Australia’s most profitable and high-rating talk radio station,
Melbourne’s 3AW, is in the midst of some unusual instability courtesy
of concerns about its AFL football calling and the role of the
screaming fisherman, Rex Hunt. The ructions came to a head last week when 3AW General Manager, Shane Healy, was
removed from his post, although he’ll remain an executive within 3AW’s parent company, Southern Cross Broadcasting.
Ditching Healy surprised many observers because he was in charge of
high-risk change of frequency which takes effect on 1 May. It remains
to be seen whether the ageing army of 3AW listeners will have the
ability to get out of their rocking chairs and switch the dial from
1278 to 693.
While the frequency hopping is controversial, it was management
dissatisfaction with the football coverage that triggered the move on
Healy. Southern Cross Broadcasting’s overall radio boss, Graham Mott,
personally taken management responsibility for the AFL coverage.
Earlier this year Healy appointed “Race Track”
Ralph Horowitz as football producer. Horowitz employed former Channel Seven reporter Craig Hutchison
to host the pre-match coverage and call with Dwayne Russell on Saturday
night. While management appear to be dissatisfied with Hutchison’s
calling, it’s believed the station’s number one caller Rex Hunt has not
been happy with his involvement in the pre-match coverage.
Hunt is also unhappy with Horowitz
producing the program from the commentary box rather than the studio.
Horowitz has told colleagues that “producing from the studio is like
producing from the moon” but Hunt works best when flying by the seat of
his pants, not when being heavily structured.
The footy on 3AW this year has been
introduced by a loud rock track as part of a concerted effort to
“go young” in opposition to MMM, where Hutchison worked for the
previous eight years. In doing this there is always the
danger of losing the core elderly audience, something Mott was loath to
do. Already the rock track is gone and Hunt is now the first
voice you hear, not Hutchison.
Meanwhile, Sam Newman walked out of the MMM commentary box at half time
in disgust on Saturday, supposedly because Geelong and the Western
Bulldogs were playing an ugly brand of football. The two most fancied
Melbourne-based clubs ended up playing a classic which the Bulldogs won
by a point, so Newman is left looking stupid and MMM is failing to take
advantage of 3AW’s own problems, although some cynics reckon it was just another publicity stunt.
Newman and Hunt used to be great mates and worked together for many
years on 3AW but ended up falling out, partly because Eddie McGuire
poached Newman to MMM in 2000 on a huge package. The secret of dealing
with their rampant egos is anyone’s guess.