Expat Files : Keith Fowler (Pt 2)

Keith ‘Chooky’ Fowler is one of Australia’s and Asia’s most experienced radio executives, and he’s certainly one of the most travelled.

Earlier this week, Chooky shared his perspective on working in Asia, and more recently, as the General Manager Radio Operations for MY FM in China.

If you are yet to read Part 1, you can here. Today, in Part 2, he outlines some of the lessons he has learnt.

So what have I learnt? Firstly, no one is listening to the radio;

Well not on radio’s….

A major percentage of people under 40 are listening on mobile phones and Mp3 devices and to a lesser extent (although it varies from country to country) in cars.

So you are generally competing with everything on their mobile phone for their attention, you need to be in their face on this space.

In China we have been running a long campaign reminding listeners when they upgrade their mobile phone to make sure that it has an FM radio as an embedded option.

Because in Asia nobody is buying radio’s…but everyone is buying mobile phones. Set penetration in Asia is not at the saturation levels of the west. Potentially your first strategic challenge!!

An FM radio in a mobile phone is allowing old technology to reinvent itself as new technology.

Get social go mobile;

You need to get a serious grip on social networking

When asked “what is the one thing you can’t do without” the majority of people answer “my mobile”

Everyone has a mobile phone, lots of people have two, one for work, one for pleasure. Their lives are stored on their mobiles

Here, mobile phones take the place of laptops or tablets

Instant Messaging rules. People text more than they make voice calls.

Everybody blogs.

Everybody takes photo’s/video of everything.. including the food they are about to eat at restaurants (true story).

Just like everywhere else in the world, the challenge is to be a relevant, irresistible, entertaining part of people’s everyday lives.

Back to basics is stimulating;

In most of Asia format radio is a relatively new concept, block programming and the jocks picking the music is commonplace.

So you are likely to find yourself in situation where you are literally executing format radio from square one. No story arcs… no superstar talent.. no on line music testing.

You’ll be crafting formatted music stations from the ground up. Designing clocks, formatics, formguides and building breakfast and drive teams from scratch.

But you’ll be doing it with young, talented, smart, enthusiastic teams who generally want to learn everything you have to teach them.

The combination of expertise and intelligence and east and west is powerful. Look forward to creative compelling content and unique product.

In Mumbai a discussion about the English phrase “what ever floats your boat” turned into “vote for the boat”. A major promotion highlighting the fact that politicians, in Mumbai , claim prior to every monsoon season that they have eradicated the flooding problem, yet every year there are serious floods. The radio station gave away 16’ dinghies in a “where will it flood first” sweepstake.

In China almost every announcer sings (at a really high standard of excellence) and lots, dance or play a musical instrument.

We have been doing Station Mini concerts for clients and the public, that consist entirely of performances from Announcers, and that “demonstrate the format”, lasting about 90 minutes.

They’re inexpensive to do slick, professional and becoming increasingly popular.

They give non listeners a clear indication of what the station is about. They position the announcers as entertainers not jocks.

The programming is the easy part;

To be a successful programmer in Asia you need skillsets beyond those normally associated with content, product and brand.

If you are privileged enough to score a gig in Asia your programming “smarts” will largely be adequate enough for you to do a very good job. The pressure will come from having or developing the ancilliary and peripheral skills required to succeed, grow and prosper.

Try to learn the local language;

It earns you respect and speeds up EVERYTHING

Do not date the staff;

Regardless of, how much of an attractive option it appears, and how many willing participants there seem to be, it will damage your ability to get the job done, sometimes TERMINALLY.


In the west patience and humility are seen as virtues. Here they are a STRATEGY. You need to be infinitely patient.

It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t set goals or strive for outcomes. It just means you need to accept that in some instances the gains will small and take more time than you might expect.

Just because your content director/music director does not appear to get what makes good clock structures and the “spoke theory” in a reasonable period of training does not mean he/she is stupid. He or She is likely to be smart enough to be building computers at home in their spare time (true story).

You should take the view that most miscommunication is your fault.

You need to constantly check that what you said or demonstrated was understood as you intended.

Working in an environment where potentially everyone including you (if you have picked up the local language) is using their second language is a fascinating exercise but fraught with “misunderstandings”.

Be humble;

In this fresh environment where you are the new expert, it is easy to be brash.

Just remember the veritable slew of consultants who rolled in to tell us how it was meant to be done. Ultimately a lot of what they told us turned out to be true…. but it was the manner in which they told us

You may be treated like a god, you may feel like a god. Don’t act like one!!!


You’re the “white guy in a tie”

You will be expected to be the guru and have all the answers.

But don’t assume all the answers will come from you.

After you’ve taught and tested your team(s) trust them enough not to micro manage them.

In India we wanted to do OB’s but quality OB equipment is incredibly expensive. Our production guys devised an OB system using 2 laptops, wireless broadband, and FTP.

We did OB’s from the opening of the Delhi metro rail system on a train, from the exclusive movie premiere of a Bollywood blockbuster conducted by a competitor, from the back row of the theatre. (or so they thought)

We actually did it from the premiere, conducted for suppliers at the same complex, at the same time, but in a different theatre.

Be insatiably curious;

This is an amazing chance to discover and experience new things in every facet of your life.

From a work perspective there is the opportunity to generate new solutions, by being out of your comfort zone and not surrounded by “conventional wisdom”

In the final part of ‘The Expat Files’ with Keith Fowler, Chooky will list the final seven lessons he has learnt from his time overseas.

You can re-read part 1 here, and drop Keith an email here.

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