By Trent Thomas
• Breen is the definition of a Brisbane local
There has been a lot of moving chairs at Nine Radio since its creation last year due to Macquarie Media’s integration with Nine Entertainment Co. Maybe none more so than 4BC which has gone back to producing local Brisbane radio in its breakfast and drive slots.
Multi-award-winning journalist Neil Breen was the man chosen to turn 4BC breakfast local again after the retirement of Alan Jones who was broadcasting into 4BC from his studio at 2GB in Sydney.
Breen spoke with Mediaweek about his new role, replacing a radio icon, and starting a radio show in the midst of a pandemic in a state election year.
Jones, who had been producing his radio show for a dual Sydney and Brisbane audience since 2015, retired earlier this year and Breen said that it is difficult to follow such a legend in the hot seat.
“You are following the most successful broadcaster in Australian history, and he hosted a very unique show. It was the Alan Jones show which is news and information but it was news and information the ‘Alan Jones way’.”
The fact that Alan Jones produced such a unique show that was different from what Breen planned to produce meant that it took some time for his audience to adjust.
“Listening to Alan Jones was like putting on an old pair of Ugg boots in the middle of winter – it felt fantastic. Then all of a sudden there was this seismic change where you went from the comfortable demeanour of Alan and the familiarity with his audience to me doing a news and information show with sport, weather, traffic – the types of things that you would expect on a higher paced breakfast show.
“Alan took his audience along with him with his own style of pacing, and my style is going to have a bit more energy because of what we are trying to do with local news.”
This led to some negative reactions, but Breen said that he always respected the audiences right to an opinion good or bad.
“I received a torrent of emails saying ‘get this guy off! What has happened here?’, and I didn’t let it get to me after the first week or two as I understood Alan’s audience and had respect for his audience and respect for Alan. But then slowly over the coming weeks, the reaction began to change and people were saying that they were enjoying it.
“In the last three weeks, I have been overwhelmed by emails being very kind to me and they kind of drip feed in all day. I hadn’t had a ‘your useless, where is Alan?’ email for about two weeks and then all of a sudden I got a couple today!”
4BC going local
Breen is the definition of a Brisbane local being born in Royal Brisbane hospital going to school at Brisbane State High School and then the Queensland University of Technology. He did his cadetship at the Daily Sun afternoon newspaper before working at the Courier Mail. Breen moved to Sydney in 2003 to be sports editor of The Australian for a short spell and ended up being in Sydney for 17 years.
Breen said that he always wanted to come back to Brisbane where all his family is located and 4BC was the perfect opportunity that he didn’t expect to come up, even if his bedtime has changed from 9 pm to 8:30 pm.
The other thing that excites him about the role is the opportunity to bring the show back to a local Brisbane radio show, with there not being much about Brisbane that he doesn’t know.
“First, foremost, and forever it has to be a show about Brisbane.
“4BC is a very big brand in Brisbane but it had been let go a bit as a Brisbane radio station, that is not to disparage Alan and Ray Hadley and everyone who did an unbelievable job servicing Brisbane, but now that it is a Brisbane local show again that old 4BC audience has gone something is happening here.”
Breen commented that Brisbane is very parochial, and like State of Origin they always want to get one over Sydney
“They don’t want to be seen as the small-town northern cousins; they want to have their own place in Australia as Queenslanders.”
Breen said while privately Covid has been difficult due to his family staying in Sydney until the end of the school year (with border restrictions meaning he can’t visit them), professionally it has given him a lot of talking points.
“Professionally it was a gift from god because people are craving news and information about Covid – it is the biggest change in our lives probably since World War II. For us to launch a breakfast program in the middle of that gives us a natural program to go from.”
QLD State Election
Breen admits the timing of his show was beneficial with the Queensland state election on October 21 giving him a 12-week lead in.
“If you turn up three weeks before the state election and say what you think about the state election people will go who is this guy?”