Mike Carlton's book names radio's naughty and nice | radioinfo

Mike Carlton's book names radio's naughty and nice

Tuesday 02 October, 2018
Book reveiw from Peter Saxon.

“I’m not ashamed to admit it, I’ve long been a fan of Mike Carlton’s talent” was the first line in an opinion piece I wrote in 2014 titled: When Ego Overtakes Talent. 
 
After 1500 words of explanation, I ended with, “I want my heroes a little less flawed. His talent is unquestioned. His intellect is enormous. Shame it’s been overtaken by his ego.”

There was little evidence of ego when I spoke to Mike Carlton on the eve of his new book’s launch, On Air. There’s also little evidence of contrition in the several pages of the book he devotes to two of the more contentious incidents of his career that got him offside with his bosses at 2UE and Fairfax and the majority of his listeners and readers.
 
First was the backlash to his insensitive comments on 2UE the day of Stan Zamanek’s funeral in 2007. The other was for the expletive laden emails he sent to readers, of his then regular Sydney Morning Herald column, who disagreed with his view of the Israel-Palestine war of 2014. Although, he kind of admits that his timing was a bit off for the former and, as for the latter, he could have chosen his words a little better, he largely stands by his actions on both counts.
 
‘Apart from that,’ one could ask, ‘how did you like the book, Mr Saxon?’  

I never said the man can't write. As expected, it’s an entertaining read and a must read if you worked in radio from the early 1980’s through to the end of 2009 when Carlton said goodbye to the airwaves fearing he may end up like rival Alan Jones "a sick man chained to a microphone".
 
Ray Hadley he describes as - “a man possessed by a visceral demon.”
 
One of my favourite lines from the book – “Station managers came and went at 2UE like little figures on a cuckoo clock,” is classic Carlton.
 
Clearly, he had little time for managers, writing – “Most General Managers of commercial radio stations come up through sales, not programming. When they park their bums in the big leather chair, they believe that programming genius is mystically bestowed upon them. It is not.”
 
As the pre-launch publicity suggested, On Air is a ‘tell all’ kind of tale in which ‘names are named.’ Yet, Carlton was at pains to tell me that there was no intention for it to be a form of payback. “Payback? No. I just wanted to tell the truth as I saw it. And there’s a lot of people in there that I like. There’s John LawsDoug Mulray, Andrew Denton and a whole lot of television people I worked with too.”
 
As he’s busy handing out white hats to the good and black ones to the bad, a pattern seems to emerge. Those he dislikes, Jones, Hadley, Steve Price and Andrew Bolt, among many, are all firmly on the conservative side of politics. 
 
Is this mere coincidence? “Probably yes,” he explains, “I don’t dislike them because of their political opinions. I dislike them for lots of other reasons. I find Alan Jones way over the top as we saw in that recent defamation action he lost spectacularly up in Queensland. It’s partly because I’m a journalist and all my training was to try to get the facts right. And when people like that don’t do that I find them very irksome and irritating.”
 
Conspicuous by his absence from the book’s list of black hatters is George Moore, who along with co-host Paul B. Kidd, stands a little to the right of deposed PM, Tony Abbott.
 
Carlton tells me, “I don’t know about his politics. He’s a nice guy and he’s very hard working. And he’s the kind of radio professional I don’t have any problems with. He’s a pro, like John Laws and like me he could do all the bells and whistles in radio and people like Hadley and Jones can’t. They sit there at a table with a microphone. Somebody does all the button pushing. I watched Laws do it and I was determined I was going to do it myself and that’s a factor in the way I view him.”
 
According to Carlton, “There’s a lot of bullying goes on in radio. There are strict hierarchies and pecking orders and so on. Little tin gods tend to throw their weight around and I got very tired of that after a while.” 
 
As much as he has a generally low opinion of the managers he’d worked with over the years, Carlton has nothing but praise for Charlie Cox, John Brennan and Nigel Milan who was able to separate the functions of sales and programming  - “Nigel was one of the good ones, ‘You do the shows and I’ll sell the tickets,’ he used to say.”
 
There seems little bitterness in the book and plenty to back up Carlton’s claim that it’s fair and balanced with paragraphs like this one – “Despite the muddled management and the clash of on air egos, 2UE was mostly a happy place to work. There were bright young journalists in the newsroom, among them David Speers who would become one of the Canberra Press Gallery’s most accomplished television interviewers. The news director, Sandy Aloisi ran the operation with a light, adroit touch. Her newsreading voice, low and superbly modulated, was one of the best in the business. The two sports experts who survived Hadley’s departure, former rugby league internationals Johnny Gibbs and Greg “Brandy” Alexander were on top of their game and universally well-liked. John Stanley, the afternoon presenter and George Moore, the weekend host were easy-going professionals.”
 
When asked what part of his radio career he’d rather forget he answers – “Probably the spell I had on Mix 106.5.” And although he mentions Cherie Romaro as the station’s PD, he holds no malice. “I wasn’t right for the radio station and the radio station wasn’t right for me so it ground to a halt and we called it quits. That was pretty ordinary.”
 
At 72, a man either becomes more mellow or a curmudgeon. Blessed with a young son and churning out books that people actually want to read, perhaps Carlton’s come to the realisation that he has no right to be a grumpy old man. For him, retirement is not an end game but a new lease on life. 
 
“I’m happily retired. I’ve moved on to other things. I’ve written three books of naval history (a passion of his). I’ve got a nine year old son. I have a different life. I stay fit. I’m doing a lot of swimming, a lot of exercise. I live on the northern beaches which is God’s own country. Its paradise and I enjoy it to the full.”
 
Does he miss radio at all? 

“No I don’t. I certainly don’t miss the hours. I had a fabulous radio career. I was extraordinarily lucky. It took me to extraordinary places and I did extraordinary things. But that part of my life is over now. And I look back with tremendous satisfaction but I would not want to go back to a studio again,” says Mike Carlton.








Peter Saxon


For purchase options in hardback or download for On Air by Mike Carlton go to www.penguin.com.au/qa/2008-mike-carlton

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Anthony The Koala
15 November 2018 - 11:43pm
I have finished reading "On Air" by Mike Carlton, ISBN 978 0 85798 780 8. I will be discussing his literary style, funny moments, pay particular attention to Mike's critique of 2GB and its current presenters. Also discussed is political interferece in the ABC, comparing Rupert Murdoch and Kerry Packer, the downfall of the Fairfax empire and its consequences on 2GB.

If "a picture paints a thousand words" then Mike Carlton can paint pictures with his words. Whether his personal life at 53 Orchard Rd Chatswood (now a fruit shop, sale value $6.9 million), or a student at Barker or his professional life in South East Asia, Australia and London, Carlton weaves in the particular events in history associated with his professional and personal life.

His book is sprinkled with humour. It cracked me. His particular style is to use a metaphor and a little allegory. For example, he described a former colleague as "....dumb as a bag of hammers...." (p302, RIP). At his boss's wedding at an old English church, heating was needed inside the cold 14th Century building(p406). His description of the effect of the heating on the church's organ was when Felix Mendelssohn's "Wedding March" commenced and the organ "...wheezed, farted, squawked and honked with an ear-splitting racket somewhere between a blast of foghorns and a collapsing wooden shed..." (p407).

His words definitely stripped the glamour off TCN channel 9's Willoughby TV centre; "...take away the studios...,their lights, cameras and control rooms and it could have been a struggling widget factory in Wollongong...." (p267).

One of the funniest moments that was not recorded in the book occurred on his 2GB breakfast program during the late 1980s towards Christmas. This was Mike's second attempt at a massed choir of talkback callers. All 24 lines were put to air. The talkback 'choristers' sang "Good King Wenceslas", badly! It created a belly-laugh due to the effect of sopranos, baritones and crooners some in tune, many out of tune and some 'choristers' two bars out of time.

I shall refrain from an in-depth discussion of the radio colleagues he likes or dislikes. Reviews of the characters can be found by clicking the above hyperlinks and the hyperlinks of the hyperlinked articles in the RadioInfo site. Suffice to say that the current 2GB presenters have a different style to presenting radio than Mike Carlton.

Many of the issues discussed on the Alan Jones such as power prices and population growth are of concern to many citizens and Jones has his way of making the political leaders account for their actions or inactions. You won't see (with cameras present) Jones ask a political leader to twerk to music (as happened on 2Day-fm in 2013) or give them an easy ride as those FM radio breakfast programs.

Even if 2GB's programs are not to Mike Carlton's liking, the result is that the programs do have a structure, a consistent delivery and do attract an audience that makes 2GB a market leader. Whether the programs appeal to the ignorant, I doubt that Macquarie Media's market research would indicate that.

Anyway, one of the contemporary issues (2018) is alleged political interference at the ABC between a member of parliament and the ABC board of directors. It's not new. There was direct political interference in the ABC in 1972, on allegations of corruption in the postal service. ABC management banned the airing of a story on those allegations through the Coalition-appointed Post Master General Sir Alan Hulme, pages 230,231. In defiance of ABC management, the story did get to air, p231.

While chapter's in Carlton's book may well be the impetus for further case studies in a university business studies course, he touches on two media giants, Rupert Murdoch and Kerry Packer (RIP). Carlton appraising Murdoch (p351) also does not like Murdoch using his media empire to influence his readers (p353). He observes that even though the editors in Murdoch's publications are supposed to be independent, they appear to unanimously agree with him, probably because these editors know what Murdoch wants (p352).

For decades, to this day, Rupert Murdoch's publications have always been anti-ABC, the 'why should we pay taxes for the ABC' "...like some endless infant tantrum..." (p352) that is also repeated on 2GB. Allegations of left-bias are not new. But journalists have been left-of-centre since the 1960s (p139).

The notions described are not new, so ignore it next time issues of supporting the ABC and bias recur. Australian media is not dominated by one source. We can vote with the tuning dial or a mouse click.

Furthermore, whether the meister of legacy media empire Rupert Murdoch can influence the public to vote a particular way may well be a moot point in the future as media consumers resort to other sources of media, left or right, fake or genuine.

In contrast, to Carlton's surprise, Kerry Packer never instructed his journalists on how to cover a political campaign such as the 1975 federal election campaign (p257). Packer is described as having an instinct for news, being genial, shrewd and fair (pages 268-270). The result was a workplace with high morale and high profitability (p270).

At the same time Carlton documents the downfall of the Fairfax empire starting with the strategic mistake made by newly-minted Harvard MBA graduate, 'young' Warwick Fairfax (p369) with the consequence of the Fairfax name disappearing in 2018 (p372).

One of the other consequences of the devolution of the Fairfax empire was the necessity to divest the Macquarie radio network to raise cash in order for the Fairfax organisation to repay loans made by 'young' Warwick's (p380) strategic mistake.

Changing entities, managements, staff reductions and wage reductions did not augur well for 2GB for the next decade (pages 381, 382, 386, 387, 389) resulting in falling ratings and 2GB "...falling over the cliff" with massive losses (p389) and likely loss of morale. That was until 1999 when John Singleton turned the station's fortunes around starting with 2GB incorporating more sporting coverage (p457).

In summary, "On Air" by Mike Carlton is a very entertaining book in which you will find hard to put down. It's readable and funny giving his account of his personal and professional life sprinkled with milestones of the events in public history with the events in Mike's personal and professional life. Refraining from Mike's personal friend and foeships, this discussion was pertinent to the media, particularly the ABC, 2GB, Rupert Murdoch, Kerry Packer. I'm sure Mike could have written more such as my recall of Mike's talkback choir in the late 1980s which was not included in his book.

There are many more aspects of the book not discussed here. I leave that to you. Mike Carlton's "On Air" is highly recommended reading.

Regards
Anthony of exciting Belfield
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