Ten Questions with Jessie Aiton
There’s a new generation of broadcasters and producers that have begun to emerge over the past few years. Often with a family background in the ‘biz’, they’re carving their own distinct careers.
Jessie Aiton is one of the new breeds. The daughter of Melbourne journalist and ABC broadcaster, Doug Aiton, Jessie is finding her own path in radio.
She’s now a senior producer at Melbourne’s 3AW, where she produces for Grubby and Dee Dee’s The Weekend Break.
How did you get your start at 3AW?
My background is in advertising. I was selling ad space in women’s mags and hating it. An opportunity came up to visit Bruce Mansfield and Phil Brady on Nightline to help with their phones as a one off. I started coming in once a week as a hobby to escape my advertising misery.
After I got made redundant, I asked for a job at 3AW but there was limited work available with no guarantee of hours. So, I booked and paid for a trip to South America to teach English on a mountain somewhere.
In those days they would put new producers onto 3AW Mornings to do Neil’s phones and you’d either survive or you wouldn’t. Somehow I survived, and when a job came up they offered it to me. I had to choose between 3AW and South America. I chose the gig.
Do you have a journalism background yourself?
No, not formally. I have a somewhat pointless degree in Arts Literature/Languages that I never use.
Most of the journalism skills that I have now I just learnt on the job and through practice, diligence and also my own upbringing, as I was exposed to radio life pretty early on.
I was raised in an environment that placed a heavy focus on the importance of news and talk radio. We had a lot of politicians, journalists and entertainers ringing our house and visiting so I guess, without realising, I had an understanding of how they related to one another and how they conversed and what made them tick.
You produce The Weekend Break with Grubby and Dee Dee; what does that entail?
The job itself is varied. I work with PR teams and newsrooms to get the best interviews we can and try to keep the program fresh and innovative.
Grubby and Dee Dee have been incredibly supportive of me and from day one we just clicked. We have a similar way of approaching things and are close friends as well as colleagues. Grubby and I have the same sense of humour – there’s a lot of laughter on our team and that’s really important as you go through so much together.
Their show is 12 hours across a weekend; what are the challenges?
Six hours each day is a big stint and we are switched on mentally for that entire time. The biggest challenge I find is keeping the program fresh and exciting.
I think our team is good at keeping it vibrant and not let things stagnate. We love coming up with new ideas to keep content engaging, interesting, and punchy when it needs to be.
But with weekend programming you have to know when to draw the line and also when to make the call to switch to more thorough or even rolling coverage. I think we have a good handle on the balance required.
So many women are now producing shows; who do you view as an inspiration?
I don’t have an inspiration as such; just as I think it’s important for producers to carve their own niche, work out what their own strengths are and what they can bring to the table.
Personally, I try to draw upon traits that I admire from those around me around me that I can replicate in my own work.
My dad has been a huge influence on me. He’s instilled values in me. Things like treating people with respect and respecting their time without being a pushover. He’s also taught me a sense of humility and I hope genuineness.
Doug’s just an excellent person and operator. He’s incredibly well-liked in the industry, yet doesn’t suffer fools gladly. He has a real interest in people and we both read people very well.
What do you love about what you do?
I love the immediacy of it. There is no person more or less valuable than another and we are all part of the same dialogue. We are essentially a giant conversation across a city or a state and that’s enormously exciting to be a part of.
Radio will never go out of fashion as people rely on radio for immediate and accurate information. They also rely on it for companionship and a sense of belonging.
A lady rang Grubby and Dee Dee on our last broadcast of the year, saying she’d lost her husband months earlier and that we had been her saving grace each weekend when she had been so lonely. So, radio is incredibly important.
What do you find the biggest challenge?
The radio industry itself can be competitive and at times you feel quite alone, which is odd as generally you’re surrounded by people.
It’s important to have your own back and trust in your own decisions, even if others critique you. Self-belief is crucial.
What’s the career aspiration; any desire to get behind the microphone yourself?
Sure! When I first started producing, it was never a goal of mine to be behind the mic, however, I do really enjoy going on and am always pleasantly surprised to be invited in.
But I prefer to only go if there’s a reason or purpose. I can’t stand it when you hear producers on air every two seconds providing updates or comments that the presenters could have done themselves.
I do feel we need more women behind the microphone. I think that Australian radio, in general, is heading in the right direction however it’s a slow process. I’d love to see more solo female presenters in a current affairs role one day. We can do far more than lifestyle and entertainment.
In terms of my own goals, I suppose most people would love to move to the big city to produce but I’m a little bit the opposite.
I’d love to move out regionally to learn how they do things out there. Regional listeners and stations are very important and have their own way of doing things because they have to.
I’ve always had my eye on working somewhere like the Northern Territory or away from the big smoke, either in an EP or on-air role. I think it would be hard work but bloody fantastic at the same time.
Would you recommend producing to anyone looking to get into radio or radio journalism?
Yes, but only to a certain type of person. Radio is an extension of yourself and they have to be prepared to bring the passion and dedication that’s required. It’s never going to be a job that you can ‘coast’ through.
Radio is also about reading and managing people. The most knowledgeable person on a subject won’t necessarily be the best chat if they can’t communicate their point across effectively and engagingly. It’s up to you to make that call as to how to best make things flow.
My advice to anyone wanting to get into the industry is to be polite, agile, prepared and don’t dominate things when you first sit in. Just absorb it and ask questions where appropriate.
Has there been a moment that you’ve sat back and gone ‘wow’?
The rush of adrenaline when a program or big story is covered well is unlike anything else and very hard to describe.
On a human level, of course, some of the stories we cover are devastating and confronting. But on a producer level, it’s extremely fulfilling to cover it and deliver it with sensitivity, tact, accuracy and comprehension.
One of the most moving “stories” I covered was Bruce Mansfield’s death. I happened to be producing Sunday Morning when our station manager Stephen Beers rang through. He just said, “You’ve got to put me on, Bruce Mansfield has passed away.”
I’ll never forget those words.
This wasn’t just a story; this was one of our family. I remember John Michael (Howson) sobbing into his handkerchief in the studio as I watched him through the glass – it was very moving.
There have been times where I’ve told my close colleagues that I’d like to throw it all in and become a florist or drive a bus, but I just wouldn’t be me. This is just who I am.