How an air-conditioning mechanic in Sydney Australia became an award winning broadcaster in Britain Part 33.

01Feb14

In 1993, I learned a valuable lesson that saved my career and some pretty heavy legal proceedings twelve years later.

I got my first complaint a few weeks after going on the air at the first commercial radio station I worked at, 2PK in the Central West of New South Wales.  I can’t remember what I’d said on the air but I know it was something pretty harmless. The General Manager, Kenny Birch, told me that the person making the complaint hadn’t actually heard what I’d said but had been told about it and was demanding a tape of the broadcast. I told him that it wasn’t anything to worry about and we should just give them the recording from our logging tape because when they heard it, they’d realise that it was nowhere near as bad as they’d been told it was. That’s when Kenny said eight words that would save my bacon years later. He said “We don’t release audio without a court order”. We didn’t release the audio and the problem went away.

In 2005, I was the Program Director of a radio station on the South Coast of England. The on-air presenter burst into my office and said, “I’ve messed up!” I could tell it was serious because the colour had drained from his face. I’d been in a series of meeting that morning so hadn’t been listening to the station’s output.

The police had surrounded a local warehouse. A man had locked himself in there, he had a shotgun and said he wasn’t coming out until his demands were met. The presenter had decided to run an on-air ‘sweep’ and had callers on guessing how long it would be till the bloke gave himself up. Then our news team reported that tragically the man had shot and killed himself.

There was no need to tell the presenter that he’d made an extremely poor decision, it was written all over his face. He was an excellent broadcaster and valuable member of the team. He’d made a HUGE mistake but no one could turn back time. He’d done exactly the right thing by coming to see me as soon as he realised what he’d done. I read in his book that the radio executive John Myers has a rule, “bad news early”, if something bad happens, let the boss know as soon as you can, it’s a good rule. If I’d found out what had gone on from the police, I would probably have fired the presenter. Now as the person responsible for the output of the station, I was the one with the problem.

The police arrived at the radio station and I showed them into my office. A detective explained to me that they had reason to believe that the man held up in the warehouse was listening to us and had shot himself because of what he heard on the air. He told me that he wasn’t leaving until I handed him the logging tapes which would be used in proceedings against us. It was very serious stuff but I kept calm and repeated to him the words I’d heard twelve years earlier from my General Manager at 2PK, “We don’t release audio without a court order”.

The detective was shocked, then furious and became aggressive. He warned me how serious it was to get in the way of a police investigation and how I was now in real trouble. He said I’d be appearing in court and would be cross-examined by a barrister and how unpleasant that would be. It could all be avoided if I just handed over the tapes. I kept my cool and said, “Come back with a court order and you can have the audio”. To be honest, I didn’t know what to do or how much trouble I was in, I was just trying to buy some time.

The next day the detective came back without a court order and demanded the tapes again, I said “no”. A few days later he was back again, he asked for the tapes and I asked for a court order. He explained that he couldn’t get a court order. It turns out that a court order can only be issued if a crime has been committed, suicide is not a crime.

My guess is that because the police failed to resolve the situation at the warehouse, a troubled man with complex problems decided the only option left open to him was to take his own life. The police must have been under a lot of pressure to explain what went wrong. They were looking for a scapegoat.

We didn’t release the audio and the problem went away.

Craic On!

Listen to the latest Mack Nuggets at http://www.mackmedia.co.uk

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