Rex Morris speaks to Peter Saxon about the peaks and pitfalls of Network ownership.
At 13, Rex Morris already knew he wanted a career in radio, “I was a nerdy 13 year old that instead of watching TV, used to listen to AM frequencies that skipped (across the world’s ionosphere) from most Australian states as well as New Guinea at night time.”
By year 10 at school on the Gold Coast, the seeds were already being sown for a career at the pointy end of the broadcast business. His commerce class was given an assignment to set up a radio business, sell shares in it and issue a dividend at the end of the year. The assignment was sponsored by 4GG, the four-runner of Gold FM on the Gold Coast.
Morris, who was installed as the Managing Director of that ‘company’ recalls, “We got to research and pick the music and sell the advertising for a half-hour radio show once a week on a Thursday night presented by one of 4GG’s announcers. At the end of the year, Young Achievement Australia did a survey of all the student businesses that were set up around the country and found that most of them were making, like, macrame pot holders… that was the scale of their businesses while we were running a radio show.”
Morris’s ‘radio company’ was hugely successful. For every $1 share that he’d sold, he was able to return $20 to investors. So impressed was 4GG that they offered him a job as a “Cart Boy,” prompting him to quit school rather than go on to Year 11 (kids, don’t try this at home). His parents were, no doubt, less impressed but, according to Morris, were nonetheless supportive and resigned to the fact that their son was determined to pursue a career in radio no matter what.
In 1981, he landed his first on-air job. It was at 4CA, Cairns where Ron Saywell was PD. “I sent out 43 demos and only got three replies,” says Morris. “I got my first city job with Roger Green (now Huw Drury) at Radio 10 (4IP) Brisbane in 1986.”
The next big break came a year later when he called Bill Reiner at FM104 Brisbane (now Triple M) and asked him whether he had heard the demo he’d sent. Reiner replied, “Yes I have. It was terrible.” Morris’s heart sank. He was devastated until Reiner went on and ad told him to come in that afternoon and do a ‘proper demo using FM104’s music and Reiner’s liner cards.’
“I put the phone down and went straight away. I lobbed there at FM104 not realising that I still had my Stereo 10 T-Shirt on. Of course, in those days they were bitter enemies.”
A couple weeks went past and having heard nothing, Morris rang Reiner again who told him, “The demo was great. Can you start next week?”
The transition from jock to PD began in 1990 when he met Brad March at the Brisbane Travelodge. March wanted to lure him across to B105, “I sat down with him,’’ says Morris, “And we talked radio. I thought, ‘holy hell, this guys on a different level to anyone I’ve ever met.’ And I kind of said yes before we even talked about money because I just wanted to be part of that.”
After working alongside talent such as Jamie Dunn and Ian Skippen on breakfast, Morris landed the job as breakfast EP doubling as APD to Rob Logan. But in 1996 he got his first stand alone PD’s job at Austereo’s freshly acquired Newcastle duopoly NX-FM and 2KO. However, nine months later Morris found himself in Melbourne which, by his own admission, was a disaster, “Oh man, I was so under done, it was crazy! I got to FOX, I did my best, I tried my hardest but I was hopelessly underdone at being a PD in a capital city market, least of all Melbourne with an amazing station like FOX FM. They certainly deserved better.”
His big mistake Morris says was, “I tried to do what I knew. So, I tried to turn FOX into B105. I didn’t do enough research on my market or my people. I wasn’t aware of the politics. I hadn’t set up my own vision. I was following the vision of others. I was massively inexperienced And it showed.”
Soon Morris found himself back in Brisbane as APD, grateful that Austereo hadn’t discarded him all together. Having paid his dues, two years later they gave him another shot at Melbourne, this time as PD of Triple M. He ended up as network PD for the brand.
The next milestone on the road to radio ownership came for Morris in 1994 when he worked with Guy Dobson charged with the task of relaunching Triple M nationally. He wasn’t aware at the time, that like himself, Dobson harboured a keen desire to one day own his own radio station/s.
An opportunity arose in 2008 when Macquarie Southern Cross put two regional stations in Charters Towers up for sale because they had to divest them under cross ownership rules.
Morris recalls, “The prospectus went out into the market place. I was talking about it to Guy and he was really enthusiastic. I said, ‘Wow, I didn’t know you were as enthusiastic as I am about owning a radio station.’ I didn’t realise it was even on his radar.
“The thing about it is, I couldn’t have done it by myself. I’m lucky to be in business with the Dobsons (Guy and Sally) because they’re really intelligent, they’re funny, smart… I don’t know what they get out of the deal,” jokes Morris.
Thus Resonate Broadcasting was born.
“We were thrilled when we got that little duopoly in Charters Towers, HOTFM and 4GC. We were absolutely beside ourselves! And then (soon after) we got that fateful phone call that said we were the underbidder for 3GG Waragull (Gippsland Victoria) which basically meant that if we could close by the end of the week we could have the station. Which we did. And that was a thrill too. Now we had a network… so to speak,” says Morris.
It would be another three years before Resonate would find more stations that were suitable to add to its network. With a dearth of stations for sale in Australia, they ended up purchasing KTBH in Hawaii in 2011. By the next year they added the call signs KHWI, KHBC and KIPA and combined them to cover all of The Big Island as two networks, the CHR Wave @ 92FM and an Alternative format, The Beach. Read more about Resonate Hawaii here.
In the same year, 2012, Resonate Broadcasting added 4LG and West FM Longreach to its Australian network.
In 2013, Resonate Hawaii achieved a number one result with “all people under 50” on Hawaii’s Big Island with “The Wave” in the Eastlan survey.
Come back for part two of our chat with Rex Morris tomorrow on radioinfo.