Gary Roberts – Survivor (pt 1)

Gary Roberts is one of the best operators I’ve had the pleasure of working with. During his time in Perth he has managed all four FM commercial stations.

He’s unique in many different ways. His strong beliefs have often clashed with parent company group executives from the East. Many a group executive has put off a trip to Perth knowing they’re going to argue the toss with Gary. Having said that, in my experience he was rarely wrong.

At times he does rub people the wrong way. He doesn’t suffer fools. His programming background keeps Content Directors on their toes. Gary gets very hands on with the programming. It is an obvious passion. Gary always lets the Music Directors know when he has a personal favourite song. He will also let them know when he hates a song too.

Gary Roberts started his radio career at 3AW in Melbourne. He spent nine years on air with a number of stations including 2BE Bega, 8HA Alice Springs, 2WL Wollongong, 5AD Adelaide, 2UW Sydney and 6KY Perth before moving into Programming. As a Program Director, he programmed four stations to No 1 in their respective markets including a record run of 34 consecutive No 1 surveys with 96FM in Perth, which he launched in 1980 (click pic left to see press ad). He was General Manager of 96FM from 1984 to 1992 when he left to take over the same role at 94·5FM in Perth.

Gary quickly transformed 94·5FM (now MIX 94·5) from a poor No 5 to a strong No 2 in the Perth marketplace, and ultimately No 1. In August 1993, 94·5FM purchased PMFM (now 92.9) from Kerry Packer, and Gary Roberts was appointed Managing Director of both stations. Under his guidance, 92.9 and MIX 94·5 dominated the Perth radio market being the No 1 and No 2 stations while Gary was at the helm until 2002.

In 1997 Austereo purchased 92.9 and MIX 94·5 for $100,000,000 and Gary Roberts remained as Managing Director.

Gary was a Director of the radio industry body for eight years, including 3 years as Chairman of Commercial Radio Australia. 

In 2002, Gary resigned as Managing Director of Austereo Perth and after a brief holiday in Italy, accepted his current role of Managing Director of Perth’s first new commercial FM radio station in 22 years, Nova 93.7.

Nova 93.7 was launched on December 5, 2002 by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers (right) and won its first full survey year with its target audience of 18-34 year olds and Gary remains Managing Director of the station to this day where Nova completed the 2012 survey year No.1 18-34, 18-39, 18-44, 25-34, 25-39 and 25-44.

The success of 2012 is the foundation of Nova 93.7’s growth in 2013. In the first 6 surveys of the year, Nova 93.7 gained listeners in every survey and in survey 6 had a record 494,000 listeners each week.

Click to enlarge

Nathan, Nat & Shaun not only dominate their core demographics but now consistently win over the heritage Breakfast Show Botica’s Bunch. They were the Number 1 FM Breakfast Show in Perth in Surveys 3, 4, 5 and 6. Botica’s Bunch on Mix 94.5 are now moving to the drive shift.

Greg: Gary it’s been an incredible journey for you. What are some of the important lessons you’ve learnt along the way?

Gary: It's all about great people.

If you have a great team all focused on the same outcome you'll be unbeatable. You only get great people and a great team by having a rigorous hiring process. Never make an expedient decision when hiring. Always wait until you can make the right decision. If your gut tells you "no” even though everyone else says "yes", don't!

John Dawson (right), who was my Financial Controller for 23 years, told me that after others convinced me to hire a PD who only lasted 3 months! Sadly it wasn't the first time I had done that!

Greg: There are many career highlights. Is there a stand out moment that you really cherish?

Gary: Radio Hauraki and the brilliant Derek Lowe taught me how to break the traditional radio rules.

I was only in Auckland 15 months but it set me up for my next career highlight which was the launch of 96fm. Being given the opportunity to be part of a select group who launched FM in 1980 was a privilege and what followed was a remarkable 12 years. 96fm was, and to a certain extent still is, a very special radio station.

Creating Australia's first duopoly with Mix94.5 and 92.9 was notable and of course being given the opportunity to launch Nova 93.7 by Paul Thompson in 2002 was just too good to knock back. The last 11 years have probably been the most challenging and rewarding of the last 3 decades. The team that I have the privilege to work with now are without a doubt the best team in Perth Radio history.

Greg: You’ve worked for quite a few different owners in Perth from Jack Bendat, Austereo & now DMG. How would you describe the differences between each one of them?

Gary: Jack was happy to let me just do it! That was our deal. There were only 2 people on the Board, Jack and I. One of those two made a lot of money when we sold for $100,000,000.

Austereo was interesting and I really enjoyed working with Peter Harvie (right). DMG with Paul was an amazing experience. We broke all the old rules and tried to do something that really did "sound different".

Paul had remarkable vision that was watched very closely around the world and with hindsight I think the launch of the Nova brand was an incredible achievement. DMG today is still a dynamic company with a different focus and is achieving goals thought unattainable just 2 years ago.


In Part 2 (here), DMG Radio founder Paul Thompson on why "there are no safer radio hands than those of Gary Roberts"




Greg Smith is an inductee into the Australian Radio Hall of Fame, and a Director of Radio Today



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