Radio’s big guns are back: Nova EP Zach La Cava on how Smallzy’s Surgery stays #1

It’s not all about breakfast…plus the tech gear the ACRA winners depend on when far from home

All the big-ticket FM and AM breakfast shows are all back from their summer holidays, and so is Nova’s Smallzy’s Surgery. The popular evening show does the heavy lifting around the Nova network on weekday evenings.

Success in the timeslot belongs of course to the show’s host Kent Small. But another key ingredient is Zach La Cava, executive producer of Smallzy’s Surgery. While the perennial ratings-winner doesn’t cop a lot of glory on ratings days when the focus is on breakfast shifts, the industry has celebrated their achievements with ACRAs going to both over their evening journey.

Zach La Cava and his Best Show Producer Entertainment/Music Metropolitan 2022 ACRA

The show is a must-listen-to for people with a passion for pop. It’s a hit, particularly for younger audiences, but others wanting to stay up-to-date are part of the big podcast audience.

Pop is not just pop music, but an overview of pop culture is presented. In addition to the diet of hit music, December 2022 guests included Kate Hudson, The Bachelors, Harry Jowsey, John Krasinski, The Rock, Sam Worthington, The Kardashians and Miles Teller.

While La Cava has been at Nova since 2011 around the time Smallzy’s Surgery launched, he hasn’t always worked on the show. He has been with the program for a decade, serving as EP since 2014.

Working on the street team at ARN was La Cava’s first taste of radio. “I was handing out the icy cold cans of Coke for [what was then] Mix 106.5, WSFM and The Edge,” he told Mediaweek. “After a year with ARN I moved to Nova who were re-launching their street team which were branded as Casanovas. I also pursued opportunities to help out in any capacity on any programs which is how I got my foot in the production door.

“I also used to show up on Saturdays and shadow Peter Clay [now smooth network head of programming] who used to produce Nova’s Fresh 40. That was where I learnt a lot of the skills I still use daily.”

One skill is to make event radio out of major pop culture moments wherever they happen – around the world and in Australia. “We try to create engaging content around those events,” explained La Cava.

Nova’s night show is a perennial ratings winner

Smallzy’s Surgery does stand tall alongside FM radio’s best. “We want our show to be taken seriously and challenge ourselves to be as good as the best breakfast shows in the country.”

La Cava realises his show is treading a path others have blazed too. “I grew up listening to Kyle and Jackie O on the Hot 30 which is where a lot of my passion and enthusiasm for radio comes from. I often refer to what I have listened to in the past in addition to what is happening presently in the world of radio. We always strive to produce content on a par with the best on offer around the world.”

When it comes to creating content, La Cava responded to a question about whether the timeslot gives the evening show more freedom than if they were producing a breakfast program. “We filled in for breakfast for two weeks before Christmas and it was interesting to jump from evening to early morning. In the evening we have a little more flexibility in terms of pushing the boundaries on some of the content. That includes having occasional music newcomers that we can help to break.

“Also we have a little more time to finesse what we put on the show because we have the day to prepare, whereas a breakfast show often needs to be more in the present.”

Above: Zach La Cava and Smallzy at The Kardashian’s LA premiere
Top: The duo on the MTV VMA red carpet

Smallzy’s Surgery: Frequent Flyers

A highlight of the national Nova evening program is when it goes on the road, creating content from press events and red carpets that can’t be created in Australia.

La Cava: “Post-Covid, one of the main goals in 2022 was returning to international travel. After too many Zoom interviews, we wanted to return to face-to-face interviews. We were able to secure a lot of interviews and we were very happy with how the year turned out.”

Like Smallzy did in Mediaweek last December, La Cava picked the same 2022 highlight: the premiere of the new season of The Kardashians on Disney+ they attended in Los Angeles.

“We were also able to take four listeners with us to see Harry Styles at Wembley Stadium in London which gave us some great content with one of the world’s biggest artists.”

Other visits included a trip to help promote The Rock’s movie Black Adam and a visit to Germany for the MTV Europe Music Awards [EMAs].

Smallzy with Harry Styles competition winners at Wembley

Smallzy’s Surgery: Friends of the show

“There are so many highlights that come to mind over 10 years working on Smallzy’s Surgery. We have had 5SOS on the show a lot over the years and we spent time with them just last month too. I am proud of relationships like that we have been able to grow and keep over that time.”

Others who have been part of the journey include Ed Sheeran and the various members of One Direction as they embarked on solo careers. “That sparks a memory of the time Niall Horan had us over at his house,” said La Cava. “That was after the Grammy Awards one year and he allowed us to record an interview.”

Radio on location: Road kit

La Cava: “We take a mix of gear depending on what we are going to do. For Germany at the MTV EMAs we had to have a lapel mic for the red carpet.

“I have the kit always packed ready to go which includes a microphone and a Zoom recorder. There is always a laptop of course plus an iPad in case we are not able to access a printer for the show rundown etc. Phones and headphones of course are essential. Being able to whip out the phone and shoot some video in the moment is crucial.”

One piece of kit La Cava singled out was the H6 Zoom recorder. “Its microphone connections come in very handy. The quality of the microphone is also important and we prefer the Sennheiser MD46 which allows us to recreate studio quality.”

In mid-2022 Smallzy’s Surgery was working with Global and Capital FM who allowed them access to one of their studios. “We did the show from London for a week when we visited for the Harry Styles show.”

Smallzy’s Surgery set-up inside London’s Capital Radio studios last year

The duo’s luggage also includes backup gear. “I always pack at least one extra of everything just in case we need it.”

La Cava explained budget constraints usually mean just he and Smallzy are on the road. “I would love to have a third person with us to help capture social and video content which is so important these days. The rest of the team play a critical role back in Sydney though as they turn around the content and get the show on-air.”

La Cava was tight-lipped about 2023 plans, although he did share there will be some exclusive Sam Smith content recorded during their current Australian visit.

Team Smallzy’s Surgery

Kent ‘Smallzy’ Small
Zach La Cava – Executive Producer
Kayla Stumbles – Assistant Producer
Millie Foda – Digital Content Producer
Chris Haines – Audio Producer
Abbey Delmenico – National Music Marketing and Promotions Manager
Stephanie Heading – National Music Marketing and Promotions Coordinator

See also:
Nova Entertainment unveils its lineup for 2023

New city, new show: Ben, Liam & Belle on making the move to Melbourne

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