Alan Jones is not a man; he’s a force of nature. Cyclone Alan has been written off as a spent force many times, but he keeps spinning, wreaking havoc and destroying anyone who stands in his way.
He’s got energy, persistence, hide and an ego as big as the Sydney Harbour Bridge. No other broadcaster can match his track record of elevating stories into scandals, amplifying his listeners’ anxieties and nagging decision makers until he gets his way. Jones is not just a radio host — he’s a self-appointed ombudsman on a mission to right society’s wrongs.
On air he rants and raves; off air he pesters politicians and important decision makers with endless correspondence. And it works — from badgering the NSW government into covering medical expenses for a tourist injured on a Sydney train to forcing Coca-Cola to pay compensation for a man who was shot while servicing a vending machine. Senior NSW Labor figures have told The Power Index that Jones played a key role in exposing serious problems in the south-west Sydney health service during the Carr era and that he was an “invaluable” source of advice during the 2008 equine flu outbreak.
“He’s a lot more than a shock jock,” says a former NSW Labor premier. “He plays the role of an MP except he’s on the radio every morning.”
Jones refuses to let politicians set the agenda, and is not afraid to tackle topics that seem to have little appeal to his big-city listeners. Throughout this year he has waged a ferocious campaign against coal seam gas companies forcing farmers off their land — an issue Labor and the Liberals had put in the too-hard basket. Jones’ countless pleas for politicians to oppose the “r-ping” of prime agricultural land paid off in August when Tony Abbott told him that he would back farmers’ rights to deny miners access to their properties.
But Jones’ status as the undisputed king of talkback is under threat for the first time in a decade. His heir apparent, Ray Hadley, now has a bigger audience share and has outdone him of late in setting the national agenda. His age is beginning to show. He can still make a splash, but he’s not the titan he once was.
“Jones is getting older and there are days when he isn’t on top of the newspapers and newscycle,” says a well-placed 2GB insider. “Sometimes you’ll see that he doesn’t really pick up news until a day or two after it has broken.”
Nor has he ever been able to shift votes en masse. His ferocious campaign against NSW Premier Bob Carr in the lead-up to the 2003 election went nowhere; ditto his anti-Morris Iemma and Kevin Rudd crusades in 2007. Jones speaks to a rusted-on audience that is older and more conservative than the Australian average. You can’t listen to him for long unless you agree with him. In late 2010 he ran an online poll that found 98.7% of his listeners didn’t want a carbon tax (the latest Newspoll shows support for the carbon tax at 36%).
Nevertheless, his ratings remain astronomical: half a million Sydneysiders tune into his 2GB breakfast show every week and his total audience grows to 900,000 when you factor in regional syndication.
“I think he is a champion of the voiceless of society,” News Limited columnist Piers Akerman tells The Power Index. “He has fulfilled the role that many people on the Left have tried to claim for their folk heroes. He actually bats for the battlers.”
Jones’ biographer Chris Masters isn’t sold: “He believes his show is real democracy, electronic democracy. I think that’s a joke. His friends are the elite and a lot of powerbroking is done on their behalf. It’s a very ugly power.”
Jones is Jeckyll and he’s Hyde. He will move mountains for his favourites, but he’s ruthless if you dare cross him.
“He can make you feel like the most interesting person in the world,” says a 2GB colleague, “but he can turn on you in an instant.”