Australians making it overseas – Justin Drex Wilcomes

Radioinfo frequently drops in to spotlight the Australians who are making a special mark on our own home markets.

Now to turn the spotlight in a slightly different direction. In a special series of articles David Rogerson will look into the lives and career paths of Australian radio and media people who are “making it good” overseas. He visits the overseas cities and towns where our chosen Australians have been creating a new direction and innovative success in their current roles and responsibilities.

First up, David chats to Justin Wilcomes. Many Radioinfo readers may know Justin better as “Drex” but regardless of what nom de plume you know him by, the man behind it is “making it good” in Vancouver, Canada, as David finds out.

David: The Justin Wilcoms radio journey started in community radio … why was that?

Drex: Partially because of my Mum knowing someone at 2GLA in Forster/Tuncurry on the mid-north coast. It was July 1994. First song was Liz Phair‘s Supernova. I did a bunch of different shifts with fun people including Belinda Bargwanna who you know is married to Derek from KIIS. It was a fun place to learn radio, how to panel, how to do the basics really.

But you were originally from SE Queensland, correct?

My early radio listening was to 4SS on the Sunshine Coast as a kid. Michael J Bailey was one of the hosts I thought was cool. I would later go on to work with Michael for a short time at 4BU in Bundy and then again as his PD at Rockhampton’s 4RO. 

And the ABC also played a part in your early days, correct?

I got my first taste of radio at ABC Sunshine Coast. Answering phones for the Drive guy Peter. Cam did mornings and the legendary John Stokes was instrumental in getting me into the ABC as a teenager. I started working part-time at Triple J at 16 because of a good word John put in for me. 

How did your family feel about your career choice?

They hated it! thought it was the worst career to get into. They were very vocal about me not doing it for a living to the point I left home to pursue it. 

How did the Drex name come about?

My mum was a huge Star Trek DS9 fan. Tt was the name of a particularly nasty Klingon character, she thought I was similar. So she gave it to me Drex a nickname, but didn’t use it on air for years.

What did your progress within radio look like as your career moved forward ?

I was at  Triple J until 2001, when I was 22. I decided to leave Sydney and try commercial radio so applied for 92.9 Tamworth and Steve Gunther hired me. I learnt a lot about commercial radio there very quickly. After a few months Merrick & Rosso‘s manager recommended me to Dan Bradley at NOVA for overnights. The station was yet to be launched on NOVA100 in Melbourne. I was super green. Dan hated the demo I sent. I was so embarrassed, We had another hour long chat about how bad my aircheck was, ways to improve and things on which I could work. I really appreciated it. A week later Dan called me and offered me the job based on our follow up conversation alone. I packed up and moved to Melbourne for NOVA100. 

How did that go?

I wasn’t ready. It was too fast paced radio. I wasn’t used to it and honestly not interested in doing nights. Dan kindly got me transferred to HOTFM in Townsville. It was a smaller market. Wade Kingsley and John Inglis were great bosses  The lure of the city called me again with stints at FM104.7 in Canberra and Triple M in Brisbane. Some casual weekends at Hot Tomato then off to Hitz Bundy for a bit, Hot 91 & Zinc 96 Sunshine Coast where I got to work again with Ronnie Stanton.

And you had some successes in Darwin and other Australian markets as well?

Darwin was the toughest time of my life. I moved there from Hot 91 to do Breakfast and MD for Hot100. The station was coasting along and needed a breath of life. 

And that’s when the PD position was offered to you?

I was tapped to be the fill in PD, then with the encouragement of you and Mark Johnson, the GM, you offered me the job. You said, “but only if you complete the AFTRS PD course, and be prepared to listen to your team members,” which I did! 

Hot and MIX Darwin really kicked on then with some talent that you really helped to up skill.

I met a lot of talented people in that radio station. I really encouraged journo Katie Wolff to lean into her strength in hosting. Now, almost 20 years later, she’s one of the most listened to hosts in the top end. Also has received an OAM. Love that place! I did too well under your guidance David, and I got poached by Ronnie Stanton to be the PD of 4CC & 4RO.

How did the association and roles in North America start?

Honestly, I’d stupidly burnt a few bridges by opening my mouth when I shouldn’t have, so I decided to come to Canada to start fresh. I started applying until I got a PD offer. At the time 7HO was looking for a Breakfast host and I was offered the job by John Inglis, but had to turn it down as the offer in Canada was better. 

Tell us more about your life in Vancouver now?

I’ve been married 2 years; my partner is a Massage Therapist in the city with a practice near the Amazon HQ. Which pretty much means no more moving for this radio guy. I’m a happily married Drex Chan now. 

And how about those important Canadian ratings numbers for you. What have they looked like?

I’ve been in Canada 15 years and 11 of those in the Vancouver Market. I’ve consistently rated top 4 since getting to this market, across 3 stations. My best success was talkback which I did for 7 years at CKNW which is Vancouver’s 2GB or 3AW. I hosted evening, drive, then national late nights and all three shows were #1 in the timeslots. 

Plans for any further expansion you can share with us?

I’m currently working on a TV project with my Production partner Jody Vance that will launch locally in the Fall of 2024. And I just signed on with Brad Phillips the former VP of Corus Radio Canada to act as my agent for radio projects going forward. 

Does the programming and show process differ or align to Australia? 

Australia thankfully has more structured programming, which I miss. Content Directors work a lot closer with teams in Australia than they do here. I was meeting with my last CD once a week for 25 mins. I honestly was getting the direction I needed, and we didn’t do a lot of promotional work, but our show had consistently good ratings during it’s run.  I always say it’s lazier here. I don’t mean that as a slight. Just that’s it’s done differently. Things are more relaxed.

How about market size?

There’s maybe 20 radio stations in Vancouver. The ratings share is thin and only a handful of the product is good. The industry here is going through the opposite of Australia. It’s hit the wall and it’s trying to figure out what is next. Two of the big three media companies are owned by Telco giants, so they’ve kind of lost their way. Vancouver’s population is close to 3 million. 

What’s something else not many other people would know about you?

Apart from radio I’m an extreme collector. Sadly I sold all my music before moving here 15 years ago including some really cool first edition stuff I got at Triple J in the 90s.  I’ve regretted it ever since. I love to collect the things for my own selfish historical record, and for the thrill of a friend seeing a music collection for the first time. I collect historic Canadian radio memorabilia acquired over the last 10 or so years.  That started with my radio station sticker collection which is still in my possession and is up to well over 5000 at this point. It all gets back to Michael Bailey again. He gave me my first radio station sticker as kid. It was 4SS and I still have it!

With a background covering over 40 years in Media and Communications, David Rogerson is experienced in nearly every facet of the radio and media communications industries from Group Content Director, to National Marketing Manager and Company Director. He is currently a lecturer and mentor at the Australian Institute of Music in the Masters and Bachelor degrees.

In 1997 he founded media and communications consulting company “Strategic Media Solutions”. David’s professional consulting career has seen him sought-after for his insights and client solutions in more than 15 countries around the world.

As a published author of media related books and entertainment journal articles David has personally mentored a wide range of media company directors, industry managers and entertainment executives. In the music field David’s experience covers marketing and digital content development for a range of artists including INXS and is part of the judging panel for the Australian Songwriters Association and the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

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