Can you succeed in Talk Radio without an ego? | radioinfo

Can you succeed in Talk Radio without an ego?

Sunday 11 December, 2016

It might depend on your definition of success.

Peter Saxon speaks with the ‘hugely successful’ Brian Carlton.

After 34 years in radio, not much money to show for it, Brian Carlton best known to mainland audiences as Triple M’s Spoonman, picked up two gongs at this year’s ACRAs - three if you count the one for his producer - for Tasmania Talks, his own morning show covering Northern Tasmania out of Launceston for Grant Broadcasters. 

He says he’s never been in a better place geographically but more importantly, emotionally.

“I’ve probably got a bit more balance in my life now,” says Carlton. “I ealise that killing yourself for a boss is not a good thing to do. I’m a little less driven, Which doesn’t mean I do any less than a 15 or 16 hour day but it’s at a more civilised pace with the flexibility of doing something pleasant during the day like going for a walk along the beautiful Tamar River or up the Cataract Gorge.

“I can do that and then get back into the work. I feel like I’ve done a bit of exercise, cleared my head a bit and had a chance to think about things. And because my life is in much better balance, I find the work comes much easier,” he says.

Okay, he's made it Launceston and the top half of Tassie. Hasn't even cracked Hobart, let alone Sydney. But that's not what it's about for Carlton, "Oh God no. I don't want it to be in Sydney, he exclaims. and insists that for him, "It's the craft of radio. The 'doing' of the show, the sitting at the desk, the talking to the people, taking calls, the issues you talk about. I don't give a rat's whether that's in Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane or Timbuktu or Launceston, I don't care as long as the audience is engaging with what you're doing and providing feedback. And the business response has been overwhelming, which is very important. I love doing radio. So, it's happy days for me."

How big an ego do you need to be a successful talk show host? “Planet sized - a decent sized gas giant planet,” says Carlton (left with dreadlocks) without hesitation.

Working as a bank teller in his youth, one of Carlton’s regular customers was the legendary 2UE Breakfast announcer Gary O’Callaghan who told him who to talk to at 2UE to get a job. At age 21, he started in the control room. “We had people back in the day who used to wander around and do all the bulk erasing of all the tapes we were using and put them back where they belonged so it was very “non- computerised” shall we say, and very hands on. It was a really good place to work and I really enjoyed it.

“This was at a time when Gary O’Callaghan was doing Breakfast. John Laws doing Mornings. I think Geraldine Doogue may have been doing afternoons. Drive was the Legendary Brian White and nights were number one with Ian Parry-Okeden  who taught me a vast amount and is still a very good friend today.

I didn’t want to be a failure as a human, I’d rather be a failure as a radio announcer,”

“I was suddenly thrust into an environment that was so fundamentally different from anything that I’d ever been involved with before - a kid from an average middle class family. It didn’t take too long to work out that, yes, these people were incredibly gifted. They certainly had a lot of power and a lot of income and all the nice things in life available to them.

“In the process of getting to that point, so many of them had produced egos that had effectively dehumanised them and had turned them into not very pleasant people.

“I remember after being in radio for about a year I’d formulated an idea that I’d like to be on air and I wouldn’t mind doing my own talk show. But I made a little vow with myself that no matter how famous I became or how much perceived power I had or how rich I became, under no circumstances did I want to be like ‘them’.

“I knew these people personally. So many of them were deeply unhappy people. Deeply flawed people but exceptional at their jobs yet failures as humans. I didn’t want to be a failure as a human, I’d rather be a failure as a radio announcer,” says Carlton.

True to his self-imposed vow, in all the years I’ve known him, and at one stage worked with him at the old Radiowise syndication company, Brian Carlton never impressed me as ego driven. A total professional, yes. A journeyman, perhaps… one who has given his soul to radio, reminiscent of the sentiment in the old Kevin Johnson song, Rock and Roll, I Gave You All the Best Years of My Life.

Carlton doesn’t baulk at the comparison like your average egomaniac might. I ask whether his lack of ego has hindered his rise to the top and his first thought is, “How do I describe this without offending a bunch people.”

"I should have yelled more. I should’ve been that egotistical bastard,”

I encourage him to offend and finally, he comes up with this: “If you’re the kind of diligent person who deals with all the shit that’s thrown at you on a daily basis like technology that fails in the middle of something really important, if you deal with the inability of management around you to make reasonable decisions… if you can kind of deal all with all that and still get on with the job and churn it out, you’ll be ignored. And that was me.

“I was more intent on getting a good product out that day, no matter what the difficulty was, than standing up and having a face to face screaming match to try to fix whatever the fuck up was in the first place. If that’s a failing, then yes, I failed. I should have screamed more, I should have yelled more. I should’ve been that egotistical bastard,” says Brian Carlton.

Peter Saxon

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