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John Singleton is rapidly gaining a reputation for being an advertising man more interested in making money then being a responsible mini media mogul
But wait, there’s no more Tim Shaw on John Singleton’s 2GB in Sydney. The circumstances surrounding the sacking of Shaw just hours after an NRMA board meeting last Thursday suggest that Singo has a few lessons to learn about being a media proprietor.

If 2GB was seriously trying to convince everyone that the decision was all about Tim Shaw’s ratings, then why would they sack him just hours after he voted not to direct a $2 million advertising account from the NRMA to Singo’s advertising outfit Singleton Ogilvy Mather (SOM). C’mon Singo, you know all about perceptions. Cripes, you’re even talking about setting up PR firms to service those big former government clients like Telstra and Qantas.


These clients sure are paying hefty fees to Singo based on SOM’s boomer 54 per cent profit surge to $8.3 million for 1999. The value of Singo’s 30 per cent stake leapt by $5 million on Friday to $50 million after this result was released. Naturally, it was helped by the taxpayer funded Republican campaign which was an expensive failure.


2GB boss George Buschman told the Daily Telegraph the sacking was totally because of Tim Shaw’s ”appalling” ratings. But everyone on 2GB has appalling ratings although George was maintaining that ”Tim performed a lot worse” than the rest. If this was so, why didn’t 2GB have someone lined up to replace Steak Knives – or did they only realise how bad the ratings were during the NRMA board meeting. Weekend talk radio is not exactly an easy gig either.


Tim Shaw, who became famous after Demtel spent $35 million on his face saying “but wait, there’s more” in the 1980s, was doing a fine job on the weekend shifts for 2GB. However, he now has his weekends back and more time to devote to his NRMA board duties. Steak Knives, a solid Liberal supporter, is backing Nick Whitlam’s push to demutualise the lumbering insurance giant. As an employee of Singo’s, it seems he was expected to vote for Singleton Ogilvy Mather to get the $2 million advertising account ahead of those Poms Saatchi and Saatchi.


So how did Singo find out about Shaw’s treachery – something that could otherwise be interpreted as him performing his fiduciary duties as an independent NRMA director. Afterall, he is not on the board as a representative of Singo, he is there to act in the best interests of NRMA policyholders. Shaw gave a firm no comment to both The Australian and Crikey when we called, but the 16-member NRMA board leaks like a sieve so it did not take long to find out what happened.


Apparently Anne Keating led the charge within the boardroom to back SOM getting the work. The sister of our esteemed former PM has known Singo for a few years through Paul who worked closely with him during Labor’s 13 years in office. Singo was furious when Labor gave its business to Saatchi & Saatchi in 1998 in the first Keating-free Labor government campaign for more than 15 years. We don’t know that Anne Keating told Singo how the NRMA vote went but we do know that Anne was leading the charge for Singo was rather disappointed that Saatchi knocked him off in a 7-5 vote. Did he therefore order Tim Shaw’s sacking in a fit of pique. Of course not. He suddenly realised Steak Knives was rating poorly and sacked him forthwith.

The sacked steak knife is consulting his lawyer and Crikey reckons he’ll have a reasonable shot if he runs it.


Maybe Tim Shaw should become a columnist for Eric Beecher’s new magazine The Eye, which has Singo as both 20 per cent shareholder and public executioner. Staff at The Eye from Beecher down were shocked when Singo was recently quoted separately in The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald bagging his own magazine. He criticised it for not being controversial enough, complained he could never get through to Beecher on the phone and said circulation was only running at about 9000. With friends like Singo, Eric Beecher does not need any enemies.


Singo’s other flutters with the media include a brief stint on the board of John Fairfax after it was floated by Conrad Black in 1992. However, he quit this later that year after he backed Canada’s Izzy Asper into his bargain basement $250 million purchase of Channel Ten from those dills at Westpac who had taken the business over from the Lowy family when it went broke.

If only the Lowys and Westpac had stuck around they would have enjoyed the profits that saw Izzy make a 20 fold return on his money. The consortium only injected $90 million of equity and that equity is now worth more than $1.5 billion. Singo pocketed $55 million in profit from this exercise but foolishly sold out at $1.30 a share – well shy of the current $2.20 share price.


The whisper around Sydney is that Singo was encouraged to invest in Ten by Kerry Packer who wanted some friendly shareholders as competition for his Nine Network. Another Packer mate Robert Whyte also took a stake in Ten. Westpac was advised on the Ten sale by good old Malcolm Turnbull who chose Singo to run the thoroughly unsuccessful “Yes” campaign for the Republic.


The Channel Ten profit gave Singo the play money to pursue his media mogul tendencies – but he seems to have lost the plot recently. Even old mate Graham Richardson thought he went over the top when he took the microphone over during the 2GB breakfast show to viciously sledge SOCOG for not ripping the Olympic broadcasting contract off the discredited 2UE.

Good on Singo for sledging Laws and Jones but given that he was also Media Director for the Olympics, it was a pretty bald-faced move to demand that his radio station be given the broadcast rights.

And for a man worth more than $100 million, he took it very badly, insulting all sorts of people and resigning from his Olympics gig to boot. Maybe he can join other Olympic outcasts such as Phil Coles and Rod McGeogh watching the Olympics from the stands.

Singo has been deeply involved with that pure and innocent institution known as the NSW Right of the Labor Party but seems to think he can throw his weight around more than anyone these days.

Maybe he’s been necking too many Darwin Stubbies in the bar of his Darling Park office. Or maybe it just gives us a little insight into the personality of this ocker adman who is on to his sixth wife.

Peter Fray

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