Breakfast conversations along the way

Staff Writer

Irene has extensive experience in the Australian radio industry and has worked across a number of breakfast shows. She is a former PD for ARN and DMG and former MD/APD/Program Manager for the Austereo (SCA) network.

I don’t claim to be an expert on Breakfast radio but I have spent many years working and learning from those that are.

The below take outs are not absolutes but theories that have been shared over time that I felt provided me with the most value at that specific moment.

Great coaches are great listeners, so listen to your Talent, your audience, those around you, you can learn something from everyone, have conversations, ask questions, there’s nothing more rewarding than having your own view challenged.

Disclaimer – quotes are not verbatim and I hope no one feels misrepresented.

Tim Smith

“When it comes to an audience we only want all people 8 to 80 with ears, don’t give me that brand gobbledygook” – Tim was right, a Breakfast show needs to be broad in order to win so don’t give the Talent too many boundaries, they will feel boxed in. Tim’s view – just make it great, engage, entertain, delight and above all, be yourselves on the air, that is the only true point of difference and way you can truly connect.

Guy Dobson

“When you research better than the Steve Miller Band, then you don’t have to play it” – Don’t under estimate the power of music in your Breakfast show especially when your music strategy is right and your show is new.

Maz Compton

“You want more women so you want me to talk about shoes, are you fucking serious” – Yes, that really happened. Women may enjoy shoes but are there really so few things that we find interesting that we need to go straight to the lowest and most obvious denominator. Gender stereotypes and generalisations have been challenged, don’t make the assumption like I did years ago that if you’re a mum, you want an endless dialogue of kid talk, wrong!

Simon Mumford

“Spend one on one time with your Talent” – Whilst the thought of this as a new Programmer terrified me, I can only imagine how some of the Talent feel about one on ones with their PD. Once you build confidence as a Programmer, these moments will become the most gratifying of your career. I look back at my time with Dan Debuf, the hours spent talking about the show as some of my most rewarding radio discussions.

Steve Vizard

“If only one person wants to do it, it better be sensational” – Steve’s point was that in order to drive chemistry, you want ideas the Team all feel collectively passionate about, make sure everyone has a stake in the idea, what material is going to get them all working together as a Team.

Paul Jackson

“Breakfast radio is like an ongoing election campaign” – Paul’s theory played a big role in the success of the Adelaide Breakfast show. Through the creation of ‘Super Maz’, we owned the streets and the town. ‘Super Maz’ was a long and recurring campaign throughout the year and the perfect vehicle for Adelaide, it provided a community feel to the show, reinforced a strong female role model in Maz that in turn got into the hearts and minds of the listeners.

Brad March

“Get your talent revealing themselves” – In order to create that level of intimacy, friendship and in turn powerful radio, Talent need to be willing to take their lives to air, I can still remember hearing Fifi Box telling a story about spending the day outdoors not realising her skirt was wedged in to her undies, it was at that moment that our connection and radio friendship began.

Grant Tothill

“Your Breakfast show should be like a sitcom” – This was true for ‘The Cage’ and ‘Maz, Dan & Shane’, both great shows. They applied the same principles as TV sitcoms: defining your cast and characters then building character equity by asking how to layer this important variable in a story. 

Brian Ford

“Dis-loyal Cume is more important than you think” – Looking after your dis-loyal cume is a key to great Breakfast success. Focus your content on your core as always but if you get out on a high, avoid ‘in’ raves, re-set and hook well, your core will love you more and your cume will hang around fattening your figures.

Tim Verrall

“Sometimes you just need to draw a dick and balls” – In exploring what Tim meant by this I realised the importance of having an EP that understood the nuances of his Team and could balance strong Leadership with knowing the moment to release the tension, be it, by drawing the classic, school boy dick and balls on the white board. Casting your EP is as important as casting your Talent. 

Craig Bruce

“Programming great shows is about releasing potential, not stifling it, start by hiring really smart and interesting people and let them go” – A valuable lesson and relevant for all Talent. Find out what they do well and create opportunities and devices through the show for them to showcase their skills. That was the winning approach we took with ‘Maz, Dan & Shane’.

Valerie Gellar – Author (Creating Powerful Radio)

“Like Newspapers, stories need a headline” – Content needs to engage the listeners quickly and building anticipation starts with a headline. Imagine your story in print, what is the gripping headline that draws you in, engages and creates intrigue.

Matt, Dan & Maz

“We’re not here for a haircut” – Whilst I always thought Dan Debuf was in need of a haircut, this statement pertained to an understanding and willingness from ‘Matt, Dan & Maz’ that in order to saturate the market quickly they needed to work hard above and beyond 6-9. ‘Fitzy & Wippa’ share the same view point as do ‘Matt & Jo’, having that killer instinct is not everything but that attitude combined with Talent is unbeatable.

Mike Cass

“If in the event a story changes course and it feels good, just run with it” – Great shows always sound spontaneous. A planned show is important in providing a safety net however, along with a fluid and spontaneous response will help create a number of possibilities. If you deliver the planned show as is, you’re not buying in to the magic of live radio.

Grant Tothill

“A breakfast show needs Variety” – Like all good entertainment shows, variety is important and that was evident with Grant’s direction of The Cage, listeners tire of the same material, Grant encouraged a myriad of dimensions through the show, comedians, characters, sketches, events to help protect against listener boredom.

Peter Yiamarelos

“When casting your breakfast show, hire winners in life” – Pete was an advocate for Breakfast shows with a positive tone, people are attracted to winners and people who are happy.

Simon Mumford

“Create the same standard for 6-7 as you do between 7 and 9” – Don’t let language like the ‘golden hours or prime time’ drift in to your communication,  we all fall in to that trap as programmers, you have an audience who listen early, give them the same courtesy as those that listen after 7.

Steve Vizard

“Forget about what they talk about, it’s about the attitude they bring to it” – This doesn’t apply to all shows but certainly valid to those like ‘Meshel, Tim & Marty and Hamish & Andy, very funny people with effortless and magic chemistry, it’s not about the subject but the conviction behind the rave. Seemingly bland content can work if the Talent are enjoying themselves.

Paul Jackson

“What do you do better? now do it all the time” – The importance of consistency for a new show whilst establishing a personality and Breakfast brand is paramount, embrace the image at every opportunity, through the show, when promoting the show, what will you stand for? Make it easy for the samplers coming in to know exactly what that is, win that image, broaden from there.

Sam Cavanagh

“Fans not listeners” – I remember being so impressed with Sam’s presentation that I immediately took my Team through the points. Relevant, insightful and a contemporary look at radio, Sam’s 5 check plan is an ethos every radio show should follow. “Fans not listeners” also plays relevance when thinking about creating that loyalty quickly, it’s not just about cume and reach, conversion is the key.

Brad March

“The Talent are actors and the PD, a director” – As an actor and director combine to make motion picture magic, the same applies in radio, the Talent make the show shine but the PD defines the outcome.

Dan Debuf

"Support and protect your Talent’s personal brand, it’s your responsibility as their PD" – You can’t define a Breakfast show brand in isolation, how your Talent want to be viewed is just as crucial. Dan and I talked extensively about the evolution of his character and whether it was how he wanted to be perceived.

Jeff Allis

“Don’t try and be better, be different” – Relevant in markets where 3-4 quality breakfast shows exist. Triple M’s Hot Breakfast with Eddie McGuire is a unique show to Melbourne in cast and in content and whilst being different, under Fitzy’s guidance delivered a broad set of numbers to take the top spot.

Simon Mumford

“Surprise and Delight your listeners” – The evolution of a show is crucial, delight them with surprise and discovery, it’s more powerful than the usual and expected.

Phil Dowse

“Hire a social media morning show producer” – Phil’s written a terrific article recently for where he talks about the importance of having an EP who understands the value and power of engagement through social media to drive your Team forward. Remaining top of mind whilst your audience is not listening may be a key to building your tsl numbers.

Brad March

“When you’re on to something good, milk it” – The ‘Debates’ went in as a benchmark with ‘Maz, Dan & Shane’, nothing new but a perfect device to highlight the wit of the Talent. They were outstanding, they went from twice a week to daily, we repeated them, we campaigned them, we evolved them, and they became one of the strongest elements within the show.


Have conversations as often as you can, learn from those around you.

What have you heard along the way that’s resonated with you?

Comment Form

Your email address will not be published.

Recent comments (0)
Post new comment


See all