Comment from Peter Saxon
It’s been a lousy last week for 2GB and its on-air team. Morning host Ray Hadley has not only been forced to revisit a number of historical accusations of him bullying staff but he, along with Afternoons host Chris Smith, have been named by the Victorian DPP on a list of journalists and presenters for allegedly defying a suppression order relating to the George Pell trial.
Meanwhile breakfast host Alan Jones has been found by the ACMA to be in breach of the decency codes for using the phrase “N-word in the woodpile” on air. All this amidst uncertainty about him returning to the 2GB microphone after June 30.
There’s a rumour going around that Jones’ contract may not be renewed by Macquarie’s, now majority owner Nine – who has no emotional attachment to him – because they feel he is too much of a risk of saying the wrong thing and costing them dearly – as he has with the $3.7 million defamation payout to the Wagner family. That, coupled with his advanced age and deteriorating health may mean, in simple terms: he has become more trouble than he’s worth.
Now, let that sink in for a moment. A man who has won 217 surveys in a row and hailed as one of Australia’s greatest broadcasters that ever lived may be reaching his use by date because of his growing inability to create controversy (and thus, headlines) without costing his employer millions in damages on top of his own salary. In all likelihood, I think Jones will be retained because, if he goes, the risk to ratings and revenue will outweigh the risks of keeping him on. Of course, I could be wrong.
As they say, in business, no one is indispensable. It’s just that in radio, the potential cost of dispensing with some employees is much greater than for the majority of the others.
In some respects, radio can be likened to a circus. Sometimes it’s the clowns who run the business.
All businesses have a hierarchy based on who brings what to the table and how difficult it would be to find a replacement.
In some respects, radio can be likened to a circus. The question for the owners or the board of directors comes down to who attracts more customers and is hardest to replace, the elephant, the clowns or the ringmaster? I guess it depends on how big the elephant is or whether the clowns are really funny and how many shares the ringmaster owns in the business. Sometimes it’s the clowns who run the business while the elephant is funny and the ringmaster keeps his mouth shut because he feels lucky to have a job.
In commercial radio, particularly in the highly competitive metro markets, Talent is king. Talent that can attract listeners and, more importantly, retain them in the face of fierce competition is the goose that lays golden eggs. Without a marketable share of listeners, sales people struggle to sell ad space. And what space they do sell, is usually for a far lower rate than what the market leaders can charge.
Established talent like Alan Jones, Ray Hadley, Kyle and Jackie O, Ross and John, Neil Mitchell, Hamish and Andy, Eddie McGuire, Fifi Box, Jonesy and Amanda, Fitzy and Wippa and Kent Small, to name a few, are feted like rock stars by management because losing any of them – especially if it’s to the opposition could cripple a station for life.
2UE, now Macquarie Sports Radio, has never recovered from losing Jones and Hadley to 2GB 17 years ago. 2DayFM is only now seeing signs of growth in its Breakfast show since Kyle and Jackie O left six years ago and took their listeners with them to KIIS.
The pecking order in commercial radio falls roughly into two categories: Upper Echelons and Everyone Else.
At the top is Talent – of the type that produces consistent ratings results in a metro or perhaps a provincial market. If you’re an announcer earning less than a few hundred grand a year and your contract doesn’t provide bonuses for increases in audience share or your face isn’t plastered on a bus or a billboard and you never make it into the pages of Confidential even if you get busted for drink driving, chances are you don’t fit into the golden goose category.
Next comes senior management, sometimes known as the C-Suite – CEO, Sales Director (or Chief Sales Officer) and, in music stations Content/Program Director. At some talk stations, they no longer bother with a program director because the talent tends to either ignore them or simply chew them up and spit them out. Creative, Marketing, PR Directors and CFOs ofen fit into these Upper Echelons too.
Next come sales people. Good ones that can inject significant revenue are hard to come by.
A common factor among the Upper Echelons is that a sizeable chunk of their earnings are derived from bonuses and/or commissions. In other words, they get paid according to the role they play in producing income by either steering the ship, catching the fish or selling the catch at market.
Everyone Else includes middle management and most announcers. That’s not say that Everyone Else, as a group, isn’t vital to the core business of producing great radio along with websites, socials and video. And individually, a really good imaging producer or creative writer can certainly add value to the station’s output. Also, today virtually every station employee has their performance measured against a set of KPIs (key performance indicators).
But Everyone Else is considered more of an expense than an asset because their individual contributions to building audience and sales revenue is not as critical or as directly measurable as the Upper Echelons. When times are tight and budget cuts have to be made, it’s the Upper Echelons that decide which jobs among those considered Everyone Else need to be culled.
Bullies can exist in virtually every workplace but industries such as radio, television, music and film where Talent is king and queen are particularly susceptible.
Why? The simple answer is because the tail is wagging the dog.
In most other industries where the product is a manufactured item that has no brain and therefore no ego, no insecurities and no delusions of grandeur, management is firmly in charge. It’s not that management can’t harbour emotions such as ego, insecurities and delusions, it’s just that they have likely made it into the upper echelons of management because their training and experience has focused on their ability to supress their personal emotions in order to make rational decisions. That training generally includes a course in people skills so that most understand that screaming at employees and belittling them is not going to help bring out that person’s best work.
Conversely, rather than supress their emotions, talent is encouraged to express them. Of course, there’s a lot of a-grade talent among the creative spheres who are well grounded, genuine people that are just a pleasure to work with as there are bosses that can fly off the handle too. But it is the upside-down business model in these creative fields that provides fertile ground in which bullies can operate with little fear of being brought into line.
The leaders must show the way and create a culture where bullying will not be tolerated.
Radio Hall of Fame inductee and former GM of the Fairfax Radio Network, Graham Mott had this to say about leadership:
I used to say to misbehaving talent: How would you like it if someone treated your daughter or son the way you treat your staff at times?
Great talent can be hard on everyone and it might surprise some people to know that talent are hardest on themselves. People around them are forced to cut the talent a lot of slack and a significant amount of forgiveness. One very well-known Talk talent thought he would be forgiven because he sent his female producers flowers the day after giving them a verbal. He didn’t appreciate the conversation we had in which I told him his behaviour was unacceptable an apology was in order. To his credit he told them he was sorry and committed to improving his “bad mood” moments.
I have to say my management style didn’t work with everyone. Some talent thought I was too hard at times. But, I’d rather be a leader who tried to create a culture where people could enjoy the workplace, instead of a leader who turned a blind eye when it came to talent behaving badly.
Until recently, sexual predators got away with bullying their victims too. But it wasn’t management that spawned the #MeToo movement, it was the people, mainly women, who were affected by it that were brave enough to speak out.
While there’s no hint of sexual misconduct on the part of Ray Hadley, there are many like him that need to understand that they’re still messing with people’s heads. And now that a number of those people, even years later, have plucked up the courage to call him out on it, he seems to be getting the message.
For all Ray’s success, his huge 2GB audience, his decades on top of the ratings, his charity work, the slew of RAWARDs and his induction into the Radio Hall of Fame, it would be a shame if his legacy was forever overshadowed by his reputation as a bully.
Yesterday morning he apologised on 2GB, for the third time in a week, and emphasised that he’s a changed man.
Hadley is far from the only one in radio with something to apologise for. But he is the one with the highest profile. Perhaps it’s because, to his credit, he’s prepared to face the music. It takes a big man to admit he’s been a bully and apologise to an audience of hundreds of thousands. It takes an even bigger man to actually do something about it.