Adam Barrington Spencer
29 January 1969
|Partner(s)||Melanie Mossman Spencer |
(fiancé, May 2021)
|Children||Elaquare (Ellie) and Olivia|
|Station(s)||702 ABC Sydney|
|Network||ABC Local Radio|
|Previous show(s)||702 ABC Sydney (2006–2013)|
Triple J Breakfast (1999–2004)
Adam Barrington Spencer (born 29 January 1969) is an Australian comedian, media personality and former radio presenter. He first came to fame when he won his round of the comedic talent search Raw Comedy in 1996. Soon thereafter, he began working at Triple J, on mid-dawn and drive shifts before hosting the Triple J Breakfast Show with Wil Anderson. He later hosted Breakfast on 702 ABC Sydney.
He is a patron of science-related events and programs, including the University of Sydney's Sleek Geeks Science Prize (category in the Eureka Prize). He collaborated with Karl Kruszelnicki for the long-running Sleek Geek Week tour (as part of National Science Week). He hosts events and panels, writes mathematical recreation books, and performs his own comedy at events around the country.
A few hours after birth, he suffered a seizure, and doctors found blood between his brain and scalp. Twice in the first two days of his life, a priest was called to give the last rites. Between the ages of three until about 11, Spencer underwent a series of operations by eye surgeon Fred Hollows. The deadening of the eyelid muscle led to permanent ptosis (drooping of the upper eyelid) and noticeable facial asymmetry. He later received a transplant from a donor (who had been in a motorcycle accident) in an operation, allowing him to "open" that eye.
Spencer attended Boronia Park Public School, where his favourite teacher, Ms Russell, nurtured his lifelong love of mathematics when he was in second grade, in 1976. In 1981 he won a scholarship to attend St Aloysius' College in Sydney, and was a vice-captain of the College and Captain of the Australian Schools Debating Team. He graduated with a score of 200 out of 200 in four-unit maths.
He was the first in his family to attend university, and originally enrolled to study arts-law. This included economics and philosophy, but he dropped out of those subjects and took up maths to "round it out", but eventually changed to a maths major. He graduated from the University of Sydney with a Bachelor of Science with first class honours in pure mathematics in 1991. While at university, he was one of the world's top-ranked debaters, reaching the final round of the World Universities Debating Championship three times (1990, 1992, 1996) and winning World's Best Individual Speaker (1996). He also won the Australasian debating championship twice (1988, 1990). He was also President of the University of Sydney Union.
He was secretly entered into the Triple J Raw Comedy Championship in 1996 by a former girlfriend, and won the NSW championship (although this has also been reported as winning the second prize, as he came second in the national competition).
In October 2001, he hosted the Visions for a Nation Federation Forum. This focused on the views of leading Australians about the challenges facing Australia in the 21st century. It later screened on the ABC.
|1998-2001||FAQ||ABC TV||As host, Spencer would pose themed frequently asked questions to a panel of scientists.|
|2003||The Hit & Run||The Comedy Channel (Granada productions)||Spencer hosted the 8 episode-series, in which he would create challenges for other comedians. The comedians were placed at an unexpected venue outside their comfort zone, and then had less than a day to create new stand-up routines based on the experience.|
|2005||Joker Poker||Channel Ten||Spencer hosted Australia's first free-to-air poker TV show.|
|2008 and 2010||Sleek Geeks||ABC TV|
|2009||Good News Week||Channel Ten|
|2009–2011||Netball's Festival of Stars||Channel Ten||Played in three celebrity netball matches, representing Team NBCF. |
|2018–present||Summer Drum||ABC TV||Spencer hosts the 'Summer' series of the ABC's nightly news panel show, The Drum. The program is broadcast every year throughout January.|
Spencer was spotted by radio station Triple J's senior broadcaster, Helen Razer, at the 1996 Raw Comedy Finals, when he provided a live impromptu weather segment involving mathematical equations. This entertaining approach to presenting maths via the weather has been noted by other mathematicians.
He was invited to do occasional work at Triple J, and then hosted segments during the midnight-to-dawn shifts. He did guest spots entitled "Bloking up" on Razer and Judith Lucy's Ladies Lounge afternoon show. When Lucy left Triple J for Melbourne's FOX-FM, he joined as co-host of the Departure Lounge. Helen Razer left in 1998. In 1999, Spencer was later promoted to solo hosting of the breakfast show for approximately 18 months.
Wil Anderson joined Triple J in April 1999, beginning their renowned co-hosting of the breakfast show. The highest-number of mathematical references made by Spencer on an episode the show was 32 instances on 7 March 2001. In 2002, Anderson and Spencer created a fictional metal band, Salmon Hater, with a single 6.66 - One Hundredth of the Number of the Beast. It was rated as number 26 in Triple J's Hottest 100.
Both Anderson and Spencer chose to retire from the breakfast show in 2004. They hosted a comedic tribute show, The Last Time, which toured around Australia and focused on their six years in co-hosting the show. The tribute show's title was a mocking take on John Farnham's farewell tour, which was not actually his last tour.
On 20 February 2006, he began presenting Breakfast on 702 ABC Sydney, replacing Angela Catterns. His hosting was described as having transformed ABC 702 into a "...science and maths, women's sports and soft rock loving place to be..." On 6 December 2013, Spencer hosted his last breakfast radio program for ABC 702, concluding 14 years of radio broadcasting at the age of 44. His farewell live show included Alex Lloyd performing a rewritten version of his song Amazing. For his final radio survey, Spencer was ranked second in the breakfast slot. He was replaced on ABC 702 by fellow Triple J alumni, Robbie Buck.
Presentations and hosting
Spencer has hosted science-related events and held guest spots at a wide range of festivals and conferences, and has been described as "the Eddie McGuire of edgy cultural events."
For several years, he has hosted both the Eureka awards and the Prime Minister's Prizes for Science award ceremonies. The Eureka awards have included a sponsored namesake award: the online Adam Spencer/University of Sydney Eureka Schools Prize for Lateral Thinking. The namesake award was issued in 2003 and 2004.
|Year||Hosting and speaking roles|
|2002||He MCd the Air Guitar Championships at the Hobart Summer Festival in 2002.|
|2003||He spoke at the Planning Institute of Australia's national congress on "Leading with diversity" in 2003, presented on the "Comedy of Maths" at the FPA annual convention in October 2003, was a guest speaker at the 15th annual Innovative Technology Schools Conference in 2003.|
|2004||Fronted a Sydney concert for World Environment Day in 2004.|
|2005||He MCd the Spirit of Youth Awards in 2005, and was guest speaker at the 2005 Country Public Libraries Association conference. Spencer and Dr Karl Kruszelnicki co-hosted "Class of a Million", a concurrent interactive science lesson for one million students, using Access Grid technology. It was held during the Australian Science Festival in August 2005.|
|2006||Hosted a forum on "Green is the New Black" for the City of Sydney in 2006, and hosted Travel Weekly's 2006 trivia night, Travel Pursuit.|
|2008||Hosted the 14th annual AIMIA Awards ceremony.|
|2009||Presented at The Big Skills Conference Sydney 2009.|
|2010||Hosted the 2010 Shonkies for Choice.|
|2011||Hosted the Publishers Australia Awards.|
|2014||Chaired a panel on "Smashing silos, building bridges..." at the Sydney Cancer Conference 2014, and facilitated sessions for the Engineers Australian Convention 2014.|
|2015||Facilitated a panel about algae for biofuels at the 5th Congress of the International Society for Applied Phycology, and hosted the 2015 Construction Skills Queensland Excellence Awards.|
|2017||He was part of the Byron Bay Writers festival in August 2017, with events: A conversation with Lex Hirst, chairing the panel on Science, Philosophy and Ideas, and a panel member of Night of the Nerds.
He hosted the Sneaks showcase at the Adobe Symposium (2017), opened the 2017 Grain Growers' annual Innovation Generation conference, and was a keynote speaker at the Australia Pharmacy Professional Conference and Trade Exhibition (APP2017).
Controversies and criticism
|1998||Spencer conducted an irreverent interview with Dr James "Dolly" Watson and received public criticism. Spencer interviewed Tim Freedman (lead singer of the Whitlams) about how a number of Australian bands agreed that Australia should get rid of the Liberal Government, and a linked "anti-coalition" concert called "Howard's End". Triple J was later required to publicly apologise for the concert's promotion.
Ian Layne noted that many Triple J presenters, including Spencer, were post-youth, rather than appealing to the youth demographic.
|1999||Spencer celebrated April Fool's Day by joking that Sydney might lose the 2000 Olympics, reporting that IOC officials were making a decision during a nine-hour meeting. The show included fake excerpts from a pretend Lausanne press conference in which an IOC representative, "Francois Curard" [sic] advised reporter "Carlton Roberts" of grave allegations against Sydney. Premier Bob Carr provided further commentary. The incident was further reported by Richard Wilkins on the Today show, resulting in an on-air apology from Steve Liebmann. Spencer bought flowers for the switchboard operators, to make up for the hundreds of phone calls about the jape.|
|2000||Spencer stated that Macy Gray was a boring interviewee, because of her on-air presence being like a "professional recording person."|
|2001||Spencer hosted the Tropfest festival, which was disrupted by Peter Hore, who reached the stage area. Spencer ejected him and reminded him of his intrusion during Australia's qualifying match for the 1998 soccer World Cup, saying: "Thanks for losing us the World Cup, you prick," as he left the stage. In May 2001, Spencer was criticised in an opinion piece by Sara Phillips, and later on an email listserv, for his approach to science communication in marketing science as "sexy" rather than interesting on its own terms. Phillips summarised the ensuing debate in a July article, with editor Guy Nolch noting that Spencer and other science broadcasters, all appeal to different segments of the community. Spencer has denied that he's setting out to make science particularly sexy. Other commentators have highlighted that reaching predisposed-to-science audiences through science communication with "geekification" outreach is a low-hanging fruit approach. Others state that "One-off extravaganzas by celebrity mathematicians such as Adam Spencer..." are not enough to make mathematics an attractive career path for students.|
|2002||A listener complained that the phrase "a blowjob in a toilet" was being used to promote Spencer and Anderson's breakfast program on Triple J.|
|2003||Spencer was at the ARIA Music Awards in October, presenting the award for Best Independent Release. He joked that the then-recently deceased Slim Dusty was the winner. The joke caused many in the audience to groan and spurred many complaints to radio and was denounced as being in poor taste. He later wrote an apology to Dusty's wife, Joy McKean, saying that he had wished to highlight Dusty's accomplishments, which she accepted. The actual winners were the folk rock band The Waifs.
While hosting the Motorola Dance Music Awards in November, Spencer chastised Australian Idol judge Ian "Dicko" Dickson about his choice of outfit: "If you're gonna wear that shirt in public, then you'll have to lose some weight." The comment mirrored Dickson's criticism to contestant Paulini on Australian Idol.
|2004||In November, during their co-hosted breakfast show, Wil Anderson joked about Mark Phillippoussis leaving Delta Goodrem for Paris Hilton. Anderson made derogatory remarks about Hilton, which were later found to be inappropriate, in a complaint upheld with the ABC.|
|2006||Soon after joining ABC 702, listeners gave feedback on the ABC Guestbook on his voice and that his rapid pace and speedy pronunciation of the word "Australian", made it sound like "strine". Similar feedback was noted in letters to the Sydney Morning Herald in 2011, regarding his tone of voice.|
|2007||Alex Mitchell noted that Walt Secord encouraged ministers to make policy announcements on Spencer's show as a method for disseminating political messages to ABC radio listeners.Media Watch criticised Australian Traffic Network's (ATN) association with the ABC when one of its reporters accidentally included a UBD advertisement in a report airing on Adam Spencer's show on ABC 702.|
|2008||An autocue glitch caused Spencer to read the incorrect award category at the AIMIA awards.|
|2010||Joe Hockey claimed that Spencer (as a fellow St Aloysius alumnus), had spread a rumour that Hockey was the legendary champion eater of bogong moths. This was mentioned in Parliament by Wayne Swan, who attributed the shadow Treasurer's erratic behaviour to an overconsumption of moths, as mentioned in Spencer's radio segment. While the topic had been raised on the program, the claim was raised by a listener identified as "Helen". Swan's statement of "I think we know why he [Hockey] is so erratic. He has been eating too many bogong moths." was awarded Quote of the Day by The Courier Mail.|
|2011||In June, questions were raised about Spencer's perceived promotion of the Australian Financial Review (AFR) on his radio segment. In July, Spencer interviewed climate change sceptic Christopher Monckton. The interview became heated as Spencer asked Monckton about his status as a member of the House of Lords, or if he was a Nobel Laureate, or academic credentials. Monckton told Spencer to "shut up and listen", and then Spencer hung up on him, and later called back to resume the discussion. Both Spencer and the producer later apologised to Monckton. The House of Lords later published an open letter, clarifying that Monckton is not a member of the Upper House. David Beamish (Clerk of the Parliaments) wrote the letter, clarifying that Monckton is a peer, which is a separate issue to House membership. Monckton challenged the letter during a presentation at the National Press Club.|
|2013||Former BBC journalist Andrea Wills conducted an audit of the ABC radio's federal election coverage. It was noted that it was unfortunate that Spencer wished Kevin Rudd "best of luck in the rest of the campaign" ahead of the election.|
Spencer has written several mathematical recreation books.
|Adam Spencer's Book of Numbers||2000||ISBN 9781567317008 (1567317006, 0140287817)||Penguin||Also published in 2004 (New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, ISBN 1568582897).
It has also been published as a German translation (2002).
A book review by Art Johnson noted that it contains "rather strong language," rendering it inappropriate for students.
|Laugh Even Louder!||2007||ISBN 978-1-74169-022-4||Scholastic Australia Pty Limited||As contributor.|
|Adam Spencer's Big Book of Numbers||2014||ISBN 9781921134333 (192113433X, 9781921134326)||Brio Books||It focuses on facts, mathematical equations and statistics for each number from one to 100. It sold 20,000 copies and finished at 105 on the bestseller charts.|
|Adam Spencer's World of Numbers||2015||ISBN 9781921134869 (1921134860)||Brio Books||Over 30,000 copies have been sold.|
|Adam Spencer's Enormous Book of Numbers||2015||ISBN 9781921134883||Brio Books|
|Adam Spencer's Time Machine||2016||ISBN 9781925143188||Brio Books|
|Adam Spencer's Number Crunchers||2016||ISBN 9781925143201||Brio Books|
|Adam Spencer's The Number Games||2017||ISBN 9781925143881||Brio Books|
|Adam Spencer's 12 Days of Christmas!||2017||ISBN 9781925143874||Brio Books|
|Adam Spencer's Top 100||2018||ISBN 9781925589597||Brio Books|
|Adam Spencer's The Number Detective||2018||ISBN 9781925589580||Brio Books|
Compilation CD trilogy
The ABC published a trilogy of compilation CDs of Adam Spencer's breakfast music. The CD series was issued under the Mytunes series name (distinct from the MyTunes program used to circumvent iTunes restrictions). They included Mytunes (2011), Mytunes 2 (2012) and Mytunes 3 (2013).
Guest book chapters
Spencer was prompted to lose 25 kilograms in 2000, at the behest of his then-girlfriend, Elke Taylor.
He met his ex-wife Melanie Mossman at a pub trivia night, telling her an answer in the quiz ("The actor is George Clooney and the film is Solaris.").
On the final day of his breakfast show in November 2004, he announced that his partner Melanie Mossman was pregnant and that the next year he would be leaving his media career to become a full-time dad. He returned within two years to present another breakfast radio show. He married Mel on 28 January 2006 in the Great Hall at Sydney University, where guests were asked to donate to charities in lieu of gifts. They have two daughters, Elaquare (Ellie) and Olivia. When Elaquare was six months old, Spencer organised for a fly to be named after her, Fijian fly A. Amblypsilopus elaquarae (Elaquare's Amblypsilopus). This was through the Australian Museum's project to seek funding by giving new animal species namesakes for a donation.
In 2014, thieves broke into Spencer's family home in Newtown, taking valuables including a laptop containing photos of his baby daughter. His car was also stolen, and was later found crashed into a power pole in Victoria Street, Marrickville. In 2015 Spencer, Mossman and their children moved to Copacabana, and listed the Newtown property for auction in August 2016.
In August 2017, Spencer confirmed he and Mossman had separated in early 2015 and been divorced for some time.
While Spencer attended St. Aloysius' College and was brought up a Catholic, he describes himself an atheist.
As of May 2021, Spencer is engaged to be married to Leah Boonthanom after seeing each other for a year.
He is an avid cyclist and has participated in multiple cycling events in Sydney for charity.
In March 2001, he led the cyclist portion of Oxfam Community Aid Abroad's Walk Against Want Victoria Park Fundraiser. He gave a presentation on the importance of planning for cyclists at the PIA 2003 National Congress. In November 2003, he took part in the cycling City to Surf, which fundraised for people in NSW with multiple sclerosis. In February 2004, he launched the new Central Sydney Bicycle map, which shares information on the easiest ways to cycle around Sydney. In May 2005, as part of the Greenhouse Advisory Panel, he advocated for car registration fees to link with engine size, to help people focus on their greenhouse impact and environmental footprint. He agrees with Danish urban planner's blueprint for a better Sydney, commenting in 2007 that pedestrian access should be improved in the heart of Sydney, including marked lanes for cyclists. He had made similar cycle lane commentary in April 2003 for an article about what he would institute if he were City of Sydney's Lord Mayor. For the first day of hosting breakfast for ABC 702, he cycled 4 kilometres to work for his 5:30am shift. He is often spotted around Sydney, pedalling or wearing his bike helmet and cycling clothes.
In April 2006, he was master of ceremonies during a corporate function held before the Sydney Swans versus Geelong match. In March 2009, he MC'd a cocktail party for the Swans Foundation, which offers a scholarship scheme. In May 2012, he was master of ceremonies for the Swans Ladies Lunch.
In June 2012, to commemorate the Swans' 30 years in Sydney, he wrote for the Daily Telegraph about his ideal Swans team list.
In July 2017, as master of ceremonies, Spencer launched the Sydney Swans' Diversity Action Plan The plan is focused on disability empowerment, LGBTIQ pride, multicultural inclusion, and advancement of women.
In 2017 Spencer played the Jack Newton celebrity classic the longest running and most successful celebrity pro-am golf tournament in Australia.
Political views and activities
In the 1996 by-election, while he was a student and part-time mathematics teacher at Sydney University, Spencer ran as an independent candidate. He was with the Anti-Super League Party (ASLeeP) or Australians Against Further Super League party, competing for Paul Keating's seat of Blaxland. The party received 499 votes.
In November 2000, an article in the satirical Chaser newspaper alleged that Spencer refused to play a song by Little Johnny (pseudonym of Pauline Pantsdown), because of his "conservative leanings".
In 2014, Spencer spoke out against the government's proposed funding cuts to the ABC, and accused politicians of hiding loathing for the broadcaster behind arguments around inefficiencies.
In 2015, he was one of 61 prominent Australians who signed an open letter urging the Prime Minister to call a moratorium on new coal mines as part of a global climate change agreement.
Community, charity and advocacy work
He coached the University of Sydney second grade women's football team. Since December 2001, he has been a Fellow of the University Senate. He had also served a term from 1992 to 1995. He is a member of the NSW Premier's Advisory Committee on Greenhouse and Global Warming and the NSW Health Department's Clinical Ethics Review Committee. He was part of the assessment panel for the NSW Medical Devices Fund in 2014.
He sought corporate sponsorship to help the Australian Chess Team, issuing a national plea in 2002. The request was a success, and the team were able to attend the 35th Chess Olympiad in Bled, Slovenia, with financial help from condom maker Ansell.
In 2004, Spencer was on the judging panel for the Out of Sight - Tactile Art exhibition, run by Object Gallery and the Royal Blind Society.
He promoted pharmacy careers in an advertising campaign for the Pharmacy Guild of Australia in 2002, 2003 and 2004. The 2002 campaign was linked with the Rural and Remote Pharmacy Workforce Development Program. The 2003 campaign aimed to encourage young indigenous people to consider a career in pharmacy through the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Undergraduate Pharmacy scholarships. The 2004 campaign aimed to attract young people from rural and regional centres to enrol in pharmacy university courses. He promoted the campaign in a television commercial in around 2006.
In November 2005, he was one of the celebrity judges rating moustaches for the Movember Gala Party in Sydney. The campaign raised funds for the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia. He grew a moustache for Movember in 2006.
In 2010, he featured in advertisements for the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia. The campaign focused on providing men with advice on prostate cancer and encouraged them to investigate testing options.
In 2010, Spencer signed up as one of the Ambassadors for White Ribbon, taking part in a swearing-in ceremony. In 2011, his show promoted the White Ribbon campaign against violence towards women. This contrasted with the coverage on 2Day FM of Kyle Sandilands lambasting the appearance of entertainment writer Alison Stephenson. Spencer told his radio audience that he regarded Sandilands' remarks as "heinous".
He hosted the Pink Stumps cricket day in support of the Jane McGrath Foundation in 2012. That same year, he was team captain of the Sydney Sailors in the Community Cup in Sydney, who won the match. The annual day raises funds for Reclink Australia.
In 2014, he participated in a video for Reach Out, focusing on combating stress during exams). He highlighted his change in studies (from law to mathematics), and eventual radio role, as examples of changing direction and life path.
Science, literacy and educational reforms
Spencer has advocated for better science literacy through educational reforms and improved resourcing for science teachers and laboratories in Australian primary schools. He has also urged high school students to do mathematics subjects to improve university outcomes and Australia's development. Spencer has highlighted the perceived failings of the Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank (ATAR), in terms of how subjects are weighted, and impact the final rankings for students. He has supported National Literacy and Numeracy Week by being a surprise visiting mathematics teacher. Lurnea High School was the winning school for his guest teaching spot in 2004.
In 2002, he was one of the suspects in the scientific whodunnit, "Who stole the Minister's malibu?", a forensic science program held across schools nationally.
In 2010 Spencer donated $10,000 worth of books through the Dymocks Literacy Foundation to encourage children from non-English speaking backgrounds to learn to read and write in English. The donation was for students at Blaxcell Street Public School (Granville), where he had been "Principal for a Day" in 2006.
In 2012, Spencer gave a book to each student at La Perouse Public School. This was to launch The Book Bank Project (partly funded by Spencer) and the National Year of Reading. In 2013, he was listed as an ambassador for The Book Bank program.
In 2013, he signed the "And in Science..." petition, which called for a science section during Australian television and radio news broadcasts. The campaign was organised by Rohan Kapitany, and gathered over 2300 signatures, but it was ultimately unsuccessful.
On the eve of the global March for Science (April 2017), Spencer, along with 44 other public figures and members of the scientific community, signed a letter in support of international scientific endeavour.
On 3 February 2018, Spencer was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science honoris causa award by Edith Cowan University.
In 2002, photographer Lisa Giles included Spencer in a collection of 50 portraits in the exhibition Schools of Thought, focused on people associated with the University of Sydney. In the same year, artist Nafisa Naomi painted a portrait of Spencer, which featured in the exhibition A Lingering Doubt at the ArtHouse Hotel.
In 2005, National Library of Australia staff member Greg Power photographed Spencer at the fundraising Wave Aid: the tsunami relief concert. The image has been included in the National Library's collection.
In 2014, photographer David Stefanoff selected Spencer as one of a selection of famous faces projected onto trees and landscapes.
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