The last of the great independent Program Directors – David v Goliath


There are few major market Program Directors who compete successfully with stations that are part of the big radio groups SCA, Nova and ARN.

Two that come to mind are Brad McNally and David Rymer both experienced, successful programmers.

These talented programmers tend not to have as high a profile but make no mistake they are good and they can be dangerous. Just ask their competitors!

McNally (left), originally from Toronto Canada, is PD of 96FM Perth and whilst it’s part of the Fairfax radio network, being based in Perth would give him considerable autonomy and also being an FM music format in a talk network means he alone would have the expertise required for music format radio and breakfast.

96FM ratings speak for themselves. It's a strong product and has been a consistent rater. In the last survey it was rated number two in the most important demos 25-39 and 40-54, beating SCA’s 92.9 10+ and just slightly behind Nova.

Rymer, originally from Melbourne, is PD at Hot Tomato Gold Coast, a true independent. In the latest survey HT soundly beat SCA’s SeaFM 10+ to become the number two station on the Gold Coast, Australia’s sixth biggest market. It was also a strong number two in the important 25-39 demographic.

The radio stations where McNally and Rymer work, as well as enjoying strong ratings, most importantly are very successful, well run, profitable businesses for their owners, and at the end of the day that’s the bottom line. Strong ratings and consistency of product and brand in the market are the key drivers of healthy revenue and subsequent profits.

Programmers like McNally and Rymer have to be savvy, resourceful, have coaching ability, be self-motivated, have to operate without the benefit of a large brains trust, big budgets and extravagant marketing and they have to have expertise covering all aspects of programming including strategy, music, breakfast, research, promotions, production and also sales.

McNally commented: “Yes, it’s a real challenge sometimes, being the only FM station in a group of AM talk stations and yes, we run our own race here.”

“The good part is we are left on our own so our destiny is in our own hands. That’s cool because I have a sharp team here and we are all focused to win.”

“We do not operate in a vacuum. We collaborate and use every resource available. We do our own research studies and do not have any consultants.”

“We have learned to fight with very little here at 96, and I have always said we are like the little IGA supermarket up against Coles.”

“I was lucky enough to work with Austereo twice and I always say those guys trained me.”

I’m not saying it’s easy to achieve success working with one of the majors, but it’s possibly easier.

Being a part of a large group has a lot of natural advantages. I know as most of my career was spent with Austereo and later at ARN.

With the role of the PD changing considerably in the 90s within the big networks, PDs now don't have to do as much at the higher strategic level.

McNally and Rymer (left) are two of the few remaining PDs in the traditional sense of the title, the role now being more about implementation and operational.

Some PDs in the big networks are very strong implementers, but few would be able to pull off what would have been expected of PDs in the past, bringing everything together, the whole strategy, vision, music, talent, research, marketing, imaging, positioning, the works, which is what the likes of McNally and Rymer achieve every day in their roles.

Rymer gave us his thoughts on being independent of a network:  “At first, for me being unattached to a network was very daunting. There were no like-minded programmers to call when you had a question or needed to bounce something around.”

“So, I found myself getting the most from those in the building. I will often bounce ideas around with Hans Torv, the owner whose office is at the end of the building.”

“At Hot Tomato, we make the very best of the resources we have. No matter how resourced you are, you always want more. Ask any PD. It’s a ferocious battle on the Gold Coast and Hot Tomato is a very lean but highly competitive business.”

“You’ll be surprised, when left to your own devices and being unencumbered from a network, how much you can get done and how quickly you can do it. But to be fair, my 10 years as a programmer at Austereo trained me well. Without those learnings, my current gig would be close to impossible to execute on many fronts “

Working for a major group clearly gives you access to more resources and a wide network of colleagues for support and collaboration. Working independently you have to be more resourceful and there’s greater accountability, there is simply nowhere to hide!

To be able to achieve success outside the major groups, competing and winning against them is a great achievement and is rare to find.

It’s real David v Goliath stuff!

Brad March is a Director of Radio Today, is a former CEO and Group Program Director of Austereo and has been named Media Executive of the Year

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