Lehmo on the shock of being fired from Gold 104.3

Spectrum - Lunch With Anthony Lehman at the Fitz cafe. 17th October 2017 Fairfax Media The Age news Picture by Joe Armao
Spectrum - Lunch With Anthony Lehman at the Fitz cafe. 17th October 2017 Fairfax Media The Age news Picture by Joe Armao
Smoked Salmon and Potato Rosti ,Spectrum - Lunch With Anthony Lehman at the Fitz cafe. 17th October 2017 Fairfax Media The Age news Picture by Joe Armao

Smoked Salmon and Potato Rosti ,Spectrum - Lunch With Anthony Lehman at the Fitz cafe. 17th October 2017 Fairfax Media The Age news Picture by Joe Armao

Chicken & Ancient Grain Salad ,Spectrum - Lunch With Anthony Lehman at the Fitz cafe. 17th October 2017 Fairfax Media The Age news Picture by Joe Armao

Chicken & Ancient Grain Salad ,Spectrum - Lunch With Anthony Lehman at the Fitz cafe. 17th October 2017 Fairfax Media The Age news Picture by Joe Armao

What do you give a radio presenter who's just won the ratings? How about the sack?

"Everyone gets fired in radio, it comes with the territory," says Anthony "Lehmo" Lehmann, who was this week dumped, along with his co-host Jo Stanley, from the breakfast slot on Gold 104.3. "You just don't get expect it to happen when you're on top, when you've just had your best result in 11 years on the network."

The pair won their timeslot among FM stations in the penultimate ratings survey of 2017, continuing a recent upward trend. If Lehmo is worried about what comes next, he's not showing it. "I'll probably do some fill-in work, then look around for something more permanent later in the year [2018]," he says. "I've got a few irons in the fire, as we all do. Let's hope one of them pays the mortgage."

It takes only a few minutes in the company of Lehmo for a couple of things to become abundantly clear. One, he's pretty relaxed with people. And two, he's a creature of habit.

He first suggested we meet at the Napier Hotel in Fitzroy. "I must have had the kangaroo there a thousand times," he tells me. "I used to live next door and I was single at the time so I was eating there five nights a week. I reckon it's the best pub food in Melbourne."

But the Napier doesn't open till 3pm on a weekday, which is far too late for lunch in my book (though probably a perfectly good time to sit down to dinner if you're a breakfast radio host).

We've met instead at Fitz Caf?? on Brunswick Street. It's another of his regular haunts, within easy walking distance of home, and he knows the staff here almost as well as he knows the menu.

We order calamari and charred wasabi salmon to share, and while we wait for the food to arrive I ask him the same question everyone else does: what time do you start the day?

"You really have to be disciplined," he says. "Alarm at 4.20am, I snooze it once, I'm out of bed at 4.29 and in the shower. I have my clothes ready the night before. I feed the cats and the dog. I'm in my car at 4.45, stop at 7-11 for a coffee - a highly underrated coffee, I have to say." (He swears he has no commercial arrangement with the convenience store chain, though that may change once they read this given their need for some positive spin following the recent underpayment scandal.) "Then I'm at work just before 5. Before 6 it's an apple and a banana and the coffee, and at 7.30 it's a bowl of cereal."

At the microphone? "At the microphone. But I don't eat on air. I've been busted before, but I don't do it any more. It's pretty lazy. If you hear someone eating on air you know they've lost a bit of interest in the job."

Remarkably, Lehmo has been doing breakfast radio for more than a decade, he says he has not lost interest at all. He had a couple of years in the Triple M Drive slot with Wil Anderson before they were fired and then he spent 2009 off air. But other than that, he's been doing this early-to-bed (between 9.30 and 10pm) and early-to-rise routine continuously since June 2003.

Now, though, the Golden era is over - and he probably should have seen it coming. In his just-released memoir This Shirt Won't Iron Itself, he outlines his "basic radio rehiring theory" for hosts about to be out of contract. "If you haven't started negotiations before November, you are F---ED!" Needless to say, he and Stanley had not started negotiations with Gold before November.

Unemployment is never a thrilling prospect, but a break from breaky when he and Stanley finish in December mightn't be such a terrible thing. "I'd happily do breakfast radio again," he says, "but I am looking forward to sleeping in. Maybe I can start to shed some of the bags under my eyes."

"It's a psychological battle getting up at that time," he continues, admitting that "two or three days a week" he'll have an afternoon nap to recharge the batteries. "As soon as you start saying, 'I feel tired, this is really hard', it wears you down. So you've got to say, 'I feel great, life is good'. You have to Anthony Robbins yourself into a 4.30 start."

On the upside, that early start means he's home most days by 11am, which gives him plenty of time to hang out with his wife Kel and their infant son Laddie or simply "sit on the couch for the rest of the day and not feel too guilty because I've done a day's work".

This year, he filled the downtime with something new: writing that memoir. His 272-page book is as light and breezy as his on-air patter. It's full of anecdotes about growing up on a sprawling farm in South Australia, plodding away in a financially rewarding but otherwise deadening career as an accountant while moonlighting as a stand-up comedian, and footy. Lots of footy. "I'm fanging for the young fella to be old enough that we can go and kick the footy around," the Hawks tragic tells me. "That love affair with the Hawthorn Football Club has probably been the most consistent companion in my life."

What there isn't much of in the book is dirt. Anthony Lehmann has, it seems, never met a person he couldn't like.

OK, maybe one.

His first breakfast radio co-host was Amanda Blair in Adelaide. First morning on the job, he asked off air how her weekend had been. "To which she said, 'I don't really feel like talking today,' and started flicking through a New Idea," he writes. "At the time I wasn't even offended, I just thought 'fair enough', but on reflection I reckon that was pretty rude."

So now you know what Lehmo dishing the dirt looks like.

For some people, a memoir is little more than an excuse for settling old scores, but that is clearly not his way. Then again, he swears he just doesn't have too many scores to settle.

"I haven't come across too many really annoying people in my life," he says. "And when I was writing the book I didn't really have an appetite to get stuck into any that I did find annoying. I know publishers kinda like you to sink the boot in but I just didn't have it in me to do that."

In fact, he has nothing but good things to say about his various co-hosts over the years - as well as Anderson and Stanley there's Zoe Sheridan, Brigitte Duclos and the late Richard Marsland. "Everyone I've worked with I've really liked - with the exception of one," he tells me. "I've been lucky."

Doing a radio show means being cooped up for hours in the company of two or three other people (your co-hosts and a panel operator/producer), and dredging material from your personal life, and each other's, to fill the time with levity and laughter. Surely, then, you have to like them?

"You do," he says. "You can make it work if you don't like them but it makes the task so much harder.

"When you've got nothing else in radio, you've got your team - in my case that's me, Jo and Troy, our anchor. If everything else sucks, we at the very least have fun in the studio with the three of us. If you don't have that, it's very hard to motivate yourself to go into the studio."

As our mains arrive - I've double dipped on the salmon, ordering a pile of the smoked fish atop a thick potato rosti; he's gone for a chicken salad with grains - I wonder if his run of good luck in radio might not owe something to the mantra he repeats whenever he's about to go on stage: "Big smiles. It's the greatest day of my life." In other words, he's made his own luck through a deliberately positive attitude.

"It's a life formula, for sure," he admits. "'Big smiles, it's the greatest day of my life, as I go in to change a nappy at two in the morning."

He admits, too, that he always carries with him an echo of the running commentary from a childhood spent kicking a footy around a paddock that, in his mind, had become the MCG on Grand Final day. "I'll be changing that nappy and I'll imagine I'm at a nappy-changing championship surrounded by 100 other people, all changing nappies at the same time, and I'm winning at nappies," he says. "Everything's a competition. Making the bed: 'Oh, he has arranged those pillows beautifully'."

Talking to Lehmo, you sense that anything you say may be used against you. The constant demand of daily radio necessarily means he mines his life for material. Ditto stand-up. The book, though, he tried to keep free of "bits".

"For the most part it's just stories that I've recalled. But if you see my show next year, those bits will be in it. It's reverse engineering."

Is anything off limits?

"Not really," he says. "I've got a very understanding wife. She's great. Even if she's furious at me, she says, 'There you go, there's a story for your radio show tomorrow'. As long as she's the hero and I'm the idiot, I can talk about whatever I want.

"That's not her rule, it's mine," he adds. "Because otherwise you sound like a bit of a flog."

I notice one of his finger nails is painted blue. He's doing the Polished Man thing, raising money for kids who are the victims of domestic violence. He supports a range of causes - "refugees/asylum seekers" - and as you might guess from his role in Utopia, he's more than passingly interested in politics. But you won't hear him bleating about it on air.

"Not on radio," he says. "In the morning, it's light and breezy. People don't want to hear me banging on about gay marriage, asylum seekers, Donald Trump - and I've got firm views on all those things."

That'd be yes, yes and no, I'm guessing.

"Yeah, yeah," he says, with a laugh. "But listeners don't want to hear that on their way to work."

This Shirt Won't Iron Itself is out now through Echo Publishing.

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This story Lehmo on the shock of being fired from Gold 104.3 first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.