The Brutal Truth – Part 6

Radio Consultancy

Who’s the Boss?

(And who are YOU to tell ME what's funny, puny human?!)

“Radio is run by failed jocks hell bent on making the industry that shunned them pay”

“It was like being held at gunpoint and told
‘The person who is sadly no longer here failed to sound fun,
so enjoy yourselves …or else!’”

“Air-checks … my favourite ever was when a senior (group) manager swooped in …
… gave us a whole lot of direction about how to change our show …
… and then our local PD pulled us aside and said
‘Ignore everything he just said’!”

Frank insights from the most stellar line-up of on-air talent ever assembled in one place
without mediation or the need to negotiate the release of hostages:

Tony Martin      Wendy Harmer      Marty Sheargold      Tom Gleeson      Mick Molloy
Tom Ballard      Amanda Keller      Rosso      Mikey Robins    Matt Tilley  Chrissie Swan
Lehmo       Akmal Saleh      Tim Smith      Jo Stanley     James O'Loghlin      Craig Annis
Dave O’Neil      Tim Blackwell     Robin Bailey      Simon Kennedy      Stav Davidson
Dave Thornton      Julian Schiller     Lisa Fernandez      Jamie Row      Ciel     Joel Creasey
Tommy Little      Natalie Locke     Steve Philp       Paul Hogan      Adam Richard

“The happiest moment in every comedian’s bloody week –
listening to some Program Director who came from the Sales Department
tell you why you weren’t funny”

Mikey Robins

“It was like being held at gunpoint and told
‘The person who is sadly no longer here failed to sound fun,
so enjoy yourselves …or else!’”

Tim Smith

 “Air-checks … my favourite ever was when a senior (group) manager swooped in …
… gave us a whole lot of direction about how to change our show …
… and then our local PD pulled us aside and said
‘Ignore everything he just said’!”

Natalie Locke

Stand-up is autonomous, radio is collaborative. Stand-up comedians are used to being their own boss. You are the Writer, the Performer, the Director, and … The Biggest Critic.

Mick Molloy
Stand-up is purely a solo pursuit. You are answerable to no-one but yourself.
Ciel Being a stand up comedian means being autonomous, you are completely in control of everything you do – you are your own brand.
Tom Gleeson When you're a stand-up you are your own boss. You come up with ideas. You take them on stage with no additional input, and you live or die by the consequences.

What can be demoralising for stand-up comedians who are new to working in radio is all the meetings – especially radio’s infamous “air-check” meetings…

Mikey Robins

(With stand-up comedy) you don't have to do a bloody air-check (meeting) at the end of the gig.

(With stand-up comedy) you never have to worry about fitting into the "station filter*", "being fun not funny" or sitting through an air-check (meeting) – oh happy day!

* Station brand filter, not Brita

Steve Philp After a stand up gig the only meeting I have to have is with the bar, or the drunk girl in the corner.
Tom Gleeson (Working in media) you earn a lot of money, you meet a lot of fascinating people, but you have to get used to not getting your own way – and being okay with it.
Mick Molloy Radio is a collaborative process, shared with you and your on-air team and producers, Program Directors, and the like.
Chrissie Swan It's a difficult role – the funny guy – because if they miss an opportunity for a zinger because they're truly listening to the conversation in the break, they get criticised by the boss (in the air-check meeting after the show). And if they deliver the funny to the detriment of listening, they're drawn over the coals for that, too. The funny guy can't really win. And that is easy to take personally.
Natalie Locke Ultimately, "everyone" liking it really means your Program Director. Like every (presenter), I've had good ones and bad ones and a couple of staggeringly horrific ones. The ones that try to impose their humour on you are the most irritating, as you can guarantee they're not funny. Excruciatingly cringeworthy, yes, but not funny.

Worse still, such meetings are often with "suits".  Or, as mentioned in Part 5, with a middle-aged, uncomfortably tight-panted man of self-imposed falsetto who is still ah ah ah ah stayin’ alive.  (In his deep and introspective moments, Mr Man-Camel ponders what the future has in store for the human race – specifically what will we be singing in the eighties?  And whether he will be in his eighties before anyone notices he only goes to the ACRAs when they’re held on the Gold Coast just before Schoolies Week).

Chrissie Swan … humour shouldn't be laboured…
Scott Muller …unlike the previous paragraph…
Chrissie Swan … or planned, formulaic or scientific – which is often the mindset of the bosses in charge, or as I call them, the Wizards of Oz.
Natalie Locke Air-checks have been a source of great entertainment over the years. I think my favourite ever was when a senior (group) manager swooped in (and) gave us a whole lot of direction about how to change our show to go after a slightly different demo, and then our local Program Director pulled us aside and said "Ignore everything he just said."
Scott Muller Finer words were never spoken and, in Nat's example, common sense clearly prevailed.  But often, encounters with the people Chrissie calls "the Wizards of Oz" can lead to intense and emotionally exhausting pressure to ‘relax and have fun with it’…

Tim Smith
… we were under huge pressure and mental strain to have fun, and that is really not a very favourable environment. It was at times like being held at gunpoint and told "The person who is sadly no longer here failed to sound fun to us, so enjoy yourselves, or else". What a strange way to pass our time.

Often, these “management types” are the very people who are the butt of many stand-up jokes. Unless there is great trust between such Programmers and the talent, you can bet that what is going through the heads of stand-up comedians in air-check meetings is “Who the f*** are YOU to air-check ME?!?!  Who are YOU to judge what is funny, puny human?!?

Mikey Robins

The happiest moment in every Comedian's bloody week, listening to some Program Director who came from the Sales Department tell you why you weren't funny.
Tim Smith Radio exposes you to knuckleheads in management who, on a self important whim, want to argue about the mind numbingly trivial points of something you said at an ungodly hour when you were half asleep, and in the back of your mind you’re thinking they are only bringing this up to prove to you that they were up and listening.

Stand-up has hecklers.

Chrissie Swan I imagine it is … difficult (for comedians) to be fully engaged in an on-air conversation when you're mentally somewhere else working on a gag. I've seen far away looks in the eyes of many stand-ups while we are on air and I know they're not even with me in the moment – they're in Gag-land, feverishly hunting down the next funny …
Sarah Levett The toughest feedback session I had towards the beginning of my on-air career was short, sharp, and direct. After listening to the whole show, break by break, he looked at me and said, “There is nothing positive to say”. It was brutal – depressing, gut wrenching, confusing. And it wasn’t specific about anything – so I pretty much took it as “I think everything about you is shit – so you need to improve everything”. I took stock, and refused to be beaten or deflated. And so I put myself under the microscope and worked hard to improve every thing I could, step by step.
Natalie Locke On top of that, there's all the formatting of a breakfast show. So much is out of your control, particularly when it comes to contesting and promotions. And then there's the Program Director, who is constantly banging on about hooking. I can't ever recall hooking an upcoming gag in a comedy routine. The same goes for time and temp calls.
Simon Kennedy (In stand-up) you don't have club owners telling you what to say. At the most you'll be warned against too much language because “there's a group of f-ing nuns in the crowd”.
Tom Gleeson … with radio suddenly you're working in an office. Everyone has input and you have to be polite to colleagues and pretend that you care about their feedback. That's a tough gig.
Chrissie Swan The effect is that the joy of humour, the delicious fun of a good, surprising laugh is often sacrificed for the joke itself. Because when it comes down to it, it's work. Often times I think the funny guys are having about as much fun as the newsreader.

Brad March

For a stand-up comedian to successfully translate to radio, he/she needs a compatible Executive Producer or Program Director One that has the ability and, in particular, the experience to teach, coach and direct – which requires a very different skill-set to Program Directors who may be strong at music, or promotions, or marketing. Directing talent for radio is a specialised skill – and it usually requires experience, and a fair degree of talent in its own right.

With those very wise words from Brad about the often overlooked needs for compatibility and experience when matching Program Directors or Executive Producers with stand-up comedians and on-air talent, we’ll finish this article with some more wise words from stand-up comedian and on-air presenter, Jamie Row.

Jamie offers some incredibly insightful observations about how stand-up comedians can bi-pass the opinions of Mr Pocket-Billiards and his ‘90s focus group research – and instead create their own, on-going (and far more relevant) focus groups. Plus, Jamie has some sage advice for all aspiring Program Directors, regardless of whether they're wearing ravenously famished trousers …

Jamie Row

Listeners are predominantly hard working folk who live and work, who are raising families in the suburbs. Programmers bang on about this "heartland". Who is our audience? What are they thinking, their likes and dislikes? What makes them tick? It's a constant mission to know everything about them. What do they love? What do they hate? What are they thinking!


Stand-up comics have the best insight into "heartland", I think. Why? Because "heartland" are the people who go to comedy clubs. A stand-up audience IS the radio audience. Every night we face them. It's an ongoing LAB (Listener Advisory Board, or Internal Focus Group). Night after night we are doing our own tracking and it's pretty accurate. We know how to talk to them on and off the stage, make them laugh. We watch them eat pizza, get blind… we have a one on one relationship with them. We know them.

It's safe to say this poof has nil in common with Trish, out on her hen’s night, with her twenty mates, getting blind through a straw shaped like a dick. But having performed to a million Trish's over the years, I have a good idea what she's about. I know her very well, and I have a real respect for her. Thank you stand-up! I know who I'm dealing with daily, break to break.

Programmers should spend more time in comedy clubs. Not to look for the next #1 breakfast show. They should pop in and meet the people they're trying to get to listen to their station. And keep listening.

Next in 'The Brutal Truth' on Radio Today

The Joy of Teams – and thai-thai-thai-MING!

“You cannot manufacture chemistry”
Mick Molloy

“(That’s) another challenge for the stand-up …
letting go of the ego where you always have to be the one that gets the laugh. 
Not easy.  You are now part of an ensemble …
A win is a win for the team.  Ratings follow”

Wendy Harmer


Brad March is a former CEO of the Austereo Network and is Managing Director of Marchmedia.

Sarah Levett is a successful standup comedian, writer, MC, co-host of the New FM Breakfast Show.  

Scott Muller is Director of MBOS Consulting Group, a media management and consulting firm. Click here to contact him.


Who They Are (our stellar panel of experts):

Craig Annis – comedian and host of Star 104.5 breakfast show on Central Coast
Robin Bailey – breakfast host of 97.3fm Brisbane
Tom Ballard – comedian and host of triple j breakfast
Tim Blackwell – host of Nova’s national drive show
Ciel – comedian and on-air personality, previously at Sea FM Central Coast
Joel Creasey – comedian and regularly appears on 92.9 Perth + other stations across Australia
Stav Davidson – comedian and host of B105 breakfast
Lisa Fernandez – host of 92.9 breakfast in Perth
Tom Gleeson – comedian and previous host of Mix 101.1 breakfast
Wendy Harmer – comedian, ex-host of 2Day FM Morning Crew, now Editor in Chief of The Hoopla
Paul Hogan – comedian and host of 92.9 breakfast in Perth
Amanda Keller – hosted Triple M Syd bfst with Andrew Denton, now on WSFM with Jonesy
Simon Kennedy – comedian and former host of weekend breakfast on Nova 96.9
Lehmo – comedian, TV personality and host of breakfast on Gold FM in Melbourne
Tommy Little – comedian and weekend breakfast host on Nova 100
Natalie Locke – host of Nova 937 breakfast in Perth and former stand-up comedian
Tony Martin – comedian, famous for Martin / Molloy, Get This, and the D-Generation. Currently a writer/director of ABC's Upper Middle Bogan
Mick Molloy – comedian, famous for Martin / Molloy, the D-Generation, and currently hosts breakfast on Triple M Melbourne
James O’Loghlin – comedian, TV personality and ABC radio host
Dave O’Neil – comedian and founding member of the Nova 100 breakfast show
Steve Philp – comedian and former host of weekend breakfast on Nova 96.9
Adam Richard – comedian who has worked at triple j and for the Today network
Mikey Robins – comedian who has worked on breakfast at triple j and Triple M Sydney
Tim 'Rosso' Ross – comedian and host of Mix drive in Sydney and Melbourne
Jamie Row – comedian and host of Mix 101.1 breakfast with Chrissie & Jane
Akmal Saleh – comedian and former host of Nova national drive show
Julian Schiller – comedy writer and host of Merrick & The Highway Patrol
Marty Sheargold – comedian and host of Nova’s national drive show
Tim Smith – worked on The Richard Stubbs Breakfast Show, Timbo & Bedder’s, and on Mix 101.1
Jo Stanley – host of breakfast on Fox FM Melbourne
Chrissie Swan – host of Mix 101.1 breakfast in Melbourne
Dave Thornton – comedian, host of Mamamia Today and current weekend show with Sophie Monk
Matt Tilley – host of breakfast on Fox FM Melbourne

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