Afternoons host on 2GB in Sydney and MTR in Melbourne
Born in: Parramatta, Sydney
Home Town: Sydney
You may find it hard to believe that a man who has admitted to forgery, groping female colleagues and exposing his genitals in a boardroom meeting has kept his job as a morals-crusading radio star. You may find it harder still to believe that he is one of the most effective mobilisers of mass opinion in the country.
But it's true.
Chris Smith's afternoon show – which boasts a weekly audience of around 400,000 on 2GB in Sydney and MTR in Melbourne – is shock jockery on steroids. And it's working a treat.
Smith has upped the ante on Andrew Bolt and Alan Jones by not only railing against Julia Gillard's carbon tax but co-ordinating rallies to oppose it. It was he who decided the time, date and place for the controversial "No Carbon Tax" rally held outside Parliament House in March 2011. Three thousand people – some waving s-xist signs such as "Juliar: Bob Browns [sic] bitch" – showed up. Not a huge crowd, but many of the protesters had never before participated in a rally.
And remember the hoo-ha over the Gillard government's decision to pay for flights and accommodation so that the relatives of victims of the Christmas Island boat tragedy could attend their funerals in Sydney? Smith not only bewailed this "waste" of taxpayer dollars, he used the tragedy as the subject for an on-air promotional giveaway. Listeners were offered a book, DVD or movie tickets if they could correctly guess the number of asylum seekers being buried. The stunt sickened many, including Andrew Bolt – a fierce critic of the government's refugee policies and a regular guest on Smith's show.
But Smith rejects the accusation (levelled at him by critics including former talkback host Mike Carlton) that he and his fellow shock jocks are right-wing "hate mongers" who degrade political debate by promoting fear, bigotry and racism.
"Yes I have strong opinions," Smith tells The Power Index, "but no stronger than any of my listeners. We tap into certain issues because they're what our listeners care about. Our influence is well overstated.
"Every single day for the past three months I have been inundated with calls about the carbon tax. There are days I say, 'I'm sick to death of this' and would like to move on to other topics but I can't."
That's not to say his anti-carbon tax crusade isn't a highly personal one, although he's adamant he's no climate-change sceptic.
"The main issue is that we haven't taken the biggest economic transformation in a generation to an election – that's the big beef for me."
But is it appropriate for him to be spruiking protest rallies?
"I've done nothing except support the right of people to protest," he says. "I think it's part of our role to do that."
Smith, who grew up in the western suburbs of Sydney, is proud to admit that he's always been a loudmouth: "My dad always said I should have passionate opinions about things. I'm always debating with neighbours over the fence or at dinner parties. What I do on air is what I'm like off air."
Unlike his stablemates Hadley and Jones, he's a trained journo. Smith started in regional radio before rising through the ranks at Channel Nine to become a star reporter on A Current Affair. His willingness to push the boundaries helped him score many scoops, but he went too far in 1994 when he forged a signature by Nine's corporate lawyer to get a prisoner released from jail for an interview. He was charged by police, pleaded guilty and was given a two-year good-behaviour bond.
Within a year he was back at work and was soon promoted to chief-of-staff at ACA. He got the sack in 1998 when he exposed his penis to two female colleagues during a boozy function in Nine's executive boardroom.
Two years later, John Singleton offered him a job as program director at 2GB and in 2002 he was appointed afternoon host. He quickly carved out a reputation, in the words of occassional Sydney Morning Herald columnist Jeremy Bass, as a "feral Ned Flanders" ever ready to condemn other people's social, sexual and artistic transgressions. He was more responsible than anyone else for whipping up outrage over Bill Henson's photographs of n-ked children in 2008. His on-air tirade against the photos -- which he slammed as "woeful", "despicable" and "p-rnographic" -- set 2GB's switchboard alight, attracted the interest of the police and forced the gallery owners to abandon the exhibition's opening. Only minutes after he urged his listeners to ring the gallery and complain, the owners had received calls threatening to burn down the building.
In May 2009, at the height of the Matthew Johns sex scandal, Smith thundered: "If you carry on like a lunatic, full of grog, and have disrespect for women, you should be fired." Seven months later Smith outed himself as the "phantom groper" who had harassed four women at 2GB's Christmas party.
Despite his reputation as a bad boy, the curly-haired king of second chances has always been well-liked by his colleagues. "He's a nice guy, a family man," says a 2GB insider who knows him well. "He's not hot-headed." The Power Index found him passionate and self-deprecating, a man who can't quite believe his own luck.
If he harbours a fierce ambition to move to a higher-profile timeslot, then he's good at hiding it.
"I think I'll be the first one retired at this station," says the diehard rugby league fan and motorcycle enthusiast. "I can see myself running a newsagent at Rockdale."
"I've got the greatest shift in the world. I've always wanted to do a talkback radio program. I've reached the goal that I've always wanted."