Inside story on why Alan Jones walked away from 2GB
The odds of broadcaster Alan Jones walking away from his illustrious radio career halfway into his $8 million two-year contract a month ago were long. Very long.
"I'd have put him at about 1000 to one. There was just no way he was going to leave of his own volition. There was a greater chance of him being bitten by a horse at Royal Ascot than retiring from 2GB," one sage media veteran said last week after news of Jones' radio retirement broke and became the biggest news story of the day in the state.
But those odds shortened considerably two weeks ago when Nine Radio boss Tom Malone paid Jones a visit at his Fitzroy Falls property.
Nine's official position - which mirrors Jones's - is that Jones called the meeting and invited Malone to a lunch along with Jones' agent Nick Fordham.
The old radio titan had decided to walk away from the medium, Nine says, after finally feeling he was in safe hands, with a brand new Nine management team in his corner with whom he has regular happy discourse, to quit.
Relations with the old management team at 2GB dissolved into angry emails in 2019 as it moved to sack him.
"It was Alan who invited me down to his farm for lunch," Malone said yesterday.
"We were able to facilitate Alan's request to stand down due to health reasons."
But sources within Nine Entertainment, owner of Nine Radio and stations 2GB and 4BC, are adamant it was Nine that called the meeting.
Time was up.
Eight months after former Macquarie Media boss Russell Tate wrote to 2GB advertisers to apologise and promise a review of Jones's program after the broadcaster offended women and women's advocacy groups by suggesting Prime Minister Scott Morrison "shove a sock down" the throat of his New Zealand counterpart Jacinda Ardern, new Macquarie owner Nine was cutting its losses.
An advertiser boycott that saw more than 100 advertisers including Coles, Big W, Commonwealth Bank, McDonald's and Bunnings pull their ads from the radio station - costing 2GB $80,000 a day in ad revenue - had crippled the station.
The cost to Nine of Jones's Ardern comment is, ad executives say, $20 million; about half of 2GB's annual ad revenue.
With the downturn impacting all programs across the day at 2GB and dragging on the radio network's bottom line nationally, it was severely impairing Nine's ability to approach premium advertisers and offer them spots across all of Nine's platforms - publishing, television and radio; the very sales synergy Nine spruiked to shareholders and the market since merging with Fairfax in 2018.
It was during those merger talks that someone on the Fairfax Media board, likely Fairfax chairman Nick Falloon (now Nine's deputy chairman), first flagged concerns for the Nine-Macquarie merger with Fairfax-critic Jones on board.
It was Jones after all who, in 2014, handed former Macquarie Media owner John Singleton a platform to sledge the Fairfax board - specifically then chairman Roger Corbett who Singleton called a "pretentious prick" and Fairfax CEO Greg Hywood, "an idiot" - on his show after Singleton's hopes of acquiring Fairfax's radio network broke down.
By April, Jones no longer had the support of the board, say insiders.
He would have to go - and as quickly as possible to give Nine the chance to rebuild during a radio ratings survey hiatus borne of COVID-19 isolation.
Although Nine denies it, sources say Jones's retirement has been in the planning for about three months.
Following the lunch with Malone, Jones took a week off from May 4 to consider his next move.
He also had a health matter that required attention, although those close to Jones say it would have no impact on his departure: "Alan is in rude health at the moment. A man who is normally very busy, has been taking it easy, and if you listen to him on air, he's been in terrific form. Giving it to politicians left and right. He's been blowing doors off."
Upon his return to work last Monday Jones informed his staff of eight he was retiring from radio.
The old powerbroker and political hellraiser would go quietly, but not without first extracting a few promises from Malone.
His terms, say sources, were that he would walk away on full salary and be paid out the balance of his contract, around $4 million, his loyal production team would be either paid out or offered new jobs, and 2GB morning show host Ray Hadley would not succeed him.
The breakfast job would go to drive host, Ben Fordham, a younger and cheaper alternative.
Hadley, who Malone said yesterday was "important" to the radio operation, refused to comment on Fordham's appointment or the professional snub when contacted by The Sunday Telegraph.
Having said on air Fordham would have his "full support … because breakfast lays the platform for the rest of the day", Hadley is now waiting in the wings with 2GB's largest weekday audience, around 17 per cent, waiting with him.
Hadley, who has a five-year contract with Nine Radio which lapses in 2024, did wish to clarify one point published in a Nine newspaper: "There will be no fight over Alan's office. I'll be staying in my own."
Five of Jones's production staff - including one who has worked for Jones for 30 years, another for 15 years - have been told they will be let go.
Another three are considering offers to remain at 2GB. Nine CEO Hugh Marks is confident the radio station that Nine fully acquired in August 2019 for $114 million will survive Jones's departure: " (Macquarie/Nine Radio) can survive the loss of any of its talent," he said in 2019. Jones will now concentrate on his commitments to Sky News following word he has been negotiating to increase his Sky workload from two nights a week, as per his current contract, to four.
Podcasting opportunities - as opposed to radio that might be in breach of his Nine contract - are believed to be on the table at Sky.
As Nine seeks to tie up loose ends concerning Ben Fordham's 2GB contract - presumably he's after a large pay bump - Nine is banking on Fordham for a revival of revenue fortunes. The new talent roster that bears little resemblance to the one set in place by the previous regime - with only Hadley in his former timeslot.
Originally published as Inside story on why Alan Jones walked away from 2GB