Ross Stevenson

Ross Stevenson

Ross StevensonRoss Stevenson, quintessential Melburnian, Hawthorn supporter, radio presenter, writer, food critic, horse-racing enthusiast and owner.

Breakfast with Ross & John is one of Australia's most successful radio shows.

He co-wrote the television series The Games with John Clarke.

I have been listening to Ross Stevenson on radio for 20 years. He makes me laugh, I respect him, I value his opinion.

After reading the article reprinted below, I realised how little I knew about the man but maybe why I welcome him into my home every morning.

Ross the Boss: the King of Radio

John Silvester (aka Sly of the Underworld)

It was Saturday morning. I awoke with a headache. This was not unusual . The previous evening had begun in the Police Club in pursuit of a story and ended in the early hours consuming a Lygon Street capricciosa pizza and a bottle of merlot. This was also not unusual.

The bedroom radio was tuned to 3RRR when I heard my name mentioned . I was being lampooned on air by a smart-arse lawyer suggesting my page one story was a piece of clicheridden tripe.

Sadly he was right.

'' Sleazy street types laden with chunky gold jewellery,'' he read with equal measures of disdain and glee. It was Ross Stevenson, then half of a program called Lawyers, Guns and Money that had developed its own cult following within Melbourne's legal fraternity.

Apparently I rang the program (I have no recollection of this, which is also not unusual) and instead of defending myself pleaded guilty to assaulting the English language. Ross was surprised to speak to a journalist who didn't have a glass jaw and was happy to be the butt of the joke. That was 1988. We have been friends ever since.

Lawyers, Guns and Money was satirical , edgy and chaotic. It poked fun at the notoriously stuffy legal system and the practitioners loved it.

With his then on-air partner, barrister Denis Connell, they went under the stage names Donoghue and Stevenson (Ross's real surname is Campbell) not because they were showy, but back then lawyers were not supposed to advertise.

As they were not traditionally trained media, they didn't know the limits - they were like six-year-olds convinced they could fly - and so ridiculously they asked then prime minister Bob Hawke to be a studio guest

And he turned up, climbing the urine-soaked stairs with a form guide in hand to be interviewed in a studio without chairs.

They eventually moved from public radio to an extended Saturday morning show on 3AK, taking with them regular contributors who - like them - were given character names.

I was the crime guy who became Sly of the Underworld - a nickname given to me by copper Kim West as a play on the name Silvester.

Those early days were rough and funny - I once pulled a (replica) gun on Ross during a discussion on whether police could instantly identify a real firearm in the heat of the moment. Another time I placed a small package of a cocaine-like substance (it was talcum powder) in his pocket to illustrate how easy it is to plant evidence on suspects.

And then, as mad keen Hawthorn supporters, we would head off to the footy. He drank at Fitzroy's Standard Hotel with Rick the Bloke, Ross the Plumber, Jeremy Smith (from Hunters and Collectors) and Roman who lived round the corner - usually served by Handsome Steve the barman.

Ross was a workers' compensation lawyer with the work ethic of a sea slug. His then boss, now a respected judge, says that when he went into his junior colleague's office - at around 11am most days - Ross's hair was still wet, indicating he had just arrived after a shower.

But his work practice was successful , which usually involved taking the opposition lawyer for a pub lunch, cracking a few gags (and reds) then settling the case before cheese.

In 1990 Lawyers, Guns and Money was poached by 3AW and along with radio veteran Dean Banks they were given the prime breakfast shift (Donoghue would eventually leave in acrimonious circumstances).

Certainly Ross nearly stuffed the original contract negotiations. When they mentioned a figure (which was not great) Ross divided it in half, assuming it was for both Donoghue and Stevenson . Then it dawned on him it was for each. It was at that moment he gave up the law.

He became more cunning. Decades later he quietly removed all personal items from his office piece by piece over weeks in an act of subterfuge usually only seen in World War II prisoner -ofwar breakouts. When he went on his summer break, management realised his office was empty and panicked that he was about to quit. They re-signed him in a heartbeat.

And so they should.

Ross is without doubt the most successful media performer in Australia, although you wouldn't know it judging by his profile . He avoids the celebrity circuit and would rather visit the dentist than sit down for an interview with a gossip columnist.

Until recently he rejected offers to work on television, which means he has been able to wander Melbourne largely unrecognised (this has started to change, but more of that later).

He has won the ratings for nearly 25 years (128 surveys), with nearly one in four radios tuned to his breakfast program. First with on-air partner Banks and later with the droll and occasionally underrated former barrister John Burns - originally the program's food critic - as the aptly named '' Sir Lunchalot'' .

He has been on air during the reign of seven prime ministers and eight premiers, covered five Olympics and somehow conned management to let him do live broadcasts from Kentucky in the week they ran the famous Derby, satisfying two of his loves - travel and the punt.

Talkback radio - a relatively oldfashioned concept - is booming. After all, it is the original form of social media, as people are encouraged to jump in and join the conversation.

It was Stevenson who invented the Rumour File, a segment his then program director predicted would fail. It is now monitored by all news services and regularly breaks big stories delivered by anonymous sources. He races a horse of the same name.

So what makes Stevenson so successful ? First, what you hear is legit. There are no rehearsals and the Stevenson and Burns you hear on air are the same you would find if you met them on the street.

Second, Ross has a photographic memory and can draw facts from his grey matter that should have been long forgotten. (We took him to a school trivia night once. It was the greatest ring-in since Fine Cotton.)

Third, at a time when too many in the media mistake meanness for courage, he doesn't force his views on anyone. While he can interview a political heavyweight as well as anyone, he rarely does, for he has become bored with their formulated responses.

And lastly he doesn't take his success for granted. While some flock to opening nights Ross is at home. The program , he says, must come first .

The industry is full of stories of bullies and drama queens who think they are kingmakers. They demand upgrades on planes, the best table at restaurants and mistakenly believe the public hang on their every word.

Ross doesn't even have an office , preferring to bunk with his team, cracking jokes over coffee before heading off just after 9am to places unknown , which may occasionally involve taking early afternoon sustenance. (If lunch was an Olympic event, while Burns would win gold Ross would certainly finish on the podium.)

His secret, I think, is that he is an everyman - an extraordinary talent with ordinary tastes. He goes to the footy, plays with his kids, loves a punt and his partner, Sarah Fallshaw, would take some air out of his tyres if he got a tad too inflated .

Ross was a scholarship student at Trinity (he was a choirboy who sang on Colleen Hewett's hit Day by Day) and was dux of the school.

Like many of the brightest he was encouraged to do law, not because he showed an interest in the profession but because that's what smart kids did. It is also why there are so many miserable lawyers - because they don't like their jobs.

While Ross is whip smart on the radio, he leaves his friends gobsmacked by his occasional lapses of stupidity. He would be flat out changing a tyre and he lived in a house for two years before he worked out that what he thought was a small auxiliary oven was in fact a dishwasher.

He has written plays and television series with his great mate John Clarke (who tragically died too young earlier this year) and after years of urging has stuck a toe into the TV pool.

In nearly 30 years I have never seen him lose his temper (although when Hawthorn just pipped Geelong in the 2013 preliminary final his complexion went the shade of an overripe tomato and there were real fears his head could explode).

Remarkably, at an age when many are slowing down, Ross has found his long-lost work ethic. On Saturday he co-hosts (with weekday producer Kate Stevenson) a 3AW food and travel program called Moveable Feast. A television version has been snapped up by Channel Seven.

He also co-hosts with Hamish McLachlan That's Racing, a quirky TV show that is to horse racing what Lawyers, Guns and Money was to the law nearly 30 years ago.

Their cameos during Seven's spring carnival have some in the television industry looking at bigger projects. Which for TV executives (no doubt sleazy street types laden with chunky gold jewellery) would make him an overnight success - it only took them 30 years to catch up on the joke.

His secret, I think, is that he is an everyman - an extraordinary talent with ordinary tastes.

The article is from the November 18, 2017 issue of The Age Digital Edition.

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