Revealed: Australian FM radio’s most successful programmers of all time (1-10)

Staff Writer

The role of group program director (by any other name), is one of the most demanding, challenging and heavily criticised in this industry, and only a handful of people have ever held the title in Australian FM metro radio.

It’s a job that combines programming, strategic and research skills, executive and organisational skills, music knowledge, creativity, people management, talent management as well as drive, determination and leadership.

While the group PD role has changed over the years, the fundamentals are still the same; it’s about product, content and ratings.

Below is part one of a two-part series that sees Radio Today pay tribute to the most successful programmers of all time in Australian metro FM radio, starting with the top 10.

The list was two months in the making, formulated in consultation with industry heavyweights past and present, with (most of) those who made the list part of the many asked to vote.

All the names on the list have enjoyed success on a national scale, serving in group PD, network PD or assistant group PD roles, as well as having been successful single station program directors.

1. Brad March

Brad March has been hugely influential in shaping the Australian commercial radio landscape, having started his career as an announcer at 6KA Karratha and several regional markets before moving to 2DayFM as MD in 1984. At 27 he became the youngest PD in a major metro market at 3MMM. In his time as group program director and group managing director for Austereo (SCA), he drove the Hit and Triple M Networks to market-leading positions around the country and established a lasting legacy for his hands-on approach to talent management, creativity and strategic thinking. 

Brad’s career has also included successful roles as Group Programming Consultant at ARN and Program Director at several market-leading stations including 2DayFM, B105, FM104.7 and Triple M.

Brad’s influence in the industry is still being felt today. As the managing director of radio talent management company Marchmedia, Brad now manages some of Australia’s top talent including Jackie ‘O’ Henderson, triple j’s Ben and Liam, and The Chaser.

2. Greg Smith

Greg Smith is one of Austereo’s longest-serving and most revered group program directors, holding the role for 9 years from 1986 through to 1995. He’d previously been the first PD to take a mainland FM station to #1 overall for People 10+ when he helmed Adelaide’s SA.FM. In 1992 Greg presided over a Survey that saw every FM station in Australia owned by Austereo go to #1.

Since then he’s established a successful radio and research consulting business, served on the board of MCM Entertainment Group, was a founding director of Radio Today and has been inducted into the Commercial Radio Hall Of Fame.

3. Jeff Allis

Jeff Allis may have left the radio industry in 2007, but he had a significant impact on the industry for over two decades. Like countless others, Jeff got his break in radio doing Mid-Dawns at SA-FM. He would go on to become program director at Austereo in the late 1990s and became known for his “differentiate or die” approach. Jeff’s eye for talent was second to none, having brought Kyle Sandilands from regional radio to the city and given Hamish and Andy their first break.

4. Dean Buchanan

Dean Buchanan remains in a group director role today, having served both as managing director and group director of NZME in Auckland. Dean makes this list primarily for his work as group PD at DMG Radio (now NOVA Entertainment). His legacy to Australian radio lies in his role in launching Nova 96.9 in 2001 and devising the unique and audience-driven strategy branded as “sounds different” after finding a gap in the competitive under 40’s radio market. Dean pitched and established the sales strategy of “no more than two ads in a row” that took the station to #1, during which he oversaw and helped to establish legacy Breakfast show Merrick and Rosso which ran from Nova 96.9 launch until 2009.

5. Brian Ford

Brian Ford has spent over 30 years in the industry. Brian held such positions as music director and program director at stations including B105, 2DayFM and Fox FM between 1989 and 2004. Brian drove the strategic thinking that helped solidify the Hit Network’s position as a leading premier network in Australia, and helped establish the core demographic of Triple M as a network. In 1995 he established leading radio consultancy company esp which has seen Brian consult both in Australia and overseas, with particularly significant work coming in China.

6. Paul Jackson

Paul Jackson remains one of the most influential people in radio to this day, having served as the group program director at NOVA Entertainment since 2010. In the past decade, he has also held such roles as chief executive and program director of Virgin Radio, and program director at Global Radio. Paul was responsible for the highly successful launch of smoothfm and oversees the direction of the Nova and smooth networks day-to-day.

7. Guy Dobson

Guy Dobson remains in radio today, though he has since moved on from the programming roles at Southern Cross Austereo that saw him make this list. Guy spent time as program director at Triple M Brisbane and Sydney, before moving into the national Triple M Network group PD role. Currently, the chief creative officer at SCA, Guy’s influence has also been felt in his time as chief executive officer and group program director of Southern Cross Austereo.

8. Craig Bruce

Craig Bruce finished his time with Southern Cross Austereo in 2015, after 27 years of service to the network. He served as the group program director from 2005 to 2010, following roles announcer and PD roles that included hosting the Gold Coast’s first #1 Breakfast show and reaching record Drive ratings on B105. Craig was influential in the move to hire Kyle and Jackie O who would go on to dominate the Sydney market and gain 60 #1 Surveys in a row. After wrapping up his time with SCA he established Craig Bruce Coaching and now works as a talent coach and radio consultant, as well as hosting his hugely popular podcast Game Changers: Radio.

9. Eriks Celmins

Now a media and entertainment research specialist, Eriks Celmins has had an instrumental impact on the radio industry. Having worked as programmer at Christchurch’s ZM-FM in the ‘80s, winning NZ Station of the Year twice, Eriks then turned his attention to Australia, joining 2DayFM in 1990 and playing a crucial role in the CHR relaunch of the station. His influence would continue thereafter, working as national research manager for Austereo’s Today and Triple M Networks and playing a key part in the 2001 launch of Nova 96.9 Sydney.

10. Duncan Campbell

ARN’s national content director is one of the few on this list who are still serving in their group PD role – though Duncan Campbell’s official title is national content director. Campbell’s storied history in the industry saw him launch the first FM radio station on the central coast, before stints with Austereo at B105 and Triple M Melbourne as program director. After some time overseas, Campbell returned to Australia in 2010 and has overseen ARN as it has become the #1 network in the country. Significantly, Campbell oversaw the launch of KIIS 1065 in Sydney, poaching the Kyle and Jackie O Breakfast show from SCA.

Stay tuned for part two later this week. As always, let us know in the comments if there’s anyone who you think we’ve missed, and who you think should be ranked 11-20.

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Alan Grant
16 Jul 2018 - 10:06 am

What a great history lesson for everyone under the age of 30

16 Jul 2018 - 11:28 am

That is a serious list of heavy weights. Some radio brains in there. I’d never heard of half of them but very impressive group.

Andy Grace
16 Jul 2018 - 11:31 am

Where is Cherie ? Seriously major omission.

16 Jul 2018 - 11:50 am

Dave Cameron one of the best CD’s there’s been. No mention why ?

16 Jul 2018 - 12:32 pm

Nice one what a shame only three of these work in Aussie radio now. Why is that ?

Craig Huggins
16 Jul 2018 - 12:35 pm

I’d have Greg Smith first, (besides giving me my first radio job), without his trailblazing, many of the others would not have learnt from him, but a great list none-the-less. An honourable mention to Peter Sinclair, who had the courage to be the first to change a capital city FM station into an ‘oldies’ station, Gold104.3. It went straight to Number 1 in Melbourne, eventually becoming the ARN Classic Hits network, currently No. 1 FM in Melbourne and Sydney.

16 Jul 2018 - 4:06 pm

Worked for Brad in Sydney and Brisbane an incredible programmer and leader

16 Jul 2018 - 5:33 pm

I’m sorry, I thought this was supposed to be ‘Of All Time’?

If it were, then Paul Thompson, who was well known as a programmer/innovator, he also started a couple of networks (???) should be number one closely followed by Rod Muir. Without these two, the history of FM radio in Australia would be fundementally different.

16 Jul 2018 - 6:28 pm

Where is Charlie Fox ?

16 Jul 2018 - 7:26 pm

I’d like to see a poll of most successful PD’s ever but not the Group ones more the station PD’s who do all the work. The Group PD’s just take all the credit.

16 Jul 2018 - 7:31 pm

Really Bruce ahead of Campbell, give me a break? Duncan pulled off one of the greatest breakfast moves of this generation on Craig’s watch. The revolving door of breakfast shows on 2Day have been a disaster. And most of Brad and Guy’s success came when there was only 2 networks. Doubt they’d survive today.

16 Jul 2018 - 8:28 pm

Good to see Dobbo there. SCA having a hard time of it especially in Sydney but good he’s held on to a role. Good old school radio guy.

Lester Pasley
17 Jul 2018 - 12:32 am

John Brennan, Rod Muir. Mardi Cole who did the PD role on 2CH before its Magic period.

17 Jul 2018 - 6:17 am

I would attend a Masterclass from those at the top of the list here. I’m sure the principles and skills they applied would stand the test of time.

17 Jul 2018 - 6:19 am

Couple here have had more misses than hits.

17 Jul 2018 - 6:59 am

Discovering Kyle and Hamish and Andy not bad on a resume.

Nova Boy
17 Jul 2018 - 8:43 am

Would be interesting to see who created the most number of successful shows. Some CD’s created them and steered them to success some stole them. Dean Buchanon and Paul Jackson would lead the way and its interesting that they both came out of Nova. So maybe it comes down to good leadership. Cathy Oconnor and Paul Thompson paved the way.

17 Jul 2018 - 11:19 am

I would put these in the top 3 order.

1.Jeff Allis – Whilst not a believer in mentoring got the best out of people by letting them breathe, also can spot a change before it happens.
2.Duncan Campbell – Just driven purely to win, awesome presence to inspire a team.
3.Brian Ford – Strategic overall network alignment, clear focus.

The one thing that these 3 have is a winning performance.

17 Jul 2018 - 12:33 pm

Ron E Sparx top Programmer at 2UW.

17 Jul 2018 - 1:24 pm

Ive watched some of these guys over the years. Full credit to all of them. Between them they’ve shaped radio as we know it today.

Steve Bedwell
17 Jul 2018 - 1:29 pm

T’s great to see such great programming minds and the influence that have made, I have enjoyed working with several of them. But that fact remains ‘those that cant do it, end up taking about it. Their lack of metropolitan success on air, combined with some of their aggressive style toward talent should be criticised not applauded. Yes they have achieved in prgramming abut all have failed at the coal face, What is that great rate quote “those that can’t go it do it talking about to.\.

17 Jul 2018 - 2:26 pm

Daryl : re Really Bruce ahead of Campbell, give me a break? I think Guy Dobson was Head of Metro when SCA ” lost ” Kyle and Jackie. Guy and Rhys were running the show not Craig he was just the content guy. Think you’ll find Kyle was the architect of that masterstroke anyway not DC.

17 Jul 2018 - 2:48 pm

About time for some new blood these are all old blokes.

17 Jul 2018 - 2:53 pm

what does a chief creative officer actually do out of interest ? is that a ‘ cool ‘ way of saying group cd ?

17 Jul 2018 - 4:24 pm

Paul Jackson should be number 1. He runs the number 1 network and has the best shows.

17 Jul 2018 - 4:41 pm

They might be old blokes but having worked with many of them I can say that what I learned from them is as relevant today as it was then. When you discover eternal truths age is irrelevant

17 Jul 2018 - 5:17 pm

Jeff Allis a god and great hair. And he’s rich. He’s my # 1.

17 Jul 2018 - 5:30 pm

Fordy is the unsung hero at SCA. Low profile gets the job done. He’s forgotten more than what most new CD’s have learned already.

17 Jul 2018 - 6:48 pm

Inspiring to see these ten wise men all brilliant at what they do and all good guys. Well most of them.

17 Jul 2018 - 6:55 pm

Like to know whats the common factor in all of these guys success. Will to win, drive, team players, intelligence, competitiveness or just plain luck ? Would be great if you asked them all.

17 Jul 2018 - 6:59 pm

Like to nominate Lee Simon one of the original FM’ers and still going strong

Steve M
17 Jul 2018 - 9:40 pm

Where is Rod Muir ?

Peter Menton
18 Jul 2018 - 1:27 am

What about Rod Muir?

18 Jul 2018 - 7:13 am

Good seeing Erik mentioned. Great PD and brilliant research mind and an all round good guy. Big part of Nova’s launch.

18 Jul 2018 - 7:36 am

No one from Triple J here. Barry Chapman was one of the great pioneers.

18 Jul 2018 - 12:15 pm

Dean put together arguably the most successful network in Australia with paul Thompson. He should be your Number 1. Respect to the others but credit where credits due.

18 Jul 2018 - 4:14 pm

Greg Smith is the original and deserves the number 1 slot. He was a pioneer and PD of the first FM station in Australia SAFM taking it to number 1.

19 Jul 2018 - 4:51 am

I would have DC higher.

19 Jul 2018 - 4:55 am

It’s sad there are no women on here.

19 Jul 2018 - 7:03 am

I don’t think anyone would argue about this list. It covers all of the major contributors and innovators of radio over the past few decades. What would be interesting is hearing from some of these guys about how they made it and what makes them tick.
Would make interesting reading.

19 Jul 2018 - 8:04 am

Kyle is one of Australian FM radio’s most successful programmers. He is the driver of KISS’s success.

19 Jul 2018 - 9:04 am

I know it is FM but trailblazers in the early days (AM) were: John Torv, John Brennan, Ray Bean, Ken Sparkes and Ron E Sparks. Many more.

19 Jul 2018 - 10:10 am

My favourite memory of working with Brian Ford was having him ask “Is MySpace still a thing?”

It was 2014.

19 Jul 2018 - 12:42 pm

Who on here was responsible for Dan and Maz ? whatever happened to Dan?

19 Jul 2018 - 3:26 pm

Fordy just signed up to this new thing called Facebook he reckons it will really catch on

20 Jul 2018 - 5:21 am

Duncan is a cut and paste pd lol

20 Jul 2018 - 5:25 am

Geoff watts should be there. Leader and radio mastermind

20 Jul 2018 - 7:31 am

So jeff hired Kyle Sanderlands ?? I thought Greg Smith said he did?? And didnt Craig Bruce claim he hired him too. Success has many fathers.

20 Jul 2018 - 8:47 am

#equality #diversity #notinradio

20 Jul 2018 - 9:26 am

Most of these guys have never done a decent days hard work in their entire careers.

20 Jul 2018 - 10:18 am

Travesty there’s no females.

9 Aug 2018 - 9:18 am

Guy Dobson , is he still in Radio ?

11 Aug 2018 - 12:34 pm

I’d like to see this list in ten years to see how many of the current crop of CD’s rate.

4 Sep 2018 - 10:18 am

You could learn a lot from these lot.

17 Sep 2018 - 5:40 am

Generous with a few of these names here but enjoyed reading

17 Sep 2018 - 5:43 am

So it was Jeff Allis who gave Hamish and Andy their first break. Many others have claimed them. Good call Allis. Hamish and Andy and Kyle as good as it gets.

19 Oct 2018 - 5:31 am

Deano deserves this accolade. He and Paul Thompson did a sterling job building the Nova network which is still going strong today.

19 Oct 2018 - 5:34 am

So Jeff deserves the credit for Kyle Sanderlands. Good call. He hired Hamish and Andy too. Clever guy. Radio needs him back.

20 Nov 2018 - 9:16 pm

What about the Captain he was the best so much fun always entertaining, where is he now? Does anyone know? Now that would be an asome interview good times great fun love to hear a podcast featuring Karl Van East, Lee Saimon brought it all back for me please if anyone can get in touch with “The Captian” someone should try getting an interview with him hard him on 3AW a few years back talking to Roy Mansfield and Tony Mendes about Farnzy and he was a hoot! Brought back so many good memories what a laugh.

28 Nov 2018 - 6:04 am

A couple of very generous inclusions there. How about Ron E Sparx and Lee Simon good PD’s back in the day.

Consultants Rule !
12 Mar 2019 - 10:56 am

OK, so if you’ve programmed at Austereo and / or work for ESP you make the list?

peter menton
6 Nov 2019 - 1:45 pm

Come on …you missed the most influential of them all…not only programmed FM stations very successfully, but was behind the push for FM radio introduction to Australia….Rod Muir

12 Nov 2019 - 4:44 pm

All amazing programmers and geniuses of the industry, so many have learnt from them!

10 Jan 2020 - 11:03 am

They should get Dean to Sydney to turnaround 2DAYFM

12 Jan 2020 - 11:43 am

Paul Jackson remains one of the most influential people in radio to this day and his Nova and Smooth networks are setting the pace in Aussie radio. Glad he know calls Australia home.

14 Jan 2020 - 11:46 am

Reading this you cant help but wonder why aren’t any of these guys in radio anymore ?
Good read.

4 Feb 2020 - 8:51 am

Number One would be a toss up between Paul Jackson and Duncan Campbell.
Jackson by a nose I’d say.

29 Feb 2020 - 2:09 pm

Charlie Fox deserves to be on this list. Radio genius.

3 Apr 2020 - 8:02 am

Paul Jackson should be at or near the top. Switching format to Smooth was pure genius and he has hired some top talent in Sam Pang, Chrissie ( ex ARN ) Susie Oneil, Ben and Liam, Marty Sheargold ( ex SCA ) at least he doesn’t import shows from overseas New Zealand and UK.

7 Apr 2020 - 7:29 am

Paul Jackson could be higher. If Smooth has FM’s in Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide, he would be Number One in every capital city.

13 May 2020 - 2:33 pm

Duncan Campbell should be in top three or top five he’s done a sterling job with limited resources a job well done.

13 May 2020 - 2:53 pm

Dean put Nova together with Paul Thompson, one susccessful, very successful station in each market.
They also launched Vega one of radios biggest all time fails. Austereo at one stage had the two stations to a market as they do now, but they held the number one and number two positions in every market, possibly not Perth because Gary Roberts. So cudos to Brad March and Greg Smith one of the all time great programming teams.

Big Mama Ronek
23 May 2020 - 7:38 pm

‘…of All Time?’ Not one of your ‘all time greats’ comes close to influencing radio content to the degree that some did – who re-wrote the rules and actually blew rating books out of the water. Never has Australian radio been so homogenized and pasteurized as it is now – largely as a result of the efforts of these programmers. Most operations under their wing played the same hits, copied the same formula and based their decisions on focus groups and cluster research. ‘OH, you like that song well maybe you’ll also like this one?’ That’s great programming? Sorry, but this piece is nonsense and fails to acknowledge the trailblazers who didn’t accept the mediocre and mundane which radio has become once more. The on-air broadcasting talent is there to be nurtured and encouraged but the counters of the beans rule and ruin. Totally unimpressed.

4 Jun 2020 - 1:28 pm

Eight of your ten are no longer working at a network. Duncan and PJ would be Top 5 now.

4 Jun 2020 - 1:29 pm

You would have to have Mike Fitzpatrick in there somewhere. Programming rock is the hardest programming role in Australia and he and his team turn out a very consistent product.

10 Jun 2020 - 10:09 am

I’d like to hear more from Dean Buchanan on your site, he has had success in NZ and Australia. Whats he doing now ?

25 Jun 2020 - 9:04 am

Isn’t it good to see Duncan get recognised for all his hard work. Dean Buchanan is available and looking for work.

10 Jul 2020 - 7:52 am

A lot of CEO’s have this bunch to thank for making them look good. I would include Gary Roberts in the list and also Paul Thompson Austereo and Nova Founder.

15 Jul 2020 - 9:03 am

Radio Today needs to update this poll.

30 Jul 2020 - 3:24 pm

What no Gemma ? What she has done to the Hit network over the past few years has been nothing short of extraordinary.

21 Aug 2020 - 11:52 am

That guy from Croc media should be listed. Programmer of the Year.

30 Aug 2020 - 6:13 am

AB will leap into the top ten.

11 Sep 2020 - 12:29 pm

Dean Buchanan created Nova and should rank highly, Has also done some great work in New Zealand. His only hiccup was Vega and Classic Rock in Sydney and Melbourne. Top CD.

9 Dec 2020 - 6:13 am

With recent ratings growth Dave will be top three if you ever do this list again.

19 Jan 2021 - 10:23 am

Duncan would be up in the top five surely.
Creating shows like Jonesy & Amanda, Christian, Jase and PJ, Kyle & Jack he’s the master, genius.

30 Mar 2021 - 4:26 pm

Mike ‘ Fitzy ‘ Fitzpatrick would be top 5.
He has created more top shows now than anyone on your list.

11 Apr 2021 - 5:42 am

Has Duncan created any shows ? Think he inherited them or imported them all. He might have put Will and Woody together and one of the old 96fm shows ?

25 May 2021 - 7:38 am

DB would qualify, his reign at KIIS has been a big success. Deserves more credit.

26 Jul 2022 - 9:12 am

Congratulations Duncan you have outlasted them all, what a survivor. Thank god for Kyle and Jackie, he must pray every night.

Tom Krutsky
27 Nov 2022 - 8:47 pm

Que? NO women. Seriously? That’s hard to believe!

Jason Matthews
6 Jan 2023 - 10:29 am

What a great list – all deserve to be there, although i think Fordy Cent should be higher.

Any room for a brilliant regional goup content director? Rod Brice, built a network, built stations and managed so many of today’s big names as they progressed through the industry. Still killing it now. Bricey deserves a shout out.

8 Aug 2023 - 10:30 am

DB and Fitzy should rate somewhere on your list. True professionals and both good guys. Fitzy whorls be running the Nova network and when will DB be appointed as
Group Content Director?

23 Oct 2023 - 7:10 am

Dean who never heard of him.

21 Nov 2023 - 1:41 pm

You should do this again.

13 Mar 2024 - 8:12 am

How will today’s Group CD’s measure up – Derek Bargwanna, Dave Cameron, Peter Clay, Brendan Taylor and Greg Byrnes.

17 Mar 2024 - 8:27 am

Radio Today should do top CEO’s of all time because unlimatly they make the biggest difference.

Top on my list would be Cairan Davis, Cathy O’Connor, Paul Thompson.

17 Mar 2024 - 10:16 am

Duncan should be higher than number 10

19 Mar 2024 - 9:20 am

Jeff, Brad, Dean and Paul created shows that were successful, the rest didnt. If breakfast is the key driver of a radio stations success then that should be the main criteria.

21 Mar 2024 - 4:47 am

I think Brian Ford is deserving of a Hall of Fame induction, top programmer and a terrific leader.

3 May 2024 - 5:04 am

Should DB be on this list


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