Susie O’Neill: ‘When I was swimming, media was a necessary evil’

Nova Brisbane’s Susie O’Neill talks to Mediaweek on the eve of the Commonwealth Games.

The former Australian swimming champ Susie O’Neill has been a big part of the Ash, Kip and Luttsy show on Nova 106.9 in Brisbane for the past five years after she filled in as a sports presenter, along with two others, when regular sports guy Mitch Lewis was on his honeymoon.

After that went well, O’Neill started as a contributor one day a week.

Her presence on the program has steadily increased over the years where she is now on four days a week.

Mediaweek’s James Manning recorded a special podcast with O’Neill recently ahead of a fortnight of special Gold Coast broadcasts the breakfast show will do during the Commonwealth Games.

Susie O’Neill with Ash, Kip and Luttsy ahead of the Commonwealth Games

Do many people think of Susie O’Neill as an FM breakfast broadcaster?

I’d never had any other offer before to do FM radio. I did a bit of sports stuff for 4BC. Even now I don’t think of myself as an FM breakfast radio announcer. That makes me think of someone really, really loud and someone extroverted. I am the opposite of that.

I’m not a good judge if it is working, but the ratings have been relatively good and it has been good fun.

The boys have been really good to me and not many people get to start their career on a top-rating breakfast show.

Do you find it hard to judge how good you are on air?

[Laughs] Yes. Because I come from a swimming background, everything was clear-cut regarding whether I was going well or going badly. How well you are going on radio can be very subjective.

Did you turn your back on a media career?

I am a very private person. When I was swimming, media was a necessary evil. I was swimming full-time and I needed sponsors and endorsements and the way to do that is to get some sort of media profile. Although I continue to be very private, I do talk about my life a lot on air. I don’t think of myself as a media person even though I am in the media.

Did you make so much money from swimming you didn’t need a media career for financial reward?

That’s a hard question… what I’m earning now is not as much as I used to earn. The Sydney Olympics was fortunate for my career. As a current gold medallist after winning in 1996, those four years I was sponsored by some real blue-chip companies like Qantas, Telstra and Westfield. It was a great time to be an athlete. They all say it is not about making money, but the important thing about making money is that it allows you to stay in the sport longer.

Does Nova talk to you much about radio performance and what you need to offer on air?

They have just left me alone, which is good. The boys say to me, ‘You don’t know how lucky you are.’ Usually they have to spend time after the show doing air checks apparently, and they go through everything they have done wrong. If someone did that to me I would completely lose my confidence and not want to say anything. No one has given me any advice, although I do listen and hear what other broadcasters are doing. I am lucky to have good people around me. I think I would know if something hasn’t worked.

Listen to the complete podcast with Nova 106.9’s Susie O’Neill here, or stay up to date with the latest Mediaweek podcasts by subscribing here.

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