Breakfast radio pioneer Gary O’Callaghan dies aged 83

Gary O’Callaghan, one of the pioneers of Australian radio, whose career spanned six decades, has died at the age of 83.

Gary O’Callaghan dominated breakfast radio in Sydney. Image courtesy of 2GB/Macquarie Radio

O’Callaghan became a fixture on Sydney radio station 2UE, broadcasting from 1956 through to 2003 when time was finally called on his award-winning and ratings-dominating career.

The broadcaster’s stint at 2UE was broken only briefly when he departed to 2KY for 18 months in the mid-1980s where he bolstered the station’s ratings and crippled those of 2UE, before returning to the station to continue his dominance.

During his first stint of 30-years presenting on 2UE, where he pioneered the breakfast show format, O’Callaghan lost just three surveys and managed to hold the top spot for a phenomenal 138 surveys.

In one survey he managed a share of 46% of the audience.

On his return to the station he continued his dominance in the morning slot, winning another 46 surveys over the next 14 years.

O’Callaghan began his career in 1951 at 2SM, a keen 17-year-old breaking into an industry that was preparing to stave off the arrival of TV and he landed a major scoop when he was on the spot to report on the wife of Russian spy Vladimir Petrov being taken from the country by the Russians at the height of the Cold War.

His work landed him a job at 2UE and he was given the plum role of breakfast host after just a year, sparking his extraordinary run of success.

His alter-ego, Sammy Sparrow, became a household name and O’Callaghan’s talent was such he was able to speak to a wide demographic ranging from kids through to their grandparents.

The year after his retirement in 2003 he was inducted into the Commercial Radio Hall of Fame, but kept active in his community where he continued to broadcast a show on a local station in Port Macquarie with his son, Nicholas, until 2007.

2GB morning presenter Ray Hadley paid tribute to O’Callaghan’s extraordinary career while speaking with fellow presenter Luke Grant on 2GB this morning.

Hadley said O’Callaghan had been instrumental in starting his own career and noted that both O’Callaghan and John Laws started at 2UE on the same day in 1956.

“If you didn’t listen to Gary O’Callaghan you didn’t listen to anyone through the sixties, seventies and eighties,” Hadley said.

“My first on-air shift (as a traffic reporter) was with the legendary Gary O’Callaghan. I was terrified, absolutely terrified.”

Hadley said the advice O’Callaghan gave him on that first day, to be himself, had stayed with him throughout his career.

“For all his success, for all the accolades that will follow… I’ve never met a more delightful, charming, sweet, lovable and loyal man than Gary O’Callaghan,” Hadley said.


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