The Brutal Truth – Part 8

Radio Consultancy

Who Am I?

(Dealing with self-doubt, anxiety, narcissism, and your on-air persona)

“To a certain extent there has to be fakery –
your anxieties, self-doubt and narcissistic tendencies aren’t appealing.
(Even though most broadcasters have those traits in spades.)
So how much do you tell?  What do you hold back?
… How do you craft an air personality that has the broadest audience appeal?”

Wendy Harmer


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

With any ambitious project, when you shoot, aim high. If you miss, better to pop a seagull than shoot yourself in the foot. What’s the worst that could happen? 

(More chips for people at the beach, that’s what. So aim high. QED).

Which means you might as well start at the top, right? The two people we approached first for input into this series – and both of them provided fantastic responses that far exceeded our expectations – are two legends of the Australian radio industry, two people about whom it would be impossible to bang on about for far too long: Wendy Harmer and Tony Martin.

But that’s enough banging on about Tony Martin*.

Wendy Harmer is, indisputably, the greatest female radio star of all time. But to identify her success with her gender would be demeaning to both Wendy and to women in general: there’s barely a male radio star worthy of occupying the same superstar podium as Wendy. Maybe Doug Mulray, who achieved a similarly legendary status to Wendy. Maybe Tony, as pretty much every radio show he touches turns to ratings gold. And maybe one day Kyle will be looked back upon with similar high regard on that podium (albeit one erected behind a whole lot of chicken wire).

Wendy remains a contemporary, relevant, and active voice in the radio industry. So it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to us – though it certainly was beyond any of our greatest expectations – that Wendy contributed the most generous, insightful, and revealing response to our questions. It was so open and honest – and so profoundly beneficial for talent and programmers of all levels of experience and market sizes – that we’ve dedicated all of part 8 to what Wendy has to say on this, the most important topic in the series.

Thank you also to the very generous contributions of Natalie Locke, Dave O’Neil, Jamie Row, Adam Richard, Tom Ballard and, of course, our own Sarah Levett.

As we said, this is the most important article in The Brutal Truth series. Thank you, again, Wendy, for being so generous with your insights.

* At least, that's enough banging on about Tony Martin for today. There will be more Tony on Monday when we resume

Radio Today’s policy of meeting the industry’s 25% Tony content requirement – commonly known as The Tony Quota.

That’s coming up on Monday in late nights after 10pm in The All Aussie You Beaut Homegrown Tony Show.

Wendy Harmer
As a stand-up comedian who was first faced with a radio microphone, the all-important question struck me: “Who am I?”


You can certainly fake a larger-than-life character in a half hour stand-up routine, but a wise-cracking, one-liner persona won’t get you very far on radio.  It’s tiresome for both you and the listeners.   

To a certain extent there has to be fakery – your anxieties, self-doubt and narcissistic tendencies aren’t appealing. (Even though most broadcasters have those traits in spades.)


So, how much do you tell?  What do you hold back?  Who is it you’re trying to connect with? 

How do you craft an air personality that has the broadest audience appeal?

Brad March
Working with Wendy – who had come straight from stand-up and ABC Television’s “The Big Gig” – was a slow process, initially. It took a bit of time to refine break structure and, in particular, subject matter. Early on, Wendy would talk about what had happened in parliament. Together, we worked on reflecting hot topics and shows her audience was watching (like Melrose Place), and – very importantly – focusing more on primal content, like relationships.
Wendy Harmer Some presenters over-share; some leave the listeners wondering just what it is they’re trying to hide.

Natalie Locke

There is always a balance to be struck between being open about your life and revealing too much. When I first started going out with my partner, for example, I kept that pretty close to my chest for several months. But eventually, I started talking about him and now he's a regular source of content. 

It's been more of a rollercoaster for him, though, given that he had absolutely no exposure to the media before meeting me. He still finds it weird when I talk about him on the radio, and then his phone starts running hot with all his mates giving him shit about it. I'm conscious, though, to not be too open about our relationship.

Wendy Harmer
So you have to make decisions about personal boundaries and craft a persona that is truthful, but also varnishes the worst aspects of your personality. (A bit like patting your stomach and rubbing your head at the same time. The best broadcasters can master the trick.)
Dave O'Neil Stand-up and radio are similar because they both benefit from people who can be themselves and speak in an authentic voice.
Natalie Locke It certainly took a while to find out my on-air identity. Essentially, it's me. I certainly don't make anything up or pretend I'm something I'm not … In our show, I also hold down the anchor role and am essentially the voice of reason (this is only a relative term). And the female voice. But these are just roles that are an extension of my own personality.
Wendy Harmer I started out as the classic unlucky in love single woman and then moved through marriage, kids – all that. I left out some of the weird details that made me singular and went with the ones that had, you know, “relatability” – that word beloved of radio types.

Jamie Row
Stand-up helped me do that … What comedy clubs gave me was a real sense of what people found relatable. Programmers bang on about "being relatable" all the time, striking a chord with the listener. Well, get up in front of a group of strangers with the sole purpose of making them laugh, you find out pretty quick what's relatable and what isn't. Or rather, (whether) you are.
Sarah Levett Both stand-up comedy and radio require you to be able to be vulnerable – to be honest, and to expose parts of yourself – and, of course, the ability to laugh at yourself.
Wendy Harmer That’s the art of it of course. It’s showmanship and bravado, but also something else. Conviction, compassion and sincerity. As the old saying goes, if you can fake that, you got it made!

Except, perhaps, in radio – it’s not acting or politics or TV presenting. It’s a thing that’s unique. And every good broadcaster is wonderful in an entirely different way.

Adam Richard The best advice I ever got on doing radio was from Wil Anderson. He once told me to imagine I was only talking to the people in the room, and one other person who I couldn’t see. That’s the audience. You’re not playing to a 1,500 seat theatre, you’re talking to somebody in their car stuck in traffic. Your job isn’t to make people slap their thighs with laughter, it’s to be good company.
Wendy Harmer (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, and have to understand that a laugh is a win for the team.

Tom Ballard

Both radio and stand up comedy are about having conversations, being relatable and letting the audience affect you. I think they're also about spontaneity and being able to react and create in the moment. I love watching a comic throw out his or her script and play with something happening in the room, just as I love hearing someone on the radio react to a caller or a guest and throw the show in a completely different direction.
Wendy Harmer

Two stand out partners for me have been Peter Moon and Angela Catterns – for exactly opposite reasons.

I often played straight bat to Peter on 2Day FM’s “The Morning Crew”. I prided myself on setting up a situation from which he could extract the maximum entertainment. You could throw anything at Moonie, and he almost never failed in getting the reaction or laugh you were after – a win for the team. God, Moonie made me laugh. (And I dealt with the self-doubt that said after a show: “Fuck it. That guy’s a lot funnier than me.”)

With Angela on the ABC’s “Early Girlies”, she’s the one who sets me up – superbly. And when I take that ball and run with it… she revels in the result. She laughs and laughs and laughs. (I deal with the self-doubt after the show: “Fuck it. That woman’s way more articulate than me.”)

There are not too many two-hander acts in stand-up. Richard Stubbs and I had a go at it many years ago, Judith Lucy and Denise Scott do it now. But on radio, there are plenty of them. Too many legendary partnerships to mention.

Scott Muller

In the final article in this series, we’ll include Brad March’s recollection of working with, and developing some of those legendary on-air partnerships …
Wendy Harmer

The best are generous and open-hearted and sacrifice the ego, the one-upmanship, on the altar of real entertainment. A win is a win for the team. Ratings follow.

As I say, it’s an art. It takes some mastering. Some real humility, thoughtfulness and intelligence.

And you can’t fake that.


Next in 'The Brutal Truth' on Radio Today

What the Fuck is 7-Second Delay?!?
(And other very handy tips for young players – including insights from Brad March on Martin/Molloy, Denton/Keller and other great on-air teams)


“If only I had a seven second delay surgically implanted in my brain.          
I think I would have been far more successful”.

Akmal Saleh

“Most stand-ups have to bear in mind that radio is more PG than R rated”
Dave O’Neil

“(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’”.

Simon Kennedy

“My stand up became filthy for about 3 months after I started in radio.
I felt so censored in what I could say on-air that on-stage I went the other way”

Stav Davidson

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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