Fitzy & Wippa’s big radio adventure

Interview with Peter Saxon

I’m sitting, waiting in a vacant office at Nova 969 as Fitzy rushes into the room, ploughs through a manly greeting as if it were on speed dial and explains that Wippa’s  just popped into the toilet and will be here shortly. Then, this six foot six giant I’ve barely met, bends down and whispers loudly in my ear, “Ask him if he owns a Range Rover.”


“Ask him about his Range Rover,” he insists.

And before I can ask what the significance of the Range Rover is, Wippa comes into the room, his still damp hand shaking mine. I glance over at Fitzy who gives me a conspiratorial look as he mouths the words Range Rover and we start the interview.

35 year old, Ryan James “Fitzy” Fitzgerald was an AFL player, drafted by the Swans in 1998 from South Adelaide. Injury kept him off the field till 2000 when he scored five goals in his debut game and looked set for a big career.

“I was the man that they put up front if we needed to win a game. Unfortunately I never did that. 18 games was my career and yeah… blink of an eye and it was over.”

Then, in 2004 Fitzy became a Big Brother contestant and came fourth.

radioinfo: From Big Brother, you got into radio. How did that come about?

Fitzy: It was always an industry that I wanted to get into. I loved being a part of the media. I was a boundary rider before I went into Big Brother in Adelaide and I wanted to get into the sporting side of things. But we all know how hard it is to get your foot in the door. So Big Brother was a step up.

I just thought I’d try out for it. I was lucky enough to get on. And I’ve been blessed with the way everything has fallen into place.

Nova started up in Adelaide as I finished. So I got a job there and Before the Game, the Footy Show and did stuff there. And then, some other television opportunities arose and I absolutely loved it.

radioinfo: But before that you never thought that you’d become a multi-media personality…

Fitzy: No mate. I was making seats at Mitsubishi and I was going to be there for my whole life, which is not even there now so I probably would have had to find another job.

radioinfo: There’s been quite a few big brother contestants that have become radio people over the past decade. Did you ever get the feeling that those people that had gone into radio in a more traditional way, radio school, years in the bush, look down their nose at you a bit..

Fitzy: No doubt about it. And I’ve been the butt of a few jokes at a few ACRA awards. People get up and say ‘you know that I’ve worked in regional radio stations and the only way we’re going to get into metropolitan is if we go on Big Brother.’

A lot of people do look down on you and I totally understand, there’s a lot of people that do the hard work and have to move and leave their family and friends, but I was just lucky it fell into place and I’m very blessed.

radioinfo: Wippa, compared to Fitzy, you would have the skinniest Wikipedia page I’ve ever seen. I don’t know why they’ve bothered.

Wippa: I think it’s because I begged on air to be on it. Being in this industry without a Wikipedia page. And now I’ve got it, I feel like I made it.

I’m really the guy that did what you said was the opposite to Fitzy. I went to the radio school, I went to the country and now I’m here.

radioinfo: Give us a quick potted history, because although we’ve got a lot of stuff on you on radioinfo, it’s only since you got into radio.

Wippa: I did a building course out of school. Did a couple of years on site, just on the tools doing different things because Dad was saying, “look, I want you to go to TAFE. I want you to get something behind you, a qualification.”

But then I thought, radio might be fun. I went to the Gary Mac school of radio 10 week course just to put a disc together.

And then I wanted to get into radio so I drove up the coast up from Melbourne to Brisbane, calling program directors and saying can I have five minutes of your time. While doing that I was posting out demos as well, and sent one to 5AU in Port Augusta in South Australia.

radioinfo: Its not the end of the world..

Wippa: No, it is! Mate it was great, it was great fun.

The station manager was Gary Kernahan, Stephen Kernahan, the AFL legend’s brother. He was sort of the king of the town and he looked after me brilliantly. We got on like a house on fire, but then when some other friends started at FOXFM in Melbourne they said I reckon we can get you a paneling job. So, then I went back there and that’s how it all started.

radioinfo: Is it true you own a Range Rover?

Wippa: (cautiously) Is it true? Errr, yes I do have one. Why, what’s wrong with that? I bought a second hand Range Rover. What s the big deal?

[Whatever the joke is, it’s lost on me, but Fitzy’s cracking up]

Fitzy: While you were in the toilet…

Wippa: You’re a f***ing idiot.

Fitzy: I said to Pete earlier, ask him if he’s got a Range Rover.

Wippa: I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t want to look like a wanker.

radioinfo: What’s wrong with a Range Rover?

Wippa: You can very easily stereotype someone who owns a Range Rover – cause to me if I see another bloke on the road and they’re hobnobbing and they’re wankers.

Fitzy: He always gets defensive with things. So, when Pete said, what can I get him with, I said, ask him about his Range Rover.

radioinfo: I did not ask that! I told him, I don’t want to play your silly game.

[Now they’re both laughing out loud. I get the impression that they must be laughing at me  as the outsider, the butt of their insider’s joke all along.]

radioinfo: So how did you guys get manacled together?

Wippa: Well I was working with Ryan Monty and Wippa – we were doing drive. Fitzy was in Adelaide doing breakfast, and then we would have him on our show as a guest.

Tell you what mate, the minute they heard us together … they’re still talking about that moment when Fitzy was first on Ryan Monty and Wippa…

Anyway, we got on really well, and I think when they wanted to make a break with the drive show they obviously wanted to drag Fitzy out of Adelaide for another time slot.

Fitzy: There was going to be a bit of a process of they were going to have trials to see who they were going to have in the drive show. Wippa and I wanted to work together and we were lucky enough that we didn’t even end up doing any trials with anyone else, they just instantly went ‘yep great.’

radioinfo: They found you guilty?

Fitzy: Yes, or they were very lazy, we’re not sure which at this stage, but we’re happy with it.

radioinfo: Coming up in September is the first anniversary of your show on Nova 969, how would you describe this year for you?

Fitzy: Look, we honestly think that it’s been probably the biggest year of radio that we’ve had in our lives.

People look at the ratings. I suppose, in that respect its disappointing. We know that in radio you have to be very patient. It doesn’t happen overnight.

We have a very hard work ethic. We’re in here till all hours, trying to come up with new ideas and recording and prerecording and trying new stuff. It is disappointing the ratings, we thought we were going to be a bit higher than we are now. But we do believe in our brand and our product and we think if we keep producing what we’re doing, you know, people will start turning around.

Wippa: It’s one of those things though, you talk about being disappointed with the ratings, you’re always going to want more ratings no matter what. We didn’t expect to have any more ratings but you’re always hopeful.

So, we’re working on a bit of a golden rule. You don’t expect anything – and I’ve been taught this in radio – for about 18 months. (getting people to change stations) Its like telling someone, although you love NRL, I want you to go and watch the soccer from now on.

It’s like changing codes because you get to know people, feel you’re part of the show, when an in-joke is made on that show and you get the joke you’re not going to leave that station because it’s part of your world and its your routine.

So for us, yeah we’d like more ratings, we didn’t expect them, but I think the show is constantly getting better, just maturing and smarter stuff as well.

radioinfo: Has it been a culture shock to go from doing a Drive show to Breakfast?

Wippa: Drive show’s a lot more lighthearted show. In Breakfast you’ve got to cover for a lot more of the topic, a lot more of the local, especially when you’ve come from a national drive show so you have to make that adjustment. Once that’s in place, I think you start to work out what the show is. But I think we’ve found a pretty good point.

radioinfo: So, how would you describe the show?

Fitzy: Entertaining. From our own experience with radio – and we’ve loved the medium all our lives growing up as kids – on the way to school, on the way to work, you want to be entertained. You want to make people laugh. Not everyone loves their jobs, not everyone loves going to study, we want to put a smile on people’s faces on the way to work.

We also want talkability. We love the normal banter that we do but we want to do stuff outside the square that people can go to work and talk about, like the catapult that we did. All these other ideas that we’ve had. Bringing Dangi over, the world’s smallest man, some of the parodies that we’ve done and put up on YouTube have had over a million hits.

Stuff like that people talk about. So we want to do the stuff, the local topical stuff and talk to the people of Sydney and Australia. But we also want to do the stuff where people go ‘wow ok these guys really wanna make something of this.’

radioinfo: Targeted to a certain listener. So, who is that? Who do you target in your mind’s eye, who do you see?

Wippa: Well I think the shape of the show as the show goes on throughout the three hour period, I think it’s targeted at different people. We do things in the six o’clock hour, like often the 6:40 phone up we’ll do, is often targeted to tradies because the boys are going to work – we have some girls in the navy out there as well – but it’s a bit more male focused, a bit looser.

Then we like to create that roller coaster where you’ve still got your funny stuff you might have a song parody or rescue or do an informative chat. We might have a fighter pilot, we’ve got a fighter pilot interview coming up.

So, you do have that balance throughout, where from one side it might be entertaining but its got to be informative as well. And you can get emotionally attached to it.

Fitzy: A lot of people look at Nova as a young demographic that listen to the show, but we want to target under 40’s – we want people all the way up to 40 or 50 in their car, with their kids, to listen to the show. We want to make people laugh.

Wippa: And it’s designed to be so you can listen with kids. I mean there’s cheekiness that happens on the show. It’s never smutty, we don’t really swear. It happens occasionally but not really. So there should be no reason for you to think, oh this topic’s too much for my kids.

radioinfo: Having said that, there was an episode with Kyle Sandilands and that incident with the ‘spider baby’ that was investigated by ACMA. Yet, you guys also cracked some gags about that and people commented that it was probably worse than what Kyle said.

Fitzy: That was my rave. That was a rave that I researched and did a lot of work on. I did that rave when that child came out, had an operation, and it ended up with two legs. And it was fine. It was a healthy baby. And that was the decision that I made after the operation, that it was fine to do.

If this child had complications and they couldn’t remove the legs, there’s no way in the world that I would have done it. But it had a happy ending, if you know what I mean.

radioinfo: It had a happy ending for Kyle too because ACMA said he didn’t have a case to answer. In that sense, when you’re targeting an under 40’s audience is it tough coming up against somebody that’s the incumbent? Are you surprised by his and Jackie O’s resilience?

Wippa: No he’s good at the game and he knows what he’s doing. And you know, we’ve been asked that question a lot.

You meet people in the street and they go, ‘have you met kyle Sandilands, is he a dickhead?’ I go, ‘no he’s not a dickhead.

I’ve met him heaps of times and know him over the years and Kyle’s good at what he does. You know that show is very good. The management are very good at making sure they do what they do and I know there’s dumb moments there which I consider silly, cause we’re not going to do that stuff on our show. But it’s his game.

Fitzy: And the uphill battle that we have in regards to ratings as well – and that’s why Wippa says it will take probably longer for our show to be successful – is they have a very loyal group of listeners that love that show. And that’s hard with everything that Kyle’s done over the years you cant go past the fact that they still listen to the show.

And that’s going to take a while before people slowly start coming over if they choose to. If they choose to.

radioinfo: Kyle speaks well of you too…

Wippa: Is that a joke?

radioinfo: No. it’s true, read it in the interview we did recently.

Fitzy: I thought you were going to reference, that article he wrote about us, about killing and squashing us. But to us it was just funny. But they’re very good at making noise outside of the show.

radioinfo: You do a lot of fun stuff. That’s really the mainstay. And you don’t do a lot of politics per say. Yet you got onboard the marriage equality debate. Why that?

Wippa: Timing.

Fitzy: We’re just passionate about it as well. You know, it just really angers us that we’re at a stage now where everybody around the world is getting onboard with this. We just feel like it’s a pretty basic answer that everyone should be getting onboard and we just wanted to put our hand behind it and really support it. And we’re lucky that we’re in a position we’re in a medium where we can do that in radio broadcasting, get our views out there…

radioinfo: Were any of your listeners shocked and thought ‘guys, this isn’t what we expect of you?’

Fitzy: All the responses that we’ve had have been…..yeah same sex in the city. It’s all been really positive we’ve had especially in the street, in the street we’ve had a lot of people come up and say…

Wippa: I think when you’re on that topic you either support it or you don’t care enough to be negative about it unless you’re very church focused and strict. But then religion is such an important one.

radioinfo: There are other causes too, like the whole environment debate. Do you sit on a certain side of that debate or does that fly under the radar?

Fitzy: I sit on the fence because there are too many differing opinions for me. You know the same sex marriage for me is an obvious one, and I don’t come from a religious background, but it’s just about equality for all people.

You know, when I sit down, and the global warming and that and the environmental issues and stuff like that it’s something that I don’t know and I listen to so many different factors you hear from different people that I don’t know who to believe.

radioinfo: Being the larrikins that you are on-air… apart from your Range Rover, what else do you do outside of work that you’d rather your audience didn’t know you did.

Wippa: It’s pretty straightforward, there’s nothing. All the stories you hear are legitimate in terms of my obsession to want to catch a black panther in the blue mountains although I realise that’s stupid radio content but I’m dead serious about it.

radioinfo: Black panther in the mountains?

Wippa: You don’t believe…?

But there’s that side to me where… I like musicals. I love Les Mis. When the film comes out I’ll be singing The Confrontation nice and loud.

Fitzy: And when Wippa gets revved up about the show in the office he likes to put on a bit of Andrea Bocelli to rev everyone up.

Wippa: I do like that sort of music. I think it’s from my old man, cause I’ve sort of grown up with that blaring.

radioinfo: And what about you, Fitzy?

Fitzy: You’ve probably already picked up, and everyone knows, I’m a pretty basic sort of bloke. I’m a bogan mate, so life’s pretty simple for me.

Wippa: What could we reveal about you?

Fitzy: What could you reveal about me?

Wippa: Because that question’s often been asked on air.

When we sit back stage there was something we were doing the other day and I admitted to lining up to try out for Big Brother house, but you couldn’t come up with anything.

Fitzy: See the other thing about being on breakfast radio and on air as well is that you do reveal basically everything that you do in your life. Everyone knows you they know you inside out. When people come up to you in the street and they start talking about my wife and my child and I think how the f*ck do you know about that? And you realize that you talk about them all the time on air. They know more about your lives than probably we do sometimes.

So if anything happens in our lives, we talk about it, if its an issue we can get people involved with we get them on air and help us out.

radioinfo: I guess, Wippa, one question is; you coming from the radio background, if you were, and I ask most people this, addressing a graduation class at AFTRS, what would you say to them? About their first days in radio, what advice would you give them?

Wippa: My advice to them would be: to just get involved in everything. Create the opportunity by being passionate about it. Not only the craft but all the station promotions and anything you can do. Help out and just be part of it.

And don’t be afraid to travel if you have to, and just keep working. Find someone in the station you get on well with, beg the program director to give you a mid dawn for two hours once a week and just go for it.

radioinfo: So, Fitzy what would you say to this year’s batch of Big Brother contestants?

Fitzy: Get to know the production side of things. Like Wippa said, if you can learn how to work a panel, control the panel there’s your first leg up in getting a job in a radio station because if they know that you know exactly what to do to get on air, you can get on air and do your own stuff without having anyone help you – there’s your foot in the door straight away.

People just think that they can send out demos and go, ‘look just get me on air. But I cant do the panel side of things.’

Wippa: You have to work hard.

radioinfo: Thanks for your time guys. I really appreciate it.

Fitzy: Thank you. But you haven’t made enough Big Brother jokes.