Match made in radio heaven

Radio station 96FM has wrapped up its 40-day 40th birthday celebrations with radio mogul Gary Roberts at the helm for the milestone.

Since launching Perth’s first FM radio station on August 8, 1980, the managing director of the iconic brand has done a full circle having returned to where he made local broadcast history four decades ago.

Gary Roberts celebrating 96FM’s 40th birthday on Friday. Photo: Adam Diminic. CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

With the financial backing of media magnate Kerry Stokes and Perth Wildcats owner Jack Bendat, the station was established by Australian TV legend Brian Treasure, but its quick rise to a dominant market position was largely due to Roberts’ work as program director.

Teaming an album-oriented rock music position with promotions to challenge anything else in the marketplace, Roberts’ passion for radio created a recipe for success right from the beginning.

“The first promotion we did on 96FM was to send people to the US to see Springsteen, so we started by making a statement,” Mr Roberts said.

When asked about his influence on the industry, broadcasting lecturer Jo McManus described Mr Roberts as a “radio genius”.

Perhaps it is not 96FM and Mr Roberts that are the match made in radio heaven, but more Mr Roberts and radio in general.

“Every station he’s worked for in this market has done extremely well,” she said.

“He creates, I believe, a culture that makes people want to work for him and that’s half the battle.”

Recognised for his service to broadcast in January as a member of the Order of Australia, Mr Roberts’ storied career has seen him take all Perth commercial radio stations to the coveted number one position.

After 12 years at 96FM Roberts worked as managing director at MIX94.5, joining Perth breakfast broadcaster, Fred Botica for long-running success at the top. Mr Roberts then went on to launch Nova 93.7.

Last year, after 27 years ruling Perth radio rivals, Mr Roberts returned to 96FM – bringing Botica with him.

“Gary called me one day and said he was going back to 96FM, and I said to him, ‘That’s nice’, and he said, ‘No, you’re coming, too’,” Botica said.

To mark its 40th anniversary, there has been no shortage of the pair reliving 96FM’s history, and creating more.

The station has showcased its heritage over the last 40 days with music features, nostalgic interviews including Gary Shannon, Eileen Bond and Premier Mark McGowan, and a competition that saw one listener drive away in a brand-new car with $40,000 cash on Friday.

Having pulled every marketing leaver possible for the last six weeks, Mr Roberts is now waiting to see if the scale of the unprecedented celebrations was a success.

After a COVID-19 induced break, industry research institute GfK will release the first set of national radio rating results since April, on Tuesday.

Ms McManus said radio rating results mattered because they brought in advertising dollars and without them, there would be no radio.

In the April figures, 96FM shared the equal second spot with Nova93.7 . both with 12 per cent of the audience aged over 10 years old. Out of the 11 commercial and ABC stations that take part in the ratings measure, the top spot went to Mix94.5 with a 12.6 per cent share of the 10+ audience.

Categories: Entertainment, Media, Music

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