Radio ‘treats listeners like they don’t have a brain’: Em Rusciano

Former 2DayFM and 92.9 Breakfast host Em Rusciano has said she was in constant battles throughout her on-air career, taking on “old school” radio executives whose ideas about what constitutes good content are outdated.

“That’s what I hate about radio. The fact that radio treats the listeners like they don’t have a brain. And the lowest common denominator bullshit. The going after the cheap shots,” she told Craig Bruce’s Game Changers: Radio podcast.

Bruce himself is a former Southern Cross Austereo (SCA) executive – departing as head of content in 2015 – who Rusciano said she loves and hates in equal measure.

“I think radio attracts a certain type of personality that I clash with,” she told Bruce. “I think I make radio people nervous because I am a walking wound, emotionally charged individual, who’s not afraid to call shit out, when I think a lot of radio up until when I started in the early 2000s was about bravado, and putting on an act, and ‘This is who we are’. And I think I was a new breed of radio announcers who did tell the truth and didn’t put on a persona and hated ‘Gotcha’ calls. I openly hated ‘Gotcha’ calls,” she said.

“I was new school and very much fighting old-school radio.”

She also took issue with the inauthenticity of radio.

“And the entire executive board of 40-plus men trying to tell me how to be a relatable woman – I had a lot of issues with that,” she added.

She is, she said, still working through the implosion of 2DayFM Breakfast, which she hosted with comedian Harley Breen in 2017. In 2018, Breen was replaced by Ed Kavalee, and Grant Denyer was added to the line-up. By September of that year, Rusciano was gone.

“I think in radio there’s a lot of people with agendas, also. I always found that a lot of my producers actually wanted to be on air, which is a very, very bad mix…. Radio’s this thing that, I’m really good at it, but I become the worst version of myself when I do it… I had to pick being good or being happy,” she said.

“I was so unhappy and tortured. And radio does that to people like me. You overanalyse everything. You get given too much feedback, I would argue, and I did come out of it very bitter and twisted about holding a microphone in front of me and speaking. And it made me question all my instincts, especially the Sydney radio stint. That made me question if I had any ability at all,” she added.

She is much happier since departing radio, she said, and has worked on becoming a better team player.

“I’m very good at it now… It was a skill I was really bad at… I’ve approached it like an athlete,” she explained.

And for anyone who may be on the cusp of reinventing themselves and leaving radio, Rusciano said it’s a hard slog ahead.

“To survive in Australian media, you have to be a jack of all trades. I really think you do. I really think you do have to skill up. You can’t just be good at one thing, because there’ll be someone else who is good at that same thing.

“But my advice, I guess, if you’re leaving radio, is you can’t have an ego. You can’t assume anyone owes you anything. That’s the big thing. The big thing is you’ll be very quickly forgotten, but you can’t feel like you’re entitled to success. You must be prepared to work hard for it. And you also have to back yourself. And you’re also going to get people trying to give you advice…. But just, for me, it’s don’t have an ego, but back yourself…..Resilience in our industry is so important.

“And don’t place your self worth in the opinions of others. That was a big lesson for me. Everyone’s going to have an opinion on you. They still do on me and my radio career,” she quipped.

Post radio, Rusciano said she had the most successful year of her career last year, selling out her Rage & Rainbows stage show, which was then screened by Channel 10 multiple times.

This year, she launched her podcast, Emsolation, during Melbourne’s COVID-19 lockdowns. The podcast is via SCA’s PodcastOne, and in September was the company’s fifth most popular behind Hamish & Andy, The Howie Games, The Briefing and Matt & Alex All Day Breakfast. 

Emsolation launched in April and has clocked up over 70 episodes

Rusciano said she loves podcasting – because she can control the content, and be both happy and successful – but being back with SCA is a plot twist not lost on her.

“I’m still processing what happened with 2DayFM Breakfast. I’m still working through that in therapy. I’m still working through my whole relationship with SCA – and ironically my podcast comes from PodcastOne. So it’s almost like an abusive relationship that I keep going back to.”

Ultimately, Rusciano said she has forgiven Bruce for “abandoning” her, and no longer considers him “Big Bad Craig Bruce”.

“You treated my badly. I behaved badly… I know I made your job harder. I know that you often had to back me in when everyone wanted me gone. And Gemma Fordham [head of the Hit Network] faced the same thing. She had a deep belief in me and still does, and was having to face off with the board, constantly, who wanted me gone….. You were a fucking jerk sometimes, and so was I.”

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Lisa
27 Oct 2020 - 3:03 pm

Em Rusciano giving advice on radio content is like Bill Shorten giving advice on how to win an election

Jase
27 Oct 2020 - 6:45 pm

I have to agree with her. Some stations and content is lowest common denominator stuff.

troy
27 Oct 2020 - 7:33 pm

She said ” I was a new breed of radio announcers who did tell the truth and didn’t put on a persona and hated ‘Gotcha’ calls. I openly hated ‘Gotcha’ calls,” she said.

“I was new school and very much fighting old-school radio.”

So how did that work ou for you Em? Maybe those old school 40-year-old radio bosses new something you didn’t?

It’s the platform it’s the bosses it’s the vibe
27 Oct 2020 - 11:54 pm

There have been plenty of real people in radio who don’t just consider the lowest common denominator when they speak and they weren’t ruled by white old board members, they had long important and profitable radio careers where they didn’t have to choose radio over happiness, they didn’t struggle with the pressure of it at all and at times they were also women. How splendid it would be if at least one of them could tip off your shrink and save you a HEAP of cash ??

Claudine
28 Oct 2020 - 7:05 am

Em represents this new style of broadcaster that believes people should be paid big money to host radio programs that no one listens to.

radionerd
28 Oct 2020 - 9:43 am

Classic case of externalising blame – it’s never Em’s fault is it. She still doesn’t understand what makes good radio.

Michael
28 Oct 2020 - 11:49 am

Sometimes in life you just have to move on. You can become bitter over things that happen or you can decide not to waste your time on the past and create a better future. You can’t change the past. Not everything in life works out, we all know that. If a person wants to carry baggage around for years that’s their decision but I, personally, think it’s not helpful mentally and can sometimes just mean the person ends up wallowing in self pity.

Clare
28 Oct 2020 - 7:52 pm

As a female listener right in the Em Rusciano demographic , and who has also worked in radio, I really back a lot of what she’s said here.
I LOVED her on radio. She had real heart and warmth and humour and connection. She didn’t do things in the old fashioned predictable cringe worthy prank call style ways. I could hear her heart, and she was actually kind towards callers and listeners.

I definitely hear her on this point:: a gifted , funny, relatable woman , being told , by men , how to be a woman on air and how to relate to women : Urg.

She did a great job relating to me as a female listener, for one.

I was sad when she disappeared from the airwaves.

And good on her for showing humility and admitting that she’s working on being a better team player.
It’s pretty rare to hear humility in this industry.

PJC
28 Oct 2020 - 10:58 pm

Isn’t in interesting that when Christian O’Connell said ‘there is a lot of very lazy, dumbed-down radio that insult their audience’ just a little over a week ago, the bulk of the keyboard warriors were singing his praises here with ‘absolutely spot on’, ‘he’s right’, ‘radio is all the same these days’, etc.. but when Em Rusciano says it (or let’s be honest, says anything really), the steel capped boots are out, ready to give her a kicking.. hmmm..

Obviously the current stuff isn’t working great these days, especially for anyone born after 1990. Nova and SCA have both given up on chasing younger listeners to continue appealing to those who grew up listening to their same schtick from 20+ years ago. So, I’m curious to hear from these more enlightened 40 yo people, who apparently know something she doesn’t, what makes good radio?

Bee
29 Oct 2020 - 8:13 am

@PJC spot on … #elephantintheradioroom

Peter Johnson
29 Oct 2020 - 9:01 am

What Christian O’Connell and Em Rusciano have in common is that both their shows were very ordinary

Harry Scorpio
29 Oct 2020 - 9:07 am

Hi Radio Listeners
If you wast to hear quality programs try community radio.
I host a program on
2RRR 88.5
ROCK AND ROLL RISING
HARRY

Alex
29 Oct 2020 - 10:27 am

@PJC is spot on.

And so is Em.

Radio in this country has been dumbed down to the point I find it actually insulting to listen to.

That’s why the only radio I listen to is streamed radio from overseas, mainly the UK. The difference is mind-blowing.

Radio in Australia is truly lowest common denominator stuff – and that’s why it’s dying.

Both playlists and the waffle of the presenters are so appalling.

Michelle
8 Dec 2020 - 2:56 am

“I’m really good at radio…”

I guess if she was, she wouldn’t have flopped in breakfast in two different cities

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