The One That Got Away – pt 1

Greg Smith is an inductee into the Australian Radio Hall of Fame, and a Director of Radio Today.

On more than one occasion, Radio Today has highlighted the lack of females as Content Directors. 

Brad March recently named Sam Thompson, Irene Hulme & Donna Puechmarin as the only Content Directors to make his list of the Top 27 Most Influential Women in Radio.

In Australia, Stephanie Rittenberg (pictured below) worked in a number of key positions in both Austereo & DMG.  However, she was overlooked for the top programming job at several stations.

The closest she got to being a Content Director was when she was appointed Acting Program Director at SA.FM at 24 years of age.

Did we let her slip through our fingers? Or maybe her youth was against her & she wasn’t ready at the time. Regardless, we lost her to the U.K. 9 years ago.

She now lives in London and works for Global Radio as Commercial Programmer for the Heart Network & XFM. Previous to this she was Commercial Programme Controller for 95.8 Capital FM.

Craig Bruce, Head of Content at Southern Cross Austereo says…

“Stephanie was my assistant at SA.FM when I first moved into the CD role in the late 90's. She then moved into tactics working with Jodie Cairns. She was a gun. Great attitude towards learning, loved to challenge the status quo, would always speak her mind and she had a terrific creative flair. Very entrepreneurial in her thinking.

Here's the reason why we missed her…and it's not an excuse.

At the age of 24 her ambition was well and truly ahead of her maturity.

In my opinion it's very rare to find someone with the life experience and persuasive skills to be a great CD before the age of 30. The role is not one for self-absorption, particularly in the metro markets where you have smart, focused breakfast shows looking to you for the cues.

Steph was a missed opportunity, no question, but I think the mistake we made was to give her too much too quickly.”

Jodie Cairns (SAFM's Promotions & Marketing Director at the time) and her take on Stephanie…

“I worked with Stephanie when she was SA.FM’s Breakfast Promotions Manager. Steph is unlike any other person I’ve ever known. She has a different take on life, which makes her innovative and creative, but at other times she would come up with brilliant ideas that were just down right obvious!

I envied how she always said what she thought without fear of ridicule.

She has a passion for life and a passion to succeed and isn’t scared to take a risk or of receiving honest feedback. I know that one day one of her ideas will put her on the richest list somewhere in the world!”

Dan Bradley, DMG Assistant Group Program Director & PD of Nova Melbourne at the time had this to say…

“If you wanted something done you knew she’d nail it, she didn’t miss a detail. She was very creative, never short of ideas, but she also had the capacity to look at the detail rather than the big picture. I hired her from SAFM into Nova 100, in fact she was the first person hired in the launch marketing and promotions department for the station.”

Greg: Stephanie do you think you wanted it all too quickly?

Stephanie: No. not really. I definitely wanted career advancement and to be involved in everything that was on air but leaving Australia happened because I was offered a job in London, I never sought the job, it was offered to me out of the blue and that’s the reason I left.

That said, it’s true that I couldn’t have been a truly effective PD (CD) aged 24 for the reasons Craig states above and not being an announcer I had limited options; music jobs were structured around dual roles, as were many APD jobs at the time.

If I could go back in time I would have loved the chance to be Craig’s number 2 throughout his career advancement. I think that would have been my perfect path to being a PD from around age 30.

Greg: What were the key things that Craig Bruce taught you?

Stephanie: To know WHY you were doing something, why listeners would engage with it and to just do go ahead and make a start on it.

Craig’s capacity to walk straight out of a meeting where we came up with a new idea and write all the scripts for every element of it within about 20 minutes was amazing.

Not to say things couldn’t get tweaked later (although often they didn’t need to) but there was always such momentum and focus on the things we put to air. We never lost the excitement between idea and execution but equally we never did anything half-cocked.

The other thing was to use your own mind rather than be one of those ‘Apprentice with a text book in their hand’ types, you know, the people who quote things they’ve learned but don’t quite know how to apply them.

I give Jodie Cairns a huge amount of credit for teaching me this also.  She is still one of the single biggest influences on my career. We regularly sat in her office imagining being a woman driving home with her kids in the car etc. and just brought things back to basic real life-situations and thought, in simple terms, about how listeners would engage with things we planned on doing. Understanding the psychology of listeners and the place radio has in their lives are the most important things I think aside from research.

I’ve always maintained that Jodie, had she chosen to follow that path, would have been one of the best PD's in Australia if not the world. Her judgement and understanding of human psychology is amazing.


In part 2 here, we discover if Stephanie was the brains behind 'The Fugitive', the differences she found between working for Austereo and DMG and her advice to anyone wanting to work in the UK.


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