Brad March
Contributor

Bring in the new blood but … experience counts.

Firstly congratulations to Matt Anderson, 2Day FM’s new Content Director. Matt comes from New Zealand and was previously Hit Network Content Director and prior to that Assistant Content Director for Youth Brands at NZME, which included the Flava and ZM Networks.

We wish Matt all the best in what is the most important programming role at SCA and also the biggest programming challenge in Australian radio.

Matt AndersonNot since DMG’s Vega/Classic Rock, Fairfax’s 2UE, ARN’s Mix Melb/Syd, or Austereo’s Triple M has there been a more challenging programming turnaround. And one which has the attention and focus of not only the entire radio industry but also the mainstream press as well.

Matt’s appointment follows the recent trend of appointing younger Content Directors. And that’s a good thing. Especially for younger contemporary music formats. New blood is vital.

Others recently have included Shaun Heron at Nova, Adrian Brine at hit105, Rohan Brown and a few others. All good operators with potential, and all of whom will benefit from more programming experience and direction. Whilst some of the ‘new breed’ CD’s don’t have extensive programming experience, they do have experience in radio, some in international markets. There’s no question that younger, new CD’s bring fresh thinking to these roles, rather than the ‘same old same old’.  They also bring the ‘confidence of youth’, and the strongest ones will have the self-awareness to acknowledge that they have plenty to learn.

The new breed of CD’s have to ask themselves: What have they learnt, who are they are going to learn from, what have they achieved and what they are bringing to the table.

One major market CD said: “What have these guys done to earn key programming roles? How have their stations improved under the new CD’s? What new cutting edge risk taking shows have they introduced?

And I don’t mean promotions and tactics. I mean talent, shows, music formats and real innovation. Have they created and grown great breakfast shows? Have they reinvented stations and formats? I mean I am still hearing the Secret Sound on air in 2015”.

Another programmer said: “You look at the playlists of the Sydney CHR’s  for instance and still see the same old top 40 research driven programming. There’s nothing really different with their music formats that hasn’t been done before apart from a few music features here and there”.

In some ways there is a risk that some newer Content Directors become operationally focused rather than content, ideas and talent focused.

Another metro CD said: “Since the introduction of nightly countdowns, women in breakfast, talent driven drive shows and tie ins with Shazam and You Tube, very little has changed”.

The challenge for some of the ‘new‘ programmers is that they need to be more heavily involved in product design, key talent hiring, breakfast talent coaching & direction, they need to be well versed in strategy and develop their creative thinking and research skills.

Younger CD’s coming through need support, because of the daily demands and the big picture understanding required. Mentoring is generally underdone, even with many experienced senior programmers available and open to help.

In the heat of the moment, having an objective voice, not connected with the politics of a situation, can prevent burnout.

One highly successful CD said: “It takes years to build knowledge, skills and instincts to successfully manage both corporate and high maintenance talent pressures”.

So who’s responsibility is it to ensure new younger appointments succeed? Its up to them to make the right career move choices but also its up to the network executives to ensure they are hiring the right people and setting up new CD’s for success not failure.

I became a metro Program Director at age 27 and in hindsight I was too young and too inexperienced. I had another attempt aged 30 at B105, which was successful, in part because of strong direction and the leadership of the Group PD Greg Smith, a tremendous ‘brains trust’; and a team of brilliant consultants/advisors. And it’s worth noting I had over 10 years of regional and metro radio, music & programming experience behind me.

Bringing in new blood is critical in programming but regional markets like Gold Coast and Newcastle and smaller metros like Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth are better places for new CD’s to find their feet and cut their teeth not the key metro’s like Sydney & Melbourne.

2Day FM has seen several Content Directors in recent years. In hindsight, perhaps a couple lacked the expertise, experience, courage & confidence, the leadership qualities, the previous ‘wins’ and maybe were not up the intense pressure and scrutiny of turning around SCA’s flagship in Australia’s most competitive radio market. And it’s understandable in many ways, there are many scalps in the recent history of 2Day FM.

Radio networks and the radio industry need to ensure that young, and potentially great, talented programmers don’t get burnt out along the way and fall by the wayside.

We need to find and encourage and nurture new innovative CD’s and put them in markets where they can be encouraged to take risks.

Age and more importantly experience, goes a long way in the more competitive radio battles.

Seasoned successful programmers like former 96fm CD Brad McNally was at the top of his game when he left ARN recently. Brad is 61. Irene Hulme who moves to a newly created national role at SCA is one of the most experienced CD’s and EP’s in radio, she’s mid 40’s.

Other seasoned CD’s who continue to perform great things include Barry Drinkwater at 97.3,  Charlie Fox at WSFM & The Edge, Lee Simon at Triple M who just turned 62 , SCA consultant Brian Ford and the list goes on and on. Experience counts for a lot.

For newer Content Directors much of the experience and direction comes, or should come, from the top; the Group CD’s. Names like Duncan Campbell, Guy Dobson and Paul Jackson at around 50 years of age are at the top of their game.

What radio can’t afford to do is forget the expertise, experience, wisdom and resilience of ‘older’ programmers. There are plenty around here in Australia and also in the UK, US and NZ.

They know how to be successful and how to win. They know how to build products, shows and ratings, how to manage & direct talent and they know how to lead teams. Maybe they are considered ‘old school’, but you need to remember that not that much has changed in radio programming since the 80’s. The fundamentals are still the same.

The biggest difference now being sales promotions are a greater focus. And social media awareness is necessary but that’s not hard. It’s hardly brain surgery. These days anyone with a year working in Social Media calls themselves an ‘expert’.

You can also look beyond radio to see examples of the benefits of experience. Sport is a good place to look.

Wayne BennettThere is no better example of experience ‘in the field’  than Wayne Bennett. There are a lot of analogies between a sport coach and a Content Directors role and there’s a lot of similarities between the two roles. Wayne Bennett, even though his team lost this years NRL final is 65 years of age. He remains one of the greatest sporting coaches in Australia.

The message for CEO’s and Group Content Directors is keep bringing in new blood into programming, it’s a good thing and necessary for radio, but make sure you balance it with experienced players who have ‘runs on the board’.

With so many talent, stations and breakfast shows around the country not living up to their (ratings) potential, it may be time to check the balance.

Great Content directors don’t ‘mature’ until around their early/mid 40’s after more than a decade of programming experience.

There are many very talented experienced Content Directors waiting in the wings for station, network, consulting and mentoring roles.

We all look forward to seeing the ‘ younger ‘ CD’s grow, mature, develop and winning.

Programmers are like wine – some turn to vinegar, but the best improve with age.

Brad March is a Director of Radio Today, a former Program Director, Group Program Director & CEO of Austereo and Group Programmer at ARN. He is Director of Marchmedia.

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