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UK radio star Christian O’Connell to take over Gold FM breakfast

UK radio personality Christian O’Connell will be the new host of Gold FM breakfast in Melbourne.

O’Connell – who was the youngest radio presenter to ever be inducted into the UK Radio Hall of Fame – replaces Gold FM’s Jo Stanley and Anthony ‘Lehmo’ Lehmann who were axed in November last year.

Jo & Lehmo’s last survey of the year saw them improve 0.7 points to an 8.4%  audience share, making them the most-listened to Melbourne FM breakfast show. Their departure was announced shortly afterwards.

O’Connell’s commencement date is still unclear

O’Connell’s radio career spans 20 years, with 12 of those spent as a breakfast host for UK station Absolute Radio.

He marked the twelfth anniversary of his show on January 23 with the announcement he would be leaving the station.

Across his career, O’Connell has also run breakfast radio shows on UK indie music station Xfm and 2CR Radio. He was also the former presenter on BBC Radio 5 Live’s Fighting Talk and has won 11 Sony Radio Academy Gold awards.

Speaking with Mumbrella, O’Connell explained he had long thought about the opportunity to work in Australia as a radio host, so when his contract was up for renewal last year in the UK, he called friend and former Hit network drive show host, Andy Lee.

He joked it was the two former Hit network radio hosts Hamish Blake and Lee’s “fault” he had wanted to come to Australia in the first place.

“The big changing point for me and Australia was meeting Hamish and Andy. Hamish and Andy tracked me down above five years ago because they’d seen a couple of videos of a couple of interviews we’d done on the radio show and they wanted to come over and they wanted to come into the show and meet me,” he explained.

Blake and Lee were a crucial part of  O’Connell wanting to come to Australia

“About a year later Andy rang me about this crazy idea of doing a joint radio show that went live around the UK and live all over Australia because their time on drive time and mine on breakfast would make it a simulcast.”

O’Connell said when he gave Lee a call about a year ago asking whether to pursue a career in Australia, Lee was very encouraging. He said Gold FM was the perfect fit given its similarities to Absolute Radio, particularly its music format.

On top of that, he believes Australia creates the best radio – hosts, producers and the wider team – in the world. He’s familiar with the work of local Melbourne breakfast hosts including Eddie McGuire, Mick Molloy and Tony Martin.

But when asked how he believes the sports-oriented Melbourne audience would respond to an international radio show host, he told Mumbrella he was trying not to focus on that.

“I will drive myself mad for the next couple of months if I second guess how Melbourne is going to take to me. What I do know is it will take time. How much time? Who knows. It’s a long-term deal, so ARN know that this is going to take time because it is different,” he said.

“There are a lot of shows there, a lot of long running shows. You have funny people – Sam Pang is a really funny guy – but I like the fact that this’ll be something different and it might something they’d not necessarily thought of before.”

On his point of difference O’Connell said he is “irreverent, funny and real”, thriving off interaction with callers and their stories.

“I’ve never really seen myself as a DJ because DJs are to me inherently lazy people that just want to talk about what was on TV last night. I have always thought you should have something to say,” he said.

“It’s a privileged position to be someone’s friend in the morning and you should be adding to that encounter. You should show up and really want to do a show.

“Whether or not you like that show or find it funny, there are no guarantees. But I turn up everyday wanting to make that show as good as it can but I would hope people would find me funny and real and relatable.

“I love sharing stories because it’s like having a therapist a radio show. If something incredibly embarrassing or humiliating happens to me I don’t have to go and see a therapist, I can just go and talk about it tomorrow morning.”

Duncan Campbell, ARN’s national content director, who has been questioned over his decision to axe Jo & Lehmo, said of the new appointment in a release: “Christian’s radio show is like nothing Melbourne has heard before and this change is a bold, progressive move for ARN and the entire local industry.

O’Connell’s appointment is the final piece in Campbell’s national content strategy

“His sense of fun, relatable humour and quick wit will be perfect for Gold 104.3 and Christian is regarded as being one of the best interviewers around with his radio show known for great guests including his mates Ricky Gervais, Chris Martin from Coldplay, Liam Gallagher and U2.”

Campbell said the Christian O’Connell Breakfast Show was the final piece in the company’s “national content strategy” and part of ARN’s wider plans to “re-energise” its Melbourne offering.

The Christian O’Connell Breakfast Show will commence at some point in the next few months.

‘Radio can be very lazy’

O’Connell will enter the Australian market with a depth of radio experience. When asked for his take on the local and international challenge facing the industry, one thing immediately sprang to mind.

“Radio can be very lazy,” he said.

“It just wants to carry on doing everything as more or less it has been doing.

“Most radio stations – not just breakfast shows – are very formulaic. What radio has been very slow to do is take risks.”

ARN on the other hand, he said, is appealing because some of its recent decisions are “really risky”.

O’Connell’s appointment is part of a number of changes for ARN in 2018. In October, ARN’s Kiis FM announced Perth breakfast hosts Will McMahon and Woody Whitelaw as the station’s new drive show, and duo Polly ‘PJ’ Harding and Jase Hawkins as hosts of Kiis101.1 FM’s Melbourne breakfast program.

“If you covered Australian radio for a couple of years, it’s a lot of shows that are moving networks, really. That’s the big news. So and so is leaving there, they’ve been poached or kicked out,”O’Connell said. 

Polly ‘PJ’ Harding, of Kiis’ Jase & PJ is from New Zealand, making O’Connell ARN’s second international recruit this year

He said international recruitment doesn’t happen often because “programmers don’t want to take risks” or get fired.

“They want radio by the lowest common denominator and I’ve never done radio like that,” he said.

“I wanted to make sure that if I was going to come to Australia and take a big risk, and leave a show I’d built up over the last 12 years, it would be somewhere that is also going to do that.”

He’s also not concerned about the competition: “I never understand why people in radio can’t stand the thought of people doing a show up against them. It’s like they are behaving like mini dictators which I’ve always thought is a very insecure way to live your life.

“More choice makes you want to be better.”

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