4BC’s Steve Barker: “Every minute. Every day. Sound like you own it”


On September 9 last year, in the wee hours of Friday morning, Steve Barker got a text message from his daughter Penny, who was holidaying in London.

It was short and to the point:

The Queen has died.

Ever the journo, Steve immediately phoned her: “Has this been confirmed?”

It set in motion what would be an intense and unforgettable day for Steve, Breakfast newsreader at Brisbane’s 4BC.

Today, as the world awaits this weekend’s Coronation of King Charles, Steve reflects on that morning, telling Radio Today “Like all modern stations, the 4BC newsroom runs particularly lean. However, through Nine, we have tremendous resources.”

Stephanie MacDonald – Brekky editor – and myself worked feverishly, almost silently, to write moving copy, to do the situation – and the most recognised woman in the world – justice.”

That included a fresh and moving perspective, with every half hour bulletin.

“As Brisbane woke, I delivered the news (on 4BC and 4BH) with emotion, without being emotional.”

“This was the 9/11 or JFK moment. I appreciated the enormity and gravitas of the situation, underpinned by the urgency and disbelief.”

“(It was) a heart to heart morning for our 50+ audience. We all grew up with ‘Her Majesty.’  We all have deep and profound memories.”

“I respected that. We worked closely with the on-air Brekky trio Laurel, Gary & Mark  and with UK and US bureaux, to (hurriedly) cut the most relevant grabs and connect.”

Steve wrote a line which he used in every bulletin:

“Devoted to duty, a servant to service – our Queen was 96.”

“This was the end. The full stop to a never to be repeated era,” says Steve.

The team achieved its aim of one-to-one communication and connection. Moving the listener to feel. And cry. And sharing the journey with them.

Steve’s heartfelt coverage of the Queen’s passing earned him international recognition last month, in the form of a prestigious New York Festivals Radio award.

He was recognised at the same awards in 2019 for his ability to capture the colour of the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race.

It’s hardly surprising Steve ended up working in radio, given he lived and breathed it as a child.

He says he can still smell the cabinetry of his grandparents’ radiogram.

“When I was ten years old, I would go to sleep listening to Ward Pally and Christopher John to 2UE and 2UW with a radio under my pillow.”

Steve would go on to work with both men, at different stations.

With his dad having died when Steve was just two, growing up, it was just Steve and his mother June.

They lived in a modest flat at Cremorne, on Sydney’s Lower North Shore.

It was during the 1970s – as a student at North Sydney Boys High School – that Steve witnessed first-hand the impact that being in the media spotlight can have on families.

One of Steve’s school friends was a shy boy called John.

John didn’t let on that he had a famous father.

Steve remembers the day he and the rest of the school found out:

“One sunny Tuesday afternoon, I was sitting beside John on the brick wall, waiting for the school bus, when a bright blue Ford Mustang with chrome mags screeched to a halt.”

“John sheepishly said goodbye and got into the car. As it roared away, one of the senior boys pointed to the driver and said ‘That’s Johnny O’Keefe!’”

It turns out the shy young boy sitting next to Steve on the wall was J.O.K’s son.

Steve’s mum was always particular about diction and rounding one’s vowels.

“That stayed with me, as did my time as a despatch radio operator for Sydney’s ABC Cabs when I was 20,” Steve remembers.

“I knew from day one in the taxi radio room that I wanted to be on air commercially. There was this absolute connection. My voice got a response.”

Steve would get his wish. Landing a job at 2XL in Cooma was the stepping stone.

“2XL asked in the phone interview from Cooma ‘Can you sell?’ This, after going to the Future School of Radio in Sydney, which primarily focused on vocal delivery, then sending out 10 demo cassettes!”

“Seven New South Wales regional stations ignored my hopes and dreams. Two said ‘Thanks, but you need experience’ … and so I told 2XL I could sell.”

“I’d been a commission-only paper boy, so of course I could.”

And he did.

“I doubled their revenue in the year I was there and became Sales Manager at 22.”

It would be a few years before Steve found himself in that on-air role he’d hankered for, later getting behind the mic at 2CH, 2KY, SKY Radio, 2UE, 2GB, 7HO FM, Magic 107.3, MMM, 4BH and 4BC.

Steve also had the privilege of working with industry legends including John Laws, Ken Sparks, Howard Craven, Len London, John Brennan and Les Thompson.

So what does he enjoy most about his current role at 4BC?

“Working with a team and network of focused, younger people who respect you for who you are,” he says.

“I give to them. They give to me. We all focus on the same page and simply get on with it.”

Steve has just returned from a visit to the NAB Show in Vegas, where Artificial Intelligence was a contentious point of discussion.

“In the end, presenters agreed that you need real people to triple check facts.”

“I concur. More than that, a good LIVE voice cuts through and connects.”

“Artificial Intelligence algorithms can never replace that. That’s why I don’t worry so much anymore when there’s a vocal stumble.”

When it comes down to it, there’s a lot to be said for keeping it real.

“Every minute. Every day.  SOUND LIKE YOU OWN IT.”

“If you’re interesting – they’ll be interested!”

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Benjamin Starr
6 May 2023 - 11:59 pm

My friend Steve has always held the radio business with both hands. Steve is not only a man of character but such a brilliant broadcaster his craft when I worked at 2CH with him was inspiring. I miss the old 2CH we were really the great Easy Listening announcers of the great lady of the airwaves with the crooners and the classics and I often think of those great days. To see what she has become a dreadful sport station with 0 listeners is sad but we were there in the hey days of EASY 1170. Steve I love this article it is so true to the man I know and thanks for always inspiring the the airwaves with perfect diction and presentation. Lots of love Benjamin Starr.

27 Mar 2024 - 10:53 am

Hi Benjamin,

I also am a friend of Steve Barkers, actually girlfriend for a couple of years. I worked at 2CH back then as well. On reception, the religious dept and voice overs. Yes we can say it was great to work in radio back then . I went on to 2 other stations and I think Steve got married again and left the state . No matter what , you can’t take it away from him, he’s a brilliant voice, full of confidence and an all time great showman.


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