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The Sydney Morning Herald

Price and prejudice

Author: Sue Javes
Date: 13/11/2006
Words: 1050
Source: SMH
          Publication: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: The Guide
Page: 5
2UE's embattled drive presenter hits back at John Laws.

Steve Price is on a slow burn and it's not from his morning run through the streets of Mosman. Along the route he has picked up a copy of The Bulletin and read John Laws's latest spray. By the time he is seated in a Balmoral cafe ready for our interview, he's finding it hard to talk about anything but the man who casts such

a huge shadow over 2UE.

Laws says Price is "a conceited little man" motivated "by envy and avarice". A few weeks ago Laws told his listeners that Price was "a bombastic little jerk". When Price bit back in print, saying Laws hadn't been at work often enough to know, he says Laws uncharacteristically stormed into his office, abusing him in front of staff.

Judging by our conversation, however, Price isn't averse to the odd hurtful comment himself. He says he resents Laws resorting to personal abuse about his height then adds: "It's very strange coming from someone who worries about jokes about his crinkle-cut hair and pock-marked face. I mean he's hardly Cary Grant."

So what's going on? 2UE's self-obsessed and overpaid presenters have a history of turning on each other and, as in any schoolyard squabble, it's difficult to work out who started it.

On the surface Price seemingly has more reason to bear a grudge against Laws than vice versa. Laws lobbied senior management to have Price removed from the breakfast shift in 2003. After a year in the shift Price was still struggling to fill the hole left by Alan Jones. Laws believed his own morning audience was suffering as a result.

Price doesn't deny Laws might have cost him the breakfast job. "Which is also a bit strange," he says, "because his results in mornings haven't been any better."

Laws's hostility towards Price appears to have increased since rumours began circulating that management wanted Price in the morning shift when Laws retired. Laws is determined Tim Webster, who happens to be managed by Laws's business associate, John Fordham, should be his successor.

"I haven't heard that rumour," Price says.

"I don't know why John Laws wants a say in who replaces him. You would think he would just go and get on with his life." He adds: "I do think about whether I want to do that shift. I'd love to do it, particularly if it was still a national program."

Some suspect a more Machiavellian plot, which involves Price deliberately destabilising the fragile Laws in the hope of goading him out of 2UE, thereby freeing Southern Cross Broadcasting from having to pay his crippling $4 million salary. "Look," Price says, "I've already been thrown off a 50-storey building going into the hot seat left by Alan Jones. I don't know if I want to go down in history as the man who then replaced John Laws. There's only so many times you can go into the torture chamber. This time it might be smarter to let someone else go first."

Losing the breakfast shift still rankles Price. He says before the axe fell management suggested he pair with John Stanley but Price said no. He has since regretted the decision.

"I resisted because I thought the figures were OK. I still think [management] panicked and moved too early."

Price, who has a seven-figure salary, though not in the same stratosphere as Laws's, is not exactly setting the world on fire in the drive shift. With a 7 per cent ratings share, he trails his two AM talk rivals - 702's Richard Glover and 2GB's Philip Clark. But Price is quick to point out that Clark is only a fraction ahead with 7.1 per cent, even though Jones delivers him a much bigger audience at breakfast. "You have to presume those listeners are getting back into their cars after work with their radios still tuned to 2GB. That means Philip is driving a hell of a lot of them away."

Price suspects the perceived political leanings on 2UE confuses the audience. He describes Mike Carlton, Peter FitzSimons and Stanley as "soft lefties" and himself as "loudly leaning to the right".

"I can tell I have a lot of listeners who also listen to Ray Hadley on 2GB. If I were doing drive on 2GB, I'd be rating 12 per cent, no problem. But I'm not. I don't want to be there and I'm quite happy where I am."

CULTURE SHOCK

For the first time in 15 years Radio National has abandoned a live daily arts and culture program. Staff from The Deep End have been told the program will not return next year. It will be replaced by repeats of pre-recorded programs, including Poetica, Awaye!, By Design and Into the Music. In a related move, Richard Aedy's Life Matters will be repeated nightly at 9 o'clock next year. Staff at The Deep End, including presenter Amanda Smith, have been reassigned to work on a weekly arts program on Sunday mornings. Radio National's daily arts and culture program had strong support in the 1990s but, during the past five years, its resources and reputation slipped away. During the Jonathan Shier era it was moved to a night-time slot and presented by Bill Leak and Libbi Gorr. That proved unsuccessful and it was later returned to afternoons but with diminished resources and staff. Radio National program boss Jane Connors told The Guide it was a difficult decision but she believes the arts have changed during the past 20 years. "We think what Radio National does best is in-depth specialist coverage and that is a better way to go than a daily journalistic-style arts program."

ARSE OVER TIFF

At the less pointy end of the arts spectrum, 2Day FM has dumped Craig "Lowie" Lowe (pictured) from the Hot 30 Countdown, ending his two-year reign in the night-time spot. Lowie, 21, who has admitted suffering "head-up-arse syndrome", was forced to resign last week after a run-in with management. It seems bad behaviour is tolerable in the radio business only if you have the audience to back you up. Unfortunately for Lowie he hasn't rated as well in nights as either of his predecessors, Kyle Sandilands or Phil O'Neill. He was the only presenter on 2Day FM to go backwards in the recent survey, losing ground to the rival Nova program, hosted by Jabba and Mel Femia.

 
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