Tuesday, March 5, 2024

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    Farewell 3AW’s Neil Mitchell: Exit interview with Melbourne’s King of All Media

    Neil Mitchell was on air at 3AW after 5.30am today. Three hours before he normally starts broadcasting. Today was different. “This is an amazing day in the history of this station,” proclaimed Ross Stevenson at the start of the 3AW breakfast show. “There are three of us in the studio,” he explained as Mitchell joined Stevenson and his breakfast co-host Russel Howcroft.

    Mitchell told Mediaweek Stevenson is Australia’s best broadcaster (see below). Stevenson was also effusive in his praise about the station’s morning host, mentioning that while Howard Stern brands himself King of All Media in the US, it’s a title Mitchell deserved in Australia as he’s successfully tackled all mediums.

    Farewell 3AW’s Neil Mitchell: Exit interview with Melbourne’s King of All Media

    Neil Mitchell has been sharing more of himself than ever in the past week as he ends his 34 years as 3AW morning host. That forms the majority of his 54 years of daily journalism.

    Speaking to Mediaweek between his penultimate and last programs, he admitted the audience has probably learned more about him this week than in the previous 34 decades.

    “And my son has interviewed me on my podcast too and they will find out even more there.

    I’m not comfortable with doing a lap of honor,” he explained, referring to the tributes and commemorations that have been coming Mitchell’s way since he announced he was stepping away from the daily program.”

    See also: Neil Mitchell quits 3AW live on morning show, reveals new role

    Retirement plans

    Mitchell said he had thoughts about quitting in the past, but not recently. “Once I was established I didn’t really think about it. A couple of times I had a disagreement with management and I got close to it. Either them sacking me or me walking away.

    “I stayed because I liked it too much. This recent decision was hard to make and it took me a long time. 3AW was very keen for me to keep going and I thought, ‘No.’ I felt I needed a change.

    “I have always worked at 120%, and I realised that 110% is no good. And I’m starting to run out of energy to do 110%.”

    Neil Mitchell’s broadcast routine

    Apart from Covid interruptions, Mitchell always broadcast from the 3AW studio. Looking at his schedule you’d be forgiven for thinking he was hosting breakfast.
    Alarm goes off: 4am
    Arrives at work: 5am
    Show prep: Until 8.30am he’d devour the newspapers, speak with contacts and research online and work the emails. There was a program conference daily at 6.30am. “I’d start writing and the producers would start chasing and we’d have another conference at 7:50 and then start at 8:30am.” Russel Howcroft this morning revealed Mitchell was a prolific texter.
    Showtime: Mitchell said the format of the show had changed dramatically over the years. He used to do an interview and then a block of calls, repeating that formula across the program. “It became far more dynamic. We now take calls at any time about anything which has become my slogan – anytime, any issue.

    Broadcasting during Covid

    What always angered 3AW management?

    The broadcaster has always steadfastly refused to do live reads of ads in his program. “Many managements have tried to get me to [read ads]. They told me it cost me a lot of money, but I don’t care. I’m a dinosaur, I accept that.

    “Journalistically I always thought it an impossible conflict. For example, over the years Qantas several times asked me to do ads for them. Imagine if I had been reading Qantas ads as they were on the nose for the past year? How would that go down with the audience?

    “Other people are entitled to do it, I just didn’t.”

    Taking it on the chin

    Mitchell has been in a few stoushes during his years as a broadcaster. Although he gives as good as he gets. When asked if any hurt, he replied: “Probably, but none really stand out to me. I have always thought you only take criticism seriously from people you respect. Much of the criticism I have copped has come from radio people or drongos. I don’t like some of the personal stuff I have copped over the years from various radio people in particular.

    Mitchell was unbeatable in morning radio ratings

    Changing stations…almost

    “I nearly went to 3MTR all those years ago,” Mitchell reminded us. The brave talk radio launch in 2010 featured Steve Price and Steve Vizzard among the hosts, but it failed spectacularly before closing down. “They offered me double what 3AW was then paying me. I was telling then 3AW management about it. I said I didn’t want to take it, but I was thinking about it. The manager at the time said to me, ‘Well you should fuck off then.’

    “I then rang my manager and said, ‘I’m out.’ He called me an idiot and told me to calm down. I made up with the 3AW manager, but it almost drove me out.”

    Although the station had a handful of owners over the years, Mitchell said they never interfered with him. “We have had some strange owners over the years going right back to Warwick Fairfax. I have always felt that if you rated they left you alone.

    With regard to the current management, Mitchell volunteered: “The Nine people and Tom Malone are easily the best I have worked with.”

    Neil Mitchell in 2024

    “I’ll still be working, but I’ll be doing it at a different pace. I’ve been working to half-hourly deadlines for 50 years.

    “For example, I wrote a column for the Herald Sun for 10 years. With a column you think about it all week and then you write it. I’d spend two hours writing after one of my shows and I’d be buggered. Now I will hopefully spend most of a day researching and then writing it.”

    “My podcast will go weekly. I will do a radio spot on 3AW and I have a couple of offers to write a newspaper column that I’m looking at. [Offers from the Herald Sun and The Age.] I have an offer to write online [Nine.com.au] and talk on TV. If there’s any TV work it will be just commentary pieces.”

    As to how long he might have in this new stripped-back work program, Mitchell replied: “I will always work. I have a two-year contract with 3AW. I love doing the podcast and I enjoy the freedom. I got 80 minutes with Albo, who gets an opportunity to spend 80 minutes with a prime minister.

    “I love writing so I’ll probably be writing somewhere. I hope I can always work to some extent.” But he’s not planning an autobiography. “I’m an observer, not a participant,” he told Ross Stevenson this morning.

    His unkept look at one stage got plenty of feedback

    Salaries for radio stars FM v AM

    “From what I read about the money being paid to Kyle and Jackie O there is a huge discrepancy between FM and AM salaries. In the end, it comes down to competition. In Melbourne, there has been very little commercial competition for 3AW. Why would they pay me money to stay if no one is offering me money to go elsewhere.

    “Don’t get me wrong, I have been well paid, but nowhere near some of the [FM] figures being quoted.

    “The ABC for a long time was the only talk competition in Melbourne. Now there’s more talk on FM. The [3AW] breakfast program was always competition for me because we’d compete for stories and interviews.”

    What about internal competition? “There was internal competition with Hinch, and also a bit of unpleasantness. It’s a bit easy to sit on drive and snipe at the morning program. A few people have done that over the years. There’s been a bit of tension with the breakfast program, but not much. There are a lot of egos running around and disagreements happen.”

    Where did it go wrong with Dan Andrews?

    “The clash of his style and my style. They are mutually exclusive. I don’t cop crap and I ask questions and I don’t back down from them and he doesn’t answer them.

    “Andrews has said to cabinet ministers, ‘I told you we didn’t need Mitchell, we won the election.’ That’s true, but I can say, ‘We didn’t need Andrews, we won the ratings.’

    “Andrews ran a style of government that was unaccountable. It was against everything I stand for.”

    Banned: Who wouldn’t talk to Neil Mitchell?

    “Dan Andrews banned me about seven years ago,” Mitchell said about his longest exile. “Also Bill Shorten banned me and wouldn’t talk to me for the whole time he was opposition leader. [Shorten interviewed Mitchell on air during his final week.] I tried to ask him why he banned me for three years. I did manage to embarrass him a couple of times. He replied: ‘You just weren’t the risk.’”

    Here’s the list of how Mitchell got on with Australian prime ministers.
    Scott Morrison banned me for a while before he was prime minister.

    Paul Keating and Bob Hawke banned me for a while.” Mitchell this week noted on air that “Keating wasn’t as good as he thinks he is.”

    Relationships were mixed with subsequent Labor PMs: “Julia Gillard banned me, but Kevin Rudd didn’t.”

    He was on steadier ground with recent Liberal PMs: “John Howard and Malcolm Turnbull didn’t, and Tony Abbott didn’t.

    “Anthony Albanese hasn’t [so far]. The most recent one I had trouble with was Julia Gillard. She thought I was sexist.”

    Mitchell with Anthony Albanese

    Interviews and confidence

    Any Mitchell show is packed with callers plus breaking news and interviews with people from all walks of life. Some made him more nervous than others.

    “Before speaking to Nelson Mandela I was very edgy. I still get a bit on edge if I’m interviewing a prime minister. You have to be right on your game. I have Anthony Albanese on my last day. Even though it’s my last day I will be fired up and edgy because you can’t embarrass yourself or let your audience down if you are dealing with the prime minister. I often get nervous still and that is not a bad thing.

    Political outlook

    Mitchell explained to Mediaweek his politics have softened over the years. “If I go back to my days as a young industrial reporter I would have been considered left-leaning. Some people say if you are not left wing at 20 then you haven’t got a soul. If you are still left wing at 40 you haven’t got a brain.

    “I have certainly become more conservative. I like to think I’m a bit unpredictable and I also like to think I was representing the audience on issues rather than just a political line.”

    What’s on Mitchell’s playlist?

    “To be frank I watch very little TV and I don’t listen to much radio. The best broadcaster in Australia is Ross Stevenson. He’s massively underrated…look at his ratings for heaven’s sake. He has a touch of genius about him. He’s fresh and innovative continually and that is the challenge for any broadcaster, yet Ross always finds a way.”

    The other 3AW broadcaster stepping down this week

    Mitchell also had kind words for his morning show colleague Jane Holmes who steps away from a daily role at 3AW after 17 years. “She’s been great and is a delight to work with. I reminded her this week we have brutalised her a bit by dropping her segments sometimes at the last minute. She’s a real strength on radio and TV in Victoria.”

    Holmes started at 3AW in 1979 before moving to stations across the AM and FM bands, arriving back at 3AW and Mitchell’s show in 2007.

    The post Farewell 3AW’s Neil Mitchell: Exit interview with Melbourne’s King of All Media appeared first on Mediaweek.

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