Over a crackly telephone line, a caller to TNT Radio’s The Mike Ryan Show explains why he doesn’t support a carbon emissions target.
“Let’s stop being afraid of carbon. After all, we are carbon-based lifeforms, that’s exactly what we are. Let’s start talking about pollution instead,” the caller says, deadpan, as the host agrees in the background.
Someone stumbling onto the radio station might assume this is a crank caller ringing into an AM talkback show. But the guest is United Australia Party Senator Ralph Babet, a Victorian touter of conspiracy theories and former real estate agent. The radio station is not your typical terrestrial network either.
TNT Radio is a newly established internet radio program based out of the Gold Coast that’s become a home for Australia’s fringe political figures and international conspiracy theorists. Launched at the start of 2022, the station broadcasts talk radio 24/7 with more than 20 hosts from around the world listed on its website. Shows have hours-long slots, are seemingly pre-recorded, and are often repeated to fill the week’s schedule. The station even stumped up $50,000 to buy naming rights to this year’s NSW’s journalism awards, the Kennedy Awards.
What makes TNT Radio different from other internet radio stations is its editorial focus on fringe and conspiracy topics far outside of the mainstream. The station’s website promises that its hosts will cover topics like “Climate Crisis, Pandemics, Covid19 Malfeasance, Big Tech Censorship, Digital Control, Government Tyranny, Corruption, Propaganda, Democracy”.
Specifically, TNT Radio’s hosts deny climate change, fearmonger about vaccines, take pro-Russian stances towards the Russia-Ukraine war, and promote other right-wing culture war topics. Australian presenters include One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts (who most recently interviewed failed transphobic Liberal Party candidate Katherine Deves) and Graham Hood, a former pilot who became a major figure of Australia’s freedom movement (the website promotes anti-vaccine, anti-government events like protests organised by the movement). The station’s Twitter account also reposts videos from Fox News and far-right US newspapers The Gateway Pundit and The Epoch Times.
Mike Ryan is a central voice of TNT Radio, hosting the prime radio slot of 3-5pm each afternoon. A bio on the station’s website says Ryan has worked in Australia and the United States as a radio host and journalist. Other than Babet, his recent guests include former MP and United Australia Party (UAP) leader Craig Kelly, former MP-turned-conspiracy blogger George Christensen, anti-vaccine lawyer and UAP candidate Tony Nikolic, international anti-vaccine celebrity Dr Judy Wilyman, and pro-Russian American journalist George Eliason — who The New York Times wrote in 2019 was a key proponent of an anti-Ukraine conspiracy theory about Donald Trump.
Ryan is also one of the people responsible for running the station, alongside Jennifer Squires. Company records reveal a litany of media businesses that seemingly led Ryan and Squires down the path to running a conspiracy internet radio station.
TNT Radio’s ABN is also registered to a number of other businesses, including Talking Dog Media and Business Now Asia Pacific, which have both Ryan and Squires listed as directors.
Talking Dog Media is a company run by Ryan that creates advertorial video content (including interviews with Ryan) for clients that they can use to promote their service or business. The company’s YouTube channels show clips going back to 2007 of Ryan interviewing business owners (under the branding of Los Angeles Business TV and Melbourne Business TV) all the way to advertorial content created in 2020. Ryan’s IMDB profile also shows he served as the executive producer and host for a series of short-lived interview shows between 2008-12.
Besides this, Ryan and Squires have been involved in a series of now-abandoned media projects. Business Now Asia Pacific was first started in 2007 as a small news website for business owners hoping to get information about the region, running on and off until 2020 when it rebranded as Asia Pacific Today.
Early on in the pandemic, Ryan’s articles and podcasts covered the business impact of COVID-19 in a way consistent with scientific evidence at the time. But as the pandemic went on, Ryan’s content became increasingly fringe and extreme; by the end of 2020 it had begun heavily featuring aggrieved business owners attacking government COVID-19 restrictions and downplaying the threat of COVID-19. Around this time, Ryan and Squire launched a new show, The Narrative. Since then, Ryan’s content has mostly abandoned business and focused on conspiracy and culture war topics that have consumed the online right.
Squires offered to organise an interview with Ryan to speak on their behalf, but did not get back to Crikey to organise an interview by publication.
TNT Radio has slowly but surely built up momentum off the back of sensationalist content created by hosts that’s picked up and widely shared on social media. With only a few thousand combined followers across all social media platforms, the station has clocked more than 500,000 replays of its audio content by the end of May (although there’s no public information about live listener numbers). So far, TNT Radio seems to have been the most successful media venture by the pair.
While still a small player, TNT Radio provides an important role in the conspiracy media ecosystem: it offers people a free space to promote fringe ideas or misinformation unchallenged, which they can then use to promote themselves and their ideas on social media. The conventions of traditional talk radio give a veneer of legitimacy still associated with mainstream broadcast media.
TNT Radio’s website says that the station is funded through “benefactors, advertising, merchandise and subscription revenue”. Yet the station only has a handful of listed partners — including a Queensland gym, a wellness supplement store and a handful of other anti-vaccine websites and groups — and there’s no advertising. It’s not clear where the station accrued the revenue to pay for the Kennedy Awards sponsorship (which has since been cancelled once the station’s views were reported on by The Australian) or to pay producers who were hired by the station.
TNT Radio proudly displays news stories about being dumped as a Kennedy Awards sponsor on its website. Speaking to The Australian about why they tried to sponsor the awards, Ryan told them that he hoped to raise awareness of their perspective.
“What we’re saying we know it’s against the narrative […] It doesn’t mean we’re whackos,” he said.