Thirty Years of Rock

2015 marks thirty years in the industry for 2MG and Real FM General Manager Mal Rock.

Jose Auditore spoke to Mal in Mudgee about the job, Super Radio Network and the possibilities that open up if and when DAB+ reaches regional areas.

Speak to people in the industry who know 2MG and Real FM’s General Manager Mal Rock and the words “down to earth”, “straightforward” keep coming up. One comment from an industry veteran was that ‘Mal is the sort of GM every network wants. He’s a great manager, does local news, can fill-in on-air on both AM & FM formats, works on sales and there’s no major drama. That’s why he’s still there.


Where are you from originally and was radio the first job when you finished school?

I grew up in Gunnedah (North Western NSW) and I worked for the Motor Registry, then making concrete tanks and then to radio.

When did it all start?

1985, first radio job was here doing night shift and weekends then the breakfast show, lots of Madonna and Mental As Anything. Edna Wells was the station manager when I started then I went to Griffith and when I came back Ken Birch was the manager then.

What was that first shift like, do you remember what you played?

No nothing at all, I was too nervous. It would’ve been 6 till 12 which had been networked from 2BS up till then.  Janet Cameron had bought it from Ron Camplin and they were splitting from 2BS so they needed someone for the night shift.

What’s one great thing about the job that stands out?

It’s always good to see people that go on to other places and there’s been a few, that’s really them being given the opportunity and seeing what they do when they’re here, what they achieve on air, how they connect with the town and what they do here overall. It’s not just on-air.

Some of them have a great, natural talent, you don’t have to keep looking over their shoulder.

You’re one of 36 Super Radio Network stations. What’s that relationship like? Is there a lot of management meetings?

No largely, we run our own course, some of the larger stations are more involved but we run pretty well on our own and we talk if something comes up from time to time.

Unlike metro areas, it’s difficult in a place like Mudgee to listen to other stations other than ABC Radio, apart from your own stations do ever get a chance to listen to anything else?

Online, a little bit occasionally but more on holidays or in the car when travelling. There’s the obvious ones in the past like Hamish & Andy and similar shows that you don’t normally hear, to see what they sound like because you hear about them a lot. A little of Kyle and Jackie O too, we get the “Best of” here.  When I’m in Sydney 2SM and  because of the music, WS as well. I have a bit of a flick around.

What are the challenges today in regional radio? Is it harder to make sales now to your local market?

No I wouldn’t say harder. Certainly a lot of your sales in this size market are to your long term and very long term (30 and 40 year) clients

Traffic and scheduling is very important in that regard for balancing competing clients.

Yes, you do have to balance looking after them without damaging that relationship. If you do lose a client you can’t just rely on someone new coming in and filling the gap. Obviously, you do from time to time lose someone but  you go ok, we’ll deal with it and get someone else but you can’t just assume there’s going to be an endless pool of new businesses starting up.

You have a lot of national names based in Mudgee, mainly with the wineries.

That’s the thing, they don’t see the need to advertise locally. Those sorts of businesses, it’s always hard to get them on board because they don’t see the locals as their target. 

Part of it is not making mistakes and fixing things and handling any problems that arise. Helping the sales guys and  accounts to manage all that so you don’t lose people.

Where is radio heading, what do we need to do and what do you see into the future? They say that it’s just people in the industry that care about what’s happening. The audience doesn’t care.

Good Question. I have a foot in both camps as a listener and being in the business I think sometimes we (the industry) over dramatise and over complicate it but you can just ignore changes in people’s lifestyles and the technology otherwise you become another Kodak. But I think the core of radio is still strong. 

Like the car giveaway we’ve been doing, for our size market that’s still a big prize. I’m sure if you did that 30 years ago you’d get more entries but everyone that came up was really super excited. We went out and did location entries on-air and lots of people wanted to talk to you so the attachment to radio is still there quite strongly.

You’ve got the famous pool parties as well and Relay For Life.

That gets the families and younger kids in to actually listen to the radio that might not otherwise. Relay For Life  we did 25 hours because we started before the kick off and that was largely Mel and Craig’s drive that got us to the end. 

Nominated for an ACRA for Best Community Service Project for the Mudgee Hospital Appeal as well.

That was stunning last year. The amount of money that was raised, and of the items that were on their wish list, we had all but one at the end of the Radiothon day and the other one we got eventually when one of the mines came on board. The final total was over $140,000 which in a town of around 10,000, or 20,000 in the surrounding area that’s a pretty big result. Everyone here got behind that.

Time for a bit of crystal ball gazing and eventually with the digital radio rollout after the larger markets, stations like 2MG and Real FM might get enough bandwidth to add another station or another two stations. If you had a wishlist what would you like to run on your additional DAB+ stations? (I mention Racing might be an option, Mal fires back laughing that Ken Birch would be right onto that). Forget for a moment budget or headcount, if that wasn’t an issue, what would you like?

Ideally I’d do a little shifting of the existing two. Depending on what the network wanted you could make 2MG more strongly talk or a gold station with less talk. The current FM would go just a little more contemporary, hit radio and then the other would be something in the middle, maybe MOR. 

A little like Smooth?

No, something that goes from the boundaries of Smooth into WS. Not a softer MOR but a good mix of 70’s, 80’s 90’s in there.

What sort of music do you listen to away from work?

The Beatles, Creedence, Dylan, Stones, love Powderfinger. Music like Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, you can go back to, there’s songs on there that don’t get much airplay now, Songbird, Second Hand News.

It’s not all about radio and music though for Mal. Was he hiding a Roosters or Carlton jumper behind that door?

Mal pulls out a well used Wests Tigers mug. See that’s commitment, even after this year, having that right here on the desk. When Benji (Marshall) went, it changed the tone of the team. They moved on but there’s a lot of young talent coming through. I’ve written off Liverpool in the EPL. This year’s down the tubes so I’ll have to hope for the Tigers.

Do you still look forward to getting behind the mic?

Yes, definitely, that’s one of the good things about a small station that you can still do that. That’s what attracted me in the first place.

Still have to do the old aircheck? We could get Basso (Craig Bassett) to run a tape over it and send it off to Steve Ahern for people to have a listen on Radioinfo and see what they think?

(Mal’s laughing) – no I don’t think so. I definitely, umm No.

Mal Rock can be heard occasionally on air on Real FM and 2MG which due to the PPCA dispute is not currently streaming. 

[Jose Auditore is a Sydney journalist and audio producer and part of The Radio Green Room industry site on Facebook]

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