A dynamic duo of radio

If life’s experience makes for good radio then 6PR breakfast presenters Steve Mills and Karl Langdon should be at the top of the broadcast tree.

From Karl’s AFL premiership with the West Coast Eagles and being held at gunpoint by serial bank robber the Postcard Bandit, Brenden Abbott, to Millsy’s experience as an accountant, teacher and race caller, the new breakfast radio partnership which went to air for the first time in November last year, has plenty to talk about.

Neither of the boys is backwards in coming forward with their own views on just about any subject.

But both have been touched by highs and lows in their individual radio careers.

Karl was on air as the story of the death of Princess Diana in a car crash in a Paris tunnel unfolded and Millsy was on air trying to validate reports of the death of pop icon Michael Jackson and also for the hangings in Malaysia of drug traffickers Kevin Barlow and Brian Chambers.

The duo say they love the immediacy and the impact of radio; being able to track down missing people or having listeners phone in to report the trail of a fugitive on the run, is immensely satisfying.

Karl says the sheer immediacy of radio in being able to provide information to listeners is important and for Millsy, 6PR in particular plays a significant role in keeping people company 24 hours a day.

There’s every chance the boys will have a brisk exchange of views during their 5.30am to 9am radio shift each weekday.

And that’s the way they both like it.

Karl is not Millsy’s first breakfast radio partner and in the past has worked with Tony McManus and Basil Zempilas.

“But in radio you need to continue to reinvent yourself by working with other people, which is refreshing – each person comes with different challenges,” says Millsy.

“Being in a partnership is like being married. Sometimes you see more of each other than of your spouse because we get here very early in the morning. You have to enjoy it. Most of the time I love it and Karl is good fun to work with.”

The pair have known each other and worked at 6PR for years which Millsy says helps the on-air relationship, but it is still important for each partner to bring out the other’s best. 

“Sometimes it’s easier to talk to some people than it is to others and if it doesn’t work on air it won’t work with the audience,” he says.

“You’ve got to feel comfortable, you’ve got to feel energised and challenged and I think I’ve grown as a broadcaster because of the different people I’ve worked with over the years.”

He says it’s important to stand up for what they believe in and to challenge people’s beliefs with different opinions.

“Karl is his own man and there is no way you are going to convince Karl of something he doesn’t believe in.”

Karl believes Millsy’s longevity in radio hinges on his ability to resonate with an audience, something that played a big part in Karl coming on board for the partnership.

He says neither he nor Millsy beat around the bush.

“I’m often right and he’s often wrong,” Millsy laughs.

“We’re just two blokes having a crack at each other, but hopefully it’s done in good spirit and if it’s not our producers will certainly pull us back into line.”

It’s also important for the pair to have fun, but that’s not always the case on radio.

Millsy has shed a tear while on air a number of times.

One of those occasions was during a live broadcast from the Crown Hotel on a St Patrick’s Day when news came through that it was official that the wreck of HMAS Sydney had been found.

The ship, lost with all hands in 1941, included Millsy’s uncle and the discovery solved a mystery that had long haunted his mother and family.

“A wave of emotion just went over me. I’ll never forget it. I had to walk away for a couple of minutes to compose myself because we’re human beings like everyone else.

“It’s tough not to get emotionally involved when someone is telling their story, but that’s our job, to get the story out.”

The journey for both Karl and Millsy into a career in radio was circuitous.

Karl left school and in 1987 worked at the Commonwealth Bank where Brenden Abbott and another man held up the bank with Abbott holding a sawn-off double-barrel shotgun to the side of his head telling him not to be a hero or someone would die.

The robbers escaped with more than $100,000.

Karl went on to work at AMP and did financial planning and superannuation and then started buying shares in hotels and building houses.

His introduction to radio came in 1990 when he was given an opportunity to work with Gary Shannon, Jane Marwick and Paul Redman reading sport.

He remembers the day when comedian Richard Stubbs came into the studio while Karl was reading the script which in those days was all on paper, not read off a computer screen as it is now.

“He was a smoker and he lights up my script so it’s all burning in front of me so that was one of my first forays into radio.

“Back then I was still playing footy so I did a few courses on the side. I was also doing some stuff out at Channel 9 with Michael Thomson who is a person I hold in really high regard.

“But it doesn’t come easy. You get opportunities and you have a go at it, but you just don’t know where it might take you.”

Karl’s journey with 6PR began with a phone call from producer Shane Douglas before the football season in 1996.

“Off the back of the 1995 season, I’d struggled with injury and when Shane phoned me, Frank Sparrow had become ill and was retiring from 6PR and Shane asked if I would like an opportunity commentating sport.

“I started working alongside Percy Johnson and then that evolved into commentating on footy and working on AFL and WAFL and then an opportunity to read the sports news.

“When I first came to 6PR, Lee Tate and David Christison were hosting the breakfast program, Harvey Deegan and myself were fill-ins when those guys were going on holidays and that was pretty much the start of my career here at 6PR.”

Millsy also took the long route to radio. In his pre-radio days he was a qualified accountant.

“But I realised I had too many words in me so I went and got a Diploma of Education and I taught at various levels of education right through to post-grad,” he says

He’d worked in the government sector, the private sector and for himself which he says all helped prepare him for radio.

“I’d always had a love of radio ever since I was a kid. One of the first programs I ever listened to on the radio was Let’s Learn English which was for migrant people at 6.15 in the morning. I’d always been fascinated by radio, but never really thought I could make a career of it.”

He’d been calling the local races in Kalgoorlie which led to calling trotting races on the radio and then to doing trotting previews on Kalgoorlie radio.

When long-time announcer David Kennedy left the station Millsy put his hand up to take on the announcer’s role and got the job.

Millsy says retired legendary broadcaster Bob Maumill was responsible for his start at 6PR.

“He’s one of my idols, one of the great broadcasters of our lifetime.

“Bob was coming back from one of his sojourns in the east with his horses and they had to do quarantine in Parkestone. He had to listen to me on the radio and when he got back to Perth, Declan Kelly and John Solvander at the radio station said they were looking for new talent, Bob said why don’t you give this bloke from the Goldfields a go.

“I came down and did a two-week trial which I didn’t think would last. That was in 2004.”

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Journalist and public relations specialist Allen Newton has worked across major media organisations in Western Australia and PR locally and internationally. He and wife Helen Ganska operate Newton Ganska Communications. Allen started his journalism career at the long defunct Sunday Independent and went on to become the founding editor for news website PerthNow, Managing Editor of The Sunday Times and PerthNow and then Editor-In-Chief of news website WAtoday. As well as news, he has been an editor of food and wine, real estate, TV and travel sections. He’s done everything from co-hosting a local ABC television pop show, to editing a pop music section called Breakout with Big Al, and publishing his own media and marketing magazine.