Gary O'Callaghan not renewed by 2UE | radioinfo

Gary O'Callaghan not renewed by 2UE

Wednesday 31 December, 2003

After almost 50 years at 2UE Gary O'Callaghan finished his final two shows last weekend. "I was not renewed," O'Callaghan told radioinfo.

"I was told by the General Manager I was not being renewed... it's just a part of this business. Anyway, I think Ian Sheppard knows all about that, because I believe when he comes back next year he won't be the General Manager," said O'Callaghan.

Radio legend O’Callaghan is known for his exclusive radio coverage of The Petrov Affair and, later, his long running 2UE breakfast show.

He told radioinfo that covering Petrov helped his career "no end."

"I was covering the Royal Easter Show for 2SM, but a friend who was working with the Intelligence Services said he thought I might get a better story at the airport. So I took my wind-up recorder and broke a date with Dorothy, (who later became my wife) and out I went.

I was the only radio reporter there and the story ended up going international. I couldn't believe it, in those days we got excited when someone overseas asked us to mail them a tape, but when NBC booked an international shortwave phone circuit to get the audio we were astounded."

O'Callaghan was moved off breakfast when Kerry Packer bought 2UE in the 1980s, but, after a short stint at 2KY, the outcry from fans was so great that 2UE (which had then been bought by Alan Bond) found another slot for him presenting the high rating early weekend breakfast show, which he finishes tomorrow. For the past 18 months he has been doing the show by landline from his home in Wauchope.

O’Callaghan was born in Melbourne but moved to Sydney as a young boy. In 1951, at the age of 17, he fulfilled an ambition to go into radio when he started as an office boy at 2SM. He was also a successful voice actor in many radio plays of the time.

A few weeks after joining 2SM, O’Callaghan did his first on air stint and began one of the most distinguished careers in the history of Australian broadcasting.

In 1956 he was asked by Des Foster to join 2UE, just at the beginning of the rock and roll era, and, after a short stint in the newsroom, presented Australia's highest ever-rating breakfast program for 30 years. "I got £21.15 to move to 2UE, which was a big rise from the £18 I was getting at 2SM," O'Callaghan told radioinfo.

At the height of his career O'Callaghan was making $200,000. "I hear the top breakfast announcers get a few more zeroes on their paycheck these days," laughed O'Callaghan, "but you know I feel I got well paid for the time and it was so much fun it was not really like work."

Gary and his helicopter riding side-kick Sammy Sparrow became legends and were heard by successive generations of Sydney radio listeners. "Russ Walkington had Gerald the Grasshopper in the breakfast show for the kids, but when Russ went to 2CH, the General Manager Alan Falkner called me in and said 'tomorrow you have to be something for the kids at 8.15' so I invented Sammy Sparrow. He was originally going to be a seagull... The segment was always live and always fun."

Since 1988 he has presented 'Gary O'Callaghan Sydney' on 2UE and relay stations each Saturday and Sunday morning between 5.30 and 7 am. The program has almost double the audience of any other station in his timeslot and is well above the station average.

O’Callaghan has over 160 Survey wins spanning 45 years and has won the last 60 in a row. He earned the silver Raward three times in the seventies, has an MBE, was named Father of the Year and won the Queens Jubilee Medal.

John Pearce in his autobiography “For The Love Of Mike” wrote about the day O’Callaghan got the scoop on the 2GB newsroom (where Pearce was working at the time) when he was the only radio reporter at Sydney Airport to cover the defection of Soviet diplomat Vladimir Petrov:

The craziest piece of non-planning, led to 2GB missing out on the biggest news story of the decade.

As well as doing Radio Roundsman, Bill was on call, should the news department have need for any outside work. For, in those days, radio news people were writers and readers, inside people, who didn't go news gathering. And, of course, getting news grabs by phone did not come for many years.

So, came the weekend when Bill Weir was starting his holidays, and I was to cover from him, commencing Monday at nine. Who was to cover the news all weekend? You guessed it. Nobody.

And that weekend, the Petrov Story broke! The Russian defector was smuggled out of Australia - or an attempt was made to do so - by the KGB. We had nobody rostered or available to go to Sydney Airport with a tape recorder. But Gary O'Callaghan, a great ambulance-chaser before he became the star of Sydney breakfast radio at 2UE, was there. And his material went world-wide.

Back at our place, there was a lot of soul searching Monday morning. Never again was the news department left uncovered.

O’Callaghan is credited with assisting many radio broadcasters throughout his long career, giving tips patiently and cheerfully.

John Laws and O’Callaghan began in the 2UE newsroom on the same day in 1956. Laws later did breakfast for a short while, then was moved to nights and O'Callaghan took over from him in the breakfast slot. The station was Number 1 at the time, with a Top 40 format.

2GB morning presenter Ray Hadley also got his first radio experiences with O’Callaghan, presenting traffic reports in his top rating breakfast show in the 1980s.

Two of O'Callaghan's sons, John and Nick O’Callaghan also went into radio and now work at opposing radio stations in Port Macquarie. His eldest son is a Qantas pilot. He also has three daughters, all of whom worked on his program as producers at various times when they were younger. O'Callaghan is married to Dorothy, who forgave him for standing her up all those years ago when he went to cover Petrov.

When radioinfo asked O'Callaghan if he would go back on air if someone else offered him a shift, his answer was a categorical "You bet!"

Some other changes are expected at 2UE in the new year.

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