​Lunch with Rhys at Macca’s | radioinfo

​Lunch with Rhys at Macca’s

Thursday 19 December, 2013
Masters of intrigue? Rhys Holleran (left) and Niccolo Machiavelli: Machiavelli's Restaurant

Florence, Italy is blessed with more grand cathedrals per square kilometre than perhaps any other place on earth. Any one of them, in Australia, would be revered as a national treasure. But in Florence, they're more common than Coles or Woolies.

Among these wonders, the Basilica di Santa Croce, that lies just south of the city’s ancient walls, would be unremarkable if not for the names of the souls entombed within.

Apart from several dead Popes (every self-respecting Florentine church must have at least one) here lie, gathered together, some of the greatest minds that Italy has given the world. Among them astronomer, Galileo Galilei, artist and architect, Michaelangelo, composer Rossini and the poet Dante of Inferno fame.

Amidst these giants of science and the arts lies the inventor of Radio himself, Guglielmo Marconi. And directly opposite him, the founder of modern political science whose name is synonymous with the dark arts of political intrigue and behind the scenes manoeuvrings, Machiavelli. Perhaps the Franciscan friars responsible for tomb placement in the nave of Santa Croce were onto something.

What then are the odds, that in 2013, of all the restaurants that the chiefs of Southern Cross Austereo could have chosen to invite a handful of media, they chose Machiavelli's? Billed as “the restaurant that means business,” Machiavelli (affectionately know to regulars as Macca’s) has been a favourite haunt of the rich and powerful for decades. Its walls are festooned with photographs of politicians from Menzies to Keating to Abbott alongside a very old portrait of Alan Jones - looking younger than springtime.

Gathered together with a handful of scribblers from The Oz, AFR and radioinfo to break bread and slurp spaghetti at this exclusive Italian eatery was SCA 'capo di tutti capi' (mafia speak for CEO) Rhys Holleran, Chief Content Officer, Guy Dobson, Director of Digital and Innovation, Clive Dickens, Marketing Manager Nikki Clarkson and Sydney PR Manager, Jenni Easterbrook.

There was much to discuss.

Up until Kyle and Jack’s last air-shift on 2Day, all was amicable. ‘It was a tough decision. We wish them well. We leave on good terms. Great people – blah, blah, blah.

Once out the door, though, as ARN began ramping up the publicity, the old feud between Kyle Sandilands and Merrick Watts, who’ll be part of the team replacing K & J, reignited.

Merrick hit the media first saying words in The Oz to the affect that Kyle and Jack didn’t so much jump as they were pushed. Next day, Kyle hit back telling Who Magazine the decision was his and Jackie’s: ‘Do we still want to be with these dorks, or do we move on to something better?’

But while the talent slogs it out in the entertainment pages, management is more circumspect. When I ask whether Merrick was right, I’m told, in true Machiavellian style, “He’s half right.”  Hmmmm.

The question of who knew what and when, remains largely unanswered. But when Merrick and the Highway Patrol turned up at the CRA Radiofest just days after their Drive show was axed, everyone marvelled at the professionalism and restraint they displayed in refusing to rubbish their erstwhile bosses while they graciously took part in a number of panels and award presentations at the event. Perhaps they knew something we didn’t.

On the flight back from Brisbane I happened to be seated in the same section as Merrick and I offered him my commiserations that the ratings gods had not smiled upon his Triple M Drive show. “It (the axing) had nothing to do with ratings,” he told me. “What was it then?” I asked. “I can’t tell you,” he answered. “Just watch this space!”

Even though this was more than two weeks before K & J delivered the news of their departure to their listeners, any keen student of Machiavelli would have read it to mean: Kyle and Jackie O are leaving and I’m getting the breakfast gig. Sadly, I’m not that keen a student of the master of intrigue and could not have imagined, in my wildest dreams, that there would be a plot afoot on that scale – even though Kyle gave everyone a hint at the ACRAs the night before when he said, “There is no feud between me and Rhys Holleran, but there’s no deal either!”

Did the decision to axe the Matt & Jo show at Fox precede the departure of Kyle and Jack? “No,” I’m told. “They were simultaneous decisions.” And according to my hosts and reinforced in our interview with Today Network CD Dave Cameron, management made a decision to reposition the Today network to target a slightly younger audience.

In an email to staff today, Mr Holleran said, “The Today network will be bolder, more youthful and fresher in 2014.  We are building for the future and we are back in the place we belong – being entertainment and thought leaders.“

Still, SCA management at this level is nothing if not pragmatic. They agree that in 2014 nothing will come easy.  Early rating results are likely to show MIX/KiiS Breakfast going up while 2Day-FM's goes down. The question is: by how much and for how long?

However, not all at SCA is in flux. The Triple M network has made a strong and consistent comeback over the past 48 months, nowhere more forcefully than in Melbourne where Eddie McGuire, Mick Molloy and Luke Darcy’s Hot Breakfast has emerged as the number one “heritage” show on the FM band.

Radio, not just SCA, has other challenges to face next year that will affect the whole industry. In his other role as Chairman of Commercial Radio Australia, Mr Holleran sums it up with one word – “regulation.”

He believes that Australian Radio is the most over-regulated on earth and often unfairly so. While the government through its regulator (The ACMA) is trying to work out how to bring online and other new media to heel, radio is being shackled by rules that don’t apply to those players unburdened by licenses and codes of conduct.

Just as it is difficult to compare a sporting team of yesterday to athletes of today, it is hard to imagine how Machiavelli would navigate through the intricacies of modern day media if he could be resurrected at this moment in radio’s history.

I reckon he’d be struggling.

 Peter Saxon

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