2GB warns Alan Jones of ‘contract breach’ after airing calls
A breach of contract notice sent to broadcaster Alan Jones this month is the third Jones has been handed by 2GB management since a $3.7 million defamation case relating to Queensland's Lockyer Valley floods went against the radio station in September.
Macquarie Media CEO Adam Lang has warned Jones that two callers put to air on his breakfast show on April 29 made statements that were potentially in breach of the broadcaster's existing five-year contract, which is set to expire on June 30.
In a move that suggests Macquarie has lost patience with its biggest star, an angry Lang listed radio management's issues with the calls - among them that Jones failed to dump the callers when they criticised 2GB management, Jones's fellow broadcasters and the board of Macquarie's parent company, Nine.
In a lengthy three-minute spiel on April 29, Jones's long-time caller "Stephanie" told the host and his live audience his show was "unique": "When you were at 2UE, nation's leading broadcaster, that station was at the top of the tree. When you went to 2GB, (it was) thrashing around at 2 per cent in its death throes … When you left 2UE, we all came with you. If for some reason you move somewhere else, we go."
She further stated Jones's show was not "three and a half hours of you reading out backslapping emails", a comment interpreted by 2GB management as a dig at morning show host Ray Hadley, currently the subject of staff bullying claims and the man anointed Jones's future breakfast show successor. A second caller, "Frank", continued along similar lines.
It followed September's Supreme Court ruling that Jones had defamed the Toowoomba-based Wagner family after alleging they were responsible for the deaths of 12 people.
A third breach notice followed a complaint from 2GB newsreader Natalie Peters after Jones pulled her up, fairly tamely according to sources, for failing to plug an upcoming Mark Latham interview in a news bulletin. Jones could not be reached for comment.
The latest breach notice comes as Jones and 2GB management struggle to agree to terms on a new two-year contract that sources say could see Jones's $4 million-a year contract slashed by as much as $2 million, a figure that reflects the financial hit Macquarie took on the Wagner case which, with the addition of legal costs, ended up costing Macquarie close to $8 million.
With Jones no longer on speaking terms with Mr Lang and executive chairman Russell Tate, and his relationship with shareholder John Singleton almost beyond repair, the broadcaster has turned to his close friend former Racing Australia and Racing NSW Chairman John Messara to represent him in contract talks with racehorse owner Singleton.
According to sources, Messara has recently made inroads improving a $2 million offer tabled in April.
On Thursday an upbeat Jones was spotted taking his radio production team out for lunch at a private room at two-hatted dining institution Mr Wong's in the city.
Last week Macquarie Media cut its forecasts to between $27 million and $29 million. It had previously forecast earnings of $29 to $32 million.
The difference, hint insiders, is the estimated cost of re-signing Jones and ratcheting up the contracts of Hadley and nights presenter Steve Price.
Sources maintain in December that Singleton decided to sack Jones, 78, at the end of his current contract.
Hadley was overheard at a Gold Coast horse meeting in December saying he would be taking over from the veteran broadcaster in the breakfast show from July 1, 2019.
That same month Hadley celebrated an extension to his existing 2GB contract - which now lapses in 2025 - and, according to sources, a pay rise reflecting his future prestigious status as the 2GB's breakfast show host.
Hadley could not be reached for comment on Saturday.
Similarly 2GB's nights presenter Steve Price was approached about replacing Hadley in mornings and also offered a new and improved contract, say sources.
For Nine, 2GB and the Macquarie network, which includes Melbourne's top-rating 3AW, represent one thing above all else - a platform upon which to cross-promote their television programming and newly-acquired Fairfax news interests.
Price, filling in for Jones at breakfast earlier this year, is understood to have received some pushback from 2GB management after he criticised Nine's top-rating program, Married At First Sight.
"Nine doesn't quite yet fully understand what it's like to try and harness a stable full of talkback commentators," a GB insider said this week. Price also could also not be reached for comment on Saturday.
The stand-off between Jones and Macquarie has not been helped by Nine CEO Hugh Marks, who initially counselled Lang to hurry and re-sign the broadcaster - regarded by Nine as the radio station's greatest asset - recently urging financial restraint.
This comes after analysts cautioned Nine in March about buying Singleton's 32.4 per cent shareholding due to the risk attached to Jones who has been embroiled in numerous on-air controversies during the past year, among them his "nigger in the woodpile" comment made during a 2018 political discussion and his clash this year with Opera House CEO Louise Herron.
Meanwhile, Macquarie CEO Lang has been dealing with three bullying complaints made against Hadley this year. Unlike Jones, Hadley, it's understood, is yet to receive a formal breach notice over the bullying allegations.
With 2SM Super Network proprietor Bill Caralis refusing to comment on his recent approach to Jones and an offer to have him jump ship, Jones's future is now in Messara's hands. Messara declined to comment on Saturday.
It is understood Jones has two live offers to switch stations and Southern Cross Austereo, which famously lost Kyle and Jackie O, did consider making an offer to Jones, despite not having a natural fit for the outspoken announcer on its network.
The deal was rejected by the board but the offer underlined Jones' perceived value as a radio asset.
Jones's last contract negotiation, in 2014, was signed off just four weeks prior to its expiry date, the deal sealed with a gift from Singleton - a pair of gold Nic Cerrone cufflinks.
At a cake-cutting ceremony to celebrate, an annoyed-looking Hadley told Jones to "put the knife in". Jones responded: "It won't go deep enough."