2GB breakfast host
Born in: Oakey, Queensland
Friends: Tony Abbott | John Howard
Foes: John Laws
Home Town: Sydney
Alan Jones is not a man; he's a force of nature. Cyclone Alan has been written off as a spent force many times, but he keeps spinning, wreaking havoc and destroying anyone who stands in his way.
He's got energy, persistence, hide and an ego as big as the Sydney Harbour Bridge. No other broadcaster can match his track record of elevating stories into scandals, amplifying his listeners' anxieties and nagging decision makers until he gets his way. Jones is not just a radio host: he's a self-appointed ombudsman on a mission to right society's wrongs.
On air he rants and raves; off air he pesters politicians and important decision makers with endless correspondence. And it works – from badgering the NSW government into covering medical expenses for a tourist injured on a Sydney train to forcing Coca-Cola to pay compensation for a man who was shot while servicing a vending machine. Senior NSW Labor figures have told The Power Index that Jones played a key role in exposing serious problems in the south-west Sydney health service during the Carr era and that he was an "invaluable" source of advice during the 2008 equine flu outbreak.
"He's a lot more than a shock jock," says a former NSW Labor premier. "He plays the role of an MP except he's on the radio every morning."
Jones refuses to let politicians set the agenda, and is not afraid to tackle topics that seem to have little appeal to his big-city listeners. Throughout this year he has waged a ferocious campaign against coal seam gas companies forcing farmers off their land – an issue Labor and the Liberals had put in the too-hard basket. Jones' countless pleas for politicians to oppose the "raping" of prime agricultural land paid off in August when Tony Abbott told him that he would back farmers' rights to deny miners access to their properties.
But Jones' status as the undisputed king of talkback is under threat for the first time in a decade. His heir apparent, Ray Hadley, now has a bigger audience share and has outdone him of late in setting the national agenda. His age is beginning to show. He can still make a splash, but he's not the titan he once was.
"Jones is getting older and there are days when he isn't on top of the newspapers and newscycle," says a well-placed 2GB insider. "Sometimes you'll see that he doesn't really pick up news until a day or two after it has broken."
Nor has he ever been able to shift votes en masse. His ferocious campaign against NSW Premier Bob Carr in the lead-up to the 2003 election went nowhere; ditto his anti-Morris Iemma and Kevin Rudd crusades in 2007. Jones speaks to a rusted-on audience that is older and more conservative than the Australian average. You can't listen to him for long unless you agree with him. In late 2010 he ran an online poll that found 98.7% of his listeners didn't want a carbon tax (the latest Newspoll shows support for the carbon tax at 36%).
Nevertheless, his ratings remain astronomical: half a million Sydneysiders tune into his 2GB breakfast show every week and his total audience grows to 900,000 when you factor in regional syndication.
"I think he is a champion of the voiceless of society," News Limited columnist Piers Akerman tells The Power Index. "He has fulfilled the role that many people on the Left have tried to claim for their folk heroes. He actually bats for the battlers."
Jones' biographer Chris Masters isn't sold.
"He believes his show is real democracy, electronic democracy. I think that's a joke. His friends are the elite and a lot of powerbroking is done on their behalf.
"It's a very ugly power."
Jones is Jeckyll and he's Hyde. He will move mountains for his favourites, but he's ruthless if you dare cross him.
"He can make you feel like the most interesting person in the world," says a 2GB colleague, "but he can turn on you in an instant."
It's not enough for Jones to criticise his opponents: he abuses them, ridicules them, and runs vendettas against them. If you think, as many do, that public debate in Australia is becoming increasingly paranoid, aggressive and inflammatory then it's hard to look past Jones as the prime culprit. In the space of two months in mid-2011 he called independent Andrew Wilkie, Sydney lord mayor Clover Moore and federal Treasurer Wayne Swan dopes; Professor Ross Garnaut an "idiot" and a "stooge"; and independent Tony Windsor "utterly stupid". He also called for the Prime Minister -- whom he has renamed "Ju-liar" -- to be shoved in a chaff bag and thrown out to sea.
He's been sued for defamation by a native title claimant, a police officer, a jockey club director, a rugby league referee, several rugby league judiciary officials, the head of the Australian Olympic Committee and a Fairfax journalist. Most walked away with big payouts -- but he never apologises, never recants, and never has to pay a cent (his 2GB contract indemnifies him from any legal costs).
He's hyped up the threat of crime – particularly ethnic crime – for decades, even as statistics show crime rates are stable or falling. In the lead-up to the 2005 Cronulla riots, he read out a letter from a listener: "My suggestion is to invite one of the biker gangs to be present in numbers at Cronulla railway station when these Lebanese thugs arrive, it would be worth the price of admission to watch these cowards scurry back onto the train for the return trip to their lairs." The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) later found him guilty of broadcasting material likely to encourage violence, brutality or vilification of Middle-Eastern Australians.
And while Jones is smart and well-informed, he sometimes gets his facts hideously wrong. At the August "convoy of no confidence" rally he slammed the police's decision to block a two kilometre stretch of trucks from crossing the ACT border as "the most disgraceful thing that has ever happened in our democracy". The only problem: no trucks had been stopped at the border. Earlier this year he claimed that humans are responsible for only 0.001% of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere when top climate scientists say the true figure is closer to 30% (that is, 30,000 times more than Jones' figure). ACMA is currently investigating Jones' climate change coverage and may force him to apologise on air if he is found to have breached the radio code of conduct.
He regularly interviews climate sceptics and hypes them up as respected "experts" when they are, in fact, contrarians on the scientific fringe. As for orthodox climate scientists, when one does get a run on his show he harangues them. In May 2011 Jones accused David Karoly, one of Australia's most respected climate scientists, of being corrupted by the payment of a small retainer to serve on the government's science advisory panel. "The hypocrisy, and the gall, are breathtaking," fumed Media Watch host Jonathan Holmes, noting that Jones had received millions of dollars to spruik the virtues of Optus, Qantas and the NSW State Bank without disclosing this to his listeners.
Many thought the "cash for comment" affair would end Jones' career– just as they had when he was caught with his pants down in a London loo in 1988.
But he bounced back, more driven, more popular, more successful than ever.
"He is like Godzilla roaming around eating power lines," says Phillip Adams. "Rather than getting electrocuted, he grows stronger."
A series of recent health scares – prostate cancer, a brain tumour, melanoma and chronic respiratory problems – have fuelled speculation that he is about to quit or dramatically scale back his workload.
The Power Index's verdict: don't expect him to go any time soon. Not when his close friend Tony Abbott looks set to surf into office on a wave of anti-carbon tax fury. They'll have to carry him out in a box.
"Power is extremely important to him and he plays the game very hard," says Chris Masters. "I don't think he's got anything else in his life."