Sydney Doing it tough in Australia is no cause for embarrassment. The working poor proudly call themselves 'battlers'. And for more than 50 years, the battlers' friend has been a multimillionaire radio broadcaster called John Laws - or 'Lawsy' to his legion of fans. The news that Laws, 71, once the undisputed king of talkback morning radio in Sydney, will retire later this year generated astonishment. Prime Minister John Howard was the first to call Laws on air. 'We've had many interviews,' the PM gushed. 'Some of them harmonious, some of them not so harmonious, but that is exactly how it ought to be.' Other callers included opposition leader Kevin Rudd, Hollywood actor Russell Crowe and several members of the Howard cabinet. 'I don't know how the airwaves of Sydney are going to survive without you,' Crowe barked. The resignation, to take effect in November, was stage-managed with the same flair for publicity that has been Laws' trademark for the past five decades. 'What will I do? Don't ask me what I'll do,' said an emotional Laws when asked about his plans for the future. 'I'll miss radio, that's what I'll do.' He later said he would spend the next five months dining out with the city's movers and shakers. One wit called the resignation 'Sydney's longest long lunch'. Not only does Laws have one of the most distinctive voices on Australian radio, his folksy style and right-wing politics resonate with ordinary Australians. When battlers want advice they turn to Lawsy - so do political leaders. The prime minister regularly calls Laws on air during a show. 'Hang on,' he tells the listener from struggle town. 'I have Mr Howard on the line.' The punters love it. Laws' employer, radio station 2UE, also loves it, paying A$4 million (HK$27 million) a year for his big mouth. And so did the advertisers. Unlike America's despised shock jocks, John Laws and his Sydney rivals, Alan Jones and Ray Hadley, are primarily salesmen, generating huge advertising revenue for their stations. Laws flogged everything from pizzas to motor oil. Even his opinions were for sale. In 1999, the broadcaster was found guilty of taking millions of dollars from big companies in exchange for on-air endorsements disguised as editorial comment. But Laws was unmoved. 'It's called commercial radio, so it has commercials,' he said, riding out the crisis with his fan base - if not his credibility - intact. How he did so has perplexed Sydney's chattering classes, who have no time for Laws and his long lunches, stable of luxury cars (including two Aston Martins, a Rolls-Royce and a Bentley), and penchant for writing rather cloying poetry. Columnist Phillip Adams lampooned Laws as a 'mercenary of the microphone' who had squandered his talent and intellect in pursuit of money. 'Laws and John Howard share a fear of retirement because neither bloke has another reason for living,' he wrote. Others were more generous. 'He has a beautiful range of personality,' said veteran broadcaster John Brennan. 'He's a glorious entertainer.' Whatever Laws' shortcomings, most people seem to agree that his retirement spells the end of an era for commercial radio in Australia.