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    Breakfast radio with Ross and Russ: Inside the 3AW engine room

    Russel Howcroft was missing from 3AW’s breakfast show Ross and Russ this week.

    His bout with Covid meant he also couldn’t be part of the launch episode of Gruen for 2024.

    While his seat was left vacant on the ABC TV show, his chair at 3AW was adequately filled by stand-in breakfast co-host Mark Allen.

    3AW boasts the strongest start to any radio day in Melbourne thanks to breakfast with Ross and Russ.

    Ross Stephenson and Russel Howcroft came together close to four years ago after former co-host John Burns was replaced.

    The already-strong breakfast ratings soared even higher during the Covid years. 3AW continues to post the single biggest breakfast share of any metro radio station. It’s even more of an achievement when you realise they do that in Australia’s most competitive radio market with 16 stations in the GfK survey.

    Breakfast radio with Ross and Russ: Inside the 3AW engine room

    Stephenson and Howcroft on air

    Stevenson has been winning breakfast ratings since the 1990s at the station. The teaming with Howcroft successfully refreshed the program.

    Despite his decades in the role, Stevenson told Mediaweek he’s happier than ever about the show. The current rating of 18.6% (7.8 points ahead of their nearest rival) indicates the audience continues to be pleased too.

    See also: Melbourne radio ratings – Ross and Russ remain on top, Jase and Lauren climb in first Nova survey, Fox grabs back #1 FM breakfast from Gold.

    The radio station is great and I get to come and have fun with this bloke [pointing to Howcroft] and we have a great team,” said Stephenson.

    The most notable thing about their 3AW studio set-up is the door into the studio is propped open during the show. There is no flashing red “on-air” sign or warnings about being quiet. Producers talk in the background and people wander in and out.

    “I don’t know why you would be blocked off from everyone else,” he continued. “If the mics pick up a bit of extraneous noise, who cares?”

    Ross and Russ: Howcroft’s early days

    Stephenson recalled how they often broadcast from home for a time early in the Ross and Russ partnership. “We could all work from home. No one wants to. Why would you work from home when you want to come in? It’s good for the soul. As

    Damian Tardo famously said one day, ‘The 3AW breakfast program is a democracy.’ One person one vote.”

    Howcroft: “We were lucky in that we had the permit to come in. Many others didn’t have that freedom.”

    Howcroft recalled how his first day on air at 3AW was the first day of the second Melbourne lockdown.

    Russ before 3AW: After spending time as executive general manager at Network 10, Howcroft was the first ever chief creative officer and a partner at PwC.

    During his five years at PwC he was also on air at Gruen as one of the founding regular guests.

    Howcroft also did some guest spots on 3AW. He was heard too with Virginia Trioli on ABC Melbourne where one of her other ad industry regulars was Harold Mitchell. Andrew Denton heard Howcroft on ABC Radio which led to the offer of a spot on Gruen. (But that’s part of another story one day!)

    Ross and Russ did know each other previously. They both had children attending the same school. Howcroft took part in a trivia night at the school. He made sure he got Stephenson on his team. “Can you believe we came second?” he said shaking his head.

    Ross and Russ: Early morning pre-show routine

    When the breakfast offer came, Howcroft received some advice: “A very experienced media person said to me before you say yes, set your alarm for 4am for at least a week. Then decide whether you’d like that or not. I never did it though. Who wants to get up at 4am in the morning when you don’t have to?”

    Both announcers rise a little after 4am. Howcroft doesn’t have a back-up alarm. If he’s not out front of the house at a certain time though, Sam the taxi man will be banging on the door.

    “By the time he’s picked me up, I’ve actually done a lot of work. I’ve read the first paragraph of every main story from the four daily newspapers. I can do that because our production team have forwarded me a document with them all in it.”

    There’s no meeting before the studio goes live about 5.37am. The hosts don’t talk before they go on air. “Most times at 5.37am, we don’t really know what we’re going to say.”

    It helps keep everything fresh. It works. Look at the ratings.

    Howcroft is in no doubt about the key to the show’s success.

    “Think of Ross as the composer, conductor, first violin, that’s what he is. Every single day there is a composition. A creative composition.

    “Every day it’s very interesting because every day is unique. It’s unique and it’s creative content. It’s an incredibly creative enterprise.”

    The hosts with the breakfast team at Melbourne’s #1 (more on them tomorrow)

    The ideas factory

    Howcroft: “One of the great things about radio is ideas are disposable. In my old world, the advertising world, you treat ideas as very precious things and you work very hard to get an idea made. And it might take months.

    “It might take millions of dollars. In radio, you just chuck an idea out there. You burn through a lot.

    “You burn through a truckload, I love that.”

    Don’t waste time in meetings

    Stephenson doesn’t like meetings and he doesn’t want to waste time.

    The no talk before the show is something Howcroft also learnt from Wil Anderson. He recalled how when he arrived at Gruen, Anderson wouldn’t talk to him before a show. It puzzled him at first. “But if you talk when you’re off air, you might say something that would be better on air. And so you’ve used it up.”

    Politicians are rare on air

    Howcroft: “It’s rare that a politician will be on air on the show. There might be something political happening. Soon there’s the budget. You should make sure that you’re talking about that, but we would never talk to a politician about the budget. You’ll talk to an economist or someone who’s got a neutral, objective point of view.”

    Howcroft and Nine sales team

    Nine Entertainment takes advantage of having Howcroft on the team.

    “I love talking to the Nine salespeople whenever they want me involved. I love meeting clients. I’ve always loved meeting clients and talking to them about how advertising can help them.”

    Howcroft does occasional speaking work. He is signed with Profile Talent, with Mark Klemens and Kate Loder looking after him.

    Tomorrow: Who’s who on the #1 3AW breakfast team

    See also: Inside 3AW – Tom Elliott on moving timeslots and pressure in mornings

    The post Breakfast radio with Ross and Russ: Inside the 3AW engine room appeared first on Mediaweek.

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