Inside 3AW: Tom Elliott on moving timeslots and pressure in mornings

Tom Elliott

The man with a finance background isn’t a great contract negotiator.

Tom Elliott is the 3AW morning show host. Neil Mitchell finished his long run hosting the 3AW morning show late last year. There seemed to only be one candidate for the job. As former drive host Elliott told Mediaweek, he didn’t hesitate to make the move.

In a year that has seen new hosts taking over mornings, afternoon (Tony Moclair) and drive (Jacqui Felgate), the station is depending on Elliott to keep the big breakfast audience. And then keep them engaged enough to stay into the shows that follow.

3AW audience are stayers. The station ranks #1 in Melbourne because people listen longer.

The station noted how well Elliott was performing in the first GfK radio survey of 2024: Elliott was an overwhelming #1 with a share of 16.7% (9.9 points ahead of his Mornings talk competitor) and a commercial streaming share of 28.2%.

Mediaweek visited the station to speak with the new king of morning radio. It might have been late autumn in Melbourne, but Elliott was wearing khaki shorts and his trade top. Something Good Weekend called “a violently ugly Hawaiian shirt”.

See also: Farewell 3AW’s Neil Mitchell: Exit interview with Melbourne’s King of All Media


Tom Elliott said ‘Yes’ immediately to moving to mornings

It was the dumbest negotiation I’ve ever done, I said “Yes” before I even talked about pay or conditions. Once I knew that Neil had decided to step down it was for me the obvious thing to do.

Is the morning audience different?

I’ve met some people who say, “Oh, I can’t listen to you now because I’m at work. I used to be able to listen to you from 5pm to 6pm.” What is interesting we’ve noticed with callers (we have a digital system which means regular callers we know who they are) we are getting in mornings, a lot of them are new callers. Whether that’s just a slightly different audience, I’m not sure, but possibly. I do hear a lot of the people who used to ring regularly on drive now ring me in mornings too.

Has the style of the program changed?

No. One of the things I learned early in radio is you have to be yourself. It’s no good trying to pretend to be someone else. It just won’t work. That was something I worked out years ago when I first took over in drive from Derryn Hinch. I used to think, what would Derryn do what would Derryn say. I thought well I’m not Derryn and I’m not Neil either…I’m me.

Pressure to perform starting at 8.30am

There’s pressure on every show all the time. We just want to be #1. I see the whole 8.30am start a little bit differently to what Neil. He would always construct his show like a newspaper. 8.30am was the equivalent to the front page. My view is people dip in and out of the program throughout their mornings. You want to give them solid things throughout the morning. Not just the first hour or so of the show.

Competition to 3AW mornings…is it the ABC?

Ratings would suggest the ABC is not the competition it used to be. The idea that radio only competes with radio is very old-fashioned. The reality is now that anybody with a smart device has umpteen things they can do. They can sit there scrolling social media. Or watch a movie or a TV show. They can listen to a podcast. Listen to a radio station. The way I describe it is a busy person might have an hour a day to listen to or to watch or to read something. Our competition is to make sure that we are that hour of the day for our audience.

Tom Elliott’s politics

I would say that my politics are varied. I don’t identify specifically with one side of politics or the other. On different issues I have strong views but if you put them all together it’s a mishmash of views.

Do you share who you vote for?

I made that mistake once early in my career and my then program manager pointed out that you instantly alienate half the population if you do that. Our audience pretty much splits 50-50 in their politics between the two major parties. I focus on individual issues. You have to serve it up to all politicians because frankly they’re all equally useless.

Who can be a guest on 3AW mornings?

There are no hard and fast rules. The main rule is that to discuss anything, a) the audience has to be interested, and b) I have to be interested. What you don’t want to do is bore people.

Sometimes he’s still a finance man

I have a financial background going back a long time. It’s quite boring for many people including me! I tend not to spend too much time on that. But state budget day or federal budget day is one day when you might focus on the dollars and cents. We did the state budget for about an hour out of three and a half hours last week.

Tom Elliott’s radio day

I do an hour or so of work each night just checking through things and seeing whether there’s anything that has popped up. Next, I bash off a whole bunch of emails to my producers.

I get up at about 4.50am and walk to work. When I arrive I go through the printed papers and anything online. From 6.45am to 7.15am is our meeting and that’s where everybody pitches ideas and we hammer out what we’re going to do. From 7.15am to 8am we put everything together, get guests and it’s pretty frantic. We also record a promo for the show. Weirdly from 8am to 8.30am is sort of a little respite before the show actually starts. [Which is when Elliott sat down to talk with Mediaweek.]

Tom Elliott’s team

One of Neil’s producers stayed – Michael Hilder. He is now the senior producer and EP of the show. We have two producers who were with me on drive – Jimmy Szabo and Breanna Edebohls. The panel operator is Antonio Gumina. There’s four of them plus me.

Coming this week:
Inside the 3AW engine room. Breakfast with Ross and Russ.

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