A chance to say goodbye: The day Gary O’Callaghan rocked Triple M


It was upon graduating from radio school that a young Rob Duckworth first crossed paths with the great Gary O’Callaghan.

The legendary 2UE announcer was the special guest at the Max Rowley Media Academy’s presentation night, held at Sydney’s Wentworth Hotel.

Duckworth tells Radio Today “Gary was doing his Breakfast show on 2UE the next morning, but he came along and stayed until after midnight.”

Duckworth couldn’t have been more impressed with the man.

“I got to meet him. He was wonderfully warm and reassuring.”

Little did Duckworth know that one day they’d come face to face again, but for a very different and very compelling reason.

In the mid 1980s, 2UE’s format changed and – after three decades on air – O’Callaghan parted ways with the station.

He never got the chance to do a final ‘goodbye’ show.

Loyal listeners – some of whom had been along for the ride for 30 years – were left sad and confused.

“I happened to be on holidays at the time, so consequently I didn’t get that opportunity to farewell those listeners,” O’Callaghan explained at the time.

Duckworth thought that was pretty ordinary.

“I think that’s the thing that kind of pissed me off, because he’d been such a legend on Sydney radio for over thirty years and number one in every survey.”

“I just thought it was a bit cruel not giving him the chance to say goodbye on air.”

Duckworth – who was filling in for Doug Mulray on Sydney’s Triple M Breakfast show – decided to put things right.

“I got my producer to find Gary.”

“I said to Gary ‘Mate, would you like to come on Triple M? I know it’s not the 2UE audience, but it’s the number one station in Sydney. Would you like to come here and say goodbye to the listeners?”

Unorthodox as it was, O’Callaghan happily accepted the invitation.

“I think we put an ad in the newspaper the day before, that Gary was going to appear and say goodbye,” Duckworth recalls.

They certainly made the most of the occasion, with Duckworth keen to draw out O’Callaghan’s quirks and characters like Sammy Sparrow.

“He’d built up so many Gary O’Callaghan-isms,” says Duckworth.

“I wanted him to do one of those Gary O’Callaghan raves into possibly the nastiest, edgiest, rockiest song I could find.”

Duckworth got him to introduce Cold Chisel’s Goodbye (Astrid Goodbye).

O’Callaghan absolutely nailed it.

“That has got such a strident guitar at the start of it. I wanted something with a little anger, you know? And it had the word ‘goodbye’ in it,” Duckworth says.

“It just ticked all the boxes.”

“I’m having a tonne of fun!” O’Callaghan was heard to say as he enjoyed the view from Triple M headquarters, 25 floors above Bondi Junction.

Around that time, a special farewell lunch was held as the Sydney radio industry came together to celebrate O’Callaghan’s distinguished career.

“All of the Breakfast announcers in Sydney met at Ron Casey’s place. All the announcers basically had a drink to Gary,” Duckworth remembers.

“We had a lovely lunch and said goodbye that way.”

As the tributes flowed (not to mention the alcohol), one of radio’s most hare-brained schemes was hatched.

Duckworth paints the picture: “You’ve got to imagine, this is a bunch of Breakfast announcers – it’s two o’clock in the afternoon, we’re well and truly lubricated.”

“I don’t remember who came up with the idea, but somebody said ‘Why don’t we do an April Fool’s Day joke where we all turn up at a different radio station?’”

“We thought this was just the best idea! We were going to get our producers to organise access pass keys and things that we needed. The behind-the-scenes people were going to put it all together.”

Duckworth says it was a pretty solid plan. But it never saw the light of day.

“It was all travelling sweetly, but then 2GB’s Mike Carlton, thankfully, showed some common sense and sent all of us a letter (pictured here), pretty much calling himself out and calling the thing off.”

In hindsight, Duckworth is glad that Carlton pulled the pin.

“In my opinion, it would have been a disaster.”

“I think I drew the 2GB straw. So you’ve got a hack music DJ on a proper talk station that (a) was never going to work and (b) was never going to work!”

“I mean, Mike Carlton on Triple M would have been hilarious. He would have been great.”

“I would have been terrible on 2GB. I would have been terrible on 2CH.”

“It was a funny idea. But it never came to fruition.”

O’Callaghan would soon return to 2UE, the station he’d dominated for so long, before finally wrapping up his award-winning career in 2003.

He passed away in 2017, at the age of 83.

 2GB host Ray Hadley was among those to pay tribute, saying “I’ve never met a more delightful, sweet, loveable and loyal man than Gary O’Callaghan.”

O’Callaghan left an indelible mark on the history of Australian radio.

And Duckworth will always have the satisfaction of knowing he helped one of the legends of our industry properly close the chapter on a most remarkable innings.

*Main photo (L to R): Rob Duckworth, Gary O’Callaghan and Ken Sterling plus Mike Carlton letter supplied courtesy of Rob Duckworth

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Kevin Hillier
31 Jul 2023 - 3:46 pm

First time I have actually thought the ‘saying goodbye and thanking the audience’ was warranted. 30 years should give you that right. Gary had a huge audience that he built not one he inherited, and his was a long term relationship with the listeners not a quick fling. These days you can say goodbye across the thousand auxiliary platforms that carry you and your radio show. Good on Ducky for showing Gary some genuine peer respect. Who would have thought Mike Carlton would turn out to be the sensible one.


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