Sometimes I feel like I have to rest my head in ice

Peter Saxon gets inside Christian O’Connell’s head – Part 2

In part two of our chat with Christian O’Connell  he talks about the steep learning curve, the auto edit in his brain and the chemistry with his on air team and how he chose them.

radioinfo: Let’s talk about what you’re doing on air. So, here you are, a long way from your natural habitat, where you have to win people over very quickly. Management is throwing a lot of marketing dollars behind you but do you have a plan or a list of steps you need to take to introduce yourself to your new neighbours, so to speak, and get off on the right foot?

O’Connell: (At the moment) and up til Christmas, it feels like every show is me setting up again (explaining), ‘This is me, this is who who I am.’ I get the feeling that I’m auditioning for a job that I already have its really strange. Because obviously I’m coming from a successful show that I’ve built up and so you kind of forget what it’s like to start again – and to start again on the other side of the world is even harder.

But  when you get those little moments when it starts to work, it’s something I haven’t had in my life in a really long time. Within a couple of days we’re suddenly getting a lot more calls. Now we’re getting a hell of a lot of calls and this is only three and a half weeks. This is really exciting . They’ve always been my most important barometer on  any radio show: people calling in and people texting in and the people who are connecting with the show. What they like and what they don’t like.
You have to take the fans and you have to take the critics and you have to be open and learn from both. You don’t want too much of one or the other.

radioinfo: Having just finished your fourth week, has the learning curve been easier, steeper or pretty much as you expected?

O’Connell: Oh God. It’s been soooo steep. It’s been huge.

As you have to always remind yourself in radio: at any point tomorrow morning someone could tune in, and they haven’t heard GOLD in a couple of months, and suddenly they’re confronted with me. (They go) “What?? – no one asked me about this. Who the hell is this?? OMG, his accent. Get off!” 

So you’re aware that every link is a show and you have to break it down to those moments. In terms of me, personally: I know a lot more about the city and about the show than I did when I started. I’ve had to be listening more than I’ve ever had to do in my whole career.

No great radio show is made in isolation just by the host. it comes from a great team

radioinfo: What’s been the hardest thing to get your head around?

O’Connell: (thinks for a few moments) I tell you what it is. When you’ve been doing a radio show that’s been going a while and I bet if you ask anybody this, whether its Marty Sheargold or Fifi Box their listeners get the ‘short hand’ of the show and suddenly when you don’t have that and also you don’t have the ‘short hand’ of being the same nationality and all those things that you guys take for granted. And suddenly there are all those little clangs where I might say something wrong and you think ‘Oh god, I’ve just done the perfect link and then I pronounced Dandenong wrong and suddenly you know there’s a clang in the car and they’re going to go, “Oh he’s not from around here. Bloody Pommy idiot.” And those are the moments when you sort of go, ‘Oh god. I’ve still got my P plates on. And I thought I was up and running.’

Note: At one point during our discussion, O’Connell says the word “bullshit.” But if you listen carefully to the audio clip, you might detect a slight hesitation, as if he was going to say something else and then changed his mind to make it “bullshit” before he got the other word out. Can you guess what that other word was? 


O’Connell: That’s another thing I’ve had to do here. I’ve had to auto edit more than I’ve ever had to do in my life. My brain’s like, I want to say, ‘pounds – No! dollars.” I finish a show sometimes and I feel like I have to rest my head in ice.

Note: If you guessed that Christian was going to say, “bollocks” instead of “bullshit” then you may have a career as a radio critic or a content director ahead of you.

radioinfo: How did you go about choosing your team? What particular character traits were you looking for?

O’Connell: Actually, as much as I enjoy doing the show, I also love putting shows together – from assembling a team, managing a team, hopefully motivating a team and the team supporting me. No great radio show is made in isolation just by the hosts. it comes from a great team. 

I’ve been very lucky to have some good teams – some haven’t been so good. So, coming here ,that was the biggest challenge for me. It was the thing that made me sleepless more than the job itself. I knew that I would need a great team. 

I like people who are real. Who aren’t black and white, who have a bit of grey because my best friends are like that.

radioinfo: I understand that Hamish and Andy caught up with you in London and gave you some advice in that regard…

O’Connell: Hamish and Andy… when I said I needed a great sidekick, straightaway they were like Jack from their show. Their producer and sidekick, Cacklin’ Jack (Post). So, Duncan (Campbell) flew him over to London for an interview. The world’s longest job interview. 10,000 miles.

Jack (left) flew over for two days he spent with me in London, utterly exhausted with jet lag and we hit it off  straight away. You never really know till you get in the studio and get on air. He’s been a revelation for me just how talented that kid is so that’s that box ticked. Im happy with that. It doesn’t sound like we just started working together. It sounds like we’ve been working together a long while –  a lot of shows struggle with that. I’ve been very lucky that we got through that bit really quickly.

And then my producer Nick, I was working with in the UK. An Aussie producer that was bizarrely, actually working for ARN in this building and I got to know him very well and when I confided one day after a few beers that I was looking to move out here to work, here in Richmond at ARN, he was invaluable. So, I’ve flown him back with me where he helped me set up the show for three months and then he’s heading back to London where he’s still enjoying working.I

I like people who are real. Who aren’t black and white, who have a bit of grey because my best friends are like that.

I want people who have gratitude about how lucky we are to do this for a job.

radioinfo: And let’s not forget Patrina Jones, the newsreader.

O’Connell: Pats (left) is a revelation. As soon as we finished the first show and Duncan asked “What do you think?” And I said, my god, Pats, your newswoman is amazing! I was getting messages from people who work in radio in the UK who I was hoping would be patting me on the back and they were all going, “Who’s Pats? She’s phenomenal.” I am so lucky to have her. She is so funny. She’s shock proof. She’s sometimes more edgier than we are and I love that. She’s a real hidden star of this show and she’s a sweet person as well.

radioinfo: You didn’t quite answer the question about what type of character traits you look for when choosing your team…

O’Connell: This is what I look for… and his is the way life goes. I think sometimes – and it happens very, very rarely. It’s happened only a couple of times in 20 years to me that some people just come your way and it’s the right time and place for them for various reasons and it’s the right time and place for you. It’s like stars aligning and everything falling into place.


Theres a real buzz word in radio content at the moment, “authenticity”, and a lot of it is an utter load of bullshit. However what I’ve always wanted to do is be as real as I can on the radio. I don’t like fake people. We don’t need to have one of those special bibles that other radio shows have where ‘ you have to imagine you’re speaking to this person who is 24-29 and always be talking about reality shows.’

I like people who are real. Who aren’t black and white, who have a bit of grey because my best friends are like that.  They’re sometimes a contradiction to themselves. I’m like that . And the people who would have a take on something. I’m not looking for someone who’s going to agree with everything I’ve said. Not that I want a bear pit every day. It’s just people that you want to get on with and most importantly, people who have gratitude about how lucky we are to do this for a job. 

I did a job before I got into radio that I just hated. And i used to listen to breakfast radio dreaming that I could do this. So, I never lose sight of any time that there is someone tuning in who’s having a shit house morning, that just hates their job. He’s had a big argument with his wife and my job, and I’m lucky to have it, is to cheer them up for the 10 – 15 minutes that we’ve got. We are blessed to do this for a living . 

A bad day for me is no where near what it’s like for people who are listening to the show and having truly bad days so I think as long as I’m working with people who have enthusiasm and aren’t cynical, who’ve got gratitude and are prepared to properly work at this and don’t want to do cookie cutter radio and don’t want to sound like every other show out there and every show that’s been, that want to do something a bit different and work at it and really work a bit harder at what we want to do here and remind yourself why we’re here. I want those people! 

Peter Saxon

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