2Day FM is selling The Morning Crew reshuffle as a seamless, painless
affair. Sue Javes tells a different story.
Don't be fooled by the striped dressing gown and dishevelled hair - Wendy
Harmer is no down-trodden, suburban frump. She's a very astute, talented and
highly focused professional, firmly in charge of her destiny and, to a large
extent, dictating her place within Australia's biggest radio empire.
For the past decade, Harmer has been compulsive listening for 600,000
Sydneysiders who tune into 2Day FM at breakfast. Normally at this time of year,
she and her on-air cohorts, Peter Moon and anchor Paul Holmes, would be winding
down. Instead, Moon has left the show for good and today Melbourne stand-up
comic Greg Fleet makes his debut as Harmer's new sparring partner.
If the Austereo spin-doctors had their way this would be a warm, fuzzy story
about good old "Moonie" deciding after eight laugh-filled years that he wanted
to pursue a film and television career, with "Fleety" happening along at the
right time to fill the breach and Wendy just happy to fit in with everybody,
concerned only with making her listeners feel good in the mornings.
But that would be to assume 2Day FM listeners are mugs, and that commercial
radio is a community service rather than a cut-throat, profit-driven business.
Besides, it's much more interesting to try to decipher the real story behind the
break-up of Australia's most successful on-air partnership.
The Guide doesn't pretend to know all the machinations behind Moon's
departure, but we can go some way to separating the facts from the spin.
Spin No 1 Wendy Harmer had no intention of leaving the show
"The reports earlier this year were a bit of a beat up," Harmer told a trade
magazine last week. Yes, some journalists are guilty of gilding the lily, but
Harmer has publicly flagged her intention to leave 2Day since 1999. "When my
contract is up I will head off into sleep-in land. I'm really looking forward to
a new beginning," she told The Guide back then. When she signed her next
contract the following year, she told me: "Two more years and that's it. That
will make 10 years of breakfast radio and that's enough for man, woman or dog."
Late last year she was floating the idea of starring in an Oprah Winfrey-style
Certainly executives at the Australian Radio Network (ARN) took her
restlessness seriously in August when they attempted to woo her across to WS FM.
An annual salary of $2.25 million was discussed, but ARN baulked at the idea of
a hefty sum up front to compensate Harmer for the six months she would have to
stay off-air due to a "non-compete" clause in her Austereo contract.
By the end of September Harmer had recommitted to 2Day for another two years,
with an option for a third. So why the sensitivity? Why not just say, "I
changed my mind"?
Spin No 2 The on-air tension between Peter Moon and Wendy Harmer was mostly
Publicly, 2Day FM executives played down the very real tension between their
two major breakfast stars, but for a long time they thought privately it was the
key to the show's phenomenal success. In reality, Harmer and Moon have never
been close and differences between them over the show's direction were a
significant factor in the split. They've always operated from different cities,
with Moon broadcasting remotely from Melbourne, a fact Austereo was never keen
to see in print.
"Let's face it," a source close to the show says, "there are many on-air
teams who don't like each other. The remarkable thing is that despite their
differences, despite the fact that they were broadcasting from two cities, they
created great radio. It's amazing they lasted so long."
Peter Moon and Wendy Harmer are up-front about the tensions. "We've always
been chalk and cheese, even when we were working in theatre restaurants 20 years
ago," Moon says. "There was so much argy-bargy and conflict that some of it
came through on air, which people thought was all part of the act. But every
good actor reveals a certain truth, and it has never been an easy relationship."
Says Harmer: "Conflict is there and always has been on air. We never started
out being friends or colleagues. We didn't choose each other to work with. But
the fact is, we've been able to work together harmoniously for eight years. It's
a pretty fantastic achievement, I think. We've lasted together more than most
Spin No 3 "Moonie" chose to leave the 2Day show of his own accord
The truth is, in the months leading to the break-up, both Harmer and Moon
contemplated leaving the show. But in the end, Harmer was given the opportunity
to re-sign and Moon wasn't. The new deal between 2Day and Harmer, which involved
her working with a new partner, was struck in September. Moon was kept in the
dark for more than a month.
Earlier in the year, management sounded Moon out in very general terms about
his interest in staying. Moon was non-committal, saying he was unhappy with the
direction the show was taking and wasn't sure he wanted to keep working with
Harmer. He advised them to negotiate with her first. They never came back to
him. By August, reliable sources knew Moon was getting the flick.
One version is that Harmer gave management an ultimatum, along the lines of:
"It's either him or me." A softer version is that management and Harmer mutually
agreed the show would be better without Moon. They felt his set comedy sketches
and on-air "characters" were out of fashion and a more conversational,
free-flowing style would sound more contemporary.
Harmer herself is adamant she did not at any stage say: "It's him or me." So
how involved was she in Moon's departure?
"Not involved at all," she says. "I said that I was going and they said,
'Come back and talk to us', and I said, 'No, I think our partnership is over'.
And then they said, 'Well, how about if there was a new partnership - would you
like to work with someone else?', and I said, 'Yes'. And that is the absolute
truth. I did not engineer him leaving at all."
Harmer also denies personal factors drove them apart. "No, I think he is a
really talented person and a really funny guy. But we were really at the stage
where we needed something extra to come into that show. We were finishing each
other's sentences. It was getting predictable. Also, he and I had quite
different opinions about what we'd like to do. Quite clearly, the show was going
into that confessional, revelatory feel, and Peter's not comfortable doing
Moon, who is technically contracted to 2Day until the end of the year, is
reluctant to discuss the ins and outs of his departure but says whatever led up
to it, it is the right outcome for him. And he confirms his philosophical
differences with Harmer.
"It was time for me to leave, and it's true, I have some projects in
television and film I want to pursue. I didn't like the Jerry Springer influence
on the show." He refers to the time 2Day hired a private detective to see if a
listener's husband was visiting prostitutes. "I don't want to take the moral
high ground, but to me it's an attack on people's dignity, even though they are
complicit. I'm committed to being a comedian - not standing above people, but
being a part of the human mess."
In September, in what was clearly a trial run, Fleet filled in on the
breakfast show while Moon was away. By late September, Harmer had secretly
agreed to a new contract, before boarding a flight to Los Angeles to cover the
Emmy Awards with Moon. He was not told until the end of October.
His first hint of what was happening came from this newspaper. He has since
told friends there were some classic signs he was in trouble. His regular
monthly flight to Sydney was downgraded from business to economy and for the
first time he was asked to pay his room-service bill - $22 for a club sandwich.
Spin No 4 Moon's departure is no big deal
"It's an evolutionary change," says 2Day program director Rob Logan, "not
major." In fact, altering a breakfast show in a highly competitive and volatile
market, particularly a show as successful as The Morning Crew, is a very big
deal. Replacing Moon with Fleet is a critical strategic move, designed to ensure
2Day stays ahead of its rivals - particularly new FM station Nova - for the
Despite the show's No 1 ranking in the FM market, there are signs its
phenomenal run is starting to wane, particularly at the younger end of the
market. More than 50,000 listeners in the 18-35 demographic switched to Nova in
the past year. This is partly a generational problem that eventually affects all
popular stations. The Morning Crew's listeners are getting older. The
25-year-olds who started listening 10 years ago are now 35; today's 25-year-olds
are more likely to listen to Nova.
Harmer's presence on the show is pivotal. 2Day's private research shows
audiences consider her the linchpin. Austereo's share price was $1.85 when it
floated last year, but with increased competition that figure has dropped to
$1.50. To lose Harmer would have been a devastating blow.
But there was a need for regeneration. Moon, in his 50s with teenage
children, unhappy with the confessional style of radio Harmer likes and out of
the loop in Melbourne, was expendable. It was a tough decision, but privately a
number of executives from rival stations believe it was the right one. Given the
way it was handled, however, it would be understandable if Moon felt some
bitterness. And the spin, in an industry full of it, was inevitable.
Wendy Harmer has little need to be defensive. Hers is an extraordinary
success story. A young, motherless country girl born with a cleft palate who
overcame major adversity and used her wit and determination to build a career as
a stand-up comic then claim her own successful ABC TV show, before conquering
She now presents a role model that clearly impresses listeners, particularly
the women who make up the bulk of her audience. A successful marriage, healthy
kids, fat bank balance, hilltop home with panoramic ocean views, attentive
bosses and still the ability to make us laugh. She's living proof girls can have
The Morning Crew, 2Day FM, weekdays 6-9am. For a profile of Greg Fleet, see