Greg Smith: “A teacher told me I’d be digging ditches when I left school”
Long before Greg Smith became one of Australian radio’s most revered program directors, he was delivered a stinging assessment:
“A teacher told me I wasn’t working hard enough. He said ‘Look son, you’ll be digging ditches when you leave school.’”
A ‘Starr’ of the Melbourne radio airwaves through the seventies who developed into one of the country’s most astute PDs, Greg shares his radio journey on Paul Walsh’s Pilots of the Airwaves podcast.
Growing up in Tasmania, Greg reveals one of his early influences was Australian DJ Ward ‘Pally’ Austin.
“There was a TV documentary on Ward in the sixties. When I saw that, that’s when I knew I wanted to be a radio announcer.”
Greg’s first gig was at 7BU in Burnie.
“I worked at a furniture store in Hobart. I left and sent out tapes, trying to get a job. I had no luck. Then I got a job in the taxation department. I was only there about a week, and I got a letter from 7BU, saying ‘There’s a job available for you.’ So off I went.”
Next came 3SH at Swan Hill and 7HO in Hobart before Greg landed his big break at Melbourne’s 3XY.
In August 1970, the station roster included the likes of Graham Kennedy, Mike Walsh and Mike Jeffreys.
By the time Greg came on board in 1972, the on-air team comprised of names like Trevor Smith, Laurie Bennett, Joe Miller and John Scott.
It was a seismic shift in personnel and format in a relatively short time.
“Rod Muir was consulting for the radio station and Trevor Smith was assistant program director. Dick Hemming was the program director. Rod basically had brought a format back from the U.S – the Bill Drake format – play the hits and don’t talk much.”
“I started on midnight to dawn. They worked me pretty hard in those days.”
“I liken it to a piece of coal being suppressed, and eventually turning into something better.”
But it was decided that there couldn’t be two Smiths on the roster.
Greg became known on air as Dick Starr.
Later he would become part of the DB Music revolution. It was during those days the suggestion was made that he consider becoming a program director.
Back to 3XY in 1980, the likes of Barry Bissell, Greg Evans, Garry Suprain and Gavin Wood now made up the roster.
“The format had matured,” says Greg. “I think there was more talk than there was in the Rod Muir days.”
Greg’s life took on a new adventure when Stan Guilfoyle – the station’s CEO – offered him the job as PD.
“One thing Stan did for me – which was terrific – was send me to America to study.”
Greg spent time at a San Diego radio station, learning new strategies and formulas for music research, which he took back with him to 3XY.
“That was a major turning point in my career.”
It wasn’t long before Greg could see the writing on the wall for AM music stations.
“I could see during the eighties – I knew looking at the American market that FM would win in the end.”
In 1984, he accepted an offer to work at SAFM.
“People said to me ‘Why would you leave Melbourne? Why would you go to Adelaide and go to FM? Fancy going to FM! That won’t work.”
“I knew deep down that it would.”