From Triple M’s Hot Breakfast to LA: The extraordinary life of Duncan McKenzie-McHarg


Random encounters and opportunities are often at the heart of successful media careers, and Duncan McKenzie-McHarg’s story is no exception.

Duncan says landing his dream job on Triple M’s Hot Breakfast with his boyhood idol Eddie McGuire was the result of an extraordinary coincidence.

Given that he used to race home from school in Melbourne to watch the Channel Ten News sports break, Duncan knew pretty early on that sports reporting was the career for him.

He tells Radio Today “I loved how the reporters on TV got to talk about sport, almost in a performative way.”

He especially loved watching McGuire host The Footy Show on Channel Nine.

“He was so quick and versatile. Funny, but could also deliver serious news.”

One day, when Duncan was around sixteen, McGuire came to his school to deliver a pep talk.

Duncan remembers it well: “He was a proper entertainer. I left the lecture theatre thinking that I wanted to be like that guy.”

After high school, Duncan took a couple of years off to travel the world. On his return home, he enrolled in Journalism at Monash University.

He was in his mid-twenties when all the planets suddenly aligned.

Duncan found himself teaching guitar to the children of Jeff Allis, Austereo’s former Head of Programming.

“After a lesson one day, Jeff asked me ‘Duncan, what do you want to do for a career? Surely you don’t want to do this forever!’”

“I told him I had a journalism degree and wanted to be a sports reporter. He said ‘Really? Well, I still have some contacts (at Austereo). Would you like me to reach out to a few?’”

“I said ‘Absolutely!’”

Duncan says Allis got in touch with then-News Director Steve ‘Spez’ Speziale, who told him there was a new breakfast show starting on Triple with McGuire, Luke Darcy, Tony Moclair and Mieke Buchan.

“They were looking for a sports reporter!” Duncan says. “Unreal, I thought. This was my chance.”

Then Allis informed Speziale that Duncan had no experience.

Duncan says Speziale’s response was “Oh. Well, bring him in for a chat anyway and I’ll give him some guidance.”

“Before the meeting, I googled ‘Steve Speziale’ and in the results I discovered a podcast (quite rare for 2010) of Spez talking about everything he valued in news and news reporters. It went for 45 minutes!”

“I voracioulsy took notes, memorised key phrases and practised lines.”

“When I arrived, I knew exactly what he was looking for. He thought I was a protege!”

“A few weeks later, I got a call from Spez and, unbelievably, was offered the job. I would be working with my childhood hero Eddie McGuire!”

“’Until this day, I’m still not sure if Spez knows this, but I have to thank him for giving me my first job in the media.”

It was surreal stuff, breaking the big sports news, then being the first to tell Melbourne about it.

It was also a punishing schedule.

“Every weekday, I would go to bed at 8pm then rise at 4am. It was pretty brutal,” Duncan admits.

McGuire, he says, was a great mentor.

“He was firm, but fair.”

“Eddie used to tell me, ‘When you come on-air, you need to deliver the news like it’s the most important thing in the world.’”

McGuire also helped him when stuffed up.

“I remember one morning, I’d had a huge night at Mick Molloy’s Triple M Bunga Bunga party. I hadn’t been to bed and rolled straight into work. I was cooked.”

Just minutes before he went on-air, Duncan confessed to McGuire.

“He laughed, gave me a wink during the intro, then proceeded to tell the whole of Melbourne about my bender.”

Duncan thought he’d get punished. But the reaction was quite the opposite.

“I started getting texts from mates, family members and randoms about this ‘legendary performance.’”

Duncan says Hot Breakfast Executive Producer Jay Mueller also taught him a great deal.

“He was super organised, could stay cool under the most stressful situations and expertly managed a team of seven sleep deprived colleagues.”

After three years of working Breakfast hours, Duncan felt he’d probably reached his limit.

He switched to TV, freelancing at Seven News before joining Channel Ten as a sports reporter.

He’d been at Ten for about three years when he booked a holiday to the US.

“I was at the Desert Trip Music Festival in the Coachella Valley – headlined at the time by Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan and Neil Young! – and felt a really strong urge to move to California.”

“When I got back to Australia, I called up Hugh Riminton – the Foreign Editor at Ten – and asked him what I needed to do to pitch myself as a freelance US correspondent.”

“He said I should start researching visas, brush up on my politics and watch the very best foreign correspondents go about their business. He assured me it wouldn’t be an easy pitch, but not impossible.”

A month after their chat, Donald Trump was elected US President.

Perfect, Duncan thought. He’d found the subject of his pitch.

“I remember walking in for the meeting, sweating bullets, knowing my dream move to the US would be decided by the next 15 minutes.”

Duncan put forward a strong case, got approved and within six weeks packed his suitcase and moved to LA – with zero guaranteed income.

“It was equal parts exciting and terrifying,” he says.

Since 2017, Duncan has been an international sports presenter, covering everything from the NBA finals to Baseball’s World Series.

More recently, he’s been working with Stan Sport on its tennis coverage.

“This year, I went to Paris, London and New York to cover Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open. Stan is a great company to work with.”

“I also produce content through my production company USA LIVE and help run a bureau for Celebro Media in the CNN building in Hollywood.”

For Duncan, it’s all about the hustle – and delivering the client the best content possible.

“That means forming relationships with the leagues, players and partners to get unprecedented access to the biggest names. It’s allowed me to interview sports stars like Tiger Woods, Novak Djokovic and Shaquille O’Neal.”

Duncan describes living in the US as exhilarating,  rewarding, challenging, character building, expensive … and occasionally lonely.

But he wouldn’t trade it for anywhere else in the world.

“I wake up every day in Los Angeles, and 90% of the time, it’s 25 degrees and sunny. I work a lot in shorts and thongs.”

Duncan also moderates some events for the American Australian Association, sharing the stories of successful Aussies in the US from Greg Norman to Terrence Tao.

Duncan regards his parents as two of his biggest mentors.

“I still call my dad up from time to time for advice.”

“He taught me some really great life lessons, like ‘Be true to yourself’ and ‘Never compromise your values for a deal.’”

Duncan’s favourite piece of advice from Dad? Have a go.

“It doesn’t matter if you fail because tomorrow is a new day and you can start again.”

“In my first few years in the US, I literally failed 99% of days. Pitches were rejected, ideas were ignored, people didn’t write back. However, it was the 1% success rate that kept me going.”

While it’s TV that dominates his working life right now, Duncan says FM radio will always be his first love.

“I’ve always really loved the big UK DJs. I’m glad to see Christian O’Connell having success in Australia.”

Duncan also sees great potential for an LA-based radio show, broadcasting back to Australia.

“We have great access to talent in film, music, comedy, news, sport, politics, tech, everything.”

“I think we could make something really cool!”

Watch this space.

*Photos supplied

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Ben Dover
8 Dec 2023 - 6:16 am

A brilliantly written article on Duncan. I can vouch for his hard work and tenacity in Los Angeles. He deserves enormous success over here.


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