10 Questions with Richard Wilkins

Staff Writer

This year marks the 30th anniversary of Richard “Dickie” Wilkins’ first MTV show on the Nine Network, but as many of you will know, it all began in radio at 2Day FM Sydney.

Three decades on and Wilkins has come full circle, finding a home at NOVA Entertainment’s smooth fm on weekends, between 10am and 1pm in Sydney and Melbourne and, on DAB+, in Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth.

And although there was initially some apprehension about his return to radio (read below), it seems the popular TV and radio personality has radio running through his veins.

“smooth fm’s rise has been just incredible. To hit the #1 FM slot in Sydney last year was a thrill for everybody, and for our little weekend team to be #1 in both Sydney and Melbourne still puts a smile on my face every time I think of it,” he told Radio Today.

Richard joined smooth fm in 2012 and has since won two Australian Commercial Radio Award (ACRA) awards; Best Music Special – firstly in 2013 for his John Farnham special, and again in 2015 for his co-host with Michael Bublé.

Richard was kind enough to put pen to paper for us;

– Richard tell us about your early radio memories, listening to the radio?

Growing up in Wellington New Zealand, I fell asleep every night listening to a little transistor radio my Grandparents brought me back from their holiday on the Gold Coast. What I thought was the coolest present I’d ever received.

I tucked up against my ear listening to the only decent music station in the area which played a mixture of The Beatles, the Stones, The Hollies, The Who, The Supremes… a wide range of local and international artists.

I think that’s where I developed my love of pop music and harmony… catchy melodies that got stuck in my head, and made me want to play them on my violin instead of the Fritz Kreisler compositions I was supposed to be studying.

– You worked at 2Day FM in the early 80’s. How was that?

It was the first real job I’d ever had where I got paid a proper wage and all of that.

My Mum saw the ad in the newspaper when she was staying with us in  Sydney. It was 1983; my band had come to the end of its days, and I was struggling to make ends meet with my daughter Rebecca brand new into the world.

The ad said, “Hotshot Promotions Manager wanted!” and Mum said, “That’s you, dear, you can do that!”. So, I went along and talked myself … and them… into the job.

They were the early days of FM radio… the late Noel McGurgan ran the station and went to lunch a lot. Di Edwards was my assistant, who knew far more about the job than I did, and I had a great year or so there, organising movie screenings for our listeners, hanging banners up in parks, organising sausage sizzles at railway stations and giving away lots of free t-shirts.

– What was the format and who did you work with? 

The format was easy listening, cruise-y pop with a female skew. Cherie Romaro was the PD…Grant Goldman, Tim Webster, Mike Jeffreys and George Moore were star announcers; Brad March did mid-dawn (didn’t he kick on!!).

The station was originally owned by Mike Willesee, John Laws and Graham Kennedy. The latter two selling out when it didn’t look like FM was going to catch on. Mike went on to make shitloads of money.

Brad, Cherie, and Di remain great friends of mine to this day.  Also, Michael Chugg’s wife-to-be Lisa was on the front desk. It was a great crowd.

– And you worked at the old 2UW, now KIIS FM?

In 1985 I was lured to 2UW which was trying to make Sydney forgive and forget it’s rebranding as Magic 11.

I was charged with the duty of working and promoting Bazz and Pilko, and one of my genius ideas was for all of us to go to LA for a couple of weeks. We had no budget so I contra’d the whole thing… the flights, accom, car… even the satellite time. We spent two weeks in LA broadcasting out of KIIS FM… and had an absolute blast.

I worked there as Promotions and Marketing Manager for 18 months.

– You moved from radio to television, to host MTV at Nine in early 90’s?

Towards the end of my time at 2UW, I got some nighttime work at Club Super Station, now Sky Channel, which was broadcasting to a handful of pubs and clubs around NSW.

We were live-to-air, and I was playing music clips between the greyhound races, which were called by Graham McNeice, and Peter Overton.

In hindsight, it was invaluable going live-to-air with no one watching. I think I learnt a lot in that six months.

– At what point did you realise TV was your thing?

Six months into that job, I saw a story in the paper about MTV coming to Australia…. with no mention of on-air talent… so I asked my acting agent to get me an audition… as did every DJ, actor, model and would-be VJ.

After meeting exec producer Sail Shtein and hearing his plans for the program, I knew it was the ideal gig for me!

It was perfect timing, as my friend Harry M Miller said, “Luck is where preparation meets opportunity”.

The MTV gig was a unique combination of everything I’d done in the past. Playing music in a travelling band, songwriting, recording, journalism, marketing, promo and having notched up a few hours of live TV, I felt confident talking to an inanimate object in a personal way, and I recognised it as an opportunity to build a career in TV.

I threw myself into MTV and was lucky enough to find myself working with an incredible group of people over the next six years…Saul, Mark Fennessy, Glenn Pallister, Mike Dalton, Bryan Newton , Ruthie, Bronnie, Marty, etc… they were defining times for all of us.

– With your role at Nine, you cover everything from Academy Awards, Oscars and Golden Globes. You must travel a lot for the job?

I guess it’s all relative. It’s the start of a new year, I’ve covered the Golden Globes already, I’m MCing the G’day USA event in LA next week, I’m back over there for the Oscars at the end of February, and have a couple of other trips pencilled in already.

I normally get to the States 6 or 7 times a year. The UK maybe twice, and normally there’s a flight to somewhere in Australia at least once a week.

And of course when Karl, Lisa and I are on the road for our ‘We Love Australia’ weeks, it’s a daily occurrence.

Actually, I do travel a bloody lot!!

I enjoy the long-haul flights… once upon I used to work the whole time. Now I sleep and read… as I’ve seen all the movies.

Travel is good, it’s always exciting going somewhere, and I’m always happy to get home.

– You returned to Radio, Smooth FM in 2012, hosting weekend mornings in Sydney and Melbourne; is it good being back on the radio?

I love it. When Ralph Carr, my manager, asked, “Do you want to do some radio?”, I said, ‘I’m busy enough at the moment…why… what station?’. He said, “95.3”.

I replied… no one listens to that; it’s a disaster.

He suggested I go in and have a chat to Paul Jackson and Peter Clay.

When I heard about their plans for Smooth – involving my friend Michael Buble – I was in!!

I thought it would be like my TV experience – a chance to have a good crack at radio with no one listening.

95.3 had been languishing in the ratings for some time.

I’m obviously delighted with the way it’s gone and have been thrilled to learn from some of the most talented people I’ve ever worked with and am eternally grateful to Peter for teaching me the ropes… and mentoring me.

Peter, Paul, Cathie O’Connor, Luke, Tony, Georgie, Sophie… the whole team are so generous with their time… so encouraging, resourceful and professional.

I love working with talented, smart people.

– You’ve had some great ratings success?

2016 was a great year. The Today Show winning in the ratings, it’s always a tight tussle, and we’re proud of our efforts, but definitely not in a boastful manner.

smooth fm’s rise has been just incredible. To hit the #1 FM slot in Sydney last year was a thrill for everybody, and for our little weekend team to be #1 in both Sydney and Melbourne still puts a smile on my face every time I think of it.

We love our listeners and the music we play.

– You also recently celebrated 25 years at Nine. Congratulations, Richard!

Actually, 16th April this year marks the 30th anniversary of the first MTV show on Channel 9… so who would have thought?

30 years! Some have been better than others, but it’s been a great ride.

Every day is different… I work hard, I have fun, and love being part of a terrific team on and off camera. I’ve been blessed to work with such talented, smart, professional people who bring out the best in me…. Most of whom have become lifetime friends. I guess I am lucky after all!!

Hear Richard Wilkins on smooth fm 10am to 1pm on weekends.

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