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TV & Radio

Oct 1, 2012

Unsackable: why Alan Jones can say what he likes

The public might wonder why Alan Jones can get away with increasingly outrageous comments -- but with this many share options, and that many listeners, it's hard to get the Parrot to stop screeching.

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Politicians are railing against him, social media is in meltdown and advertisers are pulling their spending. Yet, despite his insensitive comments about Julia Gillard’s father to the Sydney University Liberal Club, Alan Jones’ status as the king of talkback seems as assured as ever.

As Crikey hit deadline this morning, over 17,000 people had signed a change.org petition calling for 2GB to terminate Jones’ contract immediately.

Yet that’s an unlikely — almost impossible — proposition for several reasons. If any Australian media personality is unsackable, it’s Alan Jones.

Firstly, Jones is more than just an employee of the Macquarie Radio Network, which owns 2GB. Although the popular belief that he owns 20% of the company isn’t true, he is its fourth largest shareholder. When Jones re-signed with 2GB in 2008, he received 4,000,000 MRN share options as part of the deal. In August he exercised his option for a first tranche of 1,333, 334 shares, putting him behind only John Singleton, Mark Carnegie and Russell Tate in the ownership stakes.

Then there’s the Parrot’s contribution to the station’s profits. Macquarie Radio Network has only two assets: 2GB and golden oldies music station 2CH. And on 2GB, only two shows command an average audience over 80,000.

“There are two people who make the station work: Alan Jones first and Ray Hadley second,” says stockbroker Roger Colman.

Although Hadley has a bigger audience share, it was Jones who transformed 2GB from a ratings joke into a juggernaut, and it’s Jones who has the most listeners. According to the latest ratings results, 151,000 Sydneysiders are tuned in to his show at any one time. A total of 442,000 listen over a week.

It’s important to remember exactly who those listeners are when assessing the likely impact of Jones’ latest gaffe. They’re not likley to be venting their spleen on Twitter or signing online petitions.

Colman describes the relationship between Jones and his audience as a “closed and unbreakable circle”. “His key listeners are over 55, they are right wing. They agree with him that Julia Gillard is a bitch and witch. There is no mismatch between him and his listeners.”

That’s why Colman says Jones’ latest comments are a “non issue” when it comes to the long-term profitability of his show.

Jones’ biographer, Chris Masters, agrees: “His evangelical following is small but big in radio terms. They won’t be upset by what he has to say. They are true believers. I don’t think they’d be too bothered at 2GB. The fact this man has been lead news across the nation would delight them.”

Indeed, there’s no sign that being outrageous counts against radio hosts in the long term. Mazda, Telstra, Harvey Norman, Fantastic Furniture, Blackmores, Crazy John’s, Holden, Vodafone and the Good Guys pulled their sponsorship from Kyle Sandilands’ TV and radio shows last year after he vilified a female journalist. Yet despite the outrage, the Kyle and Jackie O show is back on top of the ratings with 584,000 Sydney residents tuning in every week (more than listen to Jones). And there’s no shortage of sponsors filling the ad breaks.

Cynics note that canny advertisers can get plaudits for pulling their ads when the controversy is raging, then quietly buy ad space again when the heat dies down.

Then there is Jones’ track record: he’s survived plenty of storms as turbulent than this. Remember the London loo incident? The cash for comment scandal? His role in the Cronulla riots? Calling for Gillard to be thrown out to sea in a chaff bag?

“The nation is shocked by this but I’m not a bit surprised,” Masters said. “If Jones is exposed to a broader audience, he will get a reaction like this. If the broad public see and hear what he gets up to they are appalled.” Yet after each outrage Jones bounces back more popular than before.

ABC Radio National’s Phillip Adams put it best when he told Crikey’s sister site The Power Index last year: “He is like Godzilla roaming around eating power lines. Rather than getting electrocuted, he grows stronger.”

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