The One That Got Away – pt 2

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

On Tuesday, in part of 1 of Greg's article on Stephanie Rittenberg (see here), he spoke with Craig Bruce, Jodie Cairns and Dan Bradley to discover more about Steph and why Australian radio lost her programming talent to the U.K.

Today we find out how the popular station tactic 'The Fugitive' was born, the differences Stephanie found between working for Austereo and DMG and her advice to anyone wanting to work in the UK.

Greg: The Fugitive was a fantastic tactic for the Today Network. A number of people have claimed credit for it. The old story of success has many fathers & failure none. You were there so what really happened?

Stephanie: The late Richard Marsland (pictured right) quietly spoke up in a meeting one day about something he’d heard (a movie maybe) about a $20,000 Man who people were looking for.  His radio idea was that a man was out somewhere and listeners had to find him.  Everyone liked the idea but we were already working on our next station promotion so didn’t really have any need to develop it any further at that point.

A week or so later, Jodie Cairns spoke up saying she thought the survey promotion we were working on was flawed and suggested looking at Richard’s idea properly.

Craig Bruce was away at the time but when he came back from holidays a week or so later it was presented to him and he quickly wrote scripts where he called the promotion ‘The Fugitive’ and included constantly-changing bounties on his head (because $20,000 each time was unsustainable).

From there Richard, Craig and I plus Jodie Cairns and Linc Kelly (head of production) had various planning sessions where we worked out how many times a day he would go out, how he would contact the station, how we’d hide and track him etc. as well as the structure of the clues. I remember pushing for ‘cryptic’ clues so that office and house-bound listeners could play along.

The original plan had the clues written ‘straighter’. This memory is very clear because I first likened them to cryptic riddles AKA the Riddler-style and every time I walked into a meeting after that Richard and Craig would wind me up by singing the Batman theme tune to me.

I was project manager of The Fugitive but the team of 5 of us were the ‘core’ team that developed and worked on it. And it’s fair to say we nailed every detail on The Fugitive’s first outing … right down to how soon we’d ring people he’d been in contact with or left calling cards with.

That promotion had the most amount of planning sessions of any other promotion we’d worked on.

For the record, when I moved to DMG an article mistakenly said that I came up with The Fugitive. I’ve never ever said that, it’s only ever been explained by me in the above, true version. 

Greg: Moving to Nova to work with Dan Bradley, what did you learn from Dan?

Stephanie: The main thing I learned, and something which I use to this day is, never feel forced to make a decision on the spot, especially if someone unexpectedly walks up to your desk, interrupting what you’re doing and hits you with a question that they’ve already spent considerable time thinking about whereas you haven’t.

I remember that he would simply ask if it was ok for him to have a think and then get back to the person. Not to say he never answered anything straight away of course.

Greg: At the time, a lot was made of the very different cultures at Austereo & DMG. What was your experience?

Stephanie: DMG had more of a quiet dignity than Austereo did at the time. This came from the top from Paul Thompson (pictured left). They focussed more on what they were doing rather than obsessing about their competitors. And they were definitely less outwardly aggressive. But I personally never compared them as like for like. Austereo was a fully grown beast. Nova was a brand new baby that was being born and as such was surrounded with a very unique kind of positivity, excitement and expectancy plus general goodwill from everyone.

Greg: What advice would you give to people who want to work in radio in the U.K. & what do Australians bring to the table?

Stephanie: I think it’s fair to say that Australians are well respected in the UK. Hard working, thorough and well trained. There aren’t as many of them in high profile programming jobs any more, but lots of Integrations girls are heading over and doing very well.

So my advice would be, come here and keep being as good as you were in Oz.

Greg: You also worked for esp in countries like the Czech Republic. What was that like?

Stephanie: Weird. We’d be in a meeting that was being translated. I’d say 10 words. The translator would speak about 50 words in Czech translating it. Then a Czech person would say 50 words and the translator would give me about 10 back. So it was important to keep things very structured on paper as much as possible because going off on a tangent could take all afternoon.

But on the whole it showed that people are basically the same everywhere – things like music marathons were popular everywhere as were good play-along quizzes.

I loved consulting. It’s a great way to see the big picture and it suited my brain to think that way. Walk in, see a snap shot, not get bogged down in detail and bring fresh views and ideas in. Plus it meant meeting and working with a lot of interesting and talented people.

I was also in a very unique situation of being the only female and this was embraced to the point where I was commissioned to write a research document about female psychology and how that applies to female-targeted programming.

Greg: Will Australian radio ever get you back or is London your home now?

Stephanie: I’ve been here just shy of 10 years, so it’s home now. It would take a very special opportunity to make me prepared to lose the ability to go to Paris on the weekend for lunch!


Stephanie lives in London and works for Global Radio as Commercial Programmer for the Heart Network & XFM.




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