Jackie O: Worth radio’s investment

When Wendy Harmer left 2Day FM twenty years ago she was the highest paid woman in radio, apparently earning more than $2 million a year. When we caught up last November she said achieving a more than million dollar salary was a deliberate decision on the part of Austereo (now SCA) to show that their 2Day Breakfast Team was worth as much as the talk hosts on 2UE and 2GB. She even has an “Alan Jones deck” named in honour of the man who spurred the pay rise.

Harmer didn’t discuss her salary with her radio colleagues at the time because we didn’t, and by and large women still don’t.

Inspired by Wendy I’m going to breakdown why Kyle Sandilands and Jackie Henderson’s rumoured $200 million contract with ARN to remain with KIIS 106.5 for the next decade, plus broadcast the show into Melbourne’s KIIS 101.1 at a date yet to be determined, is a great thing for the radio industry in general, and especially for women in the media and other creative fields.

There’s a story written back in 1965 by a woman called Patricia McGerr called ‘Johnny Lingo and the Eight-Cow Wife’. McGerr was a noted crime writer and this single foray into a romantic parable demonstrated how, by making someone or something more valuable than anything else, you can create a self-fulfilling prophesy.

I went back to the media release when the ARN /Kyle & Jackie O contract announcement was made and realised that there is no mention of any dollar figure. The $200 million over ten years is what we all have been told is the ballpark figure.

Sandilands, in a recent on-air discussion with Intern Pete said:

‘It’s more than that, it’s more than what was reported but Jackie would rather me not bring that up. It’s way more, it’s a third more.’

And therein lies the brilliance of Kyle.

Whatever the significant salary that the pair now earn, Kyle’s comfort in speaking to it, and even increasing that mythical number, makes them, and ARN, look really good. If you were new to Australia and asked what you should be listening to, how can you deny Kyle and Jackie O when they are currently earning double any of any of their competitors? They must be the best.

With Sandilands addressing the contract, and often, it means that Henderson doesn’t ever need to. She has stated in an interview with Mia Freeman that she doesn’t like to speak money lest it seems she is gloating. Sandilands has fought for the pair to earn the same amount. These actions are empowering; of Henderson, the partnership, what she means to the future of our industry, and her privacy. Before I turn to Henderson, I want Sandilands’ part in this to be noted in a positive fashion.

International Women’s Day feels akin to a birthday. There are festivities but nothing really changes except that you’re older and hopefully a little wiser.

I’m choosing the lead up to this day to celebrate Jackie O because I believe she is the highest paid female employee in Australia.

There are women who are worth more. The highest paid CEO in Australia is a woman, Macquarie Group chief executive Shemara Wikramanayake, who according to the Australian Financial Review, took home more than $30 million last year. But, no other workplace or industry paid a member of staff $10 million a year, except ARN to Jackie O.

This is a big deal, for women, for radio and for gender pay equality.

The latter’s data was released recently and led Jackie O and other female colleagues staging a walk out over a noted discrepancy in their breakfast team. You can read more of the gaps in the radio network here.

Jackie Henderson, or Jackie Last as she was at the time, had no intention of being on air until she met ‘Ugly’ Phil O’Neil more than 30 years ago. To be together he made her a part of his radio shows on the Gold Coast, in Canberra and then Adelaide.

They married and she took the O from his last name. By the time they had seen a couple of sensational South Australian surveys as co-hosts they were picked up by Fox FM in Melbourne and then 2Day FM in Sydney hosting the nighttime Hot30 Countdown.

They divorced in the late 90s and O’Neill headed to work in the UK. Jackie got paired with a new co-host, Kyle, who had been working for Triple M Brisbane.

Have you worked on air with someone else?

Most who do spend as much, if not more time with their co-hosts than they might their partners. There are unspoken rules, boundaries, signals and body language and usually other people around them who are watching and listening. For most of radio’s past, the woman is a sidekick to the higher profile, ‘more experienced’ or more outspoken man.

The pairing of Jackie O with Kyle worked immediately. Their friendship and commitment to each other, on air and off, across more than two decades, including a move to breakfast, the many ridiculously early wake ups that accompany that, and later the much publicised change of networks from 2Day to KIIS, is rock solid.

We have talked about them for as long as I can remember, but they don’t speak ill of each other privately, or to the media. Ever. They give each other a serve on air sometimes but again that will be within the boundaries of their own unspoken rules.

Jackie Henderson is reliable, hardworking, sympathetic and empathetic to the lives and needs of her listening audience, a team player, great listener, can see and seize an opportunity and make it her own, grounded by family, relatable, likeable and authentic. She quietly marked 30 years on air last month.

At the 2023 ACRAs, which Sandilands didn’t attend, after winning Best Networked Program for Kyle & Jackie O’s Hour of Power, and prior to KIIS 106.5 winning Station of the Year, the whole team came out jubilant about being a part of this ratings winning juggernaut.

My colleague Dani Torresan and I were grabbing each winner for a short chat. I watched Jackie O not just corral the rampant energy overflowing but also hold space to properly acknowledge the win, her team, ARN and our time. She is the consummate professional.

I reflected on this later and how fortunate we are to have Henderson as the face of what a woman entering the radio industry can be. We have many great examples, including Amanda Keller, Laurel Edwards (inducted that night into the ACRA Hall of Fame), Wendy Harmer of course and those ascending the ranks with a similar love, work ethic and dedication to broadcasting.

The 2024 theme of International Women’s Day is “Invest in Women: Accelerate Progress”. When ARN offered Jackie O $10 million a year for the next decade, someone took a sledgehammer to a glass ceiling and made it entirely possible that the same amount might be paid to another female presenter and, eventually, one hosting a solo show. We hold within our industry a woman being paid the most in Australia, as an employee, to work in audio.

That’s my two cents worth towards Jackie O, who would not say these things of herself. From the women of the radio and podcast industries past, present and future, you have paved the road ahead, and are worth every penny.

Jen Seyderhelm is a writer, editor and podcaster for Radioinfo
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