‘Something in the water’: Triple M’s Loz O’Callaghan on why Fresh 92.7 keeps producing commercial radio talent
Laura ‘Loz’ O’Callaghan is six months into her Triple M Breakfast gig alongside Mark ‘Thomo’ Thomas. She’s been overwhelmed by the resources available to her on commercial radio, but notes there’s something in the water at Fresh 92.7 which seems to uniquely prepare community radio talent for commercial success. As she tells Radio Today’s Vivienne Kelly, there really is no option to be shit.
You’d think going from a community radio station to a plum gig on Triple M would be a baptism of fire, but it would seem Laura ‘Loz’ O’Callaghan had already walked through the flames and come out the other side, ready to go.
O’Callaghan fronted the weekday Breakfast show on Fresh 92.7 in Adelaide with co-host Mark ‘Thomo’ Thomas for four years, making it the station’s longest full-time Breakfast team, with over 700 shows put to air.
By comparison, a Weekend gig at Triple M is smooth sailing, she says.
“I was doing mornings at Fresh every day, and that kind of wore me down quite dramatically. When I started I was 26, and when I finished that job, I was 45, I think, physically,” she jokes. “I don’t mind getting up on the weekends, but I actually really miss being on air every day. There’s a really big sense of fulfilment that I get out of doing these shows, so I do miss doing it every day. I would like to do more, if anything.”
Loz & Thomo in their early Fresh days
So she already had the early alarm clocks and energetic morning persona ready to go, but what about handling the pressures, personalities and politics of commercial radio? What is it about Adelaide’s community station which seems to pump out viable commercial talent, including SAFM’s Anthony ‘Lehmo’ Lehmann, Channel 7’s Sam Mac, and Nova 91.9’s Breakfast duo Ben& Liam (Ben Harvey and Liam Stapleton)?
“That’s a good question. I’ve thought about it a lot, and I think it’s kind of this environment there where you have to hit the ground running and you are in this market with the giants, and you don’t really have the option of being shit,” she explains.
“We had to learn pretty quickly that it wasn’t just some hippy community station… We had to compete with the commercial giants really quickly.”
She says Fresh also has the advantage of being the ‘underdog’ against the commercial giants, so you can experiment with content and “get away with more”.
It also becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Industry insiders believe Fresh 92.7 is producing promising up-and-coming talent, so industry insiders are looking our for promising up-and-coming talent on Fresh 92.7.
“Because it has that reputation for fostering such talent, people are listening – like important people are listening. So you have that in the back of your head all the time,” she says.
“And that would be confirmed when you get emailed from Brad [March] or Craig Bruce, or lots of people who have influence would let you know that they’re listening. So it perks you up a bit more too and it creates this standard.”
Beyond that, she says, there must be something in the water at Fresh.
“It’s kind of crazy how many people have come out of there,” she says.
“But Fresh is running on a dime and everyone in there is doing five people’s jobs. And the speed that you become an expert at things is really amazing, because you kind of have no choice.”
She says when she arrived at Triple M, she was offering to take photos, edit things, and pick up any odds and ends to do with the show to help it come together. It was then that she realised, Triple M has employees who do that.
The other potential issue in transitioning from an all-in community station to a fully-fledged multi-state and multi-region brand like Triple M is the loss of who you are as you battle with egos, various layers of management, more substantial feedback, high expectations and a strong male-skewing approach to content and branding.
O’Callaghan, however, says she’s seen none of that, and is absolutely loving the vibe at Triple M in Adelaide.
“It’s exceeded my expectations quite spectacularly,” she says. “I was thinking I was going to walk into an environment that was really a lot higher pressure than community radio, but it’s actually the opposite. It’s very relaxed, everyone’s super casual. We’re being given opportunities to take risks and try new things. So it’s perfect, I’m really happy,” she says.
She also insists she is absolutely being herself.
“I think I’ve surprised my co-workers in that I’m probably a bit more crass and disturbed than they are – and so I fit right in, to be honest,” she adds. “I haven’t had any encounters there that have pinged my feminist antenna at all. It’s been really comfortable. I’ve felt like I can really be myself, and I feel like I’m allowed to be quite crass, but there’s also space for me to be really feminine as well. So I’m really enjoying it. So far there hasn’t been any of that kind of pressure.”
This ability to be comfortable and crass, funny and feminine, honest and headstrong, was something she also admires in fellow broadcaster Kate Langbroek, currently on The 3PM Pick Up on ARN’s KIIS.
“I’ve always loved Kate Langbroek because I never felt like she fell into a female trope. I’ve always thought she was just as weird and crazy as her co-hosts, whoever they might be – Hughesy, for instance. And I loved her on The Panel too. Just a really funny, authentic person who didn’t fall into those female tropes.”
She also thinks Triple M’s new Melbourne Breakfast host Marty Sheargold is sounding more at home on the network.
“I’ve always loved Marty Shearhold. I just think, I love his tone, I love the way he takes on topics. He always makes me laugh so much. And I think he’s so much more comfortable at Triple M.”
She saves her kindest words, however, for her co-host Thomson, who she says she now has a really good chemistry and understanding with.
“We had to work really hard at that. It was a full arranged marriage. We didn’t know each other, and it was so weird, oh my God,” she says of when the duo were thrust together back in their early Fresh days.
“The first six months, it was bizarre. Like, who the hell are you? I have to talk to you for three hours every morning?
“But in a way that was really good, because we’re still kind of learning about each other every morning, and we’re the audience’s advocate for that, you know? There’s no assumptions made. We clarify everything on-air and reset that personality thing all the time, and I’m still learning about him.
“We do have very good intuition with each other when we’re actually pissing each other off, or where not to go, and I think at the end of the day, it’s that improvisation principle, ‘Always say ‘yes’ to the joke’. He’s really good at that. Just not shutting things down because it’s getting too weird or he doesn’t understand. He really goes there with me whenever we feel that we’re hitting the ground. So that’s what I love about working with him.”
It’s also what she loves about radio – the freedom and fantasy of following a talk break wherever it may go.
“I really love the way we do it and the way that someone like Marty or Kate who I’ve mentioned, the way they seem to do it is that they’re so present and they are willing to just go wherever the break is going. That’s my favourite thing about doing radio, and that’s my favourite thing about listening to radio.
“My biggest like ‘yuck’ factor is when you can hear that they’ve planned the out and they both just go on on this boring road to get to the plan that they made, instead of feeling that electricity and trusting that it might be even more fruitful than the plan. That’s what I love about doing it.
“It gives me so much joy and satisfaction to spend a few hours doing it every morning. It energises me. It makes me feel really fulfilled. And I love how ancient it is in the grand scheme of things. We’re seeing new forms of entertainment pop up every day, and different digital platforms that pop up every day, but radio’s like as old as they get, and it’s still going. And it’s still thriving. And it feels really exciting to be a part of that tradition.”