An ordinariness most extraordinary
local celebrities & people | By Di Bartok | Friday, 1 September 2017
Having a down-to-earth education in Carlingford set the girl who was not sure where she was headed on the road to success. All she knew, in some vague way, was that she “wanted to be on the wireless”.
Kind in her humour, Amanda Keller has proved she is an all-rounder — she can even talk under water. She is the co-host of WS FM101.7’s Jonesy & Amanda in the Morning, and host of Channel 10’s The Living Room.
For a woman who had no set ambition as a student, Amanda Keller has done pretty well for herself. The way this self-effacing media star tells it, after graduation from college in the 1980s when she had studied with Andrew Denton, doors kept opening and she kept stepping over the thresholds.
Now, she is the highest paid woman on radio, earning $1 million a year, along with her sidekick Brendan Jones, ruling the airwaves with their Jonesy and Amanda breakfast show on WSFM 101.7.
And, to top it off, this year she received an OAM in the Queen’s Birthday honours list for services to broadcast media and the community.
As she recovers from the shock of that honour, Keller laments that her mother did not live to see her recognised for her contribution to media.
“She would have been so proud,” Keller said of the mother she lost seven years ago.
Keller herself finds the accolade “surreal” and can’t believe she has been recognised for doing something she loves.
There have been many highs in the professional life of the former Carlingford High student, who loved English and History to the exclusion of the more mundane subjects, and was a self-confessed dag with a mad crush on singer Barry Manilow because he was not handsome enough to have hordes of adoring teenagers after him.
Straight from gaining her Arts degree from Mitchell College at Bathurst (now Charles Sturt University), not sure exactly which way to head, Keller managed to be in the right place at the right time. Without any preconceived ideas of her path, Keller was able to grab opportunities as they came her way.
“I think I have done so well because I did not know what I wanted to do in particular, except be on the wireless,” Keller said. “I had no grand plan when I set out, but I am enjoying the journey.”
Jonesy and Amanda top the morning slot consistently with their gentle humour that does not seek to embarrass others — well, not too much, anyway. There certainly are no elaborate stunts that backfire on other people.
But they are prepared to take risks themselves. They broke the world record for broadcasting under water when they did their program while submerged in a tank at Sydney Aquarium for three hours in 2010.
So, Amanda can literally talk under water.
However, sending up others is not part of their routine.
“I have always been aware that the words that come out of your mouth can wound. I have never been one for practical jokes,” Keller said, setting herself apart from many other radio hosts. “I would sooner regret not having said something to make people laugh rather than to regret something that has repercussions.”
Keller’s humour is more self-effacing, sending herself up, alongside well aimed digs at her “straight man” Jonesy. There would not be many derogatory comments about Amanda Keller on social media compared to many other high profile people, but she would not really know.
“Apart from a bit of Facebook, I don’t do much social media and, although it is hard not to take things personally, I try not to let people’s opinion of me get to me,” Keller said.
Keeping her grounded are her husband Harley, that “nice Kiwi boy” who stole her away from Manilow, and her two hard won sons Liam and Jack, whom she had through the rigours of IVF.
Sharing such details of her life as she did in her acclaimed autobiography, Natural Born Keller — My Life and Other Palaver, has further endeared her to a legion of fans who can see she is just like them in many ways, despite her success.
It seems Amanda Keller has been before us, on our TV screens and on the airwaves for a long time — yet people do not tire of her. Again, that is due to the variety of work, right from the beginning in 1985 when she first appeared on camera on Ray Martin’s Midday Show.
Her first jobs were behind the scenes, as researcher for popular children’s television show Simon Townsend’s Wonder World, then researcher and producer for Good Morning Australia.
In 1987, she left Midday to appear in the pilot for Richard Neville’s counter-culture program Extra Dimensions, which was produced by the same team that made Beyond 2000.
Extra Dimensions folded after the first season. Keller’s luck changed when she was signed to Beyond 2000, the internationally popular science program, despite admitting she knew next to nothing about science. Nonetheless, she was so successful that she won numerous media awards including the United Nations Association of Australia’s Media Peace Award in 1989, and the Michael Daley Award for Science Journalism.
Keller was able to combine her newly acquired scientific knowledge with her love of kitsch and popular culture as a regular guest on her college pal Andrew Denton’s show Denton. When the series finished in 1995, she joined Denton at radio station Triple M, where they co-presented the breakfast show. At the same time, she hosted her own contemporary culture show on cable television called The Hub.
In 2004, the in demand Keller hosted her own pop culture-centric program Mondo Thingo, and two years later she quick-stepped into our hearts on Dancing with the Stars, in which she progressed to the fifth round before being eliminated.
Acting then beckoned, with her 2008 and 2011 role as Amanda Doyle, regional manager, in SBS TV series Swift and Shift Couriers, as well as a small role in Housos, the sitcom based on a hapless band of public housing tenants that aired on SBS TV.
Then there were guest appearances on pop culture shows such as Good News Week, Rove Live, The Glass House, 20 to 1, and Spicks and Specks. From 2009 until 2012, Keller represented the Baby Boomer generation on Channel 10’s quiz show Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation.
And, in an industry that chews up presenters, especially women, and spits them out, Keller has endured. Her cheery face lights up the living rooms of those who love lifestyle programs on The Living Room, which airs weekly on Channel 10.
Despite having to get up at 4am each day, Keller loves the balance in her life — home at 11am, grab a nap, take dog for walk, exercise with personal trainer, be home for her boys after school, going out with friends at the end of the week.
“Life is not as hectic as it seems — filming for The Living Room is done fortnightly in one day,” Keller said.
Living in Coogee with her family is a long way from the family life she had in Beecroft when she was a Carlingford High student, but she remembers the area fondly.
“It was a great family area, very safe. Carlingford High was, and is, a great school. I felt I got a good education there,” she said.
When Keller left college she settled in Paddington, but would visit her parents in Beecroft until they moved to Brisbane, where her father still lives.
But, surely, there are annoyances in the seemingly smooth Keller life — something that, in reference to a popular segment on Jonesy and Amanda, gets her “goolies”.
“What gets my goolies is how free speech is deemed as a reason for any type of vilification,” Keller said. “It is giving into our basest feelings, and that is not the way generally we should live in our society. Everyone is giving their opinion so often and we are losing the ability to meet in the middle.”