Ratings are king in X-rated radio

Article by Siobhan Duck and Sarrah Le Marquand /
The Age /
December 16, 2012 /
Click here to view original /

IMAGINE being called to see the boss and offered $25,000 to have a baby. That’s exactly what happened to one former Austereo host but this was no joke.

The radio network meant business. A baby would mean ratings – and therefore ad revenue.

So when her then-boss took out a calendar and began speculating when the optimum time would be for her to conceive so that she could give birth between ratings survey five and six (“when it would get the best ratings”) she didn’t feel violated or surprised. Just sadly resigned to the fact that being asked to have a child (and give birth on air wearing a T-shirt bearing the station slogan) was considered a reasonable request.

Welcome to Austereo – a world where King Kyle reigns supreme, where penis enlargement surgeries are offered as giveaways, and “guess who?” games involving women’s genitalia are brainstormed in staff meetings.

The ratings-at-any-cost culture existed long before Mel Greig and Michael Christian made their call to Kate Middleton’s London hospital.

Once the media storm passes, all this will flourish again because Austereo’s schadenfreude philosophy has won it as many listeners as it has critics, helping to make it one of Australia’s media powerhouses.

Hoaxes are common but what has set Austereo, and in particular Sydney’s 2DayFM network, apart (even before Saldanha’s death) is the extremes it goes to promote and encourage humiliation.

Former Triple M presenter Peter Berner doubts there would have been much thought behind the royal prank call.

“FM radio people sit around, they spitball ideas, and somebody has said ‘Hey, let’s try to ring the hospital and pretend to be Prince Charles and the Queen’. That would have been the level of consideration given to it, I guarantee it,” he said.

Another former Austereo star, Amber Petty, butted heads with management over the persistent push for stunts in poor taste.

The tipping point came when they secretly got Petty’s father to record a “joke” obituary for her, which was then broadcast in the station’s news.

Petty said she was appalled when people began ringing the radio station, crying over the news.

Judith Lucy has made plenty of comedic mileage out of her failed stint on breakfast radio where, she said, she was presented with an idea for a “celebrity sperm” competition. The idea was to get Guy Sebastian to donate his sperm for one lucky listener to win and impregnate herself with it.

Melbourne University pop culture expert Dr Lauren Rosewarne said pranks calls would always have a place on radio as long as people continued to find humour in the humiliation of others.

“The radio stations aren’t going to keep making prank calls if people switch off.”