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

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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