On air: Interview with Canberra FM's Craig Wagstaff
There is little doubt that in the digital age, radio remains an important medium. Listeners are loyal to their favourite broadcasters and form personal connections with the announcers that wake them up in the morning, drive with them to the office, and play the soundtrack to the working day.
For Canberra FM’s newest General Manager, Craig Wagstaff, it is this deep sense of community and a focus on all things local that will drive everything Hit104.7 and MIX106.3 does across its demographics.
From Canberra to Kuala Lumpur to Dubai and back to Canberra again, Craig brings a world of experience to the local market that will be important as the way we consume information and entertainment continues its rapid change.
How does it feel being back in the Nation’s Capital?
Fantastic! I’m home!
I was away for just on 9 years, but the plan was always to return. Getting this job was just the hook that made me come back sooner than I might have expected.
When I left Canberra in 2007, I was Head of Sales as part of a six-year stint at Hit104.7, but the chance to get some experience overseas was just too good to pass up.
In Kuala Lumpur, I was working with Tony O’Regan – whom some Canberrans might remember. Tony was General Manager of Canberra FM until 2004 when Eoghan O'Byrne, stepped in to commence his 12-year period in the role.
Tony was COO of Astro International Radio (a part of the Astro Group) which had its headquarters in KL. The company is predominantly in satellite television, but has nine radio stations across Malaysia. It’s a fascinating business because there are so many different parts to the country - each region has a different cultures or ethnic groups that require specific media services.
Coming home to Canberra is quite different, but the core premises of media, remain.
It’s a huge effort to pick up your family and move to a different country. Did returning home seem like the adventure was ending?
Yes and no… The first thing is, as mentioned, we always intended to come back to Canberra. The city is just too good. Tammy (Craig’s wife) and I left town as a couple with no kids. Now, as proud parents of two children, the benefits of coming back home were too good to ignore.
Plus, there’s the position. In my first six-year stint at Canberra FM I developed a real love and respect for what happens in this organisation. I learned things that helped me throughout my time overseas and constantly reflected on the way that the stations are ingrained within the city.
To be able to apply the experiences of KL and Dubai into this market is a fantastic opportunity, so coming back was not a difficult decision to make.
One thing that is remarkable about Canberra FM is the sense of comradery and family…
… absolutely. When I first met with the entire team here in my new role, I said that “it’s great to be home in Canberra, and it’s great to be home in this building.”
Some of the staff have been here since well before I left. Sure, there are some new faces – and you need that to maintain freshness and energy – but across the board we’ve got a dedicated group of people who genuinely believe in what we are doing.
One of the things that is most striking about Canberra FM – and I guess I’m an obvious example of this – is that even those who leave generally maintain a strong connection with the company. I think Donna, Zak and Jason – who are the senior staff here have done a great job to build that culture. Obviously, Tony and Eoghan had the lead role in that as well.
Who are your mentors in business?
Whilst never directly working with my father, I was able to learn a lot, by association, if you will, during his time in various commercial roles he held.
Within media, I guess the main person is Tony O’Regan. When I was just starting out in radio he was the General Manager. I really admired him for the way he conducted himself in the role and the international experience that he brought to the position.
Tony is meticulous. When you watch him at work, he is completely across the details and, as a result, is rarely flustered. That’s such an asset in the crazy world of radio. The lesson I learned from him was to not rush, but be ready to move quickly when the time is right.
Importantly, he was always respectful. Tony has an ability to relate to anyone he sits down to talk with, which is another great asset for a business that prides itself on its place within the community.
Certainly, Eoghan was hugely significant as I started sharpening my skills and took on the position at Head of Sales. He had a huge amount of energy for both his employees and the public, and had a great sense of how to build the business and take advantage of its position in the market. I think Eoghan very much defined the position of GM, Canberra FM Radio.
Under Eoghan this company achieved a new strength. Now that I’ve taken the reigns from both my successive mentors the pressure is on me to build on their achievements!
What are the lessons that you’ve brought back for Canberra FM?
In a way, I want to bring the same thing to the station as I did to Astro Group back in 2008: a set of fresh eyes. When I arrived in KL I was coming from a radio environment that was a couple of years ahead of where Malaysia was. This meant I could see the obvious opportunities and hit the ground running.
One was introducing their annual sales acquisition drive, which was something I had been heavily involved in here in Canberra. It was a great opportunity to change the way the company managed its commercial operations, and gave me good visibility of the business.
Coming back to Canberra, the feeling is quite similar – albeit from a different perspective. I have been extremely fortunate to have benefitted through the experience of some very large media organisations that hold a very different world view.
Being able to implement some of those ideas and strategies into my home (and favourite) market is exciting, and can really underpin the dramatic changes that have occurred within the industry since I left Australia.
Bringing a fresh set of eyes can result in significant change for an organisation. How do you manage staff through such times?
Your approach is the key. You need to ensure people are respected and feel respected.
The companies I have worked with have achieved a significant amount of success prior to me joining, so it’s important not to walk in the door and promise the world. Staff can get quite concerned if they feel that too much is going to change too quickly.
The acquisition programme and the work we did with yield management and pricing was a great example of a way to introduce a new idea – one that didn’t create too much chaos – and deliver a set of outcomes that created a sense of confidence in the team.
Sure, we could have pushed through; we could have made a decision and then said, “GO!”
In KL, it was a more sensitive approach. It was so important that we listened to the Malaysian employees who had a great understanding of the existing market. We needed their input to discover the opportunities that the programs represented. Sure, we knew what they were in an English speaking Western market context, but what did it mean for a station broadcasting in Bahasa Malaysia or Mandarin or Tamil that had a totally different calendar that focussed on different festive seasons and separate religions?
We knew that if we were as careful to explain the programme as we were to listen to the feedback coming from staff, then we could get a great result that utilised the assets of everyone involved.
Click here to read Part II of our conversation with Craig Wagstaff.