5 Lessons From Regional Radio

After reading the wonderful 10 Things I’ve Learned In Regional Radio by the talented Ryan Jon, I was inspired to have a crack at explaining some of the life lessons I’ve taken from the first decade of my career in regional broadcasting.

From the bacchanalia of client long lunches, to 5 hour OB’s in a children’s cemetery, regional broadcasting has provided all the highs and lows of the last 10 years of my life.

I met my wife at a race day the station hosted. My co-host was my groomsman at our wedding. These are some of the highs of such incredible altitude for which I am thankful daily.

But life examining lows also come with the gig. The humiliation of the disgruntled caller, the thankless long hours and the inability to really put roots down and settle anywhere are a constant bitter counterpoint to all of the gravy on the radio roast.

All of that AND $43k a year. We are a lucky bunch aren’t we?

So, to paraphrase Prince for a moment, if you’re setting out on this journey we call regional radio, I hope the next few hundred words might help answer some of the niggling notions you might have in the back of your mind.

1: Welcome to the Country kid.

Gavin Flanagan hired me on a Tuesday. It is the best phone call I’ve ever had. Afternoons on 8HA in Alice Springs, my first job on radio.

I moved there that Sunday.

If you’ve come from the city, moving to a regional town is a shock. For some it’s a culture shock akin to moving in with the Inuit. You’re not only away from your family and friends but the multitude of other little life adjustments will make your first few months challenging.

You might be from a Rugby League state and you’ve moved to an AFL state. Your beer might not be on tap. Why is a cauliflower $8?

I thought Berliner was a deli meat, why did she give me a sugary bun? What’s the electricity provider called here? What do you mean it’s closed on a Sunday?

Although you might not find a decent coffee straight away let me assure you, you will find a decent coffee. My advice, roll with it. You’re doing the job you’ve dreamed about. Don’t let a lacklustre latte get in the way.  This isn’t Uzbekistan, this is Australia and if it’s Longreach or Karratha or Muswellbrook it’s a gorgeous place full of great people. It’s the people you will meet and the adventure you will have that will be made richer for all those little quirks that come from living somewhere else.

2: You will work hard and no one will care.

If this is your dream job, if opening the mic is more thrilling to you than opening the cockpit door and jumping, then you are going to work harder than you thought you ever could. You’ll get in early, leave late. Write breaks at the dinner table (you can afford a dinner table?) and even, on occasion, come in on a Sunday just to get a head start on Monday. You will rack up enough unclaimable time in lieu to go backpacking through Europe and you’ll do it because you want to.

But here’s the kicker, all that work will most likely go unnoticed. The Content Director might notice. Might even say thanks the first few times. The GM is probably too busy with reports and all of your friends will firmly believe that you have the easiest gig on the planet. After all you just play music and talk for 3 hours a day right?

3: No one WANTS to write copy.

There isn’t a single person I’ve ever met that got their break in regional radio so they might spend their days writing about how “Tom’s Tyres and Auto is your one stop shop for all your tyre and auto needs”. When, as kids, we dreamed of being the next Doug Mulray or Tony Martin or Hamish Blake. We never envisioned ourselves pumping out 85 word missives about “Carol’s Furniture’s 7th Birthday Sale, where you get the presents”.

But rest assured that a gig in regional radio will require you to creatively bleed for the Commercial Hotel’s Friday Happy Hour (drink responsibly).

It can be the worst job in the building and it is important for those who are currently dodging the “but the client wants his mobile number in it” bullet to remember that.

But it can also have exceptional benefits. Good regional creative copy writers can form not only wonderful links between the station and the business community but friendships too. Many of my good friendships have grown from the kernel of the initial copy conversation.

Being anointed as the copywriter is one of the many times in your regional radio career where the glass half full mentality is definitely necessary. But on a scale of working in radio to going back to your old job it’s still right up there

4: Hamish And Andy Wouldn’t Have To Put Up With It.

When we dream of working in radio, it’s always in a flash studio, always with the great view of the city out the window, always with the exceptionally attractive producers smiling back through the glass. None of that happens in regional radio. None of it.

The following events actually happened in a 4 hour period one morning while working at SunFm in Alice Springs.

I woke and dressed at the normal time and was out the door at 4:30 as usual. The seven kilometre trip from my apartment to the radio station was generally performed in an often disturbingly mnemonic blur. Not this morning though.

As I drove around the Tom Brown Roundabout a red kangaroo actually tried to attack my car. This act of “marsupalian” violence certainly lifted the fogginess and brought about a strong case of heightened reality, which was a good thing because a couple of kilometres later I had to hit the breaks hard. A man who must have had about 30 beers too many decided the outbound lane of the South Stuart Highway was the perfect spot for a nap. In the pre-dawn I was lucky to see him.

I tried to move him to no avail, so I turned on the hazard lights and waited for the police.

Finally reaching the station, late, and in a mood I turn on my computer – the internet is down. I swear loudly.

My co-host greets me with “come to the toilet”. Like a good co-host I agree and head to the toilet and there in the urinal is an angry scorpion at what would be striking distance for an unsuspecting wee.

I laugh, because all there is to do is laugh and say “I bet Hamish and Andy don’t have to deal with this shit!”

Despite all the kerfuffle the show that morning was among our best. Without internet we did all that we could. We opened the phones for the “worst morning ever phone-in”. The callers were hilarious.

5: They all leave.

If you work in regional radio long enough you’ll realise that no two people have the same career path. And that means that your best and brightest talent and your best and brightest friends all leave.

In an industry where very few people work in their home market, moving is literally a way of life.

And that means saying goodbye. Now I’m a big beardy bloke but I’ve cried when great friends have left town to follow their dreams. It’s tough. But it is also one of the truly wonderful things about regional radio.

I have mates all over the world.

So if I’m in Perth I can see Ross, Min in Sydney, Chris in Melbourne, Scotty in Darwin, Michael in Albury, Kirsty in Cairns, Ben in Canada…the list goes on. And it’s a big list. You might not see them often but you do meet some of the best people in regional radio.

So after my first decade in regional radio, what have I learned?

I’ve learned that to make a pretty good product with little or no budget all you need is a small group of “radio people” who wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

I’ve learned that this job is the best way to have the best life stories and I’ve learned that apart from a yacht on the warm waters of the Caribbean there’s no place I’d rather be.

About The Author:

Adam Connelly is currently host of SA Today on 5MU as well as their production manager.

He’s previously worked as Programme Director for Magic899 and 5CC Port Lincoln and pulled every shift going at 8HA and SunFM Alice Springs.

May 23rd marks his 10 years in the industry and he’s never been fired.


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