Alan Jones

Alan Jones: Broadcaster and Enigmatic Man

Alan Jones: Broadcaster and Enigmatic Man
by Greg Tingle

Alan Jones is difficult man to typecast. In any event he is arguably Australia’s most successful broadcaster.

Long before he assumed the number one position in the Sydney radio broadcasting market, with Radio 2GB, he was a successful world class rugby coach, and speech writer for former Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser.

It’s difficult to know if Jones’ success was orchestrated or has been a series of lucky breaks, although he claims it was never part of a “master plan”.

There is no doubt, Jones has been successful in the classroom, on the footy field, in the political arena, and most definitely broadcasting, where he most often leads the pack, be it at Southern Cross Broadcastings’ 2UE or Macquarie’s Radio Networks’, 2GB.

No one can argue with Jones’ success, but there has been many a heated discussion about the way Jones goes about things, in his own unique and controversial, confronting style. In fact, he has made many enemies through his very public life, and at times seems to enjoy belittling and besmirching reputations, if he sees fit.

Even Jones staff can be in the firing line. Mediaman has been told by staff who wish to remain anonymous, of many office outbursts and verbal attacks.

It's also said of Jones that he used his power and influence at times to relentlessly "rubbish" those who fall out of his favour. This can result in his victims reputation being forever tarnished.

Jones maintains his work ethic is largely responsible for his success. This philosophy he gained from his mother.  It’s difficult to argue about Jones’ work ethic formula.  Even today, Jones is reported to rise at 2am in preparation for his 6am slot on 2GB.  Jones is known to reply to all mail contact, around 5000 per year, and with his popularity and exposure, 2am starts may be the only way to maintain his workload.

A graduate of Queensland and Oxford Universities, Jones spent three years as speech writer to former Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser.

He later went on to coach the Australian Rugby team from 1984 till 1988.  In fact, out of 30 tests, his team won 23 matches, tied three and lost four, each by only one point. His coaching at Balmain Tigers Rugby League Club, wasn't nearly as successful, with many pointing the accusing finger at Jones being the prime reason for the club's decline on-field.

Jones football success is known internationally.  In England, “The Times” described Jones as “having the most analytical brain ever in charge of a national rugby side”.

After returning to Australia from the triumphant England tour, Jones was invited to deliver the Australia Day Address as Guest of Honour of the Australia Day Council at the National Press Club in Canberra.  Jones reputation as a formidable public speaker had already become legendary.

In 1989, Jones was elected to the Australian Sports Hall of Fame.  He is also Deputy Chairperson of the Australian Sports Commission and Deputy Chairman of the New South Wales Institute of Sport.

March 1985 saw Jones join radio station, 2UE, as their morning talkback radio host, after successfully honing his broadcasting skills promoting his rugby team over many years. The signing with 2UE came about in a most interesting fashion.  One Sunday, after Jones returned from winning the Bledisloe Cup, John Brennan, 2UE’s Sports Director at the time, telephoned Jones to advise that John Laws had just left the station and his time slot needed to be filled.  Brennan asked if Jones would be interested in doing an audition.  Even though Jones had talked on air with Brennan many times, over the course of rugby tests, they had never met. Brennan said, “You were great on air during the tour.  Do you think you could come over and have a bit of a dry run?”  “When?” Jones replied.  Four hours later Jones was at 2UE speaking to a fictitious audience about health policy and education.  Two days later, 2UE executives arrived at Jones’ place of work, the NSW Employers’ Federation, to take him to a local Chinese restaurant for lunch.

2UE offered Jones that morning programme, but co-hosting with a woman.  2UE felt he was too inexperienced to handle a prime time spot on his own.  Jones had doubts about the offer and spoke to Brennan who advised Jones to accept the offer only if he was to be the sole host of the programme.  Two days later a deal was signed on a paper serviette for $130,000.  Jones recollects, “I thought that was the gross domestic product of Australia, Malaysia, Great Britain and America put together.  I just couldn’t believe it.  This is a dream, I thought.  I went to air three days later while I was still heading up the NSW Employers’ Federation.  That’s how my radio career started, one continuous accident”.

Three years into his role, in 1988 he moved to the earlier breakfast time slot of 5.30am to 9am.

Jones has never been short on awards or energy.  From 1990 to 1993, and from 1995 to 1997, he was awarded by the radio industry, the prestigious award of Australian Radio Talk Personality of the Year.

In 2002, Jones started having problems with his then employer, Southern Cross Broadcasting.  He was said to be unhappy with their management style. It was by no means the first time that Jones has fallen out of favour with authority.

John Singleton, the owner of the Macquarie Radio Network, had tried to lure many personalities to gain respectable ratings for 2GB.  He elected to approach Jones, because Macquarie had been going “south”, since Singleton had bought it. 

Jones knows that there has been a heavy price to pay for his programme’s success.  He has attracted his share of unkind media attention over the years, culminating in the recent “cash for comment” inquiry by the Australian Broadcasting Authority.  “That was a campaign which owed nothing to the truth”, Jones bitterly remembers.  He maintains no-one with whom he had a contractual relationship, ever asked him to say anything for payment.

For all of Jones’ success, he is not complacent.  While a few may believe he has an over supply of confidence, there is also the normal trait of doubt. 

Jones admits, “There is an aspect of confidence to me, but there’s also a very big factor of self doubt.  Buy that’s good.  It’s good to be nervous.  It’s good to have an element of fear.  It’s good to be frightened of failure, so long as it’s not unreasonable.  It drives you forward.  People only get into trouble when there is a dramatic gap between the tasks they are set and their capacity to perform them.  If your capacity is inferior to your expectation of yourself, then you are going to fail.  I’ve always been quite good at matching what I can expect of myself with the task that I’ve set for myself.  But I never think; where is this task going to take me? Because I’ve always believed if I do well today, I’m going to do well tomorrow; if I do the homework now, I’m going to pass tomorrow’s exam.  And life is just one continuous examination”.

In fact, Jones has an interesting attitude to Australians’ viewpoints on successful people.  “No-one ever says a decent word about John Howard.  But that’s not unusual because no-one ever said a decent world about Keating, Hawke or the previous prime ministers.  Poor Shane Warne.  He is a cricketer, yet the media expectation is that he should act like a United Nations diplomat”. 

This enigmatic man has always attracted gossip and discussion due to his flamboyant lifestyle and highly visible approach. 

For Jones’ admirers, his popularity remains undiminished through broadcasting tribunal investigations, adverse media stories and personal attacks. 

Success and controversy have always gone hand in hand for Alan Jones and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

References: *  * * * * - RadioInfo, Steve O’Hearn, (Director)

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