Mike Welsh remembers talkback radio’s compulsive listener and “crazy caller” Bruce “the Goose” Bennett, sharing his own experiences from behind the glass bubble of the talkback world.
You should get the bloody hell to buggery off that radio station, you uneducated bastard. You’re the Village Idiot, you rotten bastard. Go home, you stinking Village Idiot bastard.
I copped the above classic “Bruce the Goose” spray, one of many, in 2005 after falling short of the angry man’s standards.
I failed to offer the help he was seeking. His wife was in “severe” pain and “the goose” was ringing me for Panadeine Forte after storming out (again) of the ED of a local hospital.
Fatefully, the clown Prince of talk-back radio callers, Bruce “the Goose” Bennett, died in a Canberra Hospital just hours after John Laws, who “owned” talkback radio (thanks to a crazy caller or ten) announced his first “retirement” on June 25, 2007.
But Laws, like most Sydney talk-back presenters, wasn’t keen to give “the Goose” oxygen. It was Sydney-based talkback host Stan Zemanek who christened the Canberra-based caller with the foghorn voice “the Goose.” From the early 1990s, Zemanek created entertaining radio by shrewdly needling the staunchly left-wing Bennett on his high-rating networked night-time show.
An “act” that quickly became popular among Zemanek’s legion of fans, an act that provided Bennett with the oxygen he desperately needed to ease the stresses of his daily struggle with the mental illness that tragically surrounded him. He often failed to make any sense during calls and would mostly end the rant (regularly directed at PM John Howard) with a woody woodpecker call. He was, after all, a showman.
While an on-air spray from “Bruce the Goose” was always welcome, unsolicited off-air “recommendations” from other listeners would leave you speculating about the state of the mental health of a section of listeners to talk-back radio.
“Dear King Sleaze of Canberra Radio. If you don’t like living in a Christian, democratic, civilised country, you little Atheist prick…piss off, scumbag!”
The above “input” from an individual (couldn’t detect a gender) whose vocabulary was that of a poorly-educated elderly person, came at the rate of one per month. The several-paged letters, scribbled on the old Coles Embassy brand writing pad and filled with spelling and punctuation mistakes, were always an interesting distraction from the correspondence of the “appalled” and “outraged” brigade. Even the one with a crude (by any definition) cartoon featuring Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Yasser Arafat and myself in a compromising position. The twisted author of these ravings stuck pretty much to the same theme. Anti-ALP, anti-Muslim and the Invasion of East Timor.
“You owe everyone in Canberra an apology for what you called that woman. You don’t call anyone a silly old mole mate. You’re a mole.”
I’d confused this listener, who wasn’t listening, while speaking with a caller called “Robert” whom he took to be “Robin” and then caught the wrong half of our chat about the old Aussie saying “like an old mole at a Christening” and was certain I’d called “Robin” a “silly old mole.”
I’ve also been on the wrong end of a tongue lashing from Shirley Phelps-Roper, daughter of the recently departed founder of the Westboro Baptish Church, Fred Phelps, and mega-mouthpiece for the cult in her own right. On the homosexual debate she strongly suggested, “You’re sending them to Hell. You’re enabling them, you jackass.”
You need an extremely thick hide if you are to survive the daily personal attacks of talkback radio. I’ve watched several confident and experienced communicators literally run for the door after one shift.
If talkback radio practitioners were totally honest, they would admit to the constant temptation to “milk” crazy callers, if only for the promo which their radio station flogs relentlessly, depending on the quality of the “crazy,” for the next 24 hours.
So called “crazy callers” were the foundation upon which John Laws built his unique and golden broadcasting empire. In my humble opinion, to date, it’s John Laws then daylight in the talkback radio stakes.
And when it comes to talkback radio callers, the frequently sullied term “compulsive listening” belongs to the late “Bruce the Goose” – until somebody else with his unique “talent” is allowed to get to air…