10 Questions: Neil Mitchell/Justin Smith

Staff Writer

The Executive Producer/Senior Producer relationship with the Talent is enormously important to any radio show, and station. If it misfires, the results can be catastrophic, and when it works well, the results can be extraordinary.

3AW is without question the jewel in the Fairfax Radio crown, in no small part to the Neil Mitchell morning program.

Mitchell and senior producer Justin Smith have worked together for many years now and the results are impressive. In the most recent Nielsen ratings, the 3AW morning show rated an 18.4% overall 10+ share, over 8% clear of the next ranked station in that timeslot. 

We posed 10 Questions to both Neil and Justin – the same questions, separately, so they were not aware of each other's answers. Here's what they had to say:


How long have you been working with each other as Morning Presenter and Senior Producer?

NM: Ten years, I had 15 years of peace before that.


JS: Ten years according to the marks I've made on the wall.


If you have a difference of opinion on content in the pre-show meeting, who generally wins out and why?

NM: I'd say it is an even chance. We will discuss it, argue it, and sometimes convince each other.

If not, it is my call because I have to be interested on air.


JS: Not that there hasn't been disagreements but usually it's more of a discussion about what we're trying to get across on the air.

Although we have a gentle blue now and then, it's fun, I might have won a couple.


What is Justin's / Neil's best attribute?

NM: Justin's best attributes are his work ethic, integrity, and understanding of the audience.

He also says he is funny.


JS: Neil has an incredible news judgement backed by a good head and heart.



If you could change one thing about Justin / Neil, what would it be?

NM: Sometimes Justin is not funny. More seriously, at times he becomes too frustrated by criticism and idiots and takes it personally.

It is strange after so long in radio that he is surprised when he has to deal with drongoes who just don't get it.


JS: It's very hard to turn Neil off.

He tends to push a bit hard and can wear himself out before the main game ie: 8.30 every morning.



You recently conducted a joint broadcast with Joy FM in support of same-sex youth. For an AM Talk station, that was both impressive and a risk. Tell us how that came about, and what it meant to you to do that broadcast.

NM: It came about because of an approach from the Joy people. We had already done a segment on youth suicide that brought a very strong reaction.

We both care about the issue, as anybody with compassion would.

It was a slight risk, but Joy got more negative feedback from their audience than we did from ours. I hope it all meant that we saved lives. The feedback has been extremely positive. Barriers, I hope, have been broken.


JS: We're very proud of it. There was an important story to tell about the mental health of same-sex kids. 

This was a great way to make it different to get people to pay attention. The Joy people were great fun. They love their station and their audience.





How do you generally feel the night before ratings?

NM: Edgy. I wonder why I do it.




JS: Not bad the night before. Optimism turns to worry, then to sleepiness. I think about it a bit more when the time starts to come around in the morning.



In Melbourne, 3AW dominate the talk scene, although 774 are a strong station. When MTR started, how did you feel about that?

NM: We saw it as a challenge and a positive one. We drive ourselves hard, but fresh competition focused the mind a little more.

I had an excellent offer from MTR and that made me decide where my heart lay. I really felt I couldn't walk away from my AW audience.


JS: I always thought that MTR starting up was a good thing for us. Got things jumping a bit. 3AW is strong, but we still get reminded that we can be knocked off. Thankfully.




Through a large part of 2011 the Fairfax Radio Network was on the market. That must have been unsettling?

NM: We chose to ignore with the arrogant belief that while we were successful, anybody who bought us would not change things significantly.

Why would anybody buy the most successful station in the country and then fiddle with it? Most businessmen are not into tearing up money.


JS: It was something I tried not to think about, but it could make you feel like a kid lost in a supermarket – wondering if mum went home without you, will she come back, does she still love me.



What will Neil Mitchell be doing in 10 years?

NM: Working somewhere, somehow. I'd love to be doing a few days of radio, a little TV and one newspaper column. Unless media becomes more flexible that won't happen.

I don't think the idea of 4am wake-up sounds all that flash in 10 years time, but I have never planned my career and don't intend to start now.

I will keep doing it as long as I enjoy it and can do it reasonably well. The audience will tell me that before any management expert. Or perhaps Justin will.


JS: He'll probably be calling me saying "what's on the show today".

I don't think he'll be resting, there will be lots of working. I hope he finds some time to write, there's another good book in him trying to get out.






What will Justin Smith be doing in 10 years?

NM: Whatever he wants. I reckon he will be in radio. He could be doing a shift like mine, or managing a network if he wants to.

There are not many in radio with his skillset but please don't tell him I said that.



JS: Answering a questionnaire about my producer for Radio Today. I'd like to be on air, writing and telling good stories.

Radio is a great game; as long as someone is talking and someone is listening radio will be interesting.


The Neil Mitchell show, with Senior Producer Justin Smith, is on 3AW Melbourne from 8.30 to Midday Monday to Friday. You can contact Neil or Justin here.


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