Christian O’Connell reveals he almost gave up on Aussie radio
Christian O’Connell may have secured his position at the top of the FM Breakfast pile in Melbourne – and held onto it throughout the pandemic – but he has opened up about his struggles to settle into the Australian radio landscape, and his turmoil when his ratings were tumbling.
Things got so bad after his arrival, he said, that he almost threw it all away to return to the safety and security of the UK.
“The ratings went down, down, down,” he told sidekick Jack Post on Post’s Jacky Road Studios podcast.
O’Connell kicked off his Melbourne radio stint on June 4 in 2018. GOLD 104.3 had an 8.7% share in Breakfast prior to his arrival. That ratings number came without a big-name host, since Anthony ‘Lehmo’ Lehmann and Jo Stanley’s contracts had not been renewed at the end of 2017. GOLD’s Breakfast share at the end of 2017 with that duo was 7.4%.
O’Connell’s first survey also had 7.4% in Survey 5 of 2018, but this had slipped to 6.7% by Survey 6. It climbed up to 8.4% by the end of 2018, but in Survey 1 of 2019, was back to 6.8%.
“Why did I do it? I not only thought I’d be welcomed with open arms – ‘Oh this funny British guy. He’s like Hugh Grant, on the radio…’ And it wasn’t like that. It was like, crikey, it was a humbling, a real, painful humbling, and it felt like all the rest of my radio stuff, I’d built a momentum and an acceptance from the audience, because I’d been a big part of their lives for years, whereas now I had none of that,” he told Post.
His fears and anxieties were compounded by the reality that if he lost the GOLD gig, he’d be unlikely to find another radio home in Australia.
“I’m aware that I’ve dragged my wife and kids here. It’s all on me. In the UK, because I’ve been doing radio so long there, if I leave a radio station, there’s always been other radio stations who would take me on the next day. Here, if I died here on my backside, no one’s hiring me,” he said.
“I remember actually getting emails saying ‘No one invited you’. And it was true. It was true. You know when you read something, sometimes, criticism and you go ‘Yea, that is true actually.’”
Post, who in addition to hosting Jacky Road Studios and panelling for the Hamish & Andy podcast on PodcastOne, acts as O’Connell’s ‘sidekick’ on GOLD 104.3, said O’Connell managed to hide his struggles from the team. He said O’Connell protected the team from the dark times and kept control of the vibe and the energy in the studio.
“You don’t want to know. It’s like the captain of the aeroplane, isn’t it? You don’t want him coming in, falling to pieces, crying, going ‘I think I’ve made a terrible mistake,’” O’Connell explained.
“Of course” he contemplated going back to England, he said.
“Suddenly there’s posters of you everywhere, and you’re an outsider, and you really are aware of the difference in your accent – everything about you is different. And radio is like that – everyone says it’s the most intimate medium, and suddenly I realised that actually there’s a bit of a disconnect between me and the audience. Every time I speak, they’re reminded I’m not from around there. How am I going to come and work through that?,” he said, adding “There were posters of me everywhere. I started to hate seeing myself grinning, joyous”.
Now, however, O’Connell sits atop the FM Breakfast charts in Victoria’s capital.
He first reached the top in Survey 7 of 2019, with a 9.1% share, but was dethroned by Nova’s Chrissie, Sam & Browny in the final survey of the year.
Pre-COVID this year, his shares were 9.2% and 9.4%. His share may have fallen back into the 7s now, but he remains on top.
“Coming through the other side of that was something which has been one of the highlights of my whole life,” he said of the ratings rollercoaster.
“But what’s been great about the show doing well is growing through that and going through all of that is, it’s been the most exciting thing I’ve ever done in my career… What are we going to go? How do I do radio differently here? And that has been a real, that’s been an amazing thing.”
Overall, he counts himself lucky to have been embraced by Melbourne, and to have the career he has – including his ongoing passion for radio.
“I am very lucky that I have found something in my life where, this is, this is going to sound a bit wanky, but actually radio studios to me are sacred spaces. I love radio studios,” he said.
“It’s the potential that could happen in there – the things you can do, the things you can say, how you can use that microphone, the conversations you can have with listeners with you. That’s what excites me…. You think ‘Wow. I wonder what this is going to be today’.”
Post also wrote a song about the radio mentor/ protégé relationship after joking with O’Connell about the importance of the dynamic.