James Valentine ready for battle in Sydney breakfast as Wendy and Robbie depart

James Valentine

James Valentine: ‘I have some track record with the 3am alarm clock’

The arrival of James Valentine as the breakfast host at ABC Sydney comes with a change in the radio station’s schedule. Valentine will be on air 6.15am until 9am daily, with Cassie McCullagh now hosting 9am-11am.

“There are still some rough edges, but I reckon I can figure it out,” says the typically laidback host about to inherit the second biggest Sydney breakfast radio audience (from Robbie Buck and Wendy Harmer who ended their reign this week).

Ahead of their final survey figures out soon, ABC Sydney trails only 2GB’s Ben Fordham in breakfast in share and cume audience.

Valentine is no slouch when it comes to ratings either. His long career in afternoon radio ended recently with his show too only trailing 2GB’s Deborah Knight.

Valentine has previously filled in on Summer Breakfast for ABC Radio and he notes his time in breakfast TV. “About 30 years ago I was part of Good Morning Australia including two years as an entertainment reporter,” he told Mediaweek.

“I have some track record with the 3am alarm clock. When working at Network 10 and I had a long commute across Sydney for a very early start.”

His commute to the ABC from home these days isn’t nearly as challenging. “I’m close enough to cycle in now.”

Since Valentine handed over ABC Sydney afternoons to Josh Szeps, he said he’s been having a lovely time with a week on the NSW Mid-North Coast plus some family time in Melbourne. Even bushwalking too during his break.

“I got serious this week, asking myself, ‘Breakfast radio, what should I do?’”

Valentine is starting with a largely fresh breakfast team which should make his new program substantially different from what Robbie and Wendy have been delivering.

“It won’t be completely different,” Valentine cautioned. “It will still be ABC Radio. I will want to make sure when you wake-up you start the day feeling good. There will be coverage of the news of the day and the important interviews. Alongside that I want to make sure we are giving people a good time.”

When starting on his long-running afternoon show, Valentine said he soon realised there wasn’t any news left to cover on the show. “If we did the news of the day, we might have to be talking to Australia’s sixth-leading expert in the field. It was very hard to get people at that time.

“Although in the past two years there’s almost been nothing but news with fire, Covid and then more Covid.”

This musician won’t be spinning many tunes

The former rocker turned broadcaster told Mediaweek: “I’m not intending to present as much music as Robbie did. But that could change! My music background and my music interests are peculiar and minor. I have a jazz show on ABC Jazz on a Sunday morning. I am not that well steeped in popular music.”

Valentine said he’s more likely to know about Wynton Marsalis or Duke Ellington than a big anniversary of a popular music artist, say Nirvana for instance. “If you give the music to me it will suddenly sound a lot like 1957, not like it’s 2022.

The longer feature segments Valentine has been filling afternoons with won’t carry into breakfast, he said. “At 2pm people wanted to ease back a little. The main function of the show in afternoons was to provide company and companionship. In breakfast, it is about providing information and energy. We will be thinking of pieces from 5 to 10 minutes, not in half-hour or 20-minute units.”

James Valentine

ABC Breakfast Hall of Fame

Valentine recalled some of the other people who have hosted ABC Sydney breakfast when considering the challenge ahead of him. While Robbie and Wendy succeeded as a duo, most other hosts over the years have worked as solo announcers. That list includes Philip Clarke, Angela Catterns and Adam Spencer.

“I’m not daunted by hosting breakfast solo,” said Valentine. “And it hasn’t occurred to me there is a partner I would do it with every single day.”

James Valentine: Author

The musician-turned-TV host-turned radio announcer made headlines a few years with the size of an advance for a series of books.

“I have JK Rowling to thank for my enormous US advance at one point. I wrote a science fiction trilogy for kids aged 10-12. A time travel romp, JumpMan. They published the first one and I had drafts of the next two. This was about mid-way through the Harry Potter series.

“There was a high level of excitement in the publishing industry for any children’s author at that point…I could name six Australian authors who bought houses.

“Publishers were throwing money at potential hit novelists, and I got a US$500,000 advance with expectations that it would be the next big thing.

“To this date, I have sold about 16 copies in the US. That is a comic exaggeration, but not by much.

“It was such a complete flop it meant I could never get published again. I could have come up with the next Harry Potter and they still would have knocked it back.”

Live music? Not so much

Once a member of hit Melbourne alt-rockers The Models, Valentine most recently was part of a jazz band. “But I haven’t played live for a while,” he added. “To play that sort of music I need to practice, but I haven’t really done much.

“I have been fortunate that I have played a lot of music in my life and enjoyed doing it.” He compared his music career to a sportsman who gets to the finish point and decides not to continue.

Radio consumer with diverse tastes

Valentine: “I try and listen to everything at some point. I’ll listen to 2GB sometimes, but there’s not much else on AM. A bit of sport and also News Radio and RN as well. I really don’t have any interest in the music on [commercial] FM. I will listen to some of them for the talk, but it’s sometimes hard to find it amongst the music.

“I am always interested in whatever anyone else is doing and I can appreciate what I often hear as there can be a lesson in it for me.”

Valentine thinks the best radio is homegrown. “There is great stuff being made here. 3AW for example has been doing it really well for years. I have also been listening to a bit from around the world. What is interesting is how dull most of it is. There is extreme American content where they are shouting at you, and most of the British content I find really dull, apart from a few standout programs.”

See also: Wendy and Robbie – ‘The idea of a single host is almost an anachronism these days.’

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