Yesterday’s bizarre Data & Commerce AGM left a gaping hole in 3AK’s program schedule. Station news director Denis O’Kane attempted to fill Jeff Kennett’s boots for the Drive shift – and this is how it unfolded.

And under the circumstances, he performed like a trooper, fielding dozens of calls from upset and disappointed listeners.

Trouble was, he wasn’t authorised to tell the whole story. O’Kane appears not to have been fully briefed by managing director Jeff Chatfield. So when Crikey’s keen RMIT intern, Ben Shearman called in, Denis was not prepared for the key question he asked:

3.14pm

Denis: Now to Ben from South Melbourne. Go ahead Ben.

Ben: Hi, yeah. I thought Jeff was actually getting a lot better in the last couple of weeks.

Den: Yeah? Well the reason for that I imagine was he was stirred up by the election campaign. He had plenty of fodder there. So certainly he improved. He had the information there.

Ben: Yep. And is it right that the chairman was actually kicked off the Board today?

Den: The chairman is gone from the board, and one other director is gone, an independent director. I mean this sort of thing happens. It happens in a lot of public companies. It happened in ours today. We keep broadcasting. We are a radio station, we are on air. There have been changes at the top. And look, the reason for me being here is to try and make good radio Ben. So I hope you keep supporting us, alright.

Cutting off Ben, Denis probably thought hed dealt with that curly question. But when “Craig from Collingwood” got on the talkback line 15 minutes later, the gig was up:

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3.32pm:

Denis: Next we have Craig from Collingwood. A suburb after my own heart. No-one gave us a chance in the grand final, Collingwood, but 15 minutes out from the final siren we could have won it.

“Craig”: You know what? We’re gunna win it next year, buddy!

Den: Craig! Talk to me!

“Craig”: Now, what is going on with 3AK. I really like your radio station. But you seem to be lurching from chaos to catastrophe.

Den: Why?

“Craig”: Well, you’re losing staff left, right and centre. And you know Denis, you’re a Magpie like me, so you can tell it like it is. I think you owe your listeners a more open and honest explanation as to why Jeff left.

Den: Jeff was at the AGM today. He got up and announced his resignation from being a director of the company and being a presenter. I mean how much clearer can I be than that.

“Craig”: Oh, that’s very clear. But isn’t it also true that the chairman of the company was sacked by the managing director today? Didn’t that happen today.

Den: Well, I tell you what I’ll do. I’ll get the managing director Jeff Chatfield in a little bit later on. He doesn’t know this but I’ll get him in and he can explain exactly what happened this afternoon, alright Craig?

“Craig”: Thank goodness! I heard that Jeff quit in disgust and I’m not surprised.

Den: Jeff Chatfield?

“Craig”: Jeff Kennett quit in disgust. It would be like Mick Malthouse being sacked by Eddie McGuire, and I just want to know why it happened.

Den: Craig, stay tuned because at 26 to four I put on notice now Jeff Chatfield get your vocal chords ready I’ll get you in the studio and you can explain exactly what happened this afternoon.

The decision to get Chatfield on air was a good response under pressure by O’Kane, who by this stage probably smelled a rat about “Craig from Collingwood”.

But the lame exchange that followed from the managing director and program director indicated that 3AK management was determined to try and keep their listeners in the dark.

The sanitised chat that followed was classic airbrush stuff, and revealed precisely nothing of the real reasons behind the Kennett departure – and that he was pushed.

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3.55pm:

Den: Jeff Chatfield. Thanks for coming on the show on whats been a very busy day for you.

Jeff Chatfield: It was a very busy day.

Den: What happened today at the AGM?

JC: Jeff Kennett stood up at the end and said he wasn’t happy with various things. And he announced that he was resigning as a director, and as a presenter on 3AK

Den: Did he give any reasons.

JC: He gave a couple of reasons, yes. They weren’t, in my opinion, incredibly strong reasons. But he had his reasons and he made his statement and he left.

Den: So it’s a pure resignation?

JC: He certainly wasn’t pushed.

Den: Theres been other questions, and this is a ticklish situation for you no doubt, but there’s been a couple of questions about what happened to our Chairman?

JC: DCL is a Melbourne-based company, it’s got some very reasonably sized businesses in Melbourne. It owns Talk 1116 3AK, it owns 3MP, it owns a business called Com Chord, which is based in Melbourne. It’s just bought another business based in Melbourne called Tele-Con. So all its business activities are in Melbourne, and consequently the view of some of the shareholders were that we should have directors that are based in Melbourne. And what has been happening is weve been flying back and forth two directors from Perth and it’s getting a bit difficult and it’s possibly more appropriate that we get some independent people that know the market here that live here are know how Melbourne works.

Den: Thank you for clearing that up this afternoon

JC: Thank you.

Den: Jeff Chatfield, the managing director of DCL, the owners of 3AK

Chatfield’s perserverence with the fiction that Kennett simply resigned, for no good reason, and that this came out of the blue, shows just how much Data & Commerce management holds its audience in contempt.

The conversation that followed provided a nice little epitaph for Jeffs short-lived career with the Data & Commerce crazy bunch:

Den: Dorothy from Brighton. You have a song for Jeff.

Dorothy: yes, Denis.

Dear Jeff sincerely:

Wherever you go,

Whatever you do,

I want you to know,

Im be following you

So much love to you Jeff.

Den: Good on you Dorothy. You may have to go to Canberra.

I will too.

Den: Good onya,

Katherine from Werribee

Den: Have you got a song for Jeff?

No, I havent, but the lady before said it all, and like the first caller, Im afraid I cant listen to your station again.

I have not had to buy a paper from day one, hes been so informative.

Den: Katherine. Youre breaking my heart.

I dont think so.

Den: You do. You are.

Den: Elanour:

Ive got a question.

Den: Yes.

Elanour: Youve got a presenter starting tomorrow. Did you have him stainding in the wings like a stand-by?

Den: No. Terrys a good mate of mine. I rang Terry, and said, do me a favour can you come in.

Terry Laidler is that man. A former ABC man, and more recently a broadcast journalism teacher, he walks in the 3AK revolving door and hops on the Jeff Kennett hotseat this afternoon at 3pm.

We wish him luck.

Peter Fray

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