10 Questions: Mike Cass

Staff Writer

Mike Cass is the Program Director of Nova 100 in Melbourne, and the newly appointed Assistant Group Program Director of the Nova Network, we threw him 10 Questions and here's what he had to say:

Can you give us the background and stations you have been at through your career.

I’ve been quite lucky with some of the places I’ve worked. The first station was in my hometown of Leicester and I plagued them when I was a young teenager to make tea and put away records. From there I worked my way on-air in pretty much most shifts working a few different formats before moving to be one of the launch presenters for Heart 106.2 in London.

During my time there I deputised for the music director and that’s really where the move into programming came. My last job in the UK was Group Program Director for the Galaxy & Choice network, seven stations across the UK targeting 15-34 year olds, by the time I left each station was the commercial #1 in the area with the more established ones beating Radio 1 in their areas.

Just on the UK, the radio landscape is very different there, with Radio One being a major influence, the formatting is different due to the 'promise of performance', what are your perspective on the UK radio scene now you have been out of it for a couple of years?

There was a lot of consolidation in the commercial market in the UK before I left; groups buying other groups out, public companies becoming privately owned and new players came into the market.

In the last few years there’s been a continuation of rebranding stations to create national brands to challenge the dominance of the BBC’s brands; groups like Global Radio have paved that way with Heart and Capital and you can see the benefits of that with the ability to use the weight of the networks to put on amazing events like their Summertime & Jingle Bell Ball that sells out both Wembley Stadium and London’s O2 arena.

Throw that into the mix with the Bauer groups more localised approach, the plethora of community stations and you’ll soon get to over 250 commercial licenses before you add to that the BBC local output and the multitude of digital stations.

The UK scene is still incredibly vibrant and you just have to look at the Sony Radio Academy Awards nominees to see the amazing content that’s produced daily over there but it doesn’t matter whether you’re on a national station or a local community one; being relevant to your audience is still the key driver for radio listening.

For Australians often it is difficult to appreciate how much of a major player Radio One is – can you give us some context on what they do and how big they are?

I think most people are surprised to realise that commercial radio only started in the UK in 1973 and even then only in seven cities, the BBC had launched Radio 1 in 1967 as an answer to the off-shore pirates who were popular at the time and in their 45 years of broadcasting they’ve built up great loyalty and devotion.

It has incredibly strong personality presenters not just at breakfast & drive with Chris Moyles & Greg James; but across the day with the likes of Scott Mills & Fearne Cotton. It also has an amazing following for its specialist and new music shows like Zane Lowe and ‘In New Music We Trust.’ It has a budget that runs in excess of £35 million a year funded by the license payer and you’d expect it to provide a great service for that money.

They have a license to target 15-29 year olds and have an audience in excess of 11.5 million a week, that’s roughly half the population of Australia listening to one radio station; it’s a pretty impressive number.

In comparison commercial radio isn’t too far removed from the model over here but with a lot more regulation and with the networking done more predominantly in the daytime music shifts leaving breakfast and drive local. The promise of performance was replaced a few years ago by the station’s format agreement, but essentially you have requirements in your license about the style of music you’ll play, the quota of new vs. old you’ll place, the amount of speech you’ll have and the amount of news that you’ll broadcast. If you fail to comply with your agreed format you’ll face the wrath of the regulator.

What are some of the differences in programming to the Australian market vs. the UK?

Well, I’ve already touched on that, its breakfast and drive that tend to be the local shifts on network stations and that’s predominantly down to the regulations. That is another big difference, regulations. In the UK, Ofcom’s broadcasting code runs to 134 pages and are a lot more onerous. The integration between client and content is higher here too, again mostly down to regulation in the UK but some of the creative commercial solutions here are amazing.

I’d like to think the push for creativity and personality radio is the same in both countries but the amount of radio people that are on TV here is far greater and the level of listener interaction over here is just brilliant, makes for some fantastic radio.

You have programmed Nova Perth, and Nova Melbourne. Both very different markets, what are some of the differences that you have seen?

Apart from the price of a coffee and the opening hours of David Jones?

I think you have to go into each market you work in with a willingness to learn what the nuances are, no matter where you are in the world. Over the years I’ve learnt that relevance to the audience is key, now that can come across in music differences, sporting rivalries or just knowing what’s cool in town. Hopefully I’ve approached both gigs with an open mind and an eagerness to learn from the team around me as well as bring my experience to the station.

There’s probably more similarities than there are differences, both stations have a great amount of passion for what they do and their markets; both have great heritage breakfast shows with Nathan, Nat & Shaun and Hughesy & Kate, both have amazing daytime announcers that aren’t afraid to be more than just ‘that was, this is’ jocks like Kelli, Dylan & Dave McClung and Kate Mac, both have great AFL teams, although there’s a wider choice to barrack for locally in Melbourne.

If your station knows its audience and works out what’s relevant to them, whether it’s enjoying a Sunday Session in Perth or getting brunch in South Yarra, and works out what’s relevant to them they’ll succeed.

You are working with a heritage Breakfast show in 'Hughesy & Kate' who have been on the same station for now over a decade. Tell us about working with them.

They’re both amazing to work with and they have an outstanding production team in EP Sacha French (left) and Producer Nick Daly. I think it’s too easy to write off more established shows on younger stations, the trick is to just make sure they’re still coming up with entertaining content and not just making things up to get to a punch line or to set up a phoner.

Both Hughesy & Kate are excellent story tellers and I love the fact that they’re more than happy to share any aspect of their lives, they’re very real on-air and aren’t afraid to put themselves out there, even if that means being ridiculed along the way.

They love talking to their listeners and even after ten years of 4am starts they still love being on-air. The reaction we got from people when we did the show going round Melbourne on a tram shortly after their 10th birthday was great.

One of my personal highlights was hearing how they developed over the ten years, Sacha had been meticulous in archiving their decade on air and the subsequent week long show of highlights that we were able to put together because of that saw them share some amazing moments, marriages, births, split ups all featured along with some great moments from the audience with them.

You refer to the Breakfast Production team of Sacha French and Nick Daly as being 'outstanding', now your role has expanded and involves time off-station, how important to Nova 100's success is it that you have such a high quality team overseeing Breakfast? 

I think that a good production team is essential for any breakfast show and in our case having people like Sacha and Nick who are both incredibly experienced and have worked together before allows me to not sweat every single minute of the show. I still have meetings several times a week with the whole team and I catch up with Sacha several times a day regardless.

On a lighter note, you're a Pom living in Melbourne, have you chosen an AFL team to follow?

I’m actually ashamed to say that despite a promise of me having one by the start of the season, I’ve not yet pledged my allegiance. When I was in Perth Shaun McManus kept promising to take me to a Dockers game, Hughesy would have me support Carlton, Tim Blackwell wants me to go for the Hawks, Kelli tells me it should be Geelong and then there’s the awkward moments of talking to Luke Hodge and Daisy Thomas when they’re in too, I really should just take the plunge and pick one.

What was the last station you listened to, that wasn't a dmg station?

I try to listen around, not just to the competitor stations but also some of the regional and community stations to keep an ear on upcoming talent. So the last non-dmg Radio stations were actually a mix the other weekend between SYN FM in Melbourne, Star FM in Bendigo & the ‘Slapbang’ podcast from Dave Thornton and Tommy Little who were both great at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

You're in a group role now across the Nova network, a big responsibility, finish this sentence: By the end of 2012 I want each Nova station to:

Continue to evolve, continue to make great real and relatable radio and to continue grow audience.

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