I thought, maybe I should start a website for the radio industry: Steve Ahern

Bruce Goldberg switches tables and asks the questions to Steve Ahern from radioinfo.  


How long have you been in the industry?   

Over 35 years. I built a radio station in my garage and piped it into the house when I was a teenager, much to the annoyance of my parents and siblings! Somehow the radio bug bit me, I’m not sure why I was interested in radio but I was.

2UE was across the road from my school, so when I was in my senior high school years I would go over there after school and learn the ropes from kind people such as Peter Bosley, Rod Spargo, Bruce Webster and others who were happy to give tips to a kid interested in radio. I ended up doing casual panel operating work there from time to time. 

When I finished school it was the late 1970s, and community radio had just started, so I volunteered as a producer and announcer at 2SER’s Macquarie Uni studios, while I was studying teaching there. My mum said I should get a real job like teaching…  radio would never lead to anything. I also worked freelance at ABC Radio’s talks department to earn some extra money through uni.

When I finished uni I got a teaching job in Brewarrina, but in the school holidays I freelanced for local stations such as 4VL, 2DU and 2WEB. Eventually, the lure of radio was more compelling than school teaching, so I took a full time job as an announcer/producer at 2WEB Bourke, and loved it. While I was there I also reported freelance for Wesgo News and the ABC.

After that I got a job as an announcer/producer at 2NC 1233 Newcastle, then became manager. I moved to Canberra to manage 2CN 666, then to Melbourne to manage 3LO 774. After ten years I left the ABC to move back home to Sydney when we were expecting our second child. After a couple of years working in PR through my own company, I went to teach radio at AFTRS, wrote Making Radio, and was in radio training for ten years. 

When I left AFTRS about five years ago I went back to my own company and now I teach radio, new media, and consult to broadcasters all around the world. As it turned out my mum gave me a good tip to learn to be a teacher. Now I can combine my love of radio with teaching and training, and travel the world doing it. How good is that!

What gave you the idea of starting up Radioinfo?   

When I left the ABC in the mid 1990s and began my Consultancy and PR company, the internet was just beginning. I remembered how I used to wait all week to read Heather Chapman’s radio column in the SMH Pink Guide when I was working in the bush – we had to wait until Wednesday for the SMH to reach Brewarrina, so I thought, this internet thing might be able to bring news about the radio industry to anyone in radio, anywhere, much faster than ever before. I thought, maybe I should start a website for the radio industry.

So I did. I taught myself how to write HTML code (there were no easy to make websites back then) and updated the site once a week with reports and gossip I heard from radio friends. As it turned out, I was right, there were lots of people who wanted to read about radio and very quickly the site had hundreds, then thousands of readers, so I knew I was on to something.

When I was at AFTRS it had grown so much that I couldn’t do it by myself, so I partnered with Peter Saxon and Peter Rubinstein of Radiowise, who were responsible for growing the commercial side of the site to what it is today. They have been great business partners. I still work with Peter Saxon, while Peter Rubinstein runs the next evolution of Radiowise, which is now known as MediaHeads.

What was the most memorable radio story you have ever printed? And Why?   

Wow, that’s a hard one, there’s so many. 

When the ratings change unexpectedly, those stories are memorable. Kyle and Jackie’s ratings shake up this year was memorable. 

Older memorable stories include some of the scoops we got years ago about network mergers and the advent of new networks such as DMG. Cash for Comment was also a memorable series of stories to cover.

I also like the good news stories such as personal successes and triumphs of the well know and not so well known people who work in this industry.

Radioinfo covered three personally memorable stories about me – when Allen & Unwin published my text book Making Radio, when I received my Order of Australia and when I helped start Nai Media Institute in Kabul. Those are three career highlights for me.

What was the worst day ever at radioinfo?   

I can’t think of one specific one. Occasionally people try to bully us to squash a story or threaten us with legal consequences, but because we try to do our homework properly, we are usually on solid ground. Those days are worrying for a while, but I think most people can see what we act with integrity and have the best interests of the radio industry at heart, so we can usually reach amicable solutions to any of those problems.

How many hours a day would you spend working on radioinfo?   

Even though I own the business with Peter Saxon, I don’t work on it all the time. 

I try to go in each day to check or edit reports, but I’m pretty busy with the other things my company does, such as training broadcasters in Asia, consulting for networks here and internationally and working with broadcast training schools I have set up in places like Afghanistan. This week for instance, I am in Jakarta training senior executives at Indonesia’s national broadcaster, and the week after that I’ll be in South Sudan to do business consultancy for a network there. I travel a lot these days.

So it’s not just me who works on radioinfo, we have a team of writers who keep the reports coming thick and fast. I am very thankful for their hard work.   

Favourite  Food?   

My wife’s Gnocchi with Bolognaise sauce. And cheesecake. Oh… and champagne.

Were do you see radio going in the future?   

Radio will continue to evolve in response to social media and new technological innovations. The industry will adapt its business model to find new revenue sources and streamline operating costs.

Even in the face of so many other media forms, people still want to consume audio, so radio content will continue. How that content gets to people though is changing. Decades ago radio listeners took their transistor radio with them in their pockets. Today it’s the mobile phone that is bringing radio to them in their pockets. The delivery mechanism has changed, but not the function of listening to radio content in a portable mode.

As the industry changes we will expand the topics we cover on radioinfo, because the radio industry needs to keep track of how things are changing. 

Radio now has to be strategic about where the industry is heading and how it aligns itself with new technologies to keep the industry relevant. I hope radioinfo will continue to be a think tank for the Australian radio industry as it evolves.

If you were not doing radioinfo, what would you be doing?  

Something with my family, or an on-air shift. I still love being on air.

Our contributor Bruce Goldberg runs the AustRadioIndustry Facebook group.
Join at www.facebook.com/groups/AustRadioIndustry

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