Josh Szeps has a history of giving his listeners content that is a little bit different and often more challenging than they might get on other programs on the broadcaster.
On Wednesday he really made his ABC Radio Sydney audience sit up as he dropped details of his resignation just before the 3pm news.
Josh Szeps: ‘I’m a bit too spicy for this gig’
“It’s time for my contract to be renewed for 2024 and I want to tell you why I won’t be signing it and will be ending the show this year. I could spin you some PR guff about how I don’t have time in my life for all the other things I want to do…which is true. I could talk about how I could make more money for less work if I was working for myself…which is true. And how I want to spend more time with my family…which is true.
“But that’s not the whole story. If you know me you know I don’t do bullshit. The bottom line is I’m a bit too spicy for this gig.”
While acknowledging how lucky he had been to be working at the ABC, he fired a shot across its bows noting the restraint he felt trying to work within its guidelines.
Szeps told his listeners, “The ABC is the greatest institution in Australian public life. I believe it is the jewel in this country’s crown. I have no beef with ABC or its management.
“The acting manager of ABC Sydney Mark Spurway is a legend. The ABC Sydney boss Steve Ahern is a champion. His new boss Ben Latimer is a great guy, whip smart. The new head of content Chris Oliver-Taylor is a legend of Australian broadcasting who actually has the potential to transform the ABC in tremendously positive ways. The managing director of the whole place, David Anderson, is the most warm, wonderful, passionate and tireless champion of everything that is good about public broadcasting.
“But having truly rational, bullshit-free conversations about controversial issues is risky these days. The penalties for speaking bluntly, the penalties for trying to coax people out of their thought silos and their echo chambers are very high.
“The fact that it’s risky only makes it more important to me. The fact I have found a way of doing it independently that is financially viable leads me to the question that I have been mulling over ever since chatter about the 2024 [ABC] line-up began.”
Szeps said he asked himself where he is the most use to the national conversation.
“If you’re a regular listener you know me. You know I am the kid who gets invited to Christmas lunch and then starts talking to people I’m advised not to talk to. Like Uncle Herbie who might have voted for Pauline Hanson. Maybe all I do is make the prim and proper partygoers uncomfortable, but that is not my intention. My hope is that by understanding Uncle Herbie’s point of view I might better understand my own.
“Maybe there’s value in consciously defying bubbles of conversational safety.”
Josh Szeps: He didn’t fit the ABC
“I’m a misfit. I’m a child of refugees, but I’m a white Australian. I’m a gay guy, but I hate Mardi Gras. I have holocaust surviving grandparents but I’m conflicted about Zionism. I’m an ABC presenter but I don’t like kale.
“I am a riddle wrapped in a bloody enigma. If you think that being a team player is the highest virtue, good for you. But don’t pretend to be a journalist. Journalism needs more contrarians, not fewer. More risk takers, not fewer.
“We need more people like Andrew Ollie, John Pilger, and Mike Carlton, and Helen Lewis, and John Stewart, and Germaine Greer, and Christopher Hitchens.
“But I love the ABC. This institution is our best hope if we are going to survive the challenges of this century as a country that we would recognise as Australia.
“The ABC is indispensable. The ABC deserves our support. It certainly deserves more funding. It’s an incredible honour to have a show on the ABC. I am grateful to everyone I have worked with and I wish the ABC and its management and all its employees nothing but the best. Australia needs a strong and independent ABC.”
Uncomfortable Conversations takes off
“Yet at the same time I have this parallel life going on where my podcast is a place where I have been having nonsense-free conversations about the most controversial challenges we face and it has become a big hit. We have had over 3m downloads. At the risk of being immodest – which is what people say when they have no intention of being modest – it’s one of the most successful Australian interview shows in the world.
“It does turn out that people are craving a kind of conversation that they are not hearing in the mainstream media. I got myself a great podcast producer, Stefan, and a great podcast distributor, and we are making money.
“We launched a premium subscription on Substack where you get bonus content for a small monthly fee. We have ended up with one of the highest paid conversion rates of any show on this global Silicon Valley-based platform.”
What’s next for Szeps
Szeps is to expand his brand. He currently broadcasts the podcast Uncomfortable Conversations and he is planning a YouTube program coming early from Diamantina Media in 2024.
The subscription platform at joshszeps.com offers a free tier and then options for more content at prices that range from $110 annually to $390.
“We thought what about expanding into video content. That’s another audience and another revenue stream. In the new year, I am launching a YouTube show on the network founded by the Betoota Advocate team. I have TV development deals on ice and a couple of book offers.”
Szeps is also embarking on a live podcast circuit with promoter TEG Dainty. This sounds like the business that Paul Dainty planned for launch with Foxtel’s Brian Walsh before Walsh’s sudden death earlier this year. “I will be bringing some of the biggest guests from around the world to join me onstage in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth.
Radio ratings on the rise
“I don’t have a financial reason to be at the ABC. I am beyond grateful to everyone who made my little patch of this institution a success. Over the past dozen ratings surveys, this show’s ratings have increased largely due to my beloved Jane, Robbie, Hannah, Elizabeth, Rosh and Steve.
“The only shows on this station that are competitive with 2GB are afternoons and drive. This show does do better than its Melbourne counterpart in the ratings. It has one of the largest cumulative audiences of any show on this station.
“To every listener. I would hate for you to hear this and think it’s the end of our relationship. It’s actually the beginning of my main event.”
Szeps then recommended people visit joshszeps.com and sign up for a mailing list to learn “how you can keep me in your earholes”.
Szeps will be staying with the ABC until the end of 2023.