Content Kings: Brian Ford
Brian Ford has spent over 30 years in radio.
He held such positions as music director and program director at stations including B105, 2DayFM and Fox FM between 1989 and 2004.
Brian is best known for driving the strategic thinking that helped solidify the Hit Network’s position as a leading premier network in Australia and helping establish the core demographic of Triple M as a network.
Below, Brian delves into the keys to success as a group PD, in part three of Radio Today‘s ‘Content Kings’ interview series.
What are the common factors you see when looking back on the great programmers of Australian radio?
I think everyone approaches things in their own way on the path to success.
The one thing I saw in all the programmers I worked alongside was the will to win. An uncompromising attitude. All ‘can do’ people that would find a way when the path seemed impossible. The energy to push through when times were tough, and the focus to think ahead and get onto what’s next. They never let their guard down.
Interestingly, everyone is different. They have their own way. Brad (March)’s enthusiasm and energy drove B105 and 2Day’s success in the ’90s, Greg (Smith)’s vision was extraordinary, driven by the search for a better way. He was always going to create an empire. Jeff (Allis) was just unrelenting. Brilliant to have on your side, devastating to have as an enemy.
Dobbo (Guy Dobson) had – and still has – an extraordinary mind. Ideas that not so much left you asking ‘why didn’t I think of that’, but more ‘how the hell did he think of that?’
I’m jealous of them all.
What’s changes have you seen in the programmer role compared to when you first started out?
The PD is now a CD for starters.
They reign over not only the content on air but now digital and online activity as well as a variety of operations depending on the station resources.
The trend has been to spread them thinner and thinner, making it harder to focus on the things that really matter. In this environment, the cream really rises to the top. Adrian Brine at the Fox is a great example.
How do you see the future of the programmer or group PD role developing?
I think the search for new talent and the ability to work productively with talent is just going to be so critical.
They are the lifeblood of our industry and will determine the destiny. More-so today than ever before. Listeners don’t need radio for their music so much now. Great talent will draw people in, and great CDs will be brilliant with talent.
No doubt also the need to juggle creative with the challenges of revenue. In a way, it’s the same as it’s always been – work creatively together to achieve results for both.
What are your proudest moments developing talent?
I don’t know that I could be credited for developing talent per se.
I think the biggest impact I had was in Melbourne where the launch of Tracy & Matt in ’97 started the incredible run of success that continues to this day. A true legendary radio station that everyone should aspire to work at some time in their career.
It’s not only on air, it’s also off air. I always believed in giving people space to grow. To let them do their job and shine. The Fox became great in that era because of brilliant people in every role. Sam Thompson, Jamie Angel, Irene Hulme, Mel Murphy, Matt Nikolic and so many more.
Who is the best programmer working right now?
Guy Dobson without a doubt. He’s been through many battles and the experience cannot be underestimated.
At station level, Adrian Brine. It would be easy to say he took over a powerful brand at Fox, so how hard is it? He’s much more than that. A future group programmer.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to aspiring programmers today?
Study the great programmers and learn why they had success. Then take what works for you.
Know your weaknesses and surround yourself with people who will excel at those things.
And ask lots of questions. As Greg Smith has said so often, the great programmers spend more time listening than talking.