The Power of Regional Radio


I get a lot of emails and calls from people working in regional radio. Some wanting career advice and some who are scared s*****ss they will never progress beyond their current market.

Regional radio is a well worn path to success in cap city radio although personalities have also come from reality TV shows like Big Brother, comedy, sport, journalism, community radio and triple j. But the majority of on-air and programming talent have risen through the ranks of regional radio.

Spending time in regional markets will generally give you greater longevity in radio. In a way it’s like an apprenticeship. There are shortcuts – but in the long run you will be well served by the time spent in regional.

As a general rule, the teams are smaller and much more closely knit. A common comment from people who have recently made the move from regional to metro is that the teams are much bigger, it’s far less close-knit, there’s more segregation between departments … and quite often it takes a while to adjust.

Sure, in regional gigs the budget/resources are much tighter – but the upside is that because of this the opportunities for creativity are driven by greater necessity. It might not feel like the ideal at the time, but there really is no better experience to survive and thrive in. You also get the chance to try out ideas and take greater risks in regional radio than the far less forgiving metro markets.

In short: if you spend your time in regional radio working hard, thoroughly learning your craft, taking a few calculated risks, “pushing the envelope”, and learning from both what worked and what didn’t work, you’ll be all the stronger for it when the move to metro comes along.

At the recent CRA conference, Hall of Fame winner Kevin Blyton from Capital Radio, Guy Dobson from Resonate/SCA, Rowly Paterson from ACE and Glenn Wheatley from EON commented on the strength of regional radio. They talked about the strong bonds local radio has with its listeners, being part of the community, the competitive nature of regional markets and the challenges of staff retention.

One thing is certain, regional radio is a great and exciting path to a successful career in radio. Some of todays industry leaders – programmers and on-air talent started in regional radio.

I started my radio career at 6KA in Karratha WA and my programming career at 2XL Cooma, also spending time in Horsham Victoria and Canberra. The Heads of Content at Southern Cross Austereo, Guy Dobson (left), started out at 4CD Gladstone in 1983, and Craig Bruce started at Port Augusta’s 5AU in 1986. Brian Ford, Managing Director at ESP – Australia’s leading radio consultancy – commenced in radio at 2VM Moree. Programming genius Greg Smith started in 7BU in Burnie, Tasmania in 1968. Successful DMG Group Program Director Paul Jackson worked his way up from regional UK markets. Leading Perth Program Director Brad McNally, from 96FM, started his career at 4SB Kingaroy and 5AU Port Augusta.

Dan Bradley (right), from consultancy Kaizen Media, started as mid dawn announcer at 7HO Hobart in 1988 and went onto become Nova PD and Asst Group Program Director overseeing 10 stations for DMG, 9 of them in metro markets. Scott Muller’s early days were spent in Canberra. He achieved great success in positions such as Program Director at Capital London, Nova Sydney, and Network Program Director for the UK’s GWR Media Group and is now Director of MBOS Consulting Group.

Talented Mix 106.5 Sydney Content Director Ryan Rathbone (left) started at SNOW FM Cooma. ARN’s Group Content Director Duncan Campbell got his start at 2PK in Parkes in 1984. Triple M PD Jamie Angel commenced in Inverell and Muswellbrook and Today Network PD Dave Cameron spent time at Hot 100 Darwin. Mike Cass, DMG’s Asst Group Program Director, started in his hometown of Leicester in regional UK.

Loads of on air talent started out in regional markets. Names like recently announced Fox FM breakfast host Fifi Box worked at 2MC Port Macquarie, 3TR Traralgon and 3GG Warragul. Brendan Jones started out at 6KA Karratha, his WSFM co-host Amanda Keller (right) starting out in Bathurst. Michael ‘Wippa’ Wipfli, from Nova’s Fitzy & Wippa breakfast show, started radio in Port Augusta.

Breakfast superstar Kyle Sandilands began on breakfast in Darwin, Today Networks National Bump host, Angus O’Loughlin, started at 106.3 Townsville. Nova’s Tim Blackwell (left) started out in Albury. Chrissie Swan, now on Mix Melbourne breakfast, started on the Sunshine Coast and Heidi Anderson (below right) from 92.9 Perth started at Hot FM Bunbury WA.

Paul Campion from 97.3FM began at 4MK Mackay. The brilliant Andrew Denton’s early radio career was in country NSW at Bathurst. Jackie O’s early days were on the Gold Coast followed by Canberra.

Radio greats like Barry Bissell started in Swan Hill at 3SH and the legendary Lee Simon (below) at 2BE in the early 70s. And there are countless other examples.

Regional radio is a place where you can build your confidence, hone your skillset and get a range of experiences through multi-tasking, it’s a chance to learn the craft, learn the ropes.

And the future of regional radio looks very strong indeed.

Local radio in some cases can be the only source of local news and entertainment, especially in markets that don’t have local TV or newspapers. Some markets with local newspapers are seeing numbers decline considerably and only publish once or twice a week. This makes the role of local radio even more vital.

Online media doesn’t cover a local market as well as radio can. It’s a great stepping stone where radio professionals can get the work experience they need.

Many enjoy the lifestyle and never leave, making it a career destination and choose to ‘marry‘ the market, and serve their local community more than they’d be able to in metro markets. Perhaps the best example of this is 4TO Townsville’s Steve Price (right), originally from Melbourne, went to Townsville decades ago and didn’t leave. (read some pearls of wisdom from Pricey here)

Digital radio further enhances regional radio as it’s introduced in regional areas, ensuring a strong future for the medium. First it will be markets such as Canberra, Newcastle, Hobart, Geelong, etc, then smaller regional markets next with the completion of digital expected in 5-6 years. This will provide more listener choice and opportunities for employees.

Ratings in regional markets, due to be introduced next year, will further legitimise the medium and be useful for national revenue. Long overdue, measuring station ratings performances will make content and programming even more important in these markets.

All in all, it makes for a sound future for regional radio and that’s great news for the entire radio industry.


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


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