Basil Zempilas in campaign mode, juggling TV and radio, and what’s next?

Basil Zempilas

Lord Mayor reveals he knocked back overtures from Foxtel and Nine over the years

Basil Zempilas doesn’t waste any opportunity to spruik the charms of his city. When Mediaweek was welcomed into his office at the top of the City of Perth’s Council House overlooking the Swan River he began his first pitch.

“Welcome to the best capital city in Australia, the sunniest capital city in Australia, the 12th most liveable city in the world…a place that is very hard to beat,” said the Perth Lord Mayor. (Pictured above with his City Council colleagues.)

With close to 2,000 podcasts over the past 15 years, this is the first time Mediaweek has interviewed a publicly elected official.

Back in 2020, Zempilas was juggling a media career co-hosting Triple M breakfast radio after quitting 6PR, and an evening TV slot presenting sport on Seven News Perth. He stood as an independent for Perth City Council and duly was elected.

That first term is up next month as Zempilas stands for re-election. The difference this time is he has less of a public platform, having pulled back from his radio and daily Seven News roles. Ongoing media work includes a weekly column in The West Australian and work as a guest presenter at Seven including a weekly Sunrise slot.

Basil Zempilas

Below are some of the highlights from our Basil Zempilas podcast recorded in Perth earlier this month. Listen to the complete unedited Mediaweek Heavy Hitters interview:
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Basil Zempilas travel diary

[Basil Zempilas started leaving Perth every Friday to work on Seven’s east coast AFL weekend coverage before returning for his weekday radio and TV gigs. Later Zempilas started heading east to co-host Seven’s Weekend Sunrise.]

Once the footy made way predominantly for Weekend Sunrise, the last two years of my travel life was pre-Covid. I would leave Perth on Friday around lunchtime, get home to Perth early afternoon on a Sunday. We just had our third child, a little boy Anthony. Looking back now it was on for young and old, but I loved it. I loved doing Sunrise. What a thrill that was and what a privilege to be based in Perth, but to be able to fly and do those things with Seven Sport and then with Weekend Sunrise. I still feel blessed.

Basil Zempilas

Campaign poster for October 2023 election

Media man to Mayor

I wouldn’t say [the role of Lord Mayor was] more demanding [than anticipated], but the one that really fits into that category was the Triple M Breakfast Show. I was very proud to have played a part in launching a brand-new station and format here in Perth. Triple M was well known in Perth through footy. But we hadn’t had a Triple M which would be a surprise to many people listening on the east coast. To be able to launch that, and actually in the most recent ratings Triple M, and breakfast in particular, have climbed to their most successful result since they’ve been going. I’m really pleased to have played a small role in that launch.

I’m doing no breakfast radio for the first time in what must be 25 years. First it was 6PR, then 96 FM, 92.9, back to 6PR and then Triple M most recently. There was a period of adjustment, but it was clear to me that I needed to be more flexible in this role. There’s more travel in this role than I had anticipated. As any program director will tell you, breakfast radio hosts need to be on the show regularly. The idea of going away a lot wasn’t going to work.

The opportunity presented itself towards the end of my second year just to say thank you very much and good luck for the future. It was one that we mutually agreed to so that commitment has gone.

I am still with Seven and The West. But I’m not pinned down to the nightly news presenting commitment, which I previously had presenting sport. I’d done that for just over 20 years sitting next to Rick and Sue.

I still do a lot of things with and for Seven, but the Lord Mayor’s gig takes up most of my time.

Branding Basil

Chances of being re-elected Lord Mayor of Perth

Sometimes you get the best sense of how everything’s going and how you’re going by what people say to you. So the feedback is good. People think we’ve done a good job. But a long career in the media, in a public position in the media, is very good grounding for a career as an elected official or elected member. You’re never overconfident though. It’s a peculiar election system where it’s non-compulsory postal votes. I’m quietly optimistic that I’ll win a second term.

Political ambitions…state or federal?

I knew I was going to love this role. I probably loved it even more than I thought I was going to. I didn’t come here for further political ambition, state or federal. I guess I’m a bit more alive to possibilities and future opportunities. But they are not in my thinking. The only role I’m interested in running for is this one, to continue as the Lord Mayor of the City of Perth. I love representing Perth, and I love representing the people of Perth.

Basil on Weekend Sunrise with Sally Bowery, Monique Wright and Simon Reeve

Were you offered the job of replacing David Koch on Sunrise?

I do get asked about this a bit. I mean, look, it was never offered to me as such. But I will say this, and I won’t put names to those who were saying it, but when it was first mentioned to me about coming over to do Weekend Sunrise, I’d done some filling in. Clearly, they’d had a bit of a look at me. Andrew O’Keefe was finishing up, and they needed to find somebody to become the new weekend host alongside Monique Wright. It was mentioned to me that Weekend Sunrise was an opportunity for whoever went in, to probably put their hand up for when and if David were to go. The conversation was no more specific than that. If any television company is flying somebody backwards and forwards from Perth for a considerable period, I guess you’re entitled to think they’re not doing this for fun. There would be cheaper and more cost-effective options.

At no stage was I told David’s finishing on such and such a date and we want you to do it. I had a sense though that if it went well, there were other possibilities. I’ve always said, David deserved the right to go when he was ready to go. That’s exactly what happened. Covid and other things meant that that [Sydney-based] stint came to an end for me.

If I had been offered the job, and I wasn’t doing the other things that I’m now doing, we would have seriously considered it. For someone like me, that is just about the best job available in television. I feel privileged to have had two years of weekends doing it.

Moving east with wife Amy and the kids

We had discussed it and Amy had come over with the kids a few times. We’d had a bit of a look if something like that happened where might we end up? It was a bit of a live possibility in our minds. But as I say, it never progressed to the point of me being offered the job or being told that the offer was coming.

On air for 7AFL earlier this year with Nathan Jones

Why Basil Zempilas knocked back overtures from Foxtel and Nine

I had spoken to Foxtel a couple of times in the earlier years of their footy broadcasts. Brian Walsh had always been very generous in his praise, which I’ve always appreciated. But I was a Seven man. Towards the end during those Nine years [at 6PR], I guess it’s fair to say there were some conversations with Nine. They asked if I couldn’t continue to work for both [Seven and Nine] might I entertain the prospect of becoming a Nine person rather than a Seven person.

My time ended on 6PR because I was elected Lord Mayor in September of that year which was coming to an end. I’ve got to say this, both Seven and Nine were incredibly supportive of me and me being on each other’s platforms. And at no stage did Tom Malone, or for that matter Kerry Stokes, say to me you’re going to have to come off that one to continue on this one. I was very grateful for that, especially grateful obviously of Seven.

Former 6PR colleague Steve Mills with Basil

Listen to the complete unedited Basil Zempilas podcast where he also talks about the possibility of working full-time back in the media.

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See also: Tom Malone and Basil Zempilas agree 6PR host will quit if elected Lord Mayor

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