Midnight to dawn…shift workers, insomniacs and early risers

Midnight to dawn. Not an easy shift, you’re heading to work when it seems everyone else is heading to bed and going home when the world is just starting to waken.
The late Keith McGowan once owned the time slot in Melbourne on 3AW pulling over a million listeners to his show the Overnighters…shift workers, insomniacs and early risers.
Keith retired from radio after 54 years of broadcasting, 21 of which were in the midnight to dawn timeslot.
FIVEaa’s Josh Sampson pulls the midnight to dawn shift on weekends in Adelaide and says it’s all about rhythm.
“When I first started on overnights back in December, getting into the rhythm of working at that time of the day was quite difficult. I handle it now much better than I used to, I normally sleep in until about midday on the day of a shift and I make sure I have plenty to eat for dinner before I head off for work. During ad breaks or news, I try where possible to get up and have a stretch or walk down to the kitchen and get some water. These seem like pretty simple things but they can go a long way to avoid burning out during a shift.”

 6 hours of talk is a lot – how do you plan your shift?
“When I get up in the afternoon before a shift, I trawl the news sites online and read the paper to search for issues that I think listeners will find interesting. While reading an article, I try to ask myself the question ‘If I was listening, would I be compelled to call in or have my say on this?’ Some issues are hard-hitting and some are softer and more light-hearted but where possible the three rules I have for any issue are local, local and local.
I also play some music and encourage people to request songs at the halfway point of the show and I also have guests either on the phone or in the studio talking about a range of subjects.You also have to assume that every show will hit flat points so I have a stack of other articles and talking points on stand-by to encourage people to have their say.”

 What’s the biggest challenge for a midnight to dawn announcer?
“Touching on the last point, you never know how many callers you will get which is a great challenge but also quite nerve-wracking. I’ve had to learn pretty quickly how to hone the skill of padding – that is, pitching talking points and ideas until someone feels compelled to have their say. You do also get the occasional caller who wants to call up or come on air and either tell you how much you suck or who use the platform to push views and use language which are totally inappropriate, even after midnight. But that’s radio and you just have to stay calm and have your finger ready on the dump button just in case.”
 Can you give me a snapshot of the type of listener to your midnight to dawn shift?
“It is an interesting mix – there are people who can’t sleep and want someone to keep them company overnight, there are shift workers either starting or finishing work and there are those who want to have their say but can only do so after midnight due to work or family commitments during the day. The challenge is to come up with compelling content that will cater for such a diverse audience.”
 Keith McGowan became a cult figure in Melbourne hosting midnight to dawns for 21 years with surveys showing he had more than a million listeners overnight – can you see yourself in that timeslot for that long?
“Well you never know! Radio can take you in any direction and that is quite exciting. I am pretty ambitious though and for me the next step is to host a day part in a news talk format. I’ve also said previously that I want to be nominated for an ACRA within the next five years and that hasn’t changed. As lofty as these ambitions may be, I think you need this sort of drive to succeed in the industry.”
You’re young and basically give up your weekends for the shift, is it worth it?
“It is funny you mention this because one of my mentors Sean Craig Murphy remarked that I must be the youngest talk announcer in the country when I started at FIVEaa. I don’t know whether this is true but the point is I am very lucky to have an opportunity that few other announcers my age have. Our audience is pretty honest and you get exposed to how they are feeling, what they think works and doesn’t work in no uncertain terms, so it is absolutely worth it going forward.”
Josh got his start in radio while working for the AFL in Darwin providing special comments for NTFL and NT Thunder matches. The lead commentator Ed Cowlishaw, now at 3BA Ballarat, suggested he give radio a go.
“…I went to Territory FM with CV in hand and a few weeks later, I was presenting overnight music shifts before going on to co-host the Saturday morning sports show as well as presenting morning and afternoon weekend music shifts. I came back to Adelaide due to family reasons about six months later and studied at the Australian Radio School and then completed a three-month internship with FIVEaa as a producer on Afternoons. I sent a demo to our Program Director, Craig Munn and before I knew it I was hosting and producing various shifts during the summer series, leading to my current spot hosting the overnight show on weekends.”

   Kim Napier

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