FeaturesDave Charles, in conversation with Ronnie Stanton, on 60 years in radio

Dave Charles, in conversation with Ronnie Stanton, on 60 years in radio

Submitted by Ronnie Stanton, Chief Content Officer at Virgin Radio International 

Ronnie Stanton

Sixty years is a long time doing anything, especially radio – Marconi would be proud – and 2024 sees radio stalwart Dave Charles reach that six-decade milestone.

From not so humble beginnings as a creative on-air rat bag to the international consultant and voice of reason he is today, it’s been quite the journey. As a fellow dual citizen of Canada and Australia, as a fellow believer that radio’s best days are ahead of us not behind, and as his friend; I felt like the perfect candidate to sit down with Dave and ask him what’s what on this auspicious occasion.

Stanton: You have seen the evolution of radio in your 60 years – have listeners needs changed and where is it all going?

CharlesEvolution YES, revolution NO. During Radio’s Top 40 days this is where you discovered new music. Now it’s on Tik Tok, Apple, YouTube and many other streaming services. Radio no longer is the place to find the newest and latest music. Music WAS one of radio key four corner stones. The other three…Local News and Information…Community connections…and real personalities who could let you escape into another world for some magic theatre of the mind.  Under 40 listeners curate their own music with specialty formats, i.e. All ’70s or all ’80s, Classic Rock, Todays Country are examples of specific music formats that work. Listeners under 40 are rapidly discovering podcasts. These average around 30 minutes per show. You can get anything and everything on podcasts.  The beauty is you can get it whenever you want. Time shifting has been going for some time. Listening on demand is what’s going on big time.

Stanton: You’ve worked and consulted in over 40 countries – give us three of your favourite moments / highlights?

Charles: First would be the duopoly success of the TODAY and Triple M networks for Austereo. These two networks had it all largely due to the vision of Paul Thompson and Greg Smith.  Great music, the best personalities (i.e. Mick Molloy, Tony Martin, Jamie Dunn, Wendy Harmer, Andrew Denton, Ugly Phil, Kyle Sandilands, Jackie O, Barry Bissell to name a few. They did community promotions better than anyone which is why they were very successful. Black Thunders, Street parties and pay it forward promotions worked very very well to establish both of these networks.

Second favourite would be working on developing five new commercial radio networks in Malaysia. Known now as ASTRO Radio Networks they now have a total of 10 radio networks in various formats and languages. Working with different cultures opened my ears to how important radio is at connecting groups of people to their culture, their music and their world. We had over 75 ex-pats on our team to build these new radio networks based in KL – Kuala Lumpur. A foreigner couldn’t own more than 5% of a broadcast entity, so we came up with a 50/50 revenue share which is still in place today, a credit to the late Peter Harvie and Brian Bickmore.

My third favourite radio adventure was in South Africa. We went there two years after Nelson Mandela was President. The country had so much healing to do. I worked with our Australia team lead by Peter Butler. Together we visited all states and cities for SABC (South Africa Broadcast Commission) to develop their radio stations and broadcast standards. The people there were great and so receptive. I learned so much about the history of apartheid and how important radio was in bringing all segments of the country back together. We created a feature called ‘PEACE JOBS’ which ran twice a day before the noon and 5 p.m. news to announce new jobs for cities and communities that suffered from very high unemployment. This feature help to calm the street riots of the unemployed and gave real jobs to those looking to make ends meet and feed their families. That’s how to use radio in a very meaningful way. 

Stanton: Radio is having a tougher time than ever attracting new talent – why do you think that is and where should we be looking?

Charles: Radio lost connections in the high schools and universities in the job searching career programs. This is where to go to find the newest talents and show them the roadmap to getting into radio work. I’ve found many new talents in public relations and customer service centers. Even restaurants have potential talents in those who serve tables.  The ones with the charm and personality were always worth a look at. Radio now needs to set up an apprentice program to get peoples interested in radio to see it first hand.  Also look for some of the best podcasters.  This is where I would be looking now to find new talents.  This is where the new talent for radio can be found.  But, make sure that they still continue to do their podcasts to build up their following and their brand.

Stanton: What do you see as the main differences between radio in Australia vs the US vs Canada?

Dave Charles

Charles: Over my 23 years working in Australia radio, I found it more vibrant and real. The personalities were more fun. They talk about their real life experiences and were able to relate to that on a daily basis. I also found that Aussie radio was much more attached to their local communities. They related to needs and causes better.  They would come to the rescue of someone in need extremely well.  There was a sense of pride in city, town and country. I felt that immediately. As a result, I was able to discover more about the Australian communities I visited. One example was meeting the late Steve Irwin (the Crocodile Hunter). He developed Australia Zoo in Beerwah Queensland, with his father Robert, into the most natural and wonderful wildlife sanctuary ever. He developed one of the top animal hospitals on site. He lived in a modest three bedroom house on the property. All the monies he made from his famous tv show and the Australian Zoo went into buying tracks of Australia outback land to help save Aussie wildlife from greedy mining companies. Steve and his company used radio to talk up their zoo’s wildlife programs and attractions. He was brilliant and larger than life. As a result, I became a wildlife warrior and helped Steve with his marketing campaigns.

Stanton: AI is coming like a freight train – is it friend or foe to radio?

Charles: AI is a friend if you know how to control it. It’s got a great new tool box for radio, not just AI voices. It’s becoming more and more intuitive as well which is where the danger lies. AI voices are getting better and better. The reason I like them is I’m sick of hearing radio stations in voice track mode where local information and vital community and local news is missed. AI offers better ways to develop spec spots which will help improve radio’s economy and save heaps of time. AI is able to better scrape social media and local info like traffic and weather for the latest goings on and provide a much more comprehensive info package. About AI voices: they are getting better and better with each algorithm version.  Many stations are now using them in off-peak shifts. I listened to a bunch of weekend AI voiced shows and I found the content to be much stronger. Accents are not a problem as they can mimic almost any voice dialect. This is one area where radio was sucking big time. I’ve always considered weekends to be prime time…now it can be with the help of AI voice and AI tools. One final point is that radio staff have been cut back to extreme levels. When you lose the quality of a live personality, you lose so much of what radio is known for. That is to INFORM, ENTERTAIN, ENGAGE AND BE SUPER LOCAL.

Stanton: Congrats Dave – you should be immensely proud of this lifetime of work. And I know you’re just warming up!

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