The Cutting Edge of Radio

The Mike E & Emma Breakfast Show – Part Two of Peter Saxon’s journey to The Edge.

Still on the best side of 30, Mike E & Emma are in control of a breakfast shift that, if it were Nielsen rated, would probably beat half a dozen or more Sydney stations including smoothfm and its own ARN stable mate Mix 106.5.

For everyone you talk to on the content side of The Edge (not so much sales) the question of ratings is a delicious dilemma like wishing your dog could talk. You’re dying to know what he’d have to say, but it would likely break that magic bond between you. In any case you’ll never find out, because it simply isn’t going to happen.  

The breakfast duo itself is vexed on the subject. Mike E doesn’t want them, but Emma is emphatic, “I say yes, because I want to know the real figure, I want to know the real figure in black and white so we can go, this is the number of people actually listening.”

Mike, trained not to talk over his co-host, patiently waits till she’s finished and says, “Look, it’d be interesting, but, after working at a station where ratings were the priority,  I enjoy working at a station where we don’t have eight times a year waiting around for a result…

Emma comes around and finishes his thought, “There’s a little bit less pressure, and more room for creative freedom.”

But there is plenty of reason, apart from the station’s private surveys, to suggest that it is punching way above its weight. As much as being an on-air team Mike E & Emma are social networkers extraordinaire. They don’t have ‘people’ doing it for them. There is a facebook page for the station and another for them, twitter and more. All of it linked through every electronic device they own.

As a result, The Edge has amassed almost 70,000 likes from genuine loyal listeners. But the online community takes as much, if not more, nurturing off air a s it does on air. The interaction is constant.

Says Emma, “Like, I’m the social networking slave. I’m there all day, all through the show. And then after the show, we’re still interacting with the listeners.

“Our social networking sites, like facebook, are off the charts! They’re so interactive. And whether its good or bad feedback, we get it all. They’re our biggest critics and they’re the ones we have to listen to in terms of how we tailor the show.”

“Up until recently,” says Mike E, “we had the most likes of any radio station in Australia. And they’re all authentic.”

Not that he would suggest that other stations might fudge the numbers, but they certainly have the resources to offer all sorts of inducements to be liked.

Of course, not everyone who visits their facebook pages likes them.

“We do a thing called Hate Mail – we just read out the hate mail, we love doing that. If they don’t like us, they’ll tell us, or they’ll go through every photo and be critical. You’ve got to have a really thick skin,” says Mike.

Emma agrees, “If you’re going to be in this business you better be prepared to be criticised.”

Mike E (Etheridge) got into the business through community radio and pestered the then PD Phil Brandell who eventually gave him a job paneling which led to Producer for the Love God and weekend announcer on The Edge followed by better shifts and then stints on Mix. All this time he was secretly hoping that the previous Edge co-host, Christo would go. Which, eventually he did and Mike E the gig he wanted all along.

Emma was literally picked up on the phone by program director Charlie Fox who was intrigued by her bubbly personality and the thoroughly sexy, slightly husky sound of her voice.

As Emma tells it, “I was working at The Music Network as Chart Manager, and I was asking Charlie what tracks were working and that kind of stuff, and he had someone going away for a couple of months and asked if I would like to guest co-host. Nothing really happened after that for a year and then they called me back and offered me the producer and co-host role, and the rest is history. And I’m loving it.”

By any measure it’s a curious existence The Edge has within the ARN network. It doesn’t conform to any of its sister stations and it’s the only unrated non-metro station they own. Yet Mike E & Emma work alongside their better known counterparts, WSFM’s  Jonesy and Amanda – Mix 106.5’s  Rosso and Claire.

“We’re not ignored here at the Edge,” says Mike, “but obviously the focus is on the other two. They definitely care about The Edge. You could say, there’s not many people working on the station, true. But being part of a big network means we’ve got a CEO, we’ve got General Managers and Program Managers and wot not. And all of them deal with us.

“ If we were on our own working out of some little shed, The Edge wouldn’t be able to be as good as what it is. The marketing, the web development – it’s all there and everything’s shared so we all work together,” says Mike E.

He’s been at ARN long enough to witness cultural change, of which he says, “For years it was kind of old sleepy ARN, there is a young vibey culture of programming here now. Everybody wants to win. Everyone’s on the same team now. The demographics are different, of course, but we don’t feel out of place here at all.”

The duo is nominated in this years ACRAs for Best Provincial On-Air Team while, separately, Emma is up for Best Producer, non-metro.

With the stations Urban, Hip Hop format, thoroughly tapped into their youth audience that are the earliest adopters of social networking technologies, if anybody should have a feeling for where radio is headed, Mike E and Emma should.

Mike says, “Online is huge, but FM’s never going to die until they switch it off. Seriously, while we’re going on about social networking and blah blah blah, the majority of our listeners are in the car, on the M4 listening to 96one. That’s still how it is.”

“Having said that,” says Emma, “there are lot of people streaming who have lived in Sydney and moved interstate or overseas. A lot of people use the app as well.”

Mike E agrees that the app is big!

We’ll talk to Sales tomorrow in part three.

If you missed part one with PD, Charlie Fox, clikc here.