Expat Files: Justin ‘Drex’ Wilcomes

Staff Writer

Drex is a former PD for Prime Radio Central Queensland & Hot100 & Mix1049 Darwin and has been working in Canada for 3 years.

He is now the Vista Coast Group Program Director on Vancouver Island BC and looks after  98.9 Jet FM, 1240 The Port, 99.7 The River & 95.7 Sun FM

Drex has written up this piece for Radio Today’s ‘Expat Files’ in q&a style answering your questions.

Johnno KeetelsTell us about working conditions, pay, treatment of “talent” in smaller markets, difficulty in getting a gig in metro radio?

Conditions are good, a lot of stations in the last few years have started upgrading their facilities to be digital, even though digital radio doesn’t exist here, but studios & offices are on par with Australia.

Rates of pay are different to Australia in some ways, you have the networks that pay really well, and the networks that pay shitty, I have heard of salaries in small markets been as low $24,000 a year, as there is no minimum wage set in the media, minimum wage in BC, where I live is $10.25 an hour.

Steve Kowch is a radio commentator here, and he recently did a piece of the average salaries for Canadian Radio, here’s an excerpt worth reading;

  • Vancouver’s average AM salary was $58,244 up from the 2009 average of $54,755. The average FM salary was $86,714 down from the 2008 average of $88,563.
  • Calgary’s average AM salary was $78,045 up from $74,023 in 2010. The average FM salary was $90,908 up from $82,736 in 2010.
  • Edmonton’s average AM salary was $74,577 compared to $76,960 in 2008. The average FM salary was $78,208 or about the same since 2008. But in 2007 the average FM salary was $68,537.
  • In small Ontario markets the average AM salary was $44,959 down slightly from 2010 but higher than the $42,725 average in 2009. The average FM salary was $53,025, which was up from the 2010 average of $51,824.

Talent is treated the same as Aussie stations, but don’t expect 4 weeks holidays, your base is usually 2 weeks, me, as a PD with 3 years in the company I get 3 weeks & 4 if you’ve been with the company longer than 4 or 5 years.

There is no government pension plan, so save some pennies, most companies however offer great private medical plans. In the small markets (5,000 – 15,000) the pay can be tight (as mentioned above), in fact there are some small markets that have stations that have been unionized because felt they were overworked & underpaid, and they tend to have much better pay, but most union stations I know don’t have PD’s at all, it’s weird, and a little backwards.

My opinion is that getting gigs in metro radio is actually a lot easier here than at home, Canadian radio works how radio used to in Australia, they hire from lower down the food chain, you work your way up, because they still hire “radio people” instead of TV people, comedians & celebrities.

A lot of the larger companies here, like Astral, Newcap & Corus, which are similar to SCA, have stations in all size markets, that act as feeder & breeder stations.

A lot of the big metro talent tend to retire to medium size cities, for example my co-host at 103.9 The Juice Liz Mckinney was the #1 Drive host at CFOX in Vancouver from 1984 – 1992, and she actually crossed paths with Guy Dobson while he worked there, I have a picture she showed me of him wearing white pants in a station group shot…you can’t un-see that stuff.
Dwayne JamiesonHow to get a job there for starters?

There are two trains of thought on this, as Steve Hart mentioned in his Ex Pat files, he came to Canada, then looked for a job, that’s what most people do as they want to travel a bit first. I started looking first, and worked hard to find a job for around 6 months before I left Australia.

I was only ever looking for entry level jobs, but was encouraged to apply for a few PD gigs here and there, and got the 2nd one I applied for, I actually got interviewed 6 times for it, it was weird, Group PD, GM, another GM, Consultant, GM again, Group PD again…sheesh…

The best place to start looking for Canadian radio jobs is a great website owned by an Ottawa jock called John Mielke it’s milkmanunlimited.com

Don’t bother even applying for jobs until you have a Canadian work Visa, they take around 2 weeks to get approved you can apply here http://www.whpcanada.org.au/ But you must first have a passport to apply.

Here’s the shit part,  if you want a work Visa for Canada…you have to be under 31. And if you get the Visa, and get a job, make sure you have at least 4 grand in the bank, they check for that on entry.

Lukas GoodenoughThe difference between a shift here & there (if there is any) lingo you’ve had to adapt/get rid of?

The weirdest one…the skin disorder we know as ‘X-ma’ is know as ‘X-zeema’ Bizarre.

There are a few differences, but nothing drastic, sweepers are called splitters, instead of a ‘Top of 25 degrees’ it’s a ‘High of 25 degrees’ an OB is called a “Remote” Recoveries are known as an ‘STO’s’.

When I first started it was like learning from scratch, I’d say something in a jocks meeting, and I’d get weird looks, so I asked one of the jocks to always ask WTF I meant when I said certain things, I picked up their lingo quickly, in the office & on air, you have to, especially on air if you don’t want to sound like a dick & confuse the listeners…

Another thing I noticed when I got here is callers on air don’t seem as important as it does back home, although some CHR stations in large markets are the same as Aus, Very caller & content driven. But I think Australia has a better focus & delivery of online video & entertainment content, but it’s pretty similar.

In smaller markets EVERY ONE will have 2 jobs, and in the larger markets you just do your show & any related content, so it’s pretty similar.

Peter Mobbs: Did u ‘dilute’ your accent? Or do you have to sound like an international golfer?

There are a few words that Canadian’s just don’t even understand, so it’s best to use the local version of the word (as above). There are a few Aussie’s on air over here, for example Kiah (right) who was on Virgin Vancouver & Simon Mitchell who was on Virgin Calgary were perfect, and rated well in their time slots, the Aussie accents work well on Virgin because the brand is an international one, so it’s a nice point of difference.

And my friend Amy Collett (now the PD of 2NM & Power FM in the Hunter) was the overnight DJ at CISN Country, the #1 station in Edmonton.

There are actually 2 Australians on air at my home base station JET FM, me on Breakfast & our News Director who does the afternoon shift; Jennifer Faerber a former 2UE Journalist, there is so many people in the media here from ‘somewhere else’ so it isn’t too weird for Canadians to hear different accents.

Most cities offer a whole range of different voices in their media…the coolest thing is watching an NHL game call in Punjabi.

Chris ‘Nugget’ Neave: Do brown Bears & Moose really roam the hallways unchecked?

I’m not sure what the questions means….But yes??

A Bear got stuck in my backyard last summer, that was scary as shit, It was huge and was looking for food, and I’m yet to see a Moose. You should see the damage they do to a car though…WOW.

A side note for you. I meet a lot of Canadians who take their wilderness for granted, but it literally is the most spectacular thing you’ve ever seen, seeing the Canadian Rockies for the first time is insane. I have avoided sking & snowboarding…it’s just not my thing, the last city I lived in was Kelowna, just outside of Kelowna is Big White Ski Resort…full of Australians, so I kind of steer clear of there.

Michael Ballingal (left) who is their media guy used to work at FM104 in Brisbane back in the day, and he’s married to an Aussie, I’m pretty sure the owners up there used to work for Triple M in Sydney or Brisbane…not sure on that, but I’ve heard stories.
Peter Holden: Is their style of presenting news and covering live sport different from down under?

Hockey is huge obviously, so a lot of the smaller stations have live play by play of their local hockey teams, and larger stations run the NHL coverage.

News is very similar in many respects, but also very different at the same time, the first station I was at had a News Director & 3 reporters, and would do 5 minute bulletins at the top of the hour every hour 6-6, the station I was at last ‘103.9 the Juice’ had the morning jock co-host putting together 90 second headlines with no actuality up until 8:30am ONLY.

Not all newsie’s in radio here are Journalists though, they usually have done a radio course and are jocks, but can do news if needed, I actually prefer the co-host reading the news headlines, it becomes a part of the show, and is always delivered in a conversational style but shorter (similar to the Nova & 2day style).

Lee Bevington: Why? What is the appeal to work in Canadian radio as an Aussie?

Why not, it’s something different right? It’s always good to see how things are done on the other side of the world…but there is one thing I will never recommend…Never agree to do an OB from a hardware store Grand Opening in your second week in the country.

I almost died, the station I was at had a huge SUV that I kept running with the heater on that I would run back to & sit in for a couple of minutes after every break…the rep, the client & the promo chicks were very understanding.

Drex is the Vista Coast Group Program Director on Vancouver Island BC and looks after  98.9 Jet FM, 1240 The Port, 99.7 The River & 95.7 Sun FM.

You can drop him an email and tell him how warm it is wherever you are in Australia or New Zealand here.

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