Radio silenced

If 2GB was a crime family – if you can imagine it – Ray Hadley would be a violent foot soldier and Alan Jones would be the plotting, vengeful don. Ben Fordham would be adopted as a favour to his parents.

With Jones’s retirement, radio loses an ugly voice. It loses a little of its racism and some of its misogyny. It loses some antique slurs and curious bigotry and graphic rhetoric. Most of this will be replenished or reimagined. Like sunlight, prejudice is inexhaustible.

What won’t easily be replaced, and what made Jones different, is his capacity to manipulate power. There is no one waiting to step into the misproportioned parlour of his influence.

Jones was twice failed as a politician. The Liberal Party was willing to have him, but voters would not. Yet few understand political power the way Jones did. Some broadcasters would berate a politician on air, but almost none would continue to do so in private. An even smaller number would get results from this.

Jones had the capacity to make it seem that the prime minister needed him more than he needed the prime minister. Most made this trick look easy for him. Some politicians hand-wrote their letters to Jones, because they knew he liked it better. If he wore a ring, they would kiss it.

When Jones announced his retirement, Scott Morrison phoned in. “You’ve always spoken your mind to everyone, including me,” the prime minister said, “and we’ve had one or two disagreements, but you’ve always done the right thing for your country.”

Jones worked from a place of false indignation. The world was unfair to him and to his listeners. “Oh, there’s fucking dust in this studio,” he yelled once, in a leaked tape. “If it was bloody John Laws or someone, the whole joint would be cleaned out. It’s fucking ridiculous.”

Jones’s suffering was grandiose and so was his life. He was always hectoring and corralling. He would have his private butler write the name of his network in the top of his soup, in cream. It made him feel better. His socks matched his tie and his tie matched his pocket square. His outlook matched the curtains.

Jones hated progressives and loved the coarse idiom of his youth. He liked words that came from the farm. He liked backhanders and chaff bags. He was fulsome on the subject of shame. Women went without names and Muslim men were vermin. Sometimes he would apologise but never would he choose to.

Jones stood in the way of a carbon price and against tax reform. Research was not a feature of his show. It cost him in defamation payouts and deprived his audience of truth. He liked Optus and Qantas and received undisclosed incentives for saying so. He was instrumental in the Cronulla riots.

Jones is the end of something. Media will not again invest so much power in one person. Nor will politicians. Audiences are too fragmented. Networks are too weak. The influence he had was illusory, held over from a time when his ratings meant more and the residents of what he called Struggle Street could help win elections.

Advertisers recognised that they could do without Jones, which is part of why he is giving up. Politicians were slower to realise this, although they would have eventually.

If 2GB was a crime family, Jones would go now to tend his vegetables. Instead he will appear on Sky News and write columns for The Daily Telegraph and The Australian. But his power, mercifully, finally, is gone.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 16, 2020 as "Radio silenced".

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