What you see is what you get with Ray Hadley, the Sydney radio king who calls the Hills home.

And on the day Sydney Hills Living interviewed him over a coffee at Dural Country Club, the 2GB talkback star was looking a little like a daggy dad, a few bottom buttons of his shirt undone and a bit dishevelled. But that is okay for Hadley, who has followed the advice of his radio mentor Gary O’Callaghan gave him in 1981 — to be authentic.

“When I started working with Gary on 2UE, I asked him what the secret of radio success was — I wanted to be like him — and Gary said, ‘You’re Ray Hadley, do you think you could be him?’.”

So Ray Hadley on-air has been Ray Hadley off-air ever since, and it has been a formula which has catapulted him into the morning radio stratosphere, making him the number one Sydney broadcaster.

“If I am feeling angry, that’s what I’m like on air; if I’m short-tempered, if I have issues listeners can relate to, that’s what they hear,” Hadley said. “I am the same off air as I am on air.”

Storm brewing

Mind you, Hadley has caused some memorable storms both on and off air over the years, including some at financial and personal cost.

He has not always got it right but there is no denying the passion of the man, especially when he fights for the ordinary man and woman in the street. For, when all is said and done, Ray Hadley, son of a hard working butcher, is an ordinary man.

On the day of the interview, Hadley, 60, was confronting an issue many Hills residents his age face — a home too big once children have flown the nest. His rambling 120m2 six bedroom home on two hectares had become a bit too rambling with only his 18-year-old daughter at home. Not only have the other three children flown the coop but so has his second wife, Suzanne, in a widely reported bust-up last year.

“My son and his fiancée live in the other house I have on the property, a 1920s cottage, but often it is just me in the big house,” Hadley lamented, sounding just like any other empty-nester. “There is a lot of upkeep, with three acres of garden, so it is time to go.”

But he is not moving out of the Hills, with plans to build on a smaller lot in developing Pitt Town, as well as a small pad near the city. The Hills will always be his main home, where he can relax with family.

“I love the Hills because people are friendly and they don’t give me a hard time when they see me out and about,” Hadley said. “But Dural is changing from when I moved here in 1996, when it was still rural with big lots. Now you have to go to Arcadia to get the acreage.

“Pitt Town reminds me of Dural 20 years ago.”

Home is in the Hills

Family is important to this down-to-earth man, more important than all the hoo-haa that comes with fame.

“I really am a homebody; I don’t like opening nights or going out,” he said. “I work six days a week and the rest of the time is with family and friends, other than when I have to mix with advertisers as part of my job.”

His core family values and work ethic come from his parents. While his dad worked hard as a butcher, his mum worked in factories and in catering, even after injuring her back while giving birth to Ray’s younger sister, Colleen.

Most of Hadley’s childhood was in public housing in Dundas Valley, with stints at his grandmother’s due to his mother’s ill health.

He went to Yates Avenue Primary — the same as this writer — and then rough and tumble Macquarie Boys High.

“My childhood was observing my parents working their hearts out and that carried on to me,” Hadley said. “I started working part-time at the Family Inn (Ermington) and the rugby union club when I was old enough. I was taught that if you wanted something bad enough, you had to apply yourself and go get it.”

Chasing the sports dream

And go get it young Ray did, having hankered for sports commentating from a young age.

But his chance came when the stars were in perfect alignment.

Working as a cab driver in 1981, he picked up the fare that would change his life.

Sitting in the back seat was a 2UE producer who was so impressed with the young cabbie’s spiel, he told him to show up at the station. After impressing the powers that be, young Ray was “apprenticed” to Gary O’Callaghan, who coached the young would-be race caller and sports commentator.

Hadley’s first official broadcast was on February 28, 1982, and he quickly established himself in the sports commentating field. He was also making some powerful friends, catching the attention of media icon John Singleton, who pulled him from 2UE to 2GB in 2001.

He presented the breakfast program until the arrival of Alan Jones, and then he moved on to his own show, broadcast between 9am and noon weekdays, not only in Sydney but in Brisbane and regional centres.

On weekends during the NRL season Hadley heads his Continuous Call Team on 2GB.

Power to pursue causes

But sport and butting heads are not Hadley’s only strengths. Those who love this polarising shock jock appreciate how he can use his power for good causes.

Convincing Australians to donate their organs to save others has become his greatest cause celebré, with tear-jerking interviews with parents who have donated the organs of their lost children.

“Australia is way behind the developed world in organ donation; it is distressing,” Hadley said. “Families have to have the conversation on their wishes to donate organs, so their loved ones know what to do if they die suddenly.”

Hadley also is a passionate supporter of Braveheart, the organisation dedicated to fighting sexual abuse of children.

On the political front, Hadley has been vocal over New South Wales’ bail laws, clashing spectacularly with former Attorney-General Greg Smith.

“I helped to eventually change the lax bail laws — unfortunately too late to save the two lives lost in the Lindt café siege,” he said.

Love him or hate him, Hadley is happiest when he can “shock” in the right way, when his gravitas can lead to action that benefits the community.

“People all over have the same main problems, trying to get hold of the telcos, feeling helpless against big government, inadequate health care,” Hadley said. “I can get to the bottom of things for them by having that contact with organisations and ministers. In a way, I’m like an unofficial ombudsman.”

And, no matter how they feel about him, politicians take note of him because of his wide-ranging audience. “Especially during an election year,” Hadley said with a chuckle, as he stood to button his jacket. “I’m off now for dinner with the kids.”

It was somewhere in the Hills, amongst people who would give him a friendly wave or a nod or, if a local political figure who has crossed swords with him, a bowed head.