Have you ever been fired in radio? Here’s what to do
It’s going to happen to everyone at least once in their career. And it happened to me once.
After several years in regional radio I had reached cap city radio, and achieved the position of Music Director at 2Day FM Sydney.
Then, in 1987, I was hired by the Managing Director of Hoyts Media, Glenn Wheatley. Glenn was overseeing Triple M Sydney and Eon FM Melbourne (Eon FM was soon to be re-branded as Triple M, too). So, at age 27, I was appointed to the position of Program Director of Eon FM Melbourne. I was fairly young and inexperienced for the role but headed back to my hometown of Melbourne to take up the challenge.
Ian Grace was the Group Program Director, and was having great success at Triple M Sydney, with Doug Mulray doing Breakfast.
In Melbourne The D-Generation were on breakfast with Santo Cilauro, Tom Gleisner and Tony Martin. I hired Rob Sitch, Marg Downey and Magda Szubanski part time to join the team, making it one of the most powerful breakfast shows of all time. I also hired a young Jane Kennedy (who was 3UZ’s traffic reporter) and made the mistake of hiring Peter O’Callaghan from 3XY to anchor the show. I soon realised that wasn’t a great fit. John Peters was on nights doing the Hot 8 at 8. Southern Cross Austereo’s current Head of Content, Craig Bruce, was one of my mid-dawn announcers! And the legendary Lee Simon was my General Manager (however, during my time there he reverted to the role of my afternoon announcer. Could only happen in radio!)
My strategy for the station focused on it being a 25–39 male rock format, and I set about pursuing that direction. But, in hindsight, I just didn’t have the experience or the confidence to do the role – and also didn’t receive the support required for such a tough, big role.
After just 9 months I was called into Ian Grace’s office and was fired.
Ian ‘Gracie’ Grace told me that I wasn’t strong enough for the job, and also told me that I would never be a decent Program Director. He explained that, at best, I might be a Music Director in a smaller market elsewhere. (As an aside Ian Grace also sacked Brian Ford in the late 80s. Brian went on to become Program Director of the very successful Fox FM Melbourne, and the Today Network Program Director – and now owns Australia’s most successful consultancy, ESP).
At the time it really seemed like my world had ended. After just 7 years in commercial radio, and getting my first Program Directors role, I’d been sacked. I’d quickly reached a career pinnacle, and suddenly it was already all over.
When this happens you have one of two ways to go. You can crumble and fall in a heap (which I did for a while), or you can use the negative motivation to achieve.
After months of reflection I decided that ‘I would show him!’. I decided I wanted to become the best Program Director in Australia.
I started listening and studying the great radio battle at the time between Fox and Triple M. This was the one where Triple M ran “The Fox Pox” campaign. I asked myself which radio company was the best and also who was the best Programmer around. The answers were Paul Thompson’s company, Austereo, and Greg Smith. So I was determined to meet with Greg.
I definitely had the spirit – at the time I had something to prove, and was prepared to do ‘whatever it takes’ to achieve it.
Greg eventually hired me – but the first thing he did was send me to Canberra, as Program Director of FM104.7. Going back to a regional market was quite a shock to me as I had already worked in Melbourne and Sydney. Greg explained to me that I had to get my confidence back. I disagreed at the time. But it turned out he was right.
Under his guidance and direction I programmed FM104.7 and it went well. During my time there I had a strong determination to win and, importantly, I received the direction and encouragement required to get the job done. Turns out it was one of the best radio years of my life. As were the years to follow.
I was fortunate enough to be given the job of launching B105 Brisbane in 1990. It quickly went to Number 1 with a record 32% ratings share – soundly defeating Brisbane’s original FM station, the legendary Triple M 104.5 (overseen by none other than Gracie – a minor side issue, but a small added bonus for my previously bruised ego!).
After that, more success followed. In 1992, I was part of the team to take 2Day FM to Number 1 for the first time. From there I landed the role of Today Network PD and eventually became Austereo’s Group Program Director, overseeing the Today and Triple M networks. Those roles lead me to become the Managing Director of Austereo – a position I held for 6 years. That’s another story!
Learning from all of my experience – both successes and failures – as Austereo’s Managing Director I set about putting together not only the strongest on air talent line-up possible, but most importantly the strongest programming line-up. The formidable Jeff Allis as Group PD, the talented Brian Ford as Today Network PD, the creative Guy Dobson as Triple M Network PD, and the wisdom of Greg Smith consulting. It was the A team, the dream team of programming.
I achieved what I set out to do. The lessons learned in hindsight were about setting goals no matter how outrageous they may seem, ensuring you work for the right company and the right people, making sure you get the right direction, support and encouragement for the role – and some good luck, determination, hard work, and good timing.
I was only ever fired once in radio, because once it’s happened to you, you don’t want it to happen again. Negative feedback, fear, and a crushing feeling of failure can be great motivators!