Australia’s highest rating breakfast presenter Ross Stevenson on 3AW turning 90


Breakfast co-hosts, 3AW production team and Ross explains his audio Berocca!

Ross Stevenson has an early memory of listening to talkback on 3AW. “I think I was probably around 12,” he told Mediaweek, trying to recall his radio habits.

“Another early memory I have is listening to Derryn Hinch.” He also has a recollection of seeing Neil Mitchell hosting drive from an OB van. “That was probably around the mid-80s. If you’d told me I was going to be on-air on 3AW in five years time I would have had you certified.”

Stevenson is talking to Mediaweek on the anniversary of the station celebrating its 90th birthday. A landmark that few others can boast. Although it’s one that 2CH made it to just last week.

When Stevenson started at the station he was unsure how long it might last. But he’s remained one of the key players for 3AW, presenting the highest-rating metro breakfast show in Australia. His co-hosts over his 32-year journey have been Dean Banks, John Burns and from 2020, Russel Howcroft.

There is one significant memory for Stevenson that the 1932 celebration triggers. “What the anniversary means to me is that my mum would also be 90 if she was still alive as she was born in 1932.”


3AW’s Ross and Russel

3AW: Key to the city

Stevenson: “The station still feels it is an important part of Melbourne life. 3AW is identifiable as a key part of the media world in the city. If there is anything significant happening in the city that people should know about it will be covered. That sounds like I have drunk the purple cordial, but that’s what happens.

“In many ways radio, and 3AW in particular, is the original social media. The station lets people know what is going on and also enables them to engage with major events.”

Station owners have been hands off

As to a suggestion that over the years, 3AW station owners have largely been hands-off when it comes to management “interference”, Stevenson replied, “That’s absolutely correct. There has been very little meddling at all. If a place runs well then [owners] don’t need to meddle. They would be mad to.

“[At present] there is very little management – one in Melbourne [Stephen Beers], and two in Sydney [Tom Malone and Greg Byrnes]. Radio tends to be driven by the people on air, whereas my impression is that from time-to-time television is driven by management.”

Owners of the past few decades have been Southern Cross Broadcasting, Macquarie Radio, Fairfax Media and Nine Entertainment Co.

Not always covering the biggest news stories

The huge audience that listens daily to Breakfast with Ross and Russel are never sure what they might get that day – one of the big attractions of tuning in. “We pivot to what interests us,” said Stevenson. “There is very little politics for a couple of reasons including I have zero interest in politics myself. And I have a theory Victorians tend to have less interest in federal politics than, say, people in Sydney.”


Russell Howcroft and Ross Stevenson at a breakfast OB at Myer last Christmas

Breakfast rocks

The audience for 3AW is not stuffy old-timers. The audience enjoys the breakfast show’s sophisticated, classic and hip musical tastes. The end of the week is welcomed in by The Cure’s Friday I’m in Love at 5.30am for the last show of every week, and segments are ended and pre-ceded by imaging with artists as varied as The Beatles, The Sex Pistols and Led Zeppelin.

“Our great audio work can be attributed to Damian Tardio, a little genius. Just another Carlton supporter – I am surrounded by them. Luca and Scorcher are also mad Carlton.” [The balance comes via Russel Howcroft who is Melbourne through and through and a former MFC board member. The show’s newest member of the production team is Emilia Fuller.]

John Burns out: Russel Howcroft in

When asked about the impact of the change of co-presenter, Stevenson points out there was quite a bit going on at the time. “Russel’s first day was the first day of Stage 4 lockdown. We called him Stage 4 Howcroft. Those days were so dark and horrible. I haven’t really had time to reflect on the change.

Russel has been brilliant. He is a very happy person and it was very important for us to be the happy place for people to listen to during what was a bloody horrible time.

Keeping motivated

“Doing the program keeps me going,” said Stevenson to a question about longevity. “Sometimes I will wake up after maybe not an ideal night’s sleep and you question having to get up early, but doing the program makes me feel better. It’s audio Berocca.”


Ross and Russ with the production team at the end of 2021

Breakfast hours: manage your time

Stevenson told a Mediaweek podcast over a decade ago that he didn’t spend too much time at the station when not on air. Not much has changed. “I don’t see the point in getting in early. I hang around for half an hour after the show, just having a lot of laughs with Scorcher, Luca and Emelia. We just muck around and have a ball.”

Stevenson used to co-present a Saturday morning food show, but no more. “Management didn’t want me working six days a week. I really loved doing it, but I’m really glad I’m not doing it anymore.”

Find out how 3AW performs in the first radio ratings survey of 2022, early March in Mediaweek

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