Is Andrew Bolt poised to spearhead John Singleton’s assault on the Melbourne airwaves, defecting from talk titan 3AW for a prominent on-air role with the revamped 3MP?

In the latest radio power-play aimed at breaking Fairfax-owned 3AW’s long-time monopoly on the city’s commercial talk radio market, Crikey understands that Australia’s self-declared most popular newspaper columnist and conservative commentator will soon join fellow Fairfax defector Steve Price at the new venture.

Bolt failed to appear on his usual breakfast slot on the Fairfax-owned 3AW yesterday, adding to frenzied speculation he would soon announce the move.

Last week, Macquarie said that 2UE presenter (and former 3AW talker and program manager) Steve Price, whose contract expires at the end of the month, will be the face of 3MP as it emerges from the ratings wilderness.

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Pacific Star, Macquarie’s partner in the new station, is refusing to comment. Chief executive Barrie Quick advised Crikey to ring back tomorrow for an “update” on the situation. Quick has previously said he was in the process of poaching a number of high-profile personalities and opinion leaders to spearhead the on-air assault.

Yesterday, Bolt posted this blog in advance of the 3AW no-show, sparking rampant speculation in the comment string that 3MP would emerge as Bolt’s new home. He said:

“Apologies to 3AW listeners for my non-appearance this morning on the 3AW spot I’ve filled for so many years. I’ve loved working with Ross and John, but plan to do something rather more ambitious — something I am certain will appeal to many blog readers.

I’ll let you know more when I can.”

Hey Hey It’s Saturday funnyman and 3AW regular John Blackman then posted a link on his website to Bolt’s blog musing on the irony of the poaching, with AW breakfast host Ross Stevenson remaining good friends with Price from his time on the station.

There was no mention yesterday of Bolt’s absence from either Stevenson or breakfast co-host John Burns yesterday.

The 3MP transformation will finally bring competition to the Melbourne talk radio market, which currently has no second commercial talk station. Since Fairfax purchased Southern Cross Broadcasting for $480 million in 2007, 3AW and sister station Magic 1278  have been responsible for the vast majority of  its radio earnings. For years, 3AW’s advertising monopoly has been considered ripe for the picking.

Media analyst Roger Coleman, who holds Pacific Star shares, told Crikey Fairfax has gouged $16 million from the Melbourne radio market last year with total earnings for the radio division at $25.9 million. Coleman says the poaching of Bolt makes sense because of the “cultural schism” between Fairfax and the shock-jock philosophy north of the Murray, which 3MP will attempt to import into Victoria.

Coleman likened the 3MP salvo as a replay of Macquarie Radio Network’s attack on 2UE in 2002 when Macquarie famously poached Alan Jones for $40 million.

Last October, Crikey reported tensions were growing between Fairfax and Bolt, with speculation a studio would be built at the Herald and Weekly Times building at Southbank if he was to continue his Tuesday morning appearances with Stevenson and Burns.

3AW shares a new building with The Age and insiders say Herald Sun owners the Herald and Weekly Times would be happy to finally free Bolt from the clutches of a commercial rival.

A regular radio slot might mean Bolt would have to reduce his commitment to his Herald Sun column and blog, which is updated feverishly between the hours of 6am and midnight.