How Alan Jones’ radio career almost ended before it began


The verdict of the 2UE program director who first heard Alan Jones was emphatic: "This bloke won't work in radio."

If there was an industry award for dud predictions his would be in the Hall of Fame by now.

On Tuesday Alan Belford Jones announced the end of his almost 35-year career on doctor's orders, still at the top of his game after delivering a record 226th ratings victory in a tumultuous headline-grabbing life on air.

Alan Jones circa 1991-1993.
Alan Jones circa 1991-1993.

It was not the first career for 79-year-old Jones, who had already enjoyed success as an English master at The King's School and as coach of the Grand Slam winning Wallabies.

The man who "discovered" him, iconic Sydney radio programmer John Brennan, had asked Jones to come in for a trial after a string of successful interviews from the rugby union tour of Britain.

Yesterday Jones told Ben Fordham, who learned only 24 hours earlier that he would be taking Jones' place, that the then 2UE program director "listened to the tape and said 'this bloke won't work in radio'."

"But Brenno being the stubborn person that he was said 'you better come and see me'," recalled Jones, who praised "Brenno" and said "whatever success I've had … I owe to him."

Mr Brennan said the sceptical program director had not been alone in his doubts.

"A few people told me that he was no good but I told them to come and see me in a couple of months and see how limitless and indefatigable he is," Mr Brennan told The Daily Telegraph on Tuesday.

"He was an explainer and questioner who had the voice of the common man, the battlers."

Alan Jones circa 1991-1993.
Alan Jones circa 1991-1993.


During his second day on air, Jones spoke to a man who told him how he had put everything into rebuilding his motorbike only for it to be stolen.

Mr Brennan said 2UE's future owner Kerry Packer, Australia's richest man, had called in to give the man the money for a new motorbike. It was the start of something.

"Alan Jones continues to fearlessly fight for the issues that matter to the listeners," Mr Brennan said.



That fearless refusal to kowtow to those in power and to relentlessly speak his mind has led Jones into a string of high-profile problems and stoushes over the course of his on-air career.

He was sued by Australian Rugby Union chief John O'Neill for 14 public attacks, verbally blasted by Chopper Read and controversially backed in Pauline Hanson before being ordered to apologise to indigenous Australians for "outrageous and offensive" remarks - a decision he reversed on appeal.

He was caught up in the cash for comment scandal where sponsors paid hosts for favourable comments and survived that to move from 2UE to 2GB in 2002, taking his listeners with him.

Yesterday his stablemate and long-term adversary, morning show host Ray Hadley, said "my success has been on the back of his success … Alan brought a huge chunk of audience from 2UE to 2GB."

Jones with James Packer at the Heart Foundation lunch.
Jones with James Packer at the Heart Foundation lunch.

That translated into a string of Sydney breakfast audience ratings victories that last month came in at 17.9 per cent - a country mile ahead of nearest rival ABC Sydney at 10.9 per cent.

However, the journey has been fraught. In 200, the Australian Communications and Media Authority found him guilty of inciting violence during the Cronulla riots.

Five years later he sparked outrage for saying at a Liberal Party fundraiser that then Prime Minister Julia Gillard's father had "died of shame" because of her political "lies". He later apologised for "any impression that I might seek to diminish the grief that a daughter would feel for her father".

In 2018 Jones and 2GB owners Macquarie Media were ordered to pay $3.75 million in damages after losing a defamation action against the Wagner family for his suggestion they were responsible for deaths during the Queensland floods.

That action prompted Macquarie bosses to stall the re-signing of his contract. As it dragged on they plotted to move Hadley into the breakfast slot and bring Steve Price in to replace him.

However the intervention of Nine chairman Peter Costello saw the $4 million-a-year contract signed for another two years to June 2021. Hadley stayed on mornings and Price later left the station.

Alan Jones hosts his radio show from the Southport Yacht Club. Picture: Glenn Hampson
Alan Jones hosts his radio show from the Southport Yacht Club. Picture: Glenn Hampson

On Tuesday Mr Costello praised his star signing saying: "His ratings record makes him the outstanding broadcaster of his generation. His ratings record will never be matched. Alan's interests across politics, sport, the arts, business, made him a broad and stimulating commentator. He was always passionate and relentless in pursuing issues on behalf of his listeners. And he was tough - as I can attest when I was on the other side of the microphone."

Jones was dogged by ill health - crippling back pain that he battled with daily pilates sessions - but in front of the microphone he remained bold and irascible.

When Opera House boss Louise Herron told him the sails of the Sydney icon were not a billboard and should not be used to promote The Everest, the world's richest horse race on turf, he fired: "Who do you think you are?"

And then in August last year he told Prime Minister Scott Morrison that he should "shove a sock down (New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern's) throat".

He quickly apologised but it was too late.

Alan Jones broadcasting a show from the Orange Ex-Services Club ahead of a by-election. Picture: Jonathan Ng
Alan Jones broadcasting a show from the Orange Ex-Services Club ahead of a by-election. Picture: Jonathan Ng

An online campaign by Facebook groups such as Sleeping Giants targeted advertisers, many of whom quit the show and did not return.

Analysis later found that almost half of all the groups tweets emanated from one solitary academic in Western Australia.

However, on Tuesday Nine newspapers were continuing to argue that the loss of advertisers meant that it was cheaper to put Jones on the bench and pay out the rest of his contract and try to win those advertisers back.

For his part, Jones insisted that he was finally turning off the microphone on the advice of his doctor.

"I'm sure you can appreciate, for almost 35 years I've been getting up at 2.30am or 2.45am. Putting together the kind of program we seek to deliver is no easy task," he said. But he reassured his fans: "I'm not retiring, I'm just retiring from radio."

True to his word, he was on Sky last night and will write his regular column in The Telegraph on Tuesdays.

Originally published as How Alan Jones' radio career almost ended before it began