Radio ‘treats listeners like they don’t have a brain’: Em Rusciano
Former 2DayFM and 92.9 Breakfast host Em Rusciano has said she was in constant battles throughout her on-air career, taking on “old school” radio executives whose ideas about what constitutes good content are outdated.
“That’s what I hate about radio. The fact that radio treats the listeners like they don’t have a brain. And the lowest common denominator bullshit. The going after the cheap shots,” she told Craig Bruce’s Game Changers: Radio podcast.
Bruce himself is a former Southern Cross Austereo (SCA) executive – departing as head of content in 2015 – who Rusciano said she loves and hates in equal measure.
“I think radio attracts a certain type of personality that I clash with,” she told Bruce. “I think I make radio people nervous because I am a walking wound, emotionally charged individual, who’s not afraid to call shit out, when I think a lot of radio up until when I started in the early 2000s was about bravado, and putting on an act, and ‘This is who we are’. And I think I was a new breed of radio announcers who did tell the truth and didn’t put on a persona and hated ‘Gotcha’ calls. I openly hated ‘Gotcha’ calls,” she said.
“I was new school and very much fighting old-school radio.”
She also took issue with the inauthenticity of radio.
“And the entire executive board of 40-plus men trying to tell me how to be a relatable woman – I had a lot of issues with that,” she added.
She is, she said, still working through the implosion of 2DayFM Breakfast, which she hosted with comedian Harley Breen in 2017. In 2018, Breen was replaced by Ed Kavalee, and Grant Denyer was added to the line-up. By September of that year, Rusciano was gone.
“I think in radio there’s a lot of people with agendas, also. I always found that a lot of my producers actually wanted to be on air, which is a very, very bad mix…. Radio’s this thing that, I’m really good at it, but I become the worst version of myself when I do it… I had to pick being good or being happy,” she said.
“I was so unhappy and tortured. And radio does that to people like me. You overanalyse everything. You get given too much feedback, I would argue, and I did come out of it very bitter and twisted about holding a microphone in front of me and speaking. And it made me question all my instincts, especially the Sydney radio stint. That made me question if I had any ability at all,” she added.
She is much happier since departing radio, she said, and has worked on becoming a better team player.
“I’m very good at it now… It was a skill I was really bad at… I’ve approached it like an athlete,” she explained.
And for anyone who may be on the cusp of reinventing themselves and leaving radio, Rusciano said it’s a hard slog ahead.
“To survive in Australian media, you have to be a jack of all trades. I really think you do. I really think you do have to skill up. You can’t just be good at one thing, because there’ll be someone else who is good at that same thing.
“But my advice, I guess, if you’re leaving radio, is you can’t have an ego. You can’t assume anyone owes you anything. That’s the big thing. The big thing is you’ll be very quickly forgotten, but you can’t feel like you’re entitled to success. You must be prepared to work hard for it. And you also have to back yourself. And you’re also going to get people trying to give you advice…. But just, for me, it’s don’t have an ego, but back yourself…..Resilience in our industry is so important.
“And don’t place your self worth in the opinions of others. That was a big lesson for me. Everyone’s going to have an opinion on you. They still do on me and my radio career,” she quipped.
Post radio, Rusciano said she had the most successful year of her career last year, selling out her Rage & Rainbows stage show, which was then screened by Channel 10 multiple times.
This year, she launched her podcast, Emsolation, during Melbourne’s COVID-19 lockdowns. The podcast is via SCA’s PodcastOne, and in September was the company’s fifth most popular behind Hamish & Andy, The Howie Games, The Briefing and Matt & Alex All Day Breakfast.
Emsolation launched in April and has clocked up over 70 episodes
Rusciano said she loves podcasting – because she can control the content, and be both happy and successful – but being back with SCA is a plot twist not lost on her.
“I’m still processing what happened with 2DayFM Breakfast. I’m still working through that in therapy. I’m still working through my whole relationship with SCA – and ironically my podcast comes from PodcastOne. So it’s almost like an abusive relationship that I keep going back to.”
Ultimately, Rusciano said she has forgiven Bruce for “abandoning” her, and no longer considers him “Big Bad Craig Bruce”.
“You treated my badly. I behaved badly… I know I made your job harder. I know that you often had to back me in when everyone wanted me gone. And Gemma Fordham [head of the Hit Network] faced the same thing. She had a deep belief in me and still does, and was having to face off with the board, constantly, who wanted me gone….. You were a fucking jerk sometimes, and so was I.”