Alan Jones: end for the shock-jock whose views on women, race and climate pandered to his tiny audience
Fifteen years ago, when broadcaster Alan Jones was at the height of his career, media academic Graeme Turner headed up a three-year study of talkback radio. It involved listening to a month of Alan Jones’s broadcasts.
It concluded that talkback radio – then in its heyday – could be democratising, giving neglected people voice and direct access to decision-makers. It could help to construct communities and provide current affairs radio of mass appeal.
But Alan Jones was something else again.
Turner concluded that in some ways Jones wasn’t a talkback host at all, because he talked too much. He spoke more than any of his competing radio hosts – taking up 75% of the time he was on air.
Even when he took a call from an audience member, Jones would be talking for more than 56% of the call.
Today Turner, now emeritus professor of media and culture at University of Queensland, sees Jones as having been at the “leading edge” of an important reconfiguration of mass media – from the purveying of information, to the broadcast of opinion.
“If the thing you care about is the role of media in providing information to citizens to help them understand the world around them, then the displacement of facts with opinion is not helpful,” he says, “because so much opinion is at some distance from the facts, and in many cases unapologetically so.”
Another aspect of modern media that Jones pioneered, says Turner, was “vengeful campaigning”, now a feature of both shock-jockery and some newspaper coverage. “It’s not been a valuable part of political discourse in Australia,” he says…
His radio program was top-rating, but in a crowded market. Even at the height, most Australians and even most Sydneysiders did not listen to Alan Jones. In 2018 his audience was about 480,000 in Sydney, with a secondary audience nationwide gained through syndication.
A study by the Australia Institute in 2006 found that Jones listeners were older, more conservative, more authoritarian and more fearful than most Australians.
They were more likely to believe fundamental social values were under threat, less likely to see Aboriginal culture as essential to Australian society, and more likely to see obedience and respect for authority as the most important virtues to teach children. They were more likely to see homosexuality as immoral…
Jones never confined his influence to the program. As has been most recently revealed earlier this year, throughout his career he has peppered politicians with letters pushing various agendas.
John Howard, as prime minister, is said to have had staff devoted to dealing with correspondence from Jones.
The lists of times that Jones has been in trouble with the broadcasting regulators and with defamation is too long to reproduce here. Most disturbingly, in 2007 the Australian Communications and Media Authority found that he had encouraged the violence of the Cronulla riots, and the vilification of Lebanese people.
In recent years the controversies have increasingly taken a toll on his revenue-generating capacity, due to consumer-driven advertiser boycotts. His misogyny, in particular, has cost him dearly – such as when he suggested prime minister Julia Gillard should be taken out to sea in a chaff bag, and New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern should have a sock shoved down her throat, and when he suggested that women leaders were “destroying the joint’.
But his influence has still been visible. For example, just two years ago NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian gave way to his suggestions that the Sydney Opera House be used as an advertising billboard.
* Over time I thought of Alan Jones as leading seven lives—not one of them his own. Read on and you will meet them all. There is the blokey, foul-mouthed ex-football coach; the courtly, non-swearing charmer of older women; the farmer’s (miner’s/union official’s/teacher’s) son; the thwarted prime minister; the ombudsman of Struggle Street; the Oxford orator; and the hidden homosexual, forever hunting for love among the twentysomethings.
My investigation will go too far for some, particularly Alan Jones, but I could not avoid the elephant in the room. I am not alone in observing that Alan Jones appears to be homosexual.
* After those years of listening I can’t count getting to know Alan as a cherished experience. In a way I felt sadder every day. Alan Jones admits the failure of his private life. What he does not admit is that the on air button is like a self-medicating device that separates him from the pain of his personal affairs. It is as if his morning radio show has become a means of functioning. I also felt sad for his family/audience. They will be the last to agree they deserve better.
* Alan Jones is an Angry Man. The rages explode without warning like terrorist bombs. There are many moments when he detonates in sudden fury before production staff, hotel receptionists, chauffeurs and airport clerks. Seething and manic, it is as if competing personalities join forces, egging each other on. Jones the motivator inspires himself to greater fury.
The rages are sometimes caught on tape when an interview displeases. A slow burn erupts into uncontrolled wrath: ‘You are scumbag guttersnipe stuff … what a joke … just a moment, you are in my office’. Up and down from his chair, pacing, pouting, glasses on and glasses off, discharging the inner fury. ‘Just shut up for a moment and listen. I’m half minded to grab you and ram you against the wall. You absolute scumbag …’1 When friends are caught in the middle or on the sidelines, they stare mute and aghast, wondering how this anger builds. After witnessing withering attacks some vow to forever keep their distance.
When Alan Jones loses members of his loyal audience it can be for a similar reason. They tire of the harping. Between 5.30 and 10.00 am, as the sun rises over Sydney and the airport noise curfew lifts, Alan shrills, whines and roars like the arriving aircraft, venting his irritation, agitation and anger at all who continue to so wilfully disappoint. ‘The Primary Industry Minister John Anderson is still suffering from a serious kick in the head. Some cow must have got onto him.’2 ‘It is clear Police Commissioner Peter Ryan is no longer capable of doing his job.’3 ‘Carl Scully’s political career is vanishing in front of him. He has only himself to blame.’4 ‘That Amanda Vanstone could not run a pigsty.’5
Australia’s loudest voice in commercial radio is rich, famous and at war with his own life. His anger reaches beyond the common story of a man unfulfilled by personal fortune. He was cheated well before he began to accumulate all that material wealth. Alan Jones’ anger goes back to the beginning.
* In small rural communities gossip dies hard, the whispers trailing people like mongrel dogs. Tolerance was not a feature of Australian provincial life at this time. Children with physical disabilities were put away. Homosexuals left town or learned to suppress their feelings. Children born out of wedlock endured lifelong shame. The stigma of mental illness unquestionably and unfairly left its mark on the Jones family.
* Listening in on air, I sometimes wonder whether the neighbourly spirit of the Downs has also found its way into the airwaves that reach Sydney’s meaner streets. I have heard Alan talking to a distressed former Ansett employee whose husband was unable to find work. ‘Well, let’s get him a job then’, said Alan, who wants his words to make a difference, and with the woman’s baby crying in the background you hear him going to work on something other than broadcasting. The woman says: ‘Thank you, Alan’. Alan says: ‘You are most welcome’, and I somehow hear Charlie. But when a talkback caller contemplating a wager asks for a tip and receives instead a gentle lecture—‘Now don’t you waste your money on gambling’—it is Beth I hear.
* Although never blessed with a mellifluous voice, Alan’s forthright personality burned bright. What also worked, and makes him so remembered, was his talent for putting on a skirt. In Socrates he played the flute girl, Euthenoe, ‘with a creditable feminine air’. In Charlie’s Aunt he was Donna Lucia d’Alvadorez. A picture of Jones and the cast in costume can be seen in the 1956 school magazine. In The Winslow Boy he played Catherine. ‘It was really a difficult play for boys, particularly in the female roles; Alan Jones is to be congratulated …’
In general former students did not see Jones’ aptitude for playing women as a sign that he was gay. As Bill Stubbs put it, there was no big deal about Alan taking on the role of Catherine—it was, after all, a boys’ school, and somebody had to play the girl. In the 1950s the idea of homosexuality was not prominent on the radar of teenagers, although one ex-student did think Alan had an eye for some of the black New Guinea boys who began enrolling at this time.
* Alan Jones was hardly the only teacher with a temper and a duster. Teachers will admit, not always openly, that a common technique to guarantee obedience from a class was to pick out one boy and terrorise the life out of him. Banishment was to become a trademark. Throughout and beyond his teaching career Jones was constantly banishing offenders. His inclination to form a court where those inside could do no wrong and those outside could do no right became a habit he would never break.
One disapproving Ironside mother said Alan Jones was well known then for playing favourites. She said he would ingratiate himself with the influential parents and favour particular boys. And she made no bones about whom he favoured: ‘Appearance came into it. He liked a boy who was intelligent and nice looking.’
* Madonna, a glamorous, high-profile tennis player, says they were very close, but never to a point where they planned a life together. ‘We never dated in the sense that young couples did. There was not much money available on teachers’ salaries at that time. It wasn’t a physical relationship but the relationship was significant, emotionally, in that for the many years that I was seeing a lot of Alan I was not involved with anybody else.’6
Now a teacher herself, Madonna saw Colleen Jones, Alan’s sister, who began boarding in Brisbane when Alan commenced teachers’ college, as one of the few women to have a central role in Alan’s life. ‘After his mother the closest person to him was his sister Colleen. She was indeed as beautiful as Alan had described. Deep blue-green eyes, flawless complexion and dark curly hair. These two women were the apple of Alan’s eye and he loved both of them with a passion he was not to share with any other woman.’7
The protection of a fragile identity can call for skilful lies. At this time Jones liked to be seen with glamorous women, such as Miss Queensland contenders. High-profile and unattainable women are popular with masking homosexuals. Being photographed with glamorous women, and being seen to be close to women who are otherwise claimed, is one effective mask.
The relationship with Madonna Schacht was a solid indicator that Jones was not up to a conventional heterosexual partnership. Jones told others he wanted to propose to Madonna. He has long suggested to others that he and Madonna were in an intimate relationship, but while the friendship was genuine, and Madonna wished for a sexual relationship, they never became lovers.
Another group of women was devoted to Alan—indeed, they now underpin his fan base. Alan has always had a way with older women. Beyond an undoubted genuine affection for women closer to his mum’s age, flirting was safe and easy. It may also have helped him get closer to their sons. In my view this was the closeness that more likely mattered, although I am not suggesting closeness meant intimacy. I have never seen in Alan Jones’ behaviour indicators of a sexual interest in children.
* In 1962 Alan turned twenty-one. He had reached the crossroads. The matrix of influences that formed the man was in place. His uncommon personality seemed to settle on two central pillars, both within a narrow population percentile. The repression of his sexual identity seemed to freeze his emotional development and limit his emotional intelligence. In addition, this masking merged with a definable personality disorder. When I see or listen to Alan the word ‘narcissist’ does come to mind. Although I am not qualified to make a professional diagnosis, and am not aware that any such formal diagnosis has been made, Alan Jones exhibits a range of symptoms consistent with narcissistic personality disorder, a condition that often presents in early adulthood and is found in less than one per cent of the population. His sense of self-importance, need for admiration, lack of empathy, the presumption that he is special, his vanity and arrogance, all conform to the textbook profile.
* The other worry that emerged in Jones’ first year was to do with his fascination with the better-looking boys. By now he had his first car, a second-hand Volkswagen. His use of the car to ferry favourites about became, for all his time at Grammar, a common routine and a focus of concern.
In his first year, one glamorous middle distance runner, a dayboy, was favoured with lifts to his suburban Chelmer home. Alan Jones’ intense interpersonal exchanges in the little Volkswagen could go on for hours. In this case, the ferry service stopped when the boy’s father came out and tersely ordered his son inside. Mark Gould, another former Ironsider, came to understand that, with Alan Jones, ‘there were dispensations for beauty’.
* The sounds coming from the room at the top of the stairs were not music to all. The student athletes favoured by Alan Jones noisily kept him company into the night. When a training or study program caused them to miss a boarding house meal, Jones would buy rounds of large hamburgers. David Izatt, a senior boarder not embraced into the inner circle, remembers the anointed giggling and feasting in the master’s room.
Another sound to strike fear into the hearts of the boarders, the juniors in particular, was the swish of the cane. The shower room, close to Jones’ room, doubled as a punishment centre. Alan Jones gained an odd kind of respect for his accuracy with the cane. Four cuts each in the same spot got him the nickname ‘Blood on Four Strokes Jones’. Errant boys would return gingerly to class. Gould is one who remembers the underpants sticking to his bloodstained bum.
At the age of fifty-two, Mark Gould recalled with pride the solidarity of the boys, who, after lights out one evening, refused to give up a malefactor after he had farted or in some other way disturbed the peace, provoking laughter and causing the lights to flash on and an angry Jones to appear. When the boys kept their silence Jones marched them into the shower room and ordered them to drop their pants. Each boy got four cuts across the bottom. Even then, Gould says, he sensed Jones’ behaviour was linked to self-loathing. Also upstairs in that junior dormitory was Malcolm Farr, later to become the Sydney Daily Telegraph’s chief political reporter. Farr remembers a separate incident when Jones, patrolling the showers, ‘thrashed’ him with three cuts for flicking water from his toothbrush.
After morning inspection and before breakfast, Alan Jones would supervise the communal showers with flexed cane. With 60 boarders and only limited showerheads, the boys would have to share the water back to back, a practice known as ‘having a bum’. Jones is remembered as one of the teachers who would hang around the communal showers, watching the boys. Another boarder, Richard Bryan, thought Jones ‘creepy and evil’. He recalls Jones presenting his favourites with gifts. Bryan says he avoided going to Jones’ room.
As perverse as some of this may seem today, many of the boys who spent long hours with Jones, including some who were not fans, state with conviction that they did not witness what they considered impropriety. Phil Enright, who went on to play in the rugby Firsts, is one to say there were other teachers who were guilty of sexual abuse, so it is not as if the issue was unknown to them. He also says that even in the areas of physical and emotional abuse, there were teachers worse than Jones. This says a lot about the very different standard of what was considered tolerable in the 1960s.
Forty years later, when I asked about his manhandling of boys, there was still plenty of anger. One former Brisbane Grammar student wrote: ‘I was his pupil in French for three years … Almost every period I was subjected to physical assaults as a result of infringements such as mispronouncing words. He would take hold of my tie and shirt collar and violently pull me towards him. At each change of direction he forcibly slapped me on the face … I always assumed him to be mad. I also assumed that I was the example to subdue the rest of the group.’
Drew Hutton witnessed occasional brutality. ‘I was embarrassed and angry often at the way he would treat other boys. He would deliberately pick on kids, for no apparent reason. I can remember him knocking to the ground a kid on the oval once because he didn’t get the baton properly while practising for a relay team. And he would belittle kids who were on the outer. He had an extraordinary ability to say things that were really cutting.’3
The corollary of the narcissism, which helped form his handsome court, was repugnance for outsiders whose appearance was not to his standard. One boy who had suffered an ugly face burn that left a permanent scar was another tormented. He has never forgotten getting back an English essay with Jones’ words: ‘Are you a moron?’ scrawled in the margin.
* One concerned parent asked Max Howell what would keep an adult teacher talking with a boy in his car until three in the morning. According to Howell, when he spoke to Jones about this particular incident, his sports master was unrepentant, saying he had been with the boy but had done nothing wrong.
While there was an obvious and enduring suspicion that Jones was being sexually predatory, again, no evidence of physical impropriety had emerged. Phil Byth said Jones had never touched him, but for all that he still felt abused. Byth was too young to discern complex motives and understand his own vulnerability.
* Jones is not remembered for activism in turbulent political times.
In 1968 Kingaroy politician Joh Bjelke-Petersen became premier of Queensland, retaining his police minister’s post and presiding over a corrupt domain. Beyond the active support of his court of cronies, he passively assisted the criminal community. A Royal Commission into police corruption five years earlier failed to do more than reconstruct the old order. The former system, which allowed a percentage of Charlie Jones’ bets with the SP bookmaker in Oakey to reach the police commissioner, metastasised as ‘the Joke’. By 1968 a more sophisticated arrangement saw graft from prostitution and drug trafficking, as well as illegal gambling filter up.
In addition to protecting organised criminals, Queensland police also bashed street marchers, hippies and homosexuals. In Bjelke-Petersen’s Queensland, homosexuals who braved the beats at Albert Park, the Botanic Gardens and New Farm were not just belted, but charged if they were caught. For the entire 19 years of the Bjelke-Petersen term, homosexuality remained illegal. As Joh once famously put it, ‘You are not supposed to put the oil where you put the water’. Alan Jones became one of his biggest supporters.
* Like Phil Byth at Brisbane Grammar, Walker began to feel violated. ‘If you had muscle strain he would insist on strapping your legs. He would take you into the shower and tell you to take your clothes off. I was shattered with awkwardness. It was weird and uncomfortable and seemed voyeuristic.’
Housemate Brian Porter says: ‘I never saw a breach of fiduciary duty. I never saw evidence of predatory behaviour. But he was manipulative and voyeuristic. He would love watching athletes on television and film. He saw the beauty of the human form in full flight. He loved the strength, the freshness and the vitality of boys.’
Disquiet about Jones’ attachment to some boys grew during a term break when one of the masters found at least one letter, written by Alan Jones to a boy, that had been left behind in a classroom desk. In it Alan spoke of thinking about the boy late at night, expressing his love.
* Alan Jones, a political neophyte, brought his own campaigning style to bear on Earlwood. There were some complaints among Liberals about his inability to take advice. And there was amusement on the other side. Labor campaign director Jim Pearce noticed nonplussed locals crossing the street to avoid ever-eager Alan. Pearce also recalls Jones being harassed by a Gay Liberation candidate, Peter Blazey, who proudly campaigned under the motto ‘Put a Poofter in Parliament.’
* The more Jones’ lucky-dip convictions and poor command of detail became apparent, the more his charm wore thin. One colleague recalls: ‘In time we listened less and less to him. He was an object of suspicion with relation to his sexuality. Jones tried to get involved when the major speeches were written, but was kept at arm’s length. He was always trying to push Malcolm Fraser to the right.’
* A collective recognition that Alan Jones was finding the speechwriting too difficult is the more likely reason for his departure. In his years with Fraser, according to one colleague, the easy-to-like Jones became easy to hate: ‘He had a disorganised body of beliefs. By the time he left he was cordially hated in the PM’s department.’
* Gay connections were difficult for Alan. Having spent so much time in boys’ schools and out of Sydney, and clinging as he did to a heterosexual world, there were relatively few opportunities for finding willing male partners. Alan seemed to be of the homosexual cohort that preferred discreet and anonymous partners. This period between school and rugby careers appears to be the only one in which Alan Jones is remembered attending some of Sydney’s gay bathhouses.
* Kerry Packer made a practice of getting to know the employees who interested him. Although Alan had not always been kind in the past, Big Kerry became a powerful force in his life. The two sports-loving conservatives hit it off.
* Another source of unease was Alan Jones’ position on South Africa. From 1985 the Australian Wallabies coach became a high profile defender of the South African government. At the time South Africa was proactive in putting its case to the Australian media. Alan Jones became a kind of informal ambassador, debating radio rival Mike Carlton on the Channel 9 Midday show, and later Archbishop Tutu, also on Channel 9. In October, Alan Jones was part of an Australian Rugby Union delegation to discuss a proposed tour with Sports Minister John Brown and Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Hayden. According to a later report: ‘Hayden appeared sympathetic, though the meeting was more memorable for the repartee flashing between the two brilliant opposed wits of Hayden and Jones’.30
The ultra divisive apartheid debate was bound to make enemies beyond the rugby community. Alan Jones later told ABC interviewer Caroline Jones: ‘You come on fairly strong born of conviction and that conviction leads to animosity against you and I get slogans daubed on my wall and phone calls of hatred and so and I suppose I’ve made the bed and I have to lie in it’.31
Alan constantly asked why it was okay to send tennis players, surfers, golfers and motor racing drivers to South Africa, but not cricketers and footballers. He pointed to the double standard of Australia playing cricket against Pakistan, a military dictatorship. He judged the Hawke Government’s position on sanctions to be ‘intellectually shabby’. It was a new favourite expression, which could have been applied to his own position. Alan Jones was selective in his advocacy. The many reasons the international community shunned an unsustainable pariah state, for its violations of human rights, and the impact of racial discrimination on sport, were not given equal weight.
At the same time, Alan Jones threw more support behind the closest thing Australia had to a dictator. Even back in The King’s School days, Jones was noted for his fascination with Queensland Premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen. ‘I think I’ve had the same sort of upbringing. He didn’t have anything and I can identify with that.’32 Again, Alan could not see the wrong beyond the right. He does appear to have trouble integrating opposites. He maintained his belief in Bjelke-Petersen well after his administration was exposed for cronyism and corruption. ‘I agreed with what Sir Joh was doing in my home state in terms of creating wealth and jobs.’33
In 1986, Sir Joh’s Queensland Nationals were riding high, just short of a fall. They were governing alone, having abandoned the Liberal alliance and crossing swords with federal Liberals. Joh was no fan of Federal Opposition Leader John Howard, who had taken the leadership from Andrew Peacock in 1985.
With a federal election to be fought in July 1987, John Howard looked pale alongside an increasingly popular Prime Minister Bob Hawke. Towards the end of 1986 there was suspicion that Andrew Peacock was counting heads and contemplating a challenge to recover his old job. In December, reports of a new conservative alliance between Sir Joh and Peacock began to appear. Although Bjelke-Petersen was anathema to the Liberal leadership, some of whom openly declared him to be corrupt, Alan Jones hopped on the ‘Joh for Prime Minister’ caravan. Jones was in constant contact with and thought to be advising Sir Joh, who believed his fellow Queenslander would make a great deputy prime minister.
* Back at 2UE on 3 July, the eve of the federal election, he skirmished with Prime Minister Bob Hawke over his issue de jour: South Africa. According to another present at the studio, it was an otherwise friendly encounter that still evokes amusement. When Alan Jones became forceful, the Prime Minister would politely and soothingly reply, after a time leaning forward and stroking Alan’s arm to reinforce his point. It seemed to work. The more Bob stroked, the more Alan purred. Media minders were quick to make notes. The benefit of being in the studio is broadly understood, but the stroking trick was brand new, one to be added to an expanding repertoire of techniques useful to the serious business of managing Alan Jones.
* Meanwhile his media career moved forward, not just with the Sun Herald column, but also a better timeslot on 2UE. Since his start in 1985, Alan Jones’ ratings had steadily risen. At the end of 1987, when his station lured John Laws back from 2GB and into the 9 am to noon shift, Alan was asked to move to the earlier timeslot. The breakfast shift, where a chunk of the daily news agenda is set, would extend both his audience and influence. Usually, the downside is the hours, but less so for a man who never let the sun reach his blanket while he was under it. Alan Jones had been reading the papers before dawn for decades. Now it would be his well-paid duty.
Nigel Milan, the new general manager of 2UE, oversaw the move. ‘The number one breakfast jocks at the time were Michael Carlton and Doug Mulray, the Bollinger Left if you like. Alan obviously had a very different perspective on the world. You know you looked for a unique selling point in commercial radio, something very different. He had enormous energy, obviously great intellect and I thought he was worth a go.’4
A powerhouse at this time of the day, Alan Jones was again uniquely suited. As a colleague put it: ‘Part of his appeal is that he is always so upbeat and full of energy. That’s what you want in a breakfast host. He also gives people a sense of empowerment—that they are listened to and can have a voice. He also allows them to say things that are not always acceptable, lets them be a bit sexist or racist or whatever.’
So from March 1988, Alan Jones would rise at 2.30 am and make his way from Newtown to North Sydney. It was already well known around 2UE that Jones’ buoyant on air persona stood in contrast to the fiend who materialised once the microphone was switched off. Alan, continuing to struggle with the technicalities of radio, became unpopular with some of the panel operators, one of whom said: ‘He is very unprofessional as a broadcaster. He just refuses to abide by formats. At one stage he just refused to stop talking at the top of the clock, so he would come crashing in over the news … for someone who is constantly telling other people about the need for discipline, he is very undisciplined.’
Conscious of his power in the industry, very few radio colleagues are prepared to put a name to their commentary. One of the technical staff to quit said: ‘He’s basically a school bully. Not a day goes by when he doesn’t shout at someone. I just hated the way he treated people, drove them to tears, etc, really terrible stuff. He’s a twisted, warped individual. I can’t imagine what happened to him as a child but it must have been horrendous. He never admits he is wrong. He never says sorry.’
The breakfast shift started at 5.30 am with the same theme Alan Jones had used for the morning shift. Having first trialled the Mills Brothers’ ‘The Jones Boy’, Alan dropped it after an interview with singer Laura Branigan, having taken a fancy to her disco hit ‘Gloria’ instead. He had showed off the tune and his eclectic taste during the 1987 60 Minutes profile. Flouncing into frame, Alan seemed unconscious of the camp undertones. ‘Gloria’ would become one of his pet Sydney nicknames.
At the radio studio where Alan Jones’ captivation with the good-looking younger men could not be missed, there was a general, though not exclusive, presumption that he was homosexual. As one observer noted: ‘He has this enormous need to feel loved and accepted because he finds his homosexuality unacceptable and thinks others do too. This need for acceptance drives much of what he does.’
Co-workers noticed Alan avoided dealing with the subject of homosexuality if it emerged in the news. There was embarrassment when talkback callers had to be dumped. Rugby types were still ringing in and asking what had happened with James Black in the back seat in 1983. The subjects of his phantom relationships, James Black and now Brian Smith, were also subjects of sledging. Some of the main sledgers came from that old Matraville High cabal, the Randwick hooker Eddie Jones, another Jones to take a prominent place in both rugby history and Alan’s hit list.
Within Jones’ inner circle there was fervent denial that Alan was in any way homosexual.
* In the same area around Soho there was a gay beat with its own ‘wall’, known locally as ‘the meat rack’, a place where cruising men could pick up young male prostitutes. In Margaret Thatcher’s Britain, the police had been urged to be more vigilant about ‘cottaging’, the liaising of homosexuals in public toilets. To the cops, protection of underage males was seen as legitimate work, but there were mixed views about the legitimacy of targeting homosexuals. So it was not always popular work with the young police who were usually assigned to this area.
To make it more interesting, the West End branch had begun an informal competition: because the occasional judge or politician was caught in their net, who paid for drinks at the end of the week rested on whose catch was the biggest. Later that day the word went breathlessly around the station that one team had caught Australia’s future prime minister. Two plain-clothes officers had been watching the underground public toilet at Broadwick Street from the roof and a nearby corner. They had seen a man in an aqua coloured Lacoste sweater enter the toilet and became suspicious when he stayed inside for a longer than usual period.
Alan Jones was arrested and taken to the Mayfair station where he was charged with ‘outraging public decency’ and ‘committing an indecent act’. One charge appeared to refer to alleged public masturbation, and the other to an alleged attempt at picking up an officer by, to use the colloquial term, ‘flag waving’. It is only fair to point out that prosecuting authorities were ultimately unprepared to present any evidence to support the charges.
* On 7 December, when Lord Mishcon’s shining Bentley approached the Marlborough Street Magistrate’s Court, there was bedlam. A mass of journalists had assembled for what the presiding magistrate described as a minor matter. When Australian television reporter Richard Carleton appeared by coincidence on the scene, he was mobbed by colleagues who knew only of an Australian media figure being charged and presumed he was the story rather than the storyteller. Richard and his wife Sharon, unable to dissuade fellow reptiles, took refuge in a nearby print shop.
The concern about suicide was more keenly felt a world away at 2UE. Alan Jones’ broadcasting colleague, John Laws, telephoned to offer comfort. Laws recalls Jones was so distressed he spoke about wanting to jump out the window. Station boss Nigel Milan was worried. John Brennan was put on the case, strings began to be pulled and, in the busy pre-Christmas period, airline seats found. Passengers were offloaded as Brennan, John Fordham and Ross Turnbull found space on that afternoon’s QF1 to London.
Another 2UE colleague, Phillip Adams, shared a concern that, in a homophobic nation, the scandal could mean that Alan Jones’ ‘commercial career was over’. Phillip Adams was one of many to send Alan Jones a telegram of support. He joshed about ‘British spunk’, an attempt to soften if not laugh off the matter. Adams was offended not by Jones’ alleged conduct, but by the idea that police could treat homosexuality as a crime.
* Back in Australia the Daily Mirror’s front page story on Tuesday had included a photo of Alan and a bold headline: ‘ALAN JONES ARREST “OUTRAGING PUBLIC DECENCY” CHARGE’.20 On Wednesday, with the blow softened, the Daily Mirror’s headline declared: ‘ALAN JONES: I’LL STAY AND FIGHT CHARGE. HE’S NOT GUILTY SAYS LAWYER’.21 On Thursday, again on the front page, it was ‘MY STORY: “I’m not immoral … I’m not indecent”’.22 The accompanying photograph pictured Alan and supporters at a lunch at the Ritz: Brendan Mullin from Alan Jones’ 1987 Oxford team, Brian Smith, Ross Turnbull, John Fordham and John Brennan. Although the ‘Alan Jones Arrest’ newspaper banners did not join the many others he had framed and mounted in his Newtown home, the photograph of Alan and friends, with scotch in hand, would find pride of place.
The article carried endorsements from Michael and Susie Yabsley, Good Morning Australia host Kerri-Anne Kennerley, and Wallaby Steve Cutler. Others to publicly support Alan were Liberals Kerry Chikarovski and John Spender, and media colleagues George Negus, Geraldine Doogue and Steve Liebmann. At this stage Alan Bond was in control of the former Packer empire but a link to the old regime was maintained through Channel 9 boss Sam Chisholm. Both Chisholm and Packer were also there for Alan.
Alan Jones was interviewed via satellite on Channel 9’s A Current Affair. An emotional Alan explained he had no choice but to abide by his lawyer’s instructions and limit his responses. ‘I’ve got nothing to hide. I am proudly a moral person and a decent person and I have maintained that morality and decency right throughout my life.’23 Alan Jones promised that in time all would be explained.
Back in Australia there was a gradation of whispering. Within Alan’s old school and rugby circles there were plenty of ‘I told you so’ telephone calls. In the King’s diaspora parents who had taken opposing positions on Alan Jones either ducked for cover or openly crowed. One woman who had long suffered for her suspicions within her mothers’ group began to gather newspaper cuttings into a scrapbook.
Meanwhile in London, the lawyers also gathered to contest the second charge of committing an indecent act. Alan Jones’ story to friends, and presumably counsel, was that he had been standing at the sink in the lavatory with his pants unzipped, but had not been masturbating. He said that having had a bit to drink on the flight he had a full bladder, but as can be the case with older men, he was having trouble getting the urine to flow. So he had gone to the sink to wash his hands, hoping that the hand motion and flow of water would help.
* Having won the legal battle, there was still more to do in the court of public opinion. Those jealous colleagues in the media had so far been extremely kind to Alan. Instead of going in for the kill in the way Jones does, the Sydney media had been gentle. The tabloids are normally aggressive in their coverage of such stories. That considered, it is hard to think of anyone who got a better deal than Alan Jones. The reporting was unusually limited to the barest facts about what was delivered in court and a range of positive commentary. There was no further digging into London or his past. Among the favours extended to Alan was some obvious soft-pedalling.
In June 1989 New Idea ran a story under the headline ‘Alan Jones: a future PM?’ It hung on the improbable peg of Alan’s ambition to run the country. His friendship with Benazir Bhutto was recounted, but the main purpose of the interview was to resecure the mask. The reporter told us: ‘Alan is a loner. Although there is now a woman in his life … At 45 [he was 48] he has never married and he sees this as a big gap in his life.’ It quoted Jones: ‘A lot of people have gaps in their life and that’s mine. I have been privileged in many ways and I don’t think it is fair to complain about my lot. I once worried about never becoming a father, but not anymore. I don’t believe you should worry about what you’ve missed out on. There is a woman in my life but it is a personal thing. She is a professional woman and we are very close but she isn’t always here.’29
A later, unattributed piece in the magazine Ita described the then 49-year-old Jones as in his early forties, and pushed the same line: ‘His friends say he would like to have a wife. Sometimes older women listeners on Radio 2UE, where he hosts the top-rating breakfast talkback show, ring him on the open line to tell him he is doing too much, that he needs someone to look after him. He agrees. He talks quite openly about his failed romances and laughs it off, but in a serious moment admits: My main flaw in relationships is that I’m emotionally overpowering. Then he quotes a line from a John Donne sonnet—“Whatever dies was not mixed equally.” I’m conscious of the fact that I don’t have anyone to share my life with—a person with whom I can talk.’30
At the time, Harry Miller, who routinely vetted interview requests, would ask, ‘Are there going to be any questions about London?’ If you wanted the interview you conceded, as journalist Lenore Nicklin later confessed: ‘Okay, Harry, no questions about London dunnies’.31
But even the cleverest PR doctor could not kill the ghost of London. Following the episode the tortured, homophobic, closet homosexual ‘Gloria’ began to make regular appearances on the rival Doug Mulray show. Comedian Dave Gibson has a repertoire of clever impersonations, one of them a creditable Jones. One morning, rushing from Mulray’s farm to reach the studio by 6 am, the pair heard Alan Jones on the car radio begin his program at 5.30 with his signature tune, ‘Gloria’. The tortured homophobic homosexual Jones character got a name, which Gibson later dropped when Andrew Denton took over the program and ‘Gloria’ became Alan. The characterisation was more affectionate than cruel but even so the mocking evoked in Alan Jones a fury not felt since the ‘pansy’ jeers back at Oakey.
* The toilet episode was indeed a watershed for Alan Jones. On top of all the other evidence that might have led people to suspect Alan was homosexual, the London incident was going to strengthen if not confirm suspicion. An opportunity arose for him to admit his homosexuality. The generally sympathetic response made it is easier for him to be himself. There was no need to confess to wrongdoing. It is not, nor should it be, a crime to be homosexual. It is not a sin to have your penis out in a public toilet. But having easily defeated the criminal charges, Alan Jones sought to defeat common sense as well, by asking the rest of the world to join him in his denial.
* Over the next decade Jones’ power accelerated as he grew in a medium that was itself developing. Bob Carr was fascinated with talk radio, referring to it as an ‘electronic democracy’.1 John Howard would also favour the medium, explaining, ‘I think you get more out of this type of exchange than just about any other kind of media contact between a member of parliament and a journalist’.2
At its best, talk radio can have premiers and prime ministers answering directly to the electorate, giving ordinary Australians an improved sense of participation and belonging. Alan Jones believed politicians should listen to the people and saw his program as an ideal medium. A favourite form of praise he directs at politicians is that he or she is a ‘good listener’. ‘Radio has become the pulse of the city and if you want to understand the public you have to go to talkback radio’.3
An admirable feature of Alan Jones’ approach to radio is his attitude that he is there to do more than earn squillions. He uses his skills and influence as a social and political weapon. His power is wielded on behalf of wealthy mates, but also the weak. Alan Jones goes further than anyone I know in the media to help people with serious problems, as well as those whose storm water drains are blocked or who are struggling with their wheelie bin.
While other announcers adapted to the existing formula, Alan Jones adapted talk radio to himself. As such, although it has been tried, the Alan Jones Show is impossible to copy. He dislikes comparisons, loathing the ‘shock-jock’ pejorative, and even the milder description of ‘breakfast announcer’. Alan Jones does more than play music and read traffic reports. He also sees ‘talkback’ as an unfair term, as until 2005 the microphone was shared with listeners for less than a quarter of his time on air. Alan has been critical of commentators whose only qualification for public debate is a microphone. He was right in seeing himself as better qualified than many of his peers. Having coached the Wallabies and written speeches for a prime minister, Alan Jones’ breadth and intellect meant that in substance he towered over rivals.
* Although he had some tutoring from experienced broadcasters such as John Brennan, Alan’s was never the mellifluous voice born to the turntable and microphone. Unlike other less successful broadcasters, Alan Jones has never acquired an exquisite sense of timing, which melds the components of a program in the way a conductor leads an orchestra. But after five years, his technical clumsiness and shrill delivery mattered more to work colleagues than to an audience increasingly impressed by his communication skills. So confident was he of his powers of persuasion, Alan Jones was happy to push a contrary and sometimes unpopular view. A 2UE colleague observed: ‘He’s become really good at being able to deny things, or believe in whatever he is telling himself’.
These communication skills had been grafted on to radio and journalism rather than crafted in. Alan Jones has never had a journalist’s grounding in identifying fact and essaying balance. He has never come with a reverse gear. The absence of neutral, as well, seemed less of a concern in a medium that favours certainty. While this was a more critical weakness, again his audience rarely complained. Alan Jones compensates to a degree through his reliance on village voice feedback. Another favourite saying is ‘my listeners are my best researchers’. While he breaks many rules journalists are trained to observe, he also breaks a lot of stories experienced journalists miss.
Just as there were many positive features to the Alan–talk radio alliance, there were also negatives. Radio has its own structural weaknesses, the pressure of immediacy settling awkwardly on a poor research base. There are not the resources to undertake extensive inquiries, let alone check the provenance of every caller. There is a kind of reverse index of certainty that anchors firm opinion to fragile evidence. As was seen in the Greiner campaign of 1988, the formula can easily be manipulated.
* Although his team would expand, in 1989 Alan Jones had three people to help with a busy program. The amount of information covered meant they were forever scrambling. The combination of hard opinion and soft research would land Jones and 2UE in a lot of trouble. As a 2UE colleague observed, ‘His worst quality is his lack of judgement. If he has four people in the room and has to pick one he always picks the worst one. He is very easily influenced by pressure groups. He gets four letters and says it is a torrent. He goes on air on the flimsiest of evidence.’
* Alan Jones’ interviewing style evolved in keeping with his approach to dialogue. Journalists are taught to avoid asking questions that attract a yes/no response. Jones takes the opposite approach, stating a proposition and inviting a single-word reply. He is happy to take over the discussion if the interviewee is not up to the pace. Alan Jones is not so much at home in the witness box, in that the witness can’t control the dialogue. The answers matter and so does logic.
* It is true that the station mostly covers the bill, but the costs of attenuated litigation are not measured in monetary terms alone. The process can be wearing and Alan Jones can find the experiences stressful. One month after the David Parker case Alan Jones was in hospital after chest pains forced upon him an unusual break. He was taken to the cardiac unit of the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital where it was found he was suffering from a virus rather than a heart ailment. Doctors advised rest and he was off work for two days. Ian Wallace, the station manager, said the pains were a result of ‘overwork and a lot of stress. The guy works 20 hours out of 24, seven days a week. He’s a workaholic.’
* Despite his claims of thoroughness, Alan Jones could be extremely sloppy. One of the most famous examples of cavalier negligence emerged in a newspaper column in August 1990. Following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, Alan Jones wrote of the world running out of oil, quoting an alleged US report: ‘The American response to cheap oil has been increased demand, higher crude and product imports and shrinking domestic production. Even if America started now with a crash program, massive investment and big scale federal incentives, it would take 10 years to rebuild the human skill pool, remanufacture or mobilise the machinery and execute the work to bring our now total reliance on the Middle East back to manageable proportions.’25
There is irony in the story of how he was caught. A Manly dentist, Alan Marel, had learned to read Alan Jones with a critical eye. Marel, having been taught English by Jones at The King’s School, was one of the circle of doubters who knew the story of Jones castigating a boy for following crib notes that Jones was also supposed to have used.
You might say it was karma when Marel pondered over a phrase in Jones’ column: ‘gas-guzzling inefficiency’. It did not sound like Australian terminology, and he thought he had read it before. He walked to a shelf and pulled out a book, The Negotiator, by Frederick Forsyth. On page 15 he found the same ‘gas-guzzling’ reference, and soon after an account of the US report. The lines he read were identical to those in the Sun Herald. A primary sin of journalism is to fudge a source. The offence is aggravated when the source turns out to be drawn from a work of fiction.
Alan Marel, no fan of Alan Jones but no hater either, wrote a letter to the Sun Herald. When, weeks later, there was still no reply, Marel informed the ABC TV program Media Watch. On 27 August Stuart Littlemore’s lead segment was the crib from Frederick Forsyth. Littlemore began speaking of the classic problem of the ‘quasi journalist, who works in the medium but is not bound by the disciplines and collegiate standards’. As he would do on later occasions in court, the lawyer and media critic comprehensively unstitched Alan Jones.
* Alan Jones’ mentor John Brennan saw synergy in the deal that would be good for his club and his creation, corralling the ‘Struggle Street’ support base to 2UE. The station wanted to make the former private school teacher more accessible. This was one secret that helped explain the success of 2UE’s biggest star, John Laws. Although the friend of the truckie and country music fan lived a life King Croesus might have envied, Lawsy had the touch of someone who still liked a good yarn with his mates. John Brennan and 2UE also saw synergy in programming their stars back to back. Laws’ established audience brought listeners to Jones, while Jones’ growing audience improved Laws’ lead. At this time John Laws retained top billing. After 40 years on radio, the man who made Toyota Australian was a broadcasting legend.
John Laws shared the 2UE morning with Alan Jones but not much else. While in public they appeared, at first, to get on, privately they abhorred one another. Laws thought Jones’ banter was forced. There was something about the way he laughed too loudly and was so convinced of what he said that got under Laws’ skin. The bigger Alan got, the more phoniness Laws seemed to see, Alan Jones’ growing success becoming an affront to John Laws’ professional pride.
And while Laws smelled a phoney, Jones jealously eyed a rival. His interminable need for an enemy was satisfied as conveniently close as a studio away. The most rancid media rivalries do tend to be inhouse. But even when their mutual animosity went public, 2UE saw synergy; the station profited from the free publicity.
* His typical day in 1991 started at 2.30 am. The broadcaster/coach relied on a single alarm clock to wake him, trusting his capacity to resist fatigue when the rest of Sydney was in its deepest sleep. Jones, always tired when he woke, felt it was part of the discipline he required from others to splash hot water on his face and make a start. He would look through material such as press releases faxed through to him during the night and then drive the empty streets from Newtown across the Harbour Bridge to the 2UE studios, arriving at about 3.30 am. There he read the papers, barely looking up when the rest of the staff gathered.
As in his dairy farm days there was a pre-breakfast morning tea before the 5 am meeting with his production staff. By now most of Alan’s editorials were typed. He sometimes pulled material from the newspapers, and as is still the case subjecting the copy to the barest rearrangement. There would also be notes in dot point form, prepared by staff the previous day, that Alan Jones converted to what sounded like original and extemporised commentary. Other ‘editorials’, supplied by politicians and publicists, were written for him and frequently read verbatim.
Breakfast during the 7 am news was Weet-Bix and milk. Preparing it was the job of the switch operators, one of whom said, ‘It has to be heated up for one and a quarter minutes exactly in the microwave. He can tell if it hasn’t been done correctly (god knows how) and he just screams. He has a total meltdown.’
* When the show finished at 9 am, Alan Jones had already done a full day’s work. Breakfast radio requires intense concentration. Live interviews are stressful. There are quotas of advertisements that must be run. Even the business of remaining cheerful is draining. But his day was far from over. After he signed off, Alan gathered staff for a post-program conference. His nervous system still racing, leg bouncing up and down, he plotted through a ‘hit list’ of duties and then, as often as not, it was back to the microphone.
Alan Jones was required to prerecord commercials and also commentary for edited versions of his programs, such as a highlights package for Brisbane’s 4BC. In addition, various regional stations purchased cut-down versions, with Jones recording local advertisements.
He was not at his best handling this part of the job. On air he makes much of his own bush roots and professes a view to politicians and his audience that the person in the bush needs more help than the person in the city. Along with the humble rural past, Alan Jones takes pride in his command of language and capacity for personal discipline. But as already observed, off air he can be a very different person. Many broadcasters adopt a different voice when the microphone is switched on. Many of them are also able to adjust their personality. Radio staff were now well used to the multiple faces and voices of Alan Jones.
* Measuring the respective egos was more difficult. Salary was a sore point. While Jones’ Sydney audience of around 165 000 was larger than Laws’ Sydney audience, 2UE paid Laws far more, an estimated $3 million per year. Although Jones’ program was also the station’s biggest money earner, Alan’s 2UE salary at the time was estimated at around one-tenth of Laws’ take.8
What made the essential difference and might have accentuated Alan Jones’ jealousy was the fact that the golden tonsils travelled further. John Laws’ show was syndicated nationally to 30 outlets, which meant his total audience was far larger, over a million listeners. This made John Laws more bankable for advertisers and sponsors, which is the main explanation for his greater wealth. Laws the walking billboard was an endorsement king, reaping rewards from a great many supplementary sponsorship deals. In contrast, Alan Jones had only a few small music deals, a royalty arrangement with EMI, and a deal with Sony which earned him over $1 every time a copy of Alan Jones Nostalgic Memories was sold.
One reason it was harder to market Alan was the breakfast slot itself. Syndicating a breakfast program is more difficult with so much attention directed at traffic jams on the Harbour Bridge and whether the ferries are running on time. Alan getting worked up about the filthy state of Sydney’s trains did not wash with 4BC listeners.
But his fumbling with the controls was, according to technical staff, another problem. ‘Jones doesn’t know what makes things sound smooth on air. That makes life very tough for the panel operator. He is three times harder to work for than Laws because Laws understands how radio works.’
So while Alan Jones had the most important shift, at the time of the day when most radios were tuned in, John Laws was more valuable, not just to the bean counters but to important studio guests. When politicians and publishers were pushing a new policy or author, they looked for the program with the biggest audience. It did not make sense to have two guest appearances on the one station, so competition for high profile interviewees became another bone to fight over.
At this stage John Laws had the bigger bite, partly because of his relationship with a rising star, Paul Keating. While the antique clock collector and the antique car collector did not seem to have much in common, as the then Treasurer explained: ‘Forget the press gallery in Canberra. If you educate John Laws you educate Australia.’9 Back in 1986, Paul Keating’s infamous proclamation that Australia was in danger of becoming a ‘banana republic’ was unbeatable free publicity when delivered on the John Laws program.
Although they see little of one another these days, when Laws’ ratings were booming, Paul and John were the best of mates. The mutual benefit was that the politician’s messages went unfiltered by journalists. Over time politicians would more often choose the talkback studio for major announcements. This increased their control over the message they wanted to deliver, the set-up opportunity more often preferred to the old free-for-all press conference. While other media missed out on the prospect of more thorough questioning, talk radio got a boost: station logos were on display in TV news bulletins and in newspaper photographs and their stars given greater profile. The strength of Laws’ and Jones’ political pull was also good for their own business: the more influence and reach they had, the greater their sponsorships and bank balances.
* While Alan’s politics drifted further to the right, he was still a man swayed more by personalities. In his book Australian Answers, Gerard Henderson viewed Alan Jones at this time as neither to the left nor within the ranks of the rigidly conservative: ‘He is not against the monarchy but favours what he terms a republican system of government because he supports the United States process whereby political leaders face direct elections. He welcomes Asian investment in Australia and believes we should readily welcome those who want to become Australians and work hard. He is also sympathetic to the plight of refugees.’23
Bob Carr, similarly undoctrinaire and considered by many to be more to the right than Alan Jones’ old boss, Malcolm Fraser, was now regularly couriering speeches to Belford Productions on Sundays.
* Jones was also making up ground on Laws in the race to haul in the big studio guests. Following his December 1991 succession to prime minister, Paul Keating chose Jones instead of Laws for the first major interview about his ‘One Nation’ address. When Alan Jones then pushed to get John Hewson to fight back on the feature 7.15 am interview, he was astonished when the Opposition leader chose instead to go jogging. So Alan Jones wrote to John Hewson counselling him about lifting his game if he was to beat Paul Keating in the upcoming 1993 election. ‘John Hewson doesn’t have the same understanding of the media that Keating does. And he has to develop that if he is going to properly use it at election time.’33
John Laws joined the tug-of-war, his competition with Alan Jones undisguised: ‘On the line from Canberra we have the allegedly impossible to talk to, never able to be found Dr John Hewson. Good morning.’ Hewson, playing along, commented in reply that he had no idea why people thought he was difficult to pin down.34 At the end of the interview Laws, in offering Hewson a regular slot, seemed to goad Jones: ‘This is the most listened to talk radio program in the country … feed us another [story] next week and another one the week after that and if the Government wants to argue, they must have the opportunity to do so of course …’35 John Hewson replied, ‘Okay, John, every week I will call you up and we’ll do it … I’ll cut my jogging for you.’
* Australia’s largest urban jungle has its own survival rules. A dominant ethos accommodates a kind of ‘dingo’ principle, which accords respect to Australia’s most cunning and ruthless survivors. Getting on in business, paying your mortgage, dealing with officials and competitors is tough everywhere, and certainly tough enough in Sydney for people to look for an edge. Perhaps the greater density of the jungle leads to a view that easier paths through the strangling systems are more necessary. Or perhaps the law of all cities is, the larger you are the less room there is for standards.
An essential service of the Alan Jones Show was the provision of such shortcuts. Pensioners who had lost a beloved pet or plutocrats whose wealth was threatened might approach Alan. Politicians also beat a path to his door, often secretly allowing Alan Jones the right to advise and prioritise policy. Whether or not they were correct in their estimation, politicians and their minders came to see Jones as a make-or-break force. In the mid 1990s a New South Wales and a federal election changed governments in different directions with, in each case, the Jones factor seen as influential.
The influence Jones was able to exert was less the kind fairly won by an informed and responsible broadcaster. While Alan Jones got things done because a lot of the time he was right, it was also his Godfather-like presence that frightened people into action or submission. The power to come on air and regularly beat up transgressors is hard to counter. Even his station managers did not have an answer. Alan Jones was too important to 2UE to be easily told when to pull his head in.
* Australian television current affairs shows are often fashioned after their American counterparts. This one would copy the CNN Larry King Live show, with Alan Jones taking live questions from a national audience. Harry Miller had bargained for a two-year contract estimated to be worth $200 000 a year.2 Ironically, Miller’s deal would introduce Jones to a rival for his management role. Years after he introduced Jones to the new medium, Executive Producer Grant Vandenberg would take over some of Miller’s minding duties.
As he had shown with Balmain and Rugby League, Alan Jones had the courage to tackle something new, and again the challenge appeared to refresh him. After the summer break a trimmer and younger looking Alan emerged. He put the change down to a diet of steamed vegetables and grilled fish, though there was speculation that cosmetic surgery had been of assistance as well.
Alan Jones believed his success on radio would carry to the new medium and a wider national audience. He believed that he was in better contact with ordinary people and the issues that really mattered: ‘Outside [the media] the people with the most views and the most relevant views and who are consistently ignored by the media, except for a couple of letters to the editor, are the public. The public have views that may well be contradictory to the so-called experts. We’ll be hearing their own views.’3 Alan Jones did not count himself among the hated ‘experts’, even though in Sydney there was no more influential opinion-shaper: ‘Plurality of choice absolutely confounds and confuses people. Life’s not all that straightforward out there and in that complicated world … in a sense you’re making their minds up; you’re helping them to come to some sorts of conclusions.’4
The conventional promotional push by Channel 10 put Alan Jones under the spotlight of the tribal enemy, the out-of-touch mainstream media. He was unhappy with some of the coverage he got. ‘Later, asking a nice story be written from this interview, Jones explains that none have ever penned a nice word about him. A look through newspaper clippings proves that assertion wrong—he received high praise in the Australian and the Sunday Telegraph last year—but he apparently remembers bad things better.’5 Very capable of dishing it out, Alan’s thin skin was well known to colleagues at 2UE, as was his thirst for feeling underappreciated: ‘He is not happy unless he’s unhappy. He has to have something to whinge about. I have seen memos sent to him congratulating him on his ratings success then he’ll walk out half an hour later complaining bitterly that not a single person has congratulated him on the ratings.’
* New current affairs shows have difficulty swiftly establishing credibility and identity. It was always a gamble, with Ten needing ratings of around 15, an audience more cheaply and easily bought with an American sitcom. Of all the capital cities, Melbourne seemed to have the biggest problem with Jones. It was not the first time they sniffed at a host imposed from the north, but in Alan Jones’ case there was a particular repugnance for the ex-‘thugby’ coach.
* The bigger problem, which he chose to ignore, was his poor adaptation from radio to television. Although both are electronic media, the differences are extreme. The brighter light that television shone on Alan Jones highlighted weaknesses radio listeners were more likely to miss. The passion and fluency that carried him far at 2UE was harder to believe on the box. And when not believed, Alan Jones looks silly and sounds boring. Alan’s certitude and appetite for simplification can be irritating for people who want the facts and the right to make up their own mind. Under the all-seeing studio lights Alan’s lack of range in humour, warmth, understatement and irony wept through the makeup.
The experience was a serious challenge to both the notion that Alan Jones was in better touch with the public than most, and the idea that his charm would carry. The episode highlighted the reality of Alan’s limited appeal, not just in the television market but in radio as well. His entire 2UE audience was one-quarter of the audience watching 60 Minutes. As rival current affairs presenter Peter Luck commented, ‘the bottom line is a huge radio audience is only a couple of ratings points on television’.
* A great many politicians lining up for a chance to be on his program knew Alan Jones had a deep need to be needed. They understood by now that the force field of his power formed around personalities more than politics and policies. It was easier to win Alan with a show of tribute than with a good idea. He does not have a lot of time to listen and, although claiming to be well researched, not a lot of time to read. The key to getting him onside was bound up not only in bundles of cash but also in payments of courtesy, respect and friendship. Despite his constant claim that he was no one’s mouthpiece, it was increasingly understood, by media operatives in particular, that Alan Jones could not just be bought and his beliefs retuned, but that it need not cost a fortune.
* Through the 1990s, 2UE had the oldest radio audience in Sydney. It was a demographic not well catered for, and Alan Jones captured double the figures of his closest competitor for these older listeners: 50 per cent of his audience was over the age of 65; almost 60 per cent were over 55; 80 per cent were over 40.7 Here was another important secret of Alan’s success. While the rest of the industry turned its attention to the Coca-Cola generation, Alan Jones had huge sway with the aging demographic. Surveys showed his listeners as predominantly lower middle class retirees from Sydney’s south and southwest, and more likely female. It may have been that, like Alan, many were also lonely. They had picked him back in the 1980s and now they stuck to him. They loved him, loved him, loved him and he loved and hated them in return.
* Nineteen ninety-six was another busy year. Between July and August, 2UE turned its schedules inside out to accommodate the Atlanta Olympics. It turned out to be a stressful experience, more so perhaps for the production staff than for Alan Jones himself.
Jones broadcast live from Atlanta with a small support group, working difficult days. They had to chase hard to stay on top of the results, let alone broadcast three and a half hours of live radio from the other side of the world. Their apartment block, the Peachtree Loft, with bare floors, exposed and noisy concrete pipes, and no room service, was no treat to come back to after a 12-hour day.
Alan Jones’ enthusiasm for sport and his ability to convey the moment made an impact on his hard-pressed colleagues: ‘He was amazing during the Olympics. He would research all the stuff and retain it. He’d then spew it out and make it sound 100 per cent.’ But it still wasn’t fun and Alan might have been a tad unhappy too.
His colleagues saw how he wasn’t noticed in the United States. When he travelled to England his rugby credentials gave him some profile, but in Atlanta they did not count for much. This did nothing for his mood. The name ‘Alan Jones’ did not galvanise publicists in the way it did in Australia. Alan’s appointment book was too often empty when he could have been dining with other famous people. Production staff had trouble getting celebrity interviewees.
* Many of Alan Jones’ fellow workers believe he is tougher on women. According to one: ‘He tells […] women how to dress. They must look feminine … He believes women are stupid and should not be given equal status to men.’ Another said: ‘He did have girls in tears quite often’. And a third: ‘He hates women like you wouldn’t believe. He was so appalling to his female staff. It was shocking.’
When preparing a profile of Alan Jones that drew on a similar period, journalist David Leser got identical responses. He wrote of Jones screaming at women: ‘“Don’t you know who I am?” … “I am Alan Jones …” “I am not shouting”, he was heard shouting. “Aren’t you aware of my profile? Get out, get out …” “We have all worked very hard for him”, said one former staffer, and showed him the kind of loyalty he demands. But his loyalty to his staff can be very lacking. Says another: “Alan seems to have a problem with women. He treats us like we have no business being in the workforce. His language is gutter level”.’12
Alan Jones maintains to this day that he does not swear in front of women, an assertion that must cause teeth to grind in that revolving door of departing female employees. Months after Niamh Kenny resigned, Alan Jones’ personal assistant, Jill Newcombe, also left, after suffering a nervous breakdown. Housekeeper, Barbara Roughsedge was another casualty. A motherly regard for Jones over time turned into something very different; Roughsedge was not able to cope with the three different mood swings in a single hour. Friends say it took her two years to get over an acrimonious separation. When Jones was confronted about his treatment of these women, he would not make eye contact or apologise. Some felt his bad behaviour and complaints about trivial matters were part of a deliberate strategy to move them on. It was as if their time had passed, the crush was over and they were made more and more aware that Alan did not want them anymore.
* Later that year a political ally with a similar belief in protectionism made her maiden speech in the national parliament. One Nation’s Pauline Hanson, who hailed from Alan Jones’ home country of southeast Queensland, became another favourite with Alan and his audience. Pauline Hanson’s 10 September speech, making clear her dislike of economists, Aboriginal land rights, Asian immigration and multiculturalism, read like a transcribed summary of the Alan Jones Show. Alan Jones has also demonstrated plenty of form in his support for other homespun, simple-message, straight-talking politicians such as Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, Bob Katter and Ernie Bridge. As he frequently complains: ‘Common sense is regrettably uncommon’.
* Alan Jones conducted a poll on his program, finding 98.48 per cent of respondents in favour of Pauline Hanson’s views. The poll, and Hanson’s apparent harmony with Alan’s audience, were further persuasive of his argument that he spoke for the silent majority.
* In March 1998, the ABC’s Media Watch began the long process of prising open the 2UE stars’ Aladdin’s cave of sponsorship deals. John Laws was the target, presenter Richard Ackland identifying Laws’ contracts with ‘people like Qantas, Foxtel, Toyota, and the Home Loan outfit, RAMS. Each of them pay him anything up to a five figure amount every month to broadcast endorsements, embellishments and ad-lib flattery.’52
At this stage the attention of Media Watch was not on Alan Jones. But at the same time there was an embarrassing outing of Jones, ironically on his own network. Following an appearance by celebrity criminal Mark ‘Chopper’ Read on another ABC show, there was a chorus of criticism about the public broadcaster allowing an intoxicated Read to defend a life of antisocial behaviour. Alan Jones joined in and on 20 March 1998 was asked to appear on Nine’s Midday show. Viewers were invited to call in. Both the presenter, Kerri-Anne Kennerley, and her guest, Alan Jones, looked as if they were suddenly stricken by salmonella when ‘Chopper’ Read himself got on the line, telling Alan Jones: ‘People who throw stones better make sure they don’t live in glass houses … I never got arrested in a public toilet in London’.53
* John Laws and Alan Jones were disinclined to see fault in their own behaviour, but were happy to see each other brought to book. Their testy relationship was not helped by an interview Laws conducted at this time with another broadcaster Jones loathed, Andrew Denton. Denton’s own radio program regularly spoofed Alan Jones, comedian Dave Gibson enthusing so much about Jones’ love of ‘The Poo’ (tennis player Mark Philippoussis) that Gibson and Denton were left rolling on the floor.
On 11 August, the following exchange occurred on John Laws’ Foxtel interview program. Denton: ‘… how much of this do you edit by the way?’ Laws: ‘Not much’. Denton: ‘You’ll edit this bit. I want to run a competition to get Jonesy laid, nothing to do with his sexuality. It’s to do with, we know the type. Very stressed out people, very tense people who are very angry about a lot of things and who just, sometimes you just need a good root to calm yourself down and I think that’s what Alan needs, I really do.’63 The segment was not edited, no doubt lifting Laws and Denton a notch higher on Jones’ black list.
* Alan Jones’ treatment of politicians such as Peter Collins and John Hannaford had recently been given close attention in a profile of Alan Jones, much quoted in this book. ‘Who’s Afraid of Alan Jones?’ was the cover story of Good Weekend magazine on 14 November. Throughout 1998, David Leser made over 200 telephone calls in compiling the Walkley Award-winning report. It was the most comprehensive study of Alan Jones undertaken by the press, insightful and revealing for more than its many factual expositions. Leser had worried the tripe out of Alan Jones. He learned people had been asked by Jones to withhold cooperation. Jones also threatened defamation action, before agreeing to Harry Miller’s recommendation that he be interviewed.
Alan Jones hated the report, telling a correspondent: ‘Be assured, they’re not interested in a good story! They scoured the gutters in the hope that they would find whatever they could.’
* When he is questioned about why he keeps up the production line, Alan Jones says, ‘These people are the backbone of the show … Each of these individuals deserves a positive and, where possible, helpful response.’3 But there is also much in Alan Jones’ approach to his mail to raise suspicion about whether we see pure altruism at work. According to one inside observer: ‘It services his loneliness. The people who write to Jones show him the unconditional love that is otherwise missing from his life. He wants to be everybody’s guardian angel. It makes him feel like god.’
…A willingness to work beyond his salary should be praiseworthy. What is curious is the way Alan Jones himself bellyaches. Having accepted the burden, he then bewails the public treating him like an unpaid politician or ombudsman. ‘I just wish some of my listeners could see the correspondence that comes across my desk. I am not the Prime Minister, the Premier, the Ombudsman or anybody else!’4 A constant refrain is why am I doing this, and why is my effort not better appreciated? ‘I get a million and one letters here. I have to answer them. I’m answering yours at 3 o’clock on Sunday afternoon when most sensible people are having a break.’5 ‘It is 11 o’clock at night and this is the 100th letter.’ ‘Sometimes, I have to confess, I wonder why I bother.’6 ‘… there’s only one of me [he lies] … sometimes I think I am going around the bend.’7 Michael Darby, one of those of disappearing faith, says: ‘He does not care at all about the pain that his listeners feel, and he is in fact personally antagonised by the fact that they approach him’.8
As members of his staff know, Alan Jones generates unnecessary work. A computer illiterate, he has avoided the efficiency of electronic correspondence. ‘There is so much paper, he must cut down forests every day’, said one of his e-authors. ‘I would print off the email and type a reply. If he approved, the reply was ticked and sent. If he scrawled a cross on the draft, Jones would dictate an alternative reply, which would be then retyped and checked again before the send button was finally pressed.’ Alan Jones’ support workers are obliged to plot through barely legible correspondence and retype it before Alan sees it.
He also generates unnecessary mail. He replies to Christmas cards. He replies to press releases. He replies to letters from people who don’t identify themselves. One whole file of correspondence is designated ‘To the householder’. He replies to advertising brochures and form letters from publicists. He replies to letters that expressly say no reply is necessary or even wanted. He will write a thank you to a thank you card and get a letter saying, ‘I did not expect to get a thank you for my thank you’. And he will write again. Alan loves to write.
* Radio station employees are embarrassed when they are instructed to inform the nation’s leader that Alan Jones will soon be ready to see him.
* It is hard to think of many Australians who have done as much to devalue the office of public service as Alan Jones. Attacks on people with little opportunity to fight back occur almost daily. Defending bureaucratic process seems hopeless. One minister who was having trouble convincing Jones that a listener had not given him the full facts was driven to improperly reveal a confidential file. To the distress of many a public servant, the Jones bias too often infects their bosses.
* ‘The Curious Thing Mr Jones is this: that you seem to be saying that what you have done you weren’t obliged to do, and what you were obliged to do, you didn’t do.’1 It took these few well-chosen words from Australian Broadcasting Authority counsel Julian Burnside QC to remove another Alan Jones disguise. Jones’ stand before the ‘cash for comment’ inquiry was that he had unwisely failed to comprehend the detail of his contracts, but that at no stage had his opinions been influenced by the millions of dollars he received.
Before giving evidence, Alan Jones told his listeners: ‘The only spin that Jones puts on anything that he does on this program is Alan Jones’ spin. Let me tell my listeners what they most probably already know—I’ve never been paid to say anything, no one’s ever asked me to say anything in return for money. And certainly no one has ever prevented me from saying something, and it’s not the way I operate.’2
Over five decades and four careers, Alan Jones survived a range of crises: the departure from King’s, the loss of a New South Wales Parliament seat long held by the Liberals, sacked as a winning Wallabies coach and arrest in a public toilet. Now came a public trial with the potential to wreck his radio career and even produce criminal charges. But despite the folly of his argument and the finding going against him, Alan Jones was to triumph over this crisis as well, the experience highlighting the weakness of media regulations and the contrasting strength of owning the stage.
The public hearings began on 19 October 1999. Alan Jones seemed to genuinely welcome them. He seemed to genuinely believe that he would, in ‘contradistinction’ to his colleague John Laws, appear erudite and principled.
* Julian Burnside was unsurprised: ‘It was apparent during the hearing that the people who were worried about this were not the same people who listened to Mr Jones and Mr Laws. Their audiences were substantially uninterested in what was going on in the hearing. So it doesn’t surprise me in the least that they didn’t lose their audience and if they didn’t lose their audience they didn’t lose their power.’51
One listener, writing to the Sydney Morning Herald, expressed a possibly typical audience reaction: ‘His program is interesting, entertaining and informative and I do not give a hoot if he is getting paid by other people outside 2UE’.52 As a radio colleague said at the time: ‘Jones will continue on. He has nothing else in his life. He is a lonely man. His audience is his family and because it is such an intimate relationship, family members always put disagreements aside and are willing to forgive infidelities.’
* Alan Jones had been demonstrably caught cheating. It is hard to imagine a journalist enduring similar disgrace. It is even harder to imagine the politicians and bureaucrats that Alan Jones castigates daily surviving a tenth of the findings against him. But Alan Jones is unstoppable. Those who liked him liked him more, and those who were already sceptical liked him less. The divide deepened. Journalist David Marr saw the episode as evidence that Sydney had no shame. Other commentators throughout Australia were sure the same deals could not have gone down in other capital cities. Alan Jones was Sydney and Sydney was Jonestown: brazen, extrovert, smug and amoral.
* When John Laws carried on joking on air about ‘Polly the Parrot’, Alan Jones complained about the ‘pot shots’ telling Laws that when he had been in trouble with the law (presumably a reference to a contempt of court charge brought against Laws after he had interviewed a juror) Jones alone stood up for him. Jones thought Laws’ memory was ‘short’ and his sense of gratitude ‘limited’.49
John Laws replied on the same day: ‘Dear Alan, You are a very strange man. Of course I have always known you are a very strange man, it’s just that I didn’t know quite how strange. I am aware that my opinion of you matters very little. In fact I suspect the only opinion of you that matters to you is yours. How you manage to keep it elevated as you do is nothing short of amazing.’50
Laws denied his gratitude was limited: ‘You may not like to recall an incident in the past but circumstances rather demand you do, when you were in trouble with the law and on the “brink of going to gaol”, and I must say under far less seemly circumstances, I trust you recall I rang you at the Ritz Hotel. You talked of feeling like jumping out of the window. I did my best to support you. I realise I wasn’t alone …’51
Long John pointed to another double standard: ‘It’s all very well to appease your conscience by letter writing, but it is a lot better to confront the facts head on, and the facts are you have been, at times, vicious in your comments about me. You may well have been privately supportive, by privately I mean by way of letter to me, but publicly the story is very different—and that’s all right because you are entitled to your point of view. Dishonesty whispers, hypocrisy shouts—you shriek! But for God’s sake lay off the “Holier than Thou” attitude. It’s stupid apart from anything else.’52
He picked up on the subject of Jones’ execrable comedy. Alan had a 1950s collection of 1001 jokes that grew weaker by the week. ‘Q: What do you call a knight who is afraid to fight? A: Sir Render.’53 His colleague’s forced laughter got under Laws’ skin: ‘You are good at laughing Alan. What a pity you have never developed the ability to be able to laugh at yourself. If you found this morning’s Polly performance offensive then why didn’t you just tell me? If I were to write a letter to all the people who have ever made a comment about me on radio that I didn’t like I would have run out of ink 47 years ago. You must be careful, Alan, you are starting to give megalomania a bad name. Yours in haste John Laws CBE.’54 Laws might have been alluding to a similar comment by Winston Churchill, who said of a homosexual colleague, ‘he gives sodomy a bad name’.
* While Jones was getting his way with the police, he was not doing so well with young Marcus Schmidt. After Schmidt had sent him a list of career options, another meeting was scheduled at O’Connell Street. Before their dinner date, Alan Jones gave him a tour of the warehouse and again embraced him. Schmidt remembers opening Jones’ shirt, but resisted taking the physical relationship further. Schmidt says that before they moved to the garage Jones handed him the keys to his Mercedes-Benz, insisting Schmidt drive.
On the trip to the Dante Restaurant in Leichhardt, Alan Jones was awkward about being seen by members of the public but excited enough to risk reaching into Schmidt’s trousers. This annoyed the young man who, with his hands on the wheel, was in a weak position to resist.
At the restaurant, Jones introduced Schmidt as a family friend. Jones suggested Schmidt pursue a career as a painter as he had already sold some works. Schmidt says Jones spoke philosophically of being a ‘giver rather than a taker’. Schmidt thought the opposite. Alan, a practitioner of mind games, appeared to have met his match. Schmidt says he leaned across the table and interrupted Jones, telling his date, ‘You’re not going to get a head job out of me tonight’. According to Schmidt, his date ‘stopped talking and a big grin crossed his face and he leaned towards me and said “I was hoping to give you one”’.
In the car afterwards, Alan Jones continued to fondle Marcus Schmidt. Schmidt said that in Jones’ garage he struggled to break the embrace. He said Jones had him trapped, but Schmidt was, in his words, adamant that Jones ‘would have to make something happen for me before I put out’.
Marcus Schmidt is insightful in his description of the encounter and happy to have his story told. Indeed, he has written about it in greater detail in an unpublished autobiograpy. His account of the flirtation with Alan Jones is revealing of Jones’ repression, loneliness and fear. The encounter with Schmidt does more than challenge the proposition that Jones’ attention to young men is always unselfish.
* After his contract expired on 31 December 2001, Alan Jones resigned from 2UE. He severed contact with agent Harry Miller when their contract ran out on 24 January 2002. At this time the ABC’s JJJ network broadcast a bloopers tape leaked from 2UE of edited highlights of Jones the profane in full fury: ‘Oh shit a fucking brick and I hate doing 60 second fucking commercials. Fucking sick of this. Jesus it annoys me, these fucking people. I mean I just tell ’em I wouldn’t do it. This is just bullshit, no one listens, just a fucking waste of time and money. Oh shit fucking copy. Oh shit a fucking brick. God almighty. It’s just rubbish this, absolute rubbish. Oh shit, oh shit a fucking brick. Fucking sick of this. It’s one thing to prop up the bloody station and you are just treated like offal. I’ve had a gutful for one day and I’m also sick and tired of propping up the fucking station and having to put up with them. Fucking sick of the lot of them and the whole bloody show. Just a fucking waste of time and money. I’m Alan Jones.’79
The damage to Jones’ upright persona was inconsequential. His audience was not likely to tune to a youth network. Indeed, his status was blooming. While 2GB was opening its chequebook, Alan was rubbing shoulders with a president. During an unusually long off air break, Alan Jones acted as master of ceremonies on a speaking circuit for former United States President Bill Clinton.
* In 2004 Alan Jones had his 1988 Australia Day honour upgraded to Officer of the Order of Australia. When the Australian Financial Review magazine again examined power in Australia, Alan Jones ranked eighth, behind his friend Kerry Packer and ahead of another magnate, Frank Lowy.1 It was not the size of his audience that delivered the standing, but the way he uses it. Alan Jones harassing and haranguing, on air and in writing, intimidates others into submitting to the belief that he really does represent public opinion.
* For the audience aged 70 plus, Jones held a massive 60.8 per cent share.
* Alan Jones continued with the Today segment despite rivals mocking it as egocentric and out of date. Indeed there is every indication it was at this moment, when the editorial was first aired, that Network Seven broke the spell of Nine’s ascendancy in news and current affairs. For years, in every market, when Alan Jones came on the Today show, 30 000 to 40 000 viewers turned off. Viewer feedback ran two to one against Jones. It is not hard to work out why. A humourless, hectoring Jones is not everyone’s cup of breakfast tea.
Alan Jones takes a contrary view, blaming the former Today team for bleeding ratings and telling colleagues that his segment keeps the show going. Jones had not seen himself to blame for a similar failure back at Channel 10, when Alan Jones Live had its brief run. When exposed to a cross-section of the Australian public, the majority response appears to be negative.
* He makes a habit of never looking back. There was talk of plans to move to ‘Charlieville’ and broadcast from the farm. So maybe Alan Jones is also in some way contemplating retreat. While I can only observe from a distance I see few signs of a happier and gentler Alan. One close associate says he continues to complain of having no real friends. The biggest gap in his life remains, as he has admitted, the absence of a life partner. Jones’ loneliness is evident when he crashes his way into the company of his young friends. There have been moments of embarrassment when a smitten Alan barges uninvited into the company of a fancied sportsman or pesters a rising musician.
* Whenever there is talk of Jones, speculation about his sexuality is high on the agenda. The more he hides, the more he draws attention to himself. And the more this goes on, the more anxious he becomes about controlling those who threaten his fragile identity. Ironically, a man who relies on a perception that he stands in the middle of mainstream Australia has always lived on the margin. I sometimes wonder whether this compulsion to represent himself as the majority is related to his disguise. Meanwhile, a constant theme of his broadcasts is the decline of public and moral standards.
At the office a red-faced, apoplectic Jones continues to harass his workers. If they argue he gets redder and screams. They learn it is easier to apologise. Not long after the fury passes, a different Jones is sure to appear, offering cups of tea and charm, but his co-workers find it hard to forget the abuse. When Alan Jones laments on air the escalation of public violence, I wonder whether he ever thinks of the violence of his own words.