Eight months ago, The Thinkergirls thought they were poised for promotion.
For the year prior, they had been locked in what they thought were productive conversations with radio executives about the almost sure possibility the duo would be at the helm of a national drive spot in 2018 for the Australian Radio Network on the KIIS Network.
They had a fiercely loyal fan base, talent in spades and ratings that proved both those statements to be true.
“The first line of shock to us was when we found out in the newspaper a show had been filled in a slot we had been unofficially promised, a spot we had been working towards for quite some time,” Kristie Mercer, one half of the duo, tells Mamamia.
After all, they had worked with management on broadening the scope of their content – or in male terms, they note, “commercialising content” – so they would not be defined on “the basis of [their] vaginas”.
But like a series of mystifying blows, a month later, they got a call from their management. It was November 3, 2017 – a Friday morning – and Mercer says it was then they were told their services were no longer of use.
“A few weeks after [reading of someone else taking the Drive spot], we got a call from our manager, who told us the show we did last night was our final show.
“It wasn’t just what happened, but the way it happened. It felt traumatic. We’re both people who are pretty open to taking on feedback and constructive criticism, and in this business, there is an element of having to put ego aside and look at the elements of truth,” Mercer says, acknowledging they looked, immediately and everywhere, for reasons behind their sacking.
But, she says, nothing came.
“There was no justification, it’s just, we’re not renewing your contract.”
On the surface, Kristie Mercer and Stacey June’s tale of brutal radio executives, brutal sacking and a brutal period of unemployment isn’t an anomaly in an industry punctuated by, well, brutality.
But perhaps the unique nature of their story, the actual anomaly, comes from the reason they believe were fired.
“We spent so long searching for that reasoning – our ratings were the best they had ever been, we had had conversations for 12 months about being promoted. You’re in denial a bit, because you don’t want the answer to be the one that’s in your gut, which is that they couldn’t handle two women,” Mercer says.
June says for her, that feeling was solidified in the months to come when they couldn’t find work.
“It’s confirmed even more by the fact we are unemployed. If it was judged on great ratings, great chemistry and broadcast experience, we would be in work. We have worked on our craft for more than 10 years between us and we rated fairly well. It is confusing to think it’s about anything else, and it’s not a reason either of us would like to land on. We searched and hoped for it to be something else,” June says.
“No woman wants gender to be the problem to fall back on. No one wants it to be a gender thing.”
Both Mercer and June’s words aren’t laced with bitterness, nor are they blazing in their anger. They are spectacularly articulate – not a surprise, given their line of work – and measured in reflecting on their experience.
There’s a sense of regret without subtle undertones of ‘woe-is-me’; a sense of defiance without elements of fire.
This is their story, and these are the parts they believe to be true.
“The thing about it being about gender is that you can’t fix it yourself,” June says. “We’re two girls who are ambitious and hands on and work quite hard, and if we had something else to work on, we would go away and work on it. We would fix it. It doesn’t make any sense for us to make it about gender if it’s not, because there’s no way we can fix it.”
Of course, their insight comes in a week fellow radio star Em Rusciano is making headlines around the country for being — supposedly — “difficult” to work with on her 2Day FM breakfast show.
“We can’t comment on people’s experience with Em, but we can comment on the kind of behaviour that is happening every single day in commercial radio. Everyday we see programmers, announcers and big radio execs do very, very similar things to what she has been accused of doing,” June says.
Mercer concurs in this case, too, it is “100 per cent a gender issue”.
“We’re not saying if Em has done this that it’s acceptable, and we’re not sticking up for bad behaviour, but this behaviour has been going on in our entire radio careers,” June says.
“It’s frustrating that this conversation is around an isolated issue, incident and person, when really, the conversation we should be having is one that zooms out and looks at the bigger picture and the industry.”
Neither Mercer or June is surprised about the nature of the story — that being, a high-profile radio host being tough to work around — but they are surprised about the fact the story has come out about Rusciano. When this behaviour is insidious across the industry, they note it’s curious everyone else is “protected” from the bad press plaguing Rusciano.
Since the firing, the duo have launched The Thinkergirls Pod Channel, dropping almost daily episodes. They have recently signed with A-Cast in order to make some cash from their podcasting and are about to pitch a TV show. But in the meantime, both June and Mercer have had to find ways to make ends meet.
In fact, one of the girls’ most recent podcasts, Mercer said she had picked up work nannying and at a cafe. June told Mamamia they are doing “whatever [they] have to do”.
“There is definitely part time work that is happening and freelance jobs here and there. You can still get little bits and pieces, but it’s not a commercial radio full time salary.”
“It’s been quite poetic,” Mercer adds. “I am not 100 per cent not there yet, but I am starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and this has really made me question what I am passionate about. We now have the space to ask ourselves, what is it that we really want to do?”
Of all of this – the public firing, the struggle to find work, the sudden need to make money – Stacey June and Kristie Mercer say the one thing that sits stark in their mind is a conversation they had with management on that Friday. Could they do one final show? they asked.
“We tried to get one last show. We fought to come back to have a final show on the Friday, because it is so mega important to us to respect our audience. It felt wrong to have such an intimate connection with this following and then disappear with no reason or any ability to say goodbye,” Mercer says.
“We were denied that because we were told we would be too emotional.”
Two women on radio denied a final show because of course, there would be too many emotions. Forget the fact, as June notes, they have worked, on air, through family members suiciding and relationship break-ups, the final message the Thinkergirls were given from the radio industry was a biting one: Women are the square pegs trying to fit into commercial radio’s round hole.
Mamamia reached out to Australian Radio Network for comment and they have declined to comment on this story.