Understudy to resident
Denis Walter wants to give the 3AW afternoon show a newsier feel
DENIS Walter is nothing if not patient. The entertainment industry jack-of-all-trades has been doing bits and pieces on 3AW for the better part of a decade.
Through it all, he has bided his time, waiting for a crack at a regular prime-time gig.
That chance finally came with the retirement of resident afternoon cackler Ernie Sigley.
Walter, who regularly filled in for Sigley when the ‘‘little Aussie battler’’ was away from the studio, says his opening moments behind the microphone as regular host were a bit surreal.
‘‘Those first few minutes on the first day were a bit odd,’’ he says.
‘‘I was sitting there and I just got a bit of a shiver down the spine and went ‘hey, this is mine. This is really happening’.’’
After pinching himself that he is actually 3AW’s new afternoon show host, Walter says he couldn’t be happier.
‘‘It’s not like I’m new to the station. I’ve been here for over 10 years, but it was one of the ambitions as a youngster to do talk radio and to get a mainstream, prime-time shift, so it’s a big thrill.
‘‘It’s one of the things you can tick off as having achieved.’’
Walter slips into the chair occupied by Sigley for 12 largely successful years.
In recent times, however, Sigley’s ratings had begun to slide, leading to a mutual agreement with management to hand over the reins.
Walter pays tribute to the success of his predecessor, but says he is determined to put his own stamp on the timeslot.
‘‘Ernie was the first time they’ve really had huge success in afternoons at 3AW and sustained success for over 10 years,’’ Walter says.
‘‘Full credit to him for the success he’s had, but obviously I wanted to do things in my own way.’’
While some elements of Sigley’s easy-going, folksy approach to his audience will remain, Walter says he is determined to introduce a ‘‘newsier’’ feel to the show.
‘‘Even though there will be a lot of magazine-type lighter stuff and a lot of laughs and fun, there’ll also be that thread of news through the afternoon as well.
‘‘I believe 3AW listeners listen for two reasons — they love talk radio and they’re pretty nosy about news.’’
Walter says information is one of the primary reasons listeners tune into 3AW, a situation that should be no different in the afternoon.
‘‘Some of the biggest stories are broken during the afternoon and you can’t put a time on when news stories are going to break,’’ he says.
‘‘The world doesn’t stop at midday and begin at 4pm.’’
Walter’s arrival coincides with a period of widespread listener disenchantment with Sigley.
‘‘Ernie would, without doubt, be the most boring, egotistical little bignoter ever to be put on radio,’’ was how one letter writer to the Guide summed up their feelings earlier this year.
Walter admits many Melburnians found Sigley’s style polarising.
‘‘I think you should be taking stock all the time. That’s one of the reasons why Neil (Mitchell) and why breakfast (Ross Stevenson and John Burns) have been there for so long.
‘‘And full credit to Ernie for the time he’s had. He had incredible success, but I think you’ve truly got to keep constantly looking at what you do and how you do it.’’
Walter says audience feedback in the couple of weeks he has been on air has been positive. He has also been buoyed by the number of listeners coming up to him in the street to offer encouragement.
It’s a situation where having a face listeners can put a name to in public is an advantage over being a disembodied voice on the airwaves.
‘‘If you were a radio voice and not someone that they knew, you wouldn’t get that same feedback,’’ Walter says.
Pinching himself: Denis Walter is enjoying his move from stand-in to regular 3AW afternoon host. Picture: DARRYL GREGORY