ZDNet Australia is proud to bring you a serialised version of Phil Dobbie's novel The Incumbent. A new chapter will be published here as part of his blog each week on Tuesday. You can also buy the entire book by clicking here.
Adam Willis was hunched around his microphone in the tiny studio at 2IQ. He took a sip of coffee as his listeners endured the eighth minute of a 12-minute advertising break. Musson and Woodburner had joined him in the studio, but he hardly acknowledged their existence. He didn't like to talk to anyone in the real world. He lived in his own radio-world, and only spoke to people when the microphones were on.
The shock jock exerted extraordinary influence. He had a huge audience, although the figures were slightly exaggerated, because many had the show playing on their bedside radios whilst still asleep. This might be why he managed to tap into people's subconscious. His audience would, by and large, do anything he said. He told them how to think, how to vote, what mood they should be in (generally fairly crabby); he basically removed the need for people to engage in any form of free thought. That, of course, made him exceedingly powerful, which is why he was courted by politicians, business leaders and anyone with something substandard for him to spruik.
As powerful as he was in the real world, Willis exerted even more control in his imaginary world. He often thought of himself as a demigod in an alternate universe, where even more people, millions of them, hung on his every word. In this world, even intelligent people listened to him, something he could only ever dream of. It was this other world he lived in as he sat in his radio studio each morning, detached from reality.
He often thought of himself as a demigod in an alternate universe, where even more people, millions of them, hung on his every word.
That's why he ignored people in the studio, his headphones turned up loud and his face stuck into a cup of coffee or staring intently at the computer screen. To the casual observer, he appeared as a nervous, reclusive eccentric who wasn't comfortable with the world. In reality, he had left the world a long time ago. Only when the microphones were live and he was talking to guests would his world and the real world collide.
Eventually, the advertisements finished. Willis placed his coffee cup on the desk beside him, as his signature tune blared over the airwaves.
Across the city, hundreds of thousands of people were waiting; waiting to be told what to think. He'd make them angry, then sad, then angry again. There was no room for subtleties of emotion. And his audience had to be clear what mood he was in if they were to adopt the same disposition. Often, huge swathes of the population would spend their entire day angry because Willis had been angry. Other days they'd be even angrier. Sometimes livid. They were rarely happy.
A university professor once chose to map the relationship between Willis' temperament and productivity in the workplace. He found there was a strong correlation between the two, with people often so angry they were incapable of performing their jobs. Willis was quick to retaliate on-air, saying the findings were crap. His audience agreed with him, and followed his suggestion that they firebomb his house, forcing the professor to assume a new identity and move to Afghanistan, because it was safer there.
'Adam Willis — he decides, you listen,' said a deep voice over the top of the theme music, before the red light switched on and a new persona emerged from inside the timid creature. He smiled briefly at his guests before he started talking.
'We have two guests in the studio today. Sydney Musson, a man convicted of murder for killing a police officer, part of the scum of our society...'
Musson hadn't expected such a harsh introduction. It's true he had killed someone, who just happened to be a police officer, but that, in his book, wasn't enough of an excuse to be disrespectful. And it added to the anger that was welled up inside him. Whimplestein was sitting beside him looking uneasy. He could see that his client was on the verge of some kind of violent outburst, and he needed to control the emotion. If Musson was going to attack anyone, he wanted to ensure the anger was focused on Woodburner.
'Cop killers are one thing; predatory telecommunications companies who squeeze you for every last dollar are another.'
'But cop killers are one thing,' continued Willis, 'predatory telecommunications companies who squeeze you for every last dollar are another.'
Now it was Woodburner's turn for the Willis treatment. Weren't they advertising on this station? he wondered. Apparently not anymore, and this was the sort of treatment you could expect if your dues had lapsed. The advertising department called it hush money, although never outside the confines of the building, of course. As Woodburner listened, a contract was slipped in front of him, with a very intense advertising schedule that would kick off in less than a minute, so long as he signed it there and then. Willis eyed him as he continued his lengthy introduction. The station manager had relented and let Willis in on the deal, and the shock-jock was keen to get hold of his healthy commission.
'I mean, who do they think they are?' said Willis, pausing as Woodburner's pen moved towards the signature line. There was a few seconds dead air as Willis looked over for evidence of a signature. It would determine his next sentence. To the listener, it would be just another of his famous pauses, sprinkled liberally throughout his program. He knew everyone would hang there, waiting for the next insightful words from their guru.