“Buy An Akubra”, and other tips for moving rural
It’s no secret that cutting your teeth at a rural station is one of the best ways to give your radio career a head start.
You get to learn multiple roles, make mistakes without the pressure of a metro audience, and gain new experiences and friends in places you may otherwise never explore.
But the decision to leave your home, friends and family to move to a small town can be difficult.
So, who better to share the hard truths and surprising benefits than those who have already done it?
We chatted to a bunch of radio presenters who have moved from metro areas to rural stations about their experiences.
James Manning is currently the studio producer for Jonsey and Amanda as well as the morning announcer on The Edge 96.1. He previously lived in Taree, where he worked as the drive announcer and promotions director at Max FM 107.3.
Jessica Pantou, grew up in the Eastern suburbs of Melbourne and moved to Mount Gamier, where she worked for two years as a breakfast announcer of what was then called starfm – now hit96.1, Limestone Coast.
Nic Healey is the brand new (as in he’s been there for just over two weeks) breakfast announcer for ABC in North West area of WA, based in Karratha and broadcasting across the Pilbara and Gascoyne. He moved there from Sydney, where he had been working as the radio host for community radio station 2SER.
Jason Strozkiy is an announcer at hit105 Brisbane, and previously lived in Dubbo for 12 months while he worked at hit93.5.
Grace Garde moved from Sydney to become the workday announcer and digital/social media guru at Power FM in Nowra.
How difficult was making the decision to move regional? What were some of the factors that played into that choice?
Nic: Not difficult at all. I’d been looking for a new challenge after just under two years at 2SER, and the ABC felt like a natural next step for me.
Jess: It was the hardest choice to make. Do I stay in Melbourne and try to work my way up to an on air through street team? Or do I take a chance on the “talent pipeline” and hope to get noticed in regional? I decided to take a leap and go regional, which has so far paid off! I lost a boyfriend in the process but I think it was worth it now!
Grace: I always knew I would need to move regional when I started studying radio. It was an idea that was introduced pretty early on. I decided to work out everything else once I got there. My mum was always clear that she didn’t ever want me to move too far away. I also have a partner living in Sydney so we had to make the decision to try long distance, and that was a tough one.
What are the main differences between living and working in a metropolitan area to a regional area?
Nic: Right now, the biggest shock for me was opening Menulog to discover that there are only two restaurants listed… and they’re both McDonalds.
Grace: I have a huge support network in Sydney. I was constantly busy and at events and out and about in the city. I tried to turn that into a positive in that I am tired a lot, and moving somewhere closer is probably a good opportunity to take the time to relax.
James: Working in a regional station can be really isolating, especially as a newcomer. I described Max FM as a place where dreams go to die (sorry Mr Caralis). Unless you’re self-motivated enough to improve your craft, you’re going to get stuck doing the same thing day in day out and those dreams and aspirations you went there with will just fade away.
What are some of the biggest challenges you faced when settling into your new home?
Grace: The main thing that was a little scary was being in a same sex relationship in a new (and very small) town. My partner and I had so far been used to existing in Newtown / the Inner West where almost everyone was queer (almost). All my friends were sexually and gender diverse, and if we ever went out it was always to a gay bar somewhere. My girlfriend has just moved down to join me here, which is wonderful, and it’s a totally new experience for both of us. It gives you a real insight into how isolating it must be for LGBTQ+ youth who aren’t quite so sure of themselves.
Jason: Understanding that everything I had in Brisbane, I didn’t have in Dubbo. By this, I mean shops, restaurants, bars, sports games, concerts, theme parks, a lot of the stuff that we take for granted in a big city just wasn’t available regionally.
What have you found is the best way to integrate yourself in the community?
Jess: SPORT SPORT SPORT! The biggest lesson I learnt is that regional markets love local sport. Just make sure you pick the right team – if you align yourself with the wrong one listeners will let you know about it!
James: You’ve just got to get out there. While they don’t know you, they’ll know the station, and that’s a big first step into the community.
Jason: My housemates helped with this. I definitely suggest finding a place where you can move in with people around your age instead of by yourself.
How did you manage homesickness?
Jason: There were times that I struggled with the regional culture and station. I was so determined to make it work and move up the ladder that I sometimes didn’t put my health first… especially with the limited resources and support that come along with being in a regional market.
Grace: I have always been so, so close with my family, and living further away was really tough for me… We all Facetime a lot though, which helps – including the dogs! I also found a psychologist that I go to regularly who really helps when I am going through a really rough patch or missing home lots.
What has been the best thing about moving to and working in a regional area?
Jess: I can talk about something one morning and three weeks later a lady will stop me in Coles to give me advice on it! It’s nuts! A highlight was bringing a miniature donkey in the office for an ‘experiment’, which was pretty cool. Only in the country can you get a miniature donkey in only a few hours’ notice!
Nic: I’m not in the city! I’m surrounded by the ocean and red sand. It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.
Jason: The Jase & Juelz breakfast show was a major part in helping hit93.5 achieve their first #1 station rating in its history.
How do you feel it has benefitted your radio career?
Nic: My new coworkers boast some of the most diverse skill sets I’ve ever encountered – these people are just flat-out amazing. Getting to work with and learn from them is proving to be a genuinely life-changing experience.
Jess: I feel I’m more qualified now for both on and off air because I’ve had the opportunity to work in all different aspects of the station. It’s a great place to make mistakes – there is no pressure, you can try things; if they work, amazing, if they don’t you can figure out why and work out a new way to tackle it next time!
Jason: It allowed me to discover that breakfast radio wasn’t the career path for me. Without heading regional, I might still be sitting here wondering ‘What if’?
Any final bits of advice?
Jess: Don’t be in a hurry to move on! The best advice I’ve been given is nail the place you are in and bigger places will come.
James: Reach out. Whether you’re reaching out to someone in your station for general tips, or someone in a metro station that you’ve never met before, ask how you can improve.
Grace: Try and meet as many people as possible. Sports are great, but if they aren’t up your alley then there are definitely other options – theatre, gyms, book clubs. Also local groups on Facebook can be really helpful for both a sense of community and sourcing content for your work.
Jason: You need to look after your mental health! Work isn’t everything and pushing yourself to a point of breakdown will not help you in any way. Step back, take a break, understand that there are other roads to your goals.
Nic: I asked this exact question on my second night here and was told by a local (non-ABC) journo to “buy and Akubra”. So, allow me to pass on that advice: “Buy an Akubra”.