Derryn Hinch – the story behind the human headline
Shock jock Derryn Hinch, who was fired by the radio station he worked for for a decade last night, was recently interviewed by Brooke Hemphill about ethics, current affairs programming and writing children’s musicals.
“The secret to my success,” Derryn Hinch says, “is everyday at 20 to four, I go in here and have a nap.”
Hinch points to a room adjacent to his office on the seventh floor of Media House, the headquarters of Melbourne’s Fairfax Media and the radio station 3AW where he hosted his drivetime talkback program.
It sounds like a joke but at precisely 20 to four, Hinch hands over a copy of his autobiography and says, “I’ll leave you with your book and I’ll be back in 10 minutes”. He ducks next door and pulls shut a black curtain. It really is time for Hinch’s daily nap. And why not? After five decades in the media, at the age of 68, he has surely earned an afternoon kip.
There’s no need to ask Derryn Hinch how his media career began – he details his journey in not one but three books including Human Headlines, the book he handed over pre snooze, which charts his 50 years in the media.
New Zealand-born Hinch started at the Taranaki Herald, an afternoon paper published in New Plymouth on the country’s north island, at the age of 15. He came to Sydney a few years later and worked on The Sun newspaper as a police rounds reporter before travelling to places including Canada and New York where he held what he considers the best the job in journalism.
“Foreign correspondent in New York was probably the greatest job you can get,” he says. Hinch returned to Australia in 1976 where he rejoined The Sun as the paper’s editor. Management thought he was 32 years old. He was actually 28 – the youngest metropolitan editor of an Australian newspaper. As Hinch explains in his book, he never imagined a career in radio but he left the paper for a job at the now defunct Melbourne station 3XY in 1978.
“The best job I didn’t have was in 1978 when I turned down a job with Negus and Martin to be one of the first three Sixty Minutes reporters. I just had a handshake agreement to start at 3XY and I didn’t think I could break an agreement. Looking back on it, it was a stupid thing to do because it would have been great,” Hinch recalls.
Most remember him for his time on television hosting the eponymous current affairs program, Hinch, which ran from 1987 to 1991 on Channel Seven and from 1992 to 1994 on the Ten network. The show began broadcasting only in Victoria and went on to dominate the national 7pm timeslot attracting up to two million viewers per night.
“It is funny when people nostalgically look back on the Hinch program being some sort of landmark of current affairs programs,” says Hinch. “We did really serious stuff. We had the ‘shame file’ on drink drivers. We had the ‘sludge file’ exposing people who were dumping sump oil. Now they do these things on the best pizza. And any gratuitous time they can show breasts they do.”
Like most topics, Hinch is vocal about the state of current affairs reporting in Australia and is quick to point out why shows like Ten’s failed George Negus-fronted bulletin and The Project struggle to pull an audience. “When I first took Hinch from Seven, when I got sacked and went to Ten, I told the managing director Garry Rice, ‘don’t put us on at six o’clock’,” says Hinch. “People don’t want to interpret the news before they’ve seen it. I would sometimes wait a day before I commented on a news story. I let people form their instant opinion then the next day prove to them why they were wrong. So asking them to comment on news before they actually digest it is crazy. That’s why The Project at six o’clock, it’s a dead program walking. It can’t survive.”
Hinch has certainly had time to form an educated opinion on the Australian media after spending the five months until December last year under house arrest. It was a big year for Hinch, when, just prior to being sentenced to home detention for breaching suppression orders after publically naming sex offenders, he had a life-saving liver transplant. After five months enforced downtime, he has returned to form as well as broadcasting, and is once again allowed to respond to emails and use Twitter, which he was banned from doing during his house arrest, an obvious challenge for the social media convert.
“The weirdest thing was I got 2,000 more followers when I was shutting up. Maybe people prefer it when I don’t talk,” Hinch jokes. He returned to his show on 3AW hours after his detention ended and while ratings may have dipped for the drive slot on the Fairfax station in his absence, his return saw an audience share of 11.2 in the first Nielsen survey period of 2012.
When it comes to the next generation of radio talent, there are few performers Hinch admires. “There is one,” he says pointing to 2UE’s Paul Murray. “Not just because he’s bearded and he thinks he’s my son. I like this guy. It’s sad that his ratings are going so badly in Sydney.”
Murray, who spent time with Hinch prior to the launch of his own talkback show in 2011, returns the compliment. “I love that he is absolutely honest,” says Murray. “He is exactly the same at dinner or lunch as he is on air. When you think about legendary radio guys like Laws, Jones or Hinch your perception is they’re these guys who won’t let you in.” Murray says Hinch opened his studio and shared with him the tricks and practicalities of producing a radio show. “As somebody who’s at the other end of their career, I take great inspiration from how fearless he is. I wish I had about a quarter of his fearlessness.”
But one bearded shock-jock Hinch isn’t a fan of is Kyle Sandilands. Hinch, who is no stranger to media backlash, says Sandilands reacted poorly to the situation last year involving News Limited journalist Alison Stephenson.
“You cop it and I’ve copped it but in that case she was a reporter stating the facts. She didn’t even say one opinion and he called her a slag.”
Hinch does disagree with sponsors deserting the 2Day FM program. “You can’t run your show to please sponsors. If a 3AW advertiser didn’t like something I’ve said, I’m not going to change my program. I’m never going to do it. I refuse to do some ads. We give away Christmas hams by the hundred on the station and I refuse to because they’re not free range. They know that. They should learn what I won’t do.” Telstra, who currently advertise on Hinch’s show, are aware of the program they are buying into. “We simply expect to be treated without fear or favour. Derryn’s position is perfectly understandable,” says Toby Dewar, general manager of media, sponsorships and awards for Telstra.
Hinch’s brand is based on his unique opinionated style of journalism and it is his morals and ethics that have so often gotten him in trouble. In 1987 he spent 12 days in jail after indentifying a former Catholic priest and repeat sex offender. When appearing as a guest on Ten’s The Circle prior to his liver transplant, panellist Yumi Stines asked Hinch if the possibility of dying had changed his moral code. “That would mean the standard I’ve been living with all my life is foul or is putrid,” says Hinch. “You just don’t change your beliefs or your standing because you’ve got a death sentence.”
With this second chance at life, what’s next for Hinch? Will he ever retire? “No. I’ll never retire. I’ll do something,” he says.
Ratings suggest audiences are happy for the Australian Commercial Radio Association hall-of-famer to stay right where he is with 3AW currently the number one drivetime talkback station in Melbourne. Yet Hinch says he has only signed on for a 12-month stint with 3AW and has some rather unusual ambitions, primarily his plan to write a children’s musical.
“Somebody should have a good musical for kids so I arrogantly said to my wife ‘well, I’ll write one’ and she said, ‘you’ve never written a musical’. I said ‘no, but I’m Derryn Hinch’. She said, ‘I forgot that bit’.”
- This article first appeared in Encore magazine. Download the iPad edition, now free.