Ray Hadley’s rabble-rousing radio show is networked to about 700,000 people across Australia. That’s not so say that everybody loves Raymond, but he couldn’t care less. The taxi driver turned self-made sultan of the airwaves says: “Mad as I sometimes appear, I firmly believe in what I’m saying.”
Hadley tops the Sydney radio ratings with a dizzying combination of interviews, talkback, hyped-up opinion, satirical songs, live-read advertisements and emails from his listeners, all bleeding into one. But what’s most striking about his daily performance (to The Power Index at least) is his rude contempt for politicians, judges, bureaucrats, climate alarmists and all who disagree with him, who he regularly describes as “idiots”, “imbeciles”, “half-wits”, “pelicans”, “dopes” and “dole bludgers”.
As with his 2GB teammate Alan Jones, it’s hard to listen to Hadley if you don’t share his strident views. And it can be even harder to get a fair hearing.
When one recent guest — Channel Seven reporter Lee Jeloscek — tried to make a point before Hadley could get stuck in, he went off like a Catherine wheel. “No hang on. Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa! Listen! Listen! Listen! Listen to me! Listen to me! Listen to me! Goodbye Lee. You seem to forget, Lee, it’s the Ray Hadley Morning Program.”
And even after he hit the dump button, Hadley raved on: “I’m not in the habit of being ridden roughshod over by lightweights like you … I’m not in the habit of allowing blokes like him to overtake my program.”
Nor does he confine his scorn to junior reporters. When the (then) foreign minister Alexander Downer refused to dance to his tune in 2005, Hadley famously snapped: “You’re a pompous dope. That’s what you are. You’re a pompous dope.”
And as Downer spluttered back “don’t be so bloody rude”, Hadley attacked again: “No, I’ll be more than rude to you. You’re a disgraceful … you’re a disgrace.”
Hadley’s interviewing style may explain why Julia Gillard has refused to come on his program. In August last year, Hadley high-tackled her on the carbon tax, when he was invited on to Nova FM (which has offices in the same building). Gillard complained it was a set-up (although Hadley claims he had no idea she would be on), and the pair have not talked since. “I don’t think she’s a fan,” says Hadley.
Despite his hefty audience (only Jones’ is bigger), Hadley claims to have little power in federal politics. But he has had at least one big victory: for seven months until February last year, Hadley battered away at the Labor government’s home-insulation policy, which had led to the deaths of four young men and, with the help of The Australian, he finally managed to demolish it.
More recently, he has been savaging Gillard over the waste in her school-building program and her carbon tax “lie”, while hoeing in to the three independents — Rob Oakeshott, Andrew Wilkie and Tony Windsor — who, he says, have far too much power.
Just about every day, Hadley plays Tell Me Lies to his listeners or pans Wilkie for his presumption in trying to change the pokies laws. “This guy ran third in Denison, with only 13,000 primary votes and he’s trying to change people’s lives,” he says again and again.
It’s hard to believe Hadley’s relentless rap has no effect on the tone and content of Australia’s political debate. But Hadley claims his power is overstated.
“I think sometimes we get far too much credit for what we do,” he says. And far too much criticism? “Yeah, that too.”
So what’s the secret of Hadley’s success? Hard work for one: he gets in at 5am and is across everything by the time he goes on air. But he also connects with his audience. Deep down, he’s still a battler, one of them, a cabbie who loves Devon sandwiches and old-fashioned bread.
As Hadley tells it, he’s just an ordinary bloke with firmly held opinions. When he started at 2UE, he asked the station’s legendary breakfast host Gary O’Callaghan upon whom he should model himself.
“What’s your name?” asked O’Callaghan. “Ray Hadley,” he replied. “Well, how do you think you can cope with being Ray Hadley, because my best advice to you is to be that person.”
That person is a butcher’s son, who started life in a Housing Commission fibro in Sydney’s western suburbs. And unlike Jones, Hadley really did come from Struggle Street. At four years old he was packed off to live with his grandparents in Eungai Rail, a one-horse town in mid-north NSW, when his mother broke her back and couldn’t cope with two young kids. His grandfather worked in a sawmill there; his uncle drove a cattle truck; his aunts worked in factories and sandwich shops.