On air: Interview with Canberra FM's Craig Wagstaff - Part II

Nic Crowther
Fri 03 Mar

This is Part II of our conversation with Craig Wagstaff. To read Part I, click here.


How do the skills in radio translate to other media?

Pretty well, I think!

I come from a sales background, so regardless of the medium, a lot of the basics remain the same. The last few years in KL and then over in Dubai, I was working in print media – something I hadn’t been involved with previously.

Not only was the product new to me, but the market was again completely different. As you probably know, Dubai is a notoriously transient city (almost 85% of the UAE’s six million people are immigrants).

The non-petro-chemical part of the economy is going through the roof. Aviation is massive – both freight and passengers – and the city is really setting itself up as a financial hub. Both of those strategies will only serve to deliver more international residents to the Emirates.

If you’re looking to compare the level of investment in aviation for the region, Emirates has almost as many A380s as Qantas has planes in its entire fleet. Put on top of that Etihad Airways (a mere 125kms away) and Qatar Airways (another 200 jets) and you can see the importance of the gulf countries as a link between the West and the East.

If you look across North Africa and the Middle East, a lot of construction expertise is coming out of Dubai. The project management companies are huge, and are responsible for some of the largest developments on earth.


Then you found yourself filling some big shoes back here in Canberra.

There was always an aspiration to have this role – rather, that I needed to set myself on a path that would bring me the skills required to at least put my case forward for what I considered to be my dream job in Canberra.

I began an application in April 2016 and was aware there were probably some other very talented people who were also looking at the position. I wasn’t too sure if I had done enough to be considered, but the best way to discover what might be missing from my CV was to apply.


What do you think you brought back to the role?

I think it was an appreciation of the broader context of the business. When I left, my head was very much in sales. After working under Tony and then with the publishing company in Dubai, I had a much greater capacity to look across the business and understand the various moving parts and the role they play in reaching our audience.

The key learning is that our key proposition starts with our audience. We can have all manner of great clients on board, but we need to deliver their message to the consumers – and they need to be the right audience to match the offer of the advertisers.

When you look at that in a Canberra context, it’s even more apparent that community engagement – and not necessarily directly through the radio – is the only way to achieve this result. I’m not a programmer, nor am I an announcer, but I certainly have a deeper understanding and appreciation of the subtleties of those roles and the way they can reach deep into the market through the content they produce.



People build a very personal relationship with radio. During the Centenary, locals voted Scotty & Nige the third most-liked thing about Canberra.

Absolutely. In many ways, it’s one of our most valuable assets. Radio becomes personal because it is so accessible – it’s a medium you can experience while doing other things.

I’ve got great and vivid memories of being a kid in bed listening to cricket being played in England. As you lie in the dark your imagination takes over and the experience feels so immediate. What other medium can deliver that?

You get to know the voices and the personalities and people form those deep relationships. That’s a big part of the privilege we have as providers of that experience, and we consider it our responsibility to respect the audience and their loyalty to those voices.


Given the dominance of the stations within the FM market in Canberra, how do you prevent the organisation from becoming arrogant or, even worse, lazy?

I think that the business is aware of that risk, but we manage that risk by considering our market position to be a privilege. That was something that existed when I was in sales, and it’s a philosophy that I will continue to promote while I’m in this role.

We’re also careful not to live by the survey results. Certainly, they are an important metric, but when you look at the size of the business, there are many other ways to celebrate our successes as a team. Having that sense of community, and taking time to recognise the moments when we really succeed in serving the market, keeps us grounded.



While that sounds humble, where else could those listeners go?

Well, they have plenty of options.

When I left Canberra, iPhones were barely a thing, Facebook was a bit of fun and there was no such thing as Netflix. What we need to do is look at those other options and do what we can to utilise them to hold the attention of our audiences.

For that reason, we’re very active on social media, and we use it to cover a lot of the events we attend that have a visual aspect that can’t be shown over the radio. People might be driving to work and hearing the announcers at an outside broadcast, and while they’re waiting for a coffee they can see the photos or video in their feed.

This is part of the reason why we no longer refer to them, as ‘listeners’… they’re considered an audience because they consume our content more ways than just the terrestrial service, we’re on-air, on-ground, on-line, on-mobile.

I think we have a responsibility, as well as an opportunity, with our ‘localness’. That means we need to do everything we can to supply the audience with information that reflects not only what they are interested in, but push forward a feeling that we are proud of our localness and the way we present that.


Does the non-specific nature of survey-based results make it hard to compete with advertising via Facebook or Google given that those platforms can be very specific in the demographics they reach?

Clearly the model is different, but we have a deep understanding of who the audience is. The advantage of that experience is that we can be quite nuanced in what we do. For example, while we obviously play different music across the two stations, even the announcers have a slightly different way of speaking when on-air.

But we’re not ignoring social media in any way. We get great engagement through our Facebook page, so the demographics looking at that medium are being sent to us for our own analysis. As a result, we know we have the right number of the right type of people.


And in the future?

Well, it could all start flowing back to us. The data capture may become so good that if you turn on the radio in your car, we will know that you’re driving a 2010 Mazda 6 and that you drive from Lyons to the City. That’s not a huge leap from where we are today.

Regardless, it’s hard to see anything fully replacing radio. The method of delivery may change, as might the conversations around it, but the future looks bright.

Canberra FM