, when we were just going through a little mud map of how it’s going to work. And Amanda said, “I don’t understand this. That’s it. It’s gone. Let’s not do it.” I never get precious about it.

Amanda:  Luckily, we can do this. And with our production team, it’s coal into the fire. It’s little boy eating the chocolates on the conveyor belt. I know, Andrew Denton has said, “You have to come up with more creative ideas in a week of radio than you do a year of television.” I’ve been watching some stand up. Some of the stand comedy specials with my kids, who are teenagers. But I’ll say, “That’s funny. That’s funny.” They can have one act that’ll last them a year. We say a joke that’s said once, that may be spontaneous, it may be something you’ve crafted, and then it’s gone. So it takes a lot of fuel to make a breakfast show.

Fyona:  Both of you often talk about personal things that have occurred in your life or are occurring. I know that recently, Amanda, your son had a birthday and that’s been shared with some archival audio. It was beautiful to listen to, especially when he had such a cute little voice around eight.

I remember last year you had a piece of content that was describing watching your son transitioning to into manhood… It was almost like a breakup and you had the country crying. I remember I had just had my son at that time. And as a new mum I just thought, “Oh my gosh, I’m going to have to prepare for this moment! I should start now.” He was just a little bubba, but I could see how heartbreaking that’s going to be in the future. One thing that you guys excel at doing, is delivering content that really connects with your audience, which I would like to say is because you know your audience so well, and that’s really key.

Amanda:  I think we’ve been lucky in that we haven’t had to pretend that we’re not in the age group of our audience. I know that there’ve been some shows in the past, remember Wendy Harmer used to say, when she was doing a breakfast show, she had to pretend to be 15 years earlier in terms of say, I’d love to sit at home and watch the ABC, but I’ve got to be the voice of a much younger audience. We are very much in the drop zone of who our people are, I think. And I think that’s why. Even today I put something on my Instagram about going to school in the ’60s, of having to drink school milk. There was a photo. It looked like something from Charles Dickens, but it was dreadful. And so we did a phone topic on that today and people remembering, lining up at school to get milk and a goiter tablet, someone said.

And one woman said the most exciting day was that if they were very good and it was raining outside, they were allowed to come inside and watch the ABC test pattern on the television. So I think nostalgia… The touch stones of lives, whether it’s your children, whether it’s your childhood, whether it’s something musical. I do think that they are the real triggers for connectivity, with an audience. I mentioned before about content. Content can be nothing, but you can make a connection with your content, and I’d like to think that that’s what we do in our show too, because we’re living those moments. Like for example, when my son turned 18 last year, I couldn’t work out why I found the transition so emotional. And then I read a Mia Freedman article about having a son leave home. And I suddenly thought, “That’s what it is!” And it’s like pressing a bruise and every woman who heard it just bawled her eyes out because it was the thing we all feel.

Fyona:  Have you guys ever overstepped the mark with each other where there’s something that you have had going on personally that you didn’t want to announce publicly? Both of you are laughing at this. So that’s a clear YES! But the other probably thought, “No, I don’t want to share that with our audience. I’m just letting you know, as my friend.” And then it’s been good content.

Amanda:  That is exactly a conversation we often have in there. I say I’ve told him that just as a friend.

Jonesy:  Well, you don’t specify.

Amanda:  And then Jonesy’ll say, “Well, then don’t tell me.”

Jonesy:  Don’t tell me.

Amanda:  Well, you’re my friend. We share a lot of time in the studio.

Jonesy:  But it’s so good. Amanda will give this great stuff.

Amanda:  I’ll say, well, I can’t say it.

Jonesy:  And then all of a sudden it comes out and then you’re doing that face. What was the recent example? We had one just recently?

Amanda:  Oh, that one. Wasn’t it. That was just something. When I was on Dancing with the Stars, Richard Wilkin’s son, Christian. Richard tests positive for Coronavirus. I was sort of working from home and we’re waiting to hear whether his son, who was a contestant on Dancing with the Stars, had Coronavirus. And I get a text from the Dancing with the Stars producer saying, “Hey, the show can continue next week. Christian doesn’t have it.” And I was just telling you that, because I was going, “Hurrah!” And you said, “We’re saying it next.” The publicist is saying, “Please don’t announce this yet. This is his medical information. We’re not allowed to announce it.” And you said, “I’m saying it, I’m saying it.” We had such a fight.

Because I just said, “This is not my information to give.” And you said, “Well, you shouldn’t have said it out loud.” I said, “I was just reading a text out loud.” So other ones are, we know each other’s lives so well, we know where the bodies are buried and our sensitivities are different. I will sometimes say, “I don’t want to talk about that.” You said, “But you should. It’s funny.” Or “It’s emotional.” And I’ll say, “I can’t cross that line.” So every now and then, exactly what you have just said happens.

Fyona:  Yeah. So you’re constantly resetting those personal boundaries for yourself and each other, I guess?

Jonesy:  Yeah. I think, although you’re a bit of a goal post shifter as far as that.

Amanda:  But it is, that’s what she’s saying, that those boundaries do constantly shift and I’d rather regret not saying something than saying it. Sometimes a break will end and I’ll make some rude joke or I’ll say something. You said, “Oh, you should have said that.” I said “No, I chose not to.” I’d rather have the regret go that way, than the other.

Like that thing with Jack, my son. I emptied out his school bag and there were 18 sandwiches in there or something, all squashed in the bottom. And I took a photo of it and I said to Jack, “I’ll put this on Instagram.” He said, “Please don’t.” So I didn’t. But the next day on air, I found myself talking about it. And my husband said he was in the car with Jack who just put his head back and went “Arg!” And when I heard that, I cried and cried and cried. And I went home and I had a long chat with the kids. Because this is a movable boundary with them as well. Your home should be your safe place. You should be allowed to say and do anything and not feel it’s going to be spoken about on radio. It was much easier before they’re able to talk.

Jonesy:  Yeah, it’s easier, isn’t it? Because when they can get lawyers then you go, “Oh boy.”

Amanda:  Constantly moving. And it’s been constantly negotiated.

Fyona:  A question from one of our students that they’ve submitted, “How long is your day, really?”

Jonesy:  We’ve got it pretty streamlined. I’ll get here at about 4:20, and then I try to get out of here as soon as possible, after the show, if I can. I think radio stations, they’re a giant goof-off zone. When I was young, I used to hang around, you talk forever, but really, it’s come down to the best thing is to get out. I’ll try and go for a surf and then have a sleep. And the sleep in the afternoon is the thing that I love the most. And then you wake up and really that’s when my day starts again. So watching all the news. That’s when you start thinking about the next day’s show, but then that can all change overnight. In the old days, when I first started, a lot of breakfast shows you’d finish and then you’d plan the show for the next day. But thanks to the old 24 hour news cycle, you could plan that, and it would be a waste of time because the whole day could change.

Amanda:  Well, we don’t always sit. I’m filming Living Room and stuff at the moment. I’m going from here to do a story and I’ll get home at 5:30.

Jonesy:  You don’t always look this good.

Amanda:  And I’m looking at the board. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, I’ve got Living Room things as well. So some weeks are busier than others, but rather than having meetings at work, we’ve decided that our show is really about having a life. So we will talk on the air about things that have happened or things we’ve seen on TV. Things we’ve seen on social media. None of that work can be done by sitting around a desk, having a meeting. So gone are the days of hanging around for meetings. We brief when we can.

Jonesy:  And also radio streamlined the big days of big promotions. We were just talking about this before. We started the promotions department when I worked in Wollongong. It was bigger than the promotions department here in Sydney at WS, which is a metro station and those big, crazy promotions like dropping ping pong balls from a helicopter…

Amanda:  Because that was your content in those days.

Jonesy:  That was all your stuff. So those big ticket promotions aren’t around anymore. So really it is, as Amanda said, this is about living your life. And now with your iPhone, you don’t miss a thing. The amount that you get. I kind of like it because I’ve got a bit of ADD, so you’re constantly stimulated. But the amount of thoughts that you have that come to your head, you go, “Oh yeah, we’ll do that tomorrow.” And then it’s gone. You go to bed and you wake up in the morning and all those great ideas that you had in the day, they’ve just completely been superseded.

Fyona:  When it comes with working with each other and also with your production team and the broader teams within a radio station, coming up through the ranks, both of you starting out at very what we’d call grassroots level and building your epic careers. You’ve obviously seen a variety of ways people engage with each other and particularly coming through the ’80s, when workplaces and even what was legal in workplaces has significantly changed in lots of ways. Thank God. But for yourselves, I guess, for the students, how do you manage conflict and resolve conflict?

Jonesy:  I think we’re better at it now.

Amanda:  I said before, you were talking about something and the aggression of something on air. And I said, “I wouldn’t have been able to survive it.” When I was working at Triple M, that was going through a transformation when Andrew Denton was doing the show, the two of us together, there was a transformation away from that toxic masculinity
I wouldn’t have survived the old days. And when you tell stories of the old days, of the jokes guys did play on each other and meetings in the toilet and the smoking and just the aggressive way people were spoken to and spoke to each other. I would not have survived any of that.

Jonesy:  I think in the past I used to be kind of hard on different panel operators when I was at Triple M. So if you had to do an OB, there’s no way I would speak to someone like that now. And it sounds like I’m just following orders, but I wasn’t the only one. That was just the way it was done. I remember I’d have screaming arguments with our boss and people would sit there and they’d all come out of their offices to have a look. Because it would be so…

Amanda:  …Terrible.

Jonesy:  It’d be the worst thing in the world. It just doesn’t happen like that anymore.

Amanda:  I just also think you wouldn’t tolerate that behaviour in your bank manager. Why in these industries are we supposed to tolerate that here? I look around at our team here. I don’t think any of us would respond to that kind of dialogue, that little level of whatever. I know other teams thrive on a bit of that. Ours just is not like that. And I’m much happier without that.

Jonesy:  It’s softer.

Amanda:  Shut up!

Fyona:  What are some tips for making audiences actually want to be with you each day?

Jonesy:  Ooh, I wish I knew.

Fyona:  So you’re just kind of fluking it?

Jonesy:  Yeah, I think so.

Amanda:  I think we are.

Jonesy:  You don’t know. Every now and then I’ll listen to our podcasts. Because I figure if we’re doing this to other people, we should listen to it ourselves. And I was just listening to it as a listener. I was doing some chores around the house and there was one bit where I actually started laughing at us. It was so removed. I removed myself. It wasn’t me listening to us. It was, me just as a listener and I thought. “That was like the sweet spot on a tennis racket.” As you’d like to say, it just felt good. And I went, “Oh, that’s a good thing.”

Amanda:  I think we’re a good company for people. And I know that being clever and being funny and all of that is probably what you want. I met this woman. It really stuck with me. I was doing a fundraiser in a spinal unit in the hospital. And she said that when she was driving up from Wollongong every day, in those early days, her husband became a quadriplegic. And in those very confounding, early days, she was driving up from Wollongong to see him at the hospital at Royal North Shore. And the minute she was in range and heard our voices, she felt comforted somehow. So I think it’s easy to see those things as daggy, as familiarity, friendliness, they feel we’re their friends. That’s the stuff. That’s the absolute core of us, I think. And the way we talk with each other, people appreciate they’re part of our friendship, as well. And I think that it’s a compliment: “I feel, I know you.” I think that’s part of that real connection.

Jonesy:  Yeah, that’s true isn’t it? What I find is when people see I’m at the shop, someone starts talking to me…they talk to me like there’s no sort of stardom with this job. I always imagined when I was in Karratha that when I got to Sydney Radio, I’d be like this big star that, and how’s that going to change. But it’s nothing. The level of fame is exactly the same as it was for me as it was in Karratha. So when someone comes up and talks to you, they’ll start with what you’re talking about on the radio. And all of a sudden you’re having a chat with this person and I’m thinking, you know this person, is it someone I met before, or is it someone that’s picked up I’m from that show.

Amanda:  That’s what’s lovely about radio, isn’t it?

Jonesy:  And I think that’s the radio thing. There’s not a pretense. People aren’t scared to talk to you. They will actually come up and talk to you. So I guess in answer to the question, that’s when you know, you’ve made that connection.

Fyona:  They feel like they already know you and you’re their friends. Yeah?

Jonesy:  So good.

Fyona:  Well, I do know that you’ve got a very tight schedule and I’m keeping an eye on the clock so we time out. Final question with one from Rob. Rob was an Uber driver who was Ubering with one of our students from last year’s class who told him about the course. And he decided to make the life changing decision and follow his passion and he’s studying with us this year.

Rob:  Long time listener. First time caller. How much of your relationship that you portray on air is an exaggeration and how close to reality is it?

Amanda:  I don’t even think we’re clever enough to exaggerate. You, occasionally.

Jonesy:  I think it’s a little bit amped.

Amanda:  A little bit amped, but I think I’m pretty much me and you amp yourself a little bit to get a rise out of me. I think is probably how it goes.

Jonesy:  I think when we’re together and there’s nothing around. There’s no cameras or microphones or anything. We have, reasonable conversations, but I do stir you up.

Amanda:  But even when there’s no one around you.

Jonesy:  But Amanda’s like a kite.

Fyona:  You stir her up, genuinely, right?

Amanda:  That’s right.

Jonesy:  Amanda, it’s like controlling a kite. So I just like, I’ll control the kite. And all of a sudden the kite will go out of control.

Amanda:  You know that if I’m being emotional about something, you go, “Oh, whatever.” And then I’ll just go, “Eh!” You know how to, as I said before, press the bruise in a way.

Jonesy:  I wouldn’t do it maliciously. Never…

Amanda:  No. I think that we often get that comment when we’re having a coffee somewhere. People will pass and say, “I can hear you talking and you’re exactly as you are on the radio.” So I think mostly it’s us, maybe you, and I think you’d go back to some ’80s bloke more than you are. I think that’s your go to. Triple M kind of thing. Can still come out in you.

Jonesy:  No, I don’t.

Amanda:  But in real life, you’re not as much like that. Wow. That’s not fine.

Jonesy:  Let’s not fight in front of Rob.

Fyona:  I’d love to thank you both very much for taking the time out of your schedules to speak with us today. I do think that one of the elements that you both have is that you’ve been authentic long before it was trending. And I think that is why people feel so closely connected to your work and so welcome to your show. So thanks so much. It’s been a pleasure. We would love to have you back later in the year when we’re back on campus.

Amanda:  Good to be face to face.

Jonesy:  Thank you.

Amanda:  Thank you, I know you’re all going to be our future bosses before too long. So we’ll see you in the board room!

Jonesy:  Amanda’s got to kiss some butt. See you guys. Thank you so much.





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