Radio had little meaning to me until I was introduced to Tony Martin and Mick Molloy. I was 15 when they started doing drive time. I was hormonal, a bit angry and pretty much hated everything (except Dawson’s Creek) when I first heard: “Now it’s time for the adventures of Blimpy the Lactose-Intolerant Cat. He’s not very well, he’s leaking a smell. We should put him out but, it wouldn’t be fair. ‘Cause he’s just a normal cat….. with the shits!” It’s fair to say The Martin Molloy show rocked my Dawson’s Creek loving world.
With segments like “Girlie Man” who shopped at Portmans and loved fake tan and the aforementioned Blimpy, radio suddenly stopped being background noise. It became a genuine source of joy, and above all, really good poo jokes. Now I’m afraid with the departure of Hamish and Andy radio is in danger of becoming bland, background noise once more.
When the boys finished up recently a huge gaping hole was created in the radio landscape. I, like a lot of people were left wondering what was next? Teams like this rarely come along and for a radio nerd like me it caused a little bit of panic. You see, I want people to love radio as much as I do! I am some sort of self appointed ambassador and radio is my wayward daughter…
Anyway, I thought this week I’d take you on a small tour behind the curtain of the radio world. Inspired by Julian Assange (topical), I thought I’d share with you a little of it’s seedy underbelly, some of my experiences and assist you all in winning a prize pack!!!
I wish to start by saying as a performer, how much I love radio. It’s instant, you can’t be edited and you and only YOU are in control. Also, it’s very personal. People choose to let you into their lives on a daily basis, I always felt very humbled by that. The five years I spent on radio were the most challenging and rewarding of my professional life so far.
I am not here to give away all of radio’s secrets as I do wish to return to that medium one day, it’s kind of like the “magicians alliance” – certain things should be kept quiet to maintain the mystique.
So here is my watered down version of Radioleaks.
In relation to breakfast radio – the listener is king. You lot wield a vast amount of power, we live and die by the ratings. One day an un-assuming little media survey book may arrive at your house. Our careers hang on that book and the boxes you tick. The ratings come out 8 times a year. Only those who work in radio truly care however should you ever wonder how your favorite radio team are really going, all the results are widely available on the internet.
The two main players at any radio station are:
1. General Manager – Has the final say on hiring and firing. Oversees the stations finances, sales, promotions and client integration. Manages “talent” expectations. Essentially GOD.
2. Content Director – Everything you hear on air this person is in charge of.
A very special mention will go to the hardest working, most under paid and least appreciated person at any radio station – the Breakfast show and Afternoon show producers. They are the heart and soul of the show. They take the ideas from the white board and make them a reality, then the on air talent take all the glory.
When you first start out on a new radio show every show is to be treated like a first date, you’re courting a new audience. The poo and fart jokes must be kept to a minimum and the “re-set” technique is heavily employed.
Every time we spoke about something in our personal lives we were trained to always “re-set”. That is, I couldn’t just say “Marchella came home from school with a penis pen” I had to ALWAYS say “Marchella MY DAUGHTER came home from school with a penis pen.” For a very long time people thought my husband’s actual name was “Scotty my-partner”. The re-set became second nature, I found myself doing it in everyday life. When I introduced people I would unconsciously re-set each of their lives for the other. A proud moment for me came 2 years in when my then boss said “Em, you no longer have to refer to Scotty as your partner. Market research shows it now has traction”. Woo hoo!
The good news for you is that most shows are heavily reliant on good quality callers. If you wish to become a much loved and relied upon “regular caller” it’s quite easy. Listen for the call out on a phone topic. The early phone topics are the ones that struggle the most. I suggest you start here, only a handful of people are your competition and they are usually a little off the pace. The show’s producer will answer your call, you have about 10 seconds to impress them. How do you do this? Take your voice up an octave on what it normally is and smile A LOT. Seriously, the word “vibey” gets bandied around as the main attribute a good caller needs to have. Be ready with your story, sound happy, get it out quickly and you will be welcomed back time and time again with open arms with many a Delta Goodrem CD pack to be enjoyed.
Another thing I can tell you is that there is a check list of “stunts” that seems to be mandatory if you take part in a radio show.
1. Drinking your own Urine.
2. Setting yourself or your co-host on fire.
3. Drinking breast milk.
4. Jumping out of a plane/bungee jumping/ab sailing
5. Lie detectors (Although Kyle Sandilands pretty much ended that for everyone.)
6. Some sort of dangerous animal in studio.
7. Facing a phobia live on air.
8. Public nudity.
9. Listener Wedding.
10. Piercing some part of your body.
Every time it was suggested that I to do one of these (which usually coincided with a dip in the ratings) I would end up in a lengthy battle with the content director. I would always argue that it was lazy radio, that people could see through it and know we were just desperately trying to get publicity and ratings. I was worried we’d become “Stunt FM” – It was a battle I seldom won. However, I am proud to say I NEVER drank urine or breast milk on air, I have no comment on the rest of the list.
Sometimes you get to use your powers for good and not just commercial gain. We came up with the pap smear express which actually helped to save at least 2 women’s lives. We were able to highlight post natal depression and help those who genuinely needed it. I was always overwhelmed by how generous the public were when it came to helping their fellow man, for the most part people are good.
It’s a hard balance though, sincerity and satire.. The two are not happy bed fellows by any stretch of the imagination. It is possible to have a show purely based on comedy but you couldn’t just have a “helping the community” show because, well – it’s depressing. We were always torn on how to combine the meaningful with the comedy..
Each week we would do what we called a “rescue”. The station would help out a family/individual who was going through a tough time. We didn’t always get these right, and many questioned their place in the show entirely. You would have heard these on air. The host’s tone changes and the emotive music begins…On one horrific occasion a man who’d lost his wife in a house fire was on hold waiting to speak to us and we realised we were playing a song called “dead and gone” there was nothing we could do. It was THE longest 3:30 sec of my life. The worst, by far, was giving a woman who had cancer, tickets to a Beyonce concert with thanks to a HAIR LOSS company…
Nothing is truly “live” we had a 10 second delay and also, a dump button. A highlight for us was when someone would accidentally dropped a C-bomb or F-bomb… Thanks to the dump button-you will, in theory, never hear that. After the Kyle Sandilands lie detector debacle things became very sanitized and controlled. Every time a slightly risque topic was suggested in the months to follow my boss would just shake his head and solemnly say “Kyle”…. Yep, nuff said.
But enough of the secret stuff… I’ve only just still got my foot in the door as it is.
What is next for the beast I love?
I have some suggestions!
Brave new content directors and show producers who haven’t come up through the system. NEW BLOOD.
A return to well written sketches.
Bring back the radio play.
Live studio audiences.
A house band.
Less dumbing down of content.
Smart, articulate, challenging and entertaining people on air.
Smarter and more effective integration of ads.
Less focus on getting web hits and more focus on what people are listening to IN THE MOMENT.
One of the saddest moments of my life was the last Martin Molloy show. Hearing serious news reader Jim Waley manipulated to say “Crazy lesbians full of beans” to the tune of a Prodigy song and then Rob Sitch’s un-mistakable nasal tones declaring “Tony Martin and Mick Molloy have left the building” was very disappointing.
I felt much the same way when Hamish and Andy signed off for the final time.
Who will save us from more mediocrity now?
I have some suggestions!
Thanks for indulging this radio nerd. All I ask is that you demand more from your radio announcers and the stations they belong to. Because in the immortal words of Rachel Hunter: “Yor werth et”
Are you a radio junkie? Who do you listen to and why?
This post originally appeared on Em’s blog which you can find here.