Richard Wilkins on the smoothfm decade: ‘It has been a bloody good ride’


One of the smoothfm originals remembers the launch – his first on-air radio gig

Nova Entertainment’s baby brand, smoothfm, has been quietly celebrating its 10th anniversary this week. Launching in May 2012, it seems as if the Sydney and Melbourne stations have been around for longer.

smoothfm must rank as one of the more successful rebrands in Australian radio and credit must go to the then Nova Entertainment brains trust which included current CEO Peter Charlton (sales manager back then who actually joined three months after the launch – but he helped to successfully monetise the new brand), former CEO Cathy O’Connor, programming chief Paul Jackson and former marketing chief Tony Thomas.

In 2012 Nova was due a win after the dud launches of Vega and then Classic Rock (a cracking format that wasn’t given the attention it deserved).

Mediaweek checked in with one of the foundation on-air team this week, smoothfm weekends’ most distinctive voice, Richard Wilkins.

He started by telling Mediaweek about the initial decision to join the new brand. “I had spoken with my manager various times about doing some radio. He spoke about a possible opening somewhere and I thought it might have been Triple M. He explained that no, it was with the new station that used to be Vega.

“I remember telling him that I thought no one listens to Vega as it was a disaster. I remember I had to sign a disclosure form which I did after hearing it had something to do with Michael Bublé who was a friend of mine.”

Bublé spearheaded the smoothfm launch campaign when the station first hit the airwaves. Subsequent superstars who have appeared as brand spokespeople were Robbie Williams and Sam Smith.


smoothfm originals still on air: Richard Wilkins, Mel Doyle, David Campbell and Cameron Daddo

“I went and had a chat with Paul Jackson and Peter Clay [head of programming] who 10 years later have become very good friends of mine. We subsequently went into the studio and did some spots. I’d previously worked in marketing in radio, but never behind the microphone until that time.”

Wilkins said he picked up much in the early days, learning skills he’d never used before.

There was nobody listening to the station when it launched, but it grew quickly over the first few months. Listening in taxis was a huge part of it which helped spread the word. Back then we were playing tunes from artists like The Carpenters and Air Supply who hadn’t been heard on commercial FM radio for years.

“That helped make it sound so cool and fresh. The stations have been #1 FM in both markets many times and we are still #1 FM on weekends. There has been plenty of competition along the way, but it’s been a real joy to be on this rollercoaster ride.”

Wilkins said he occasionally throws up ideas for songs to be added to the playlist, but he is happy for Peter and Paul to keep control of the “plan”.

“They tell me to do what I do and they will do what they need to! [Laughs]

“The music is very good and it’s always changing. The station is still evolving which I love.

“Music is in my blood. I started playing the violin when I was seven and then singing in choirs. I feel I have pretty commercial tastes and I think I know why a song is a hit. I love a great, catchy pop song which is what smooth plays so I am in my element.”

Wilkins often records his sessions with Peter Clay, and he told Mediaweek he still looks for as much feedback as he can get.

“I feel that my slots on weekends, when people are out about and often very busy, should reflect what is going on in the real world.

“The show can’t be just a bunch of links, you need at times to zero in on what the audience is doing and thinking.”

Nova’s A-team when smoothfm launched in 2012: Tony Thomas, Cathy O’Connor and Paul Jackson

Wilkins said there was never any thought about being an unwelcome guest on other radio shows once he signed up to the Nova Entertainment family.

“I have done a couple of things over the last decade where I appeared on other shows. There have also been a few things I knocked back out of loyalty and respect for Nova.

“Somewhere in the thick contract I sign every year or two it says something about me being exclusive for the company. I have been around enough to know how it works.

Ben Fordham and I are best mates [and colleagues at Nine] and if he wants me to do a spot on his show I will jump on. Otherwise, I am loyal to Nova where it has been a bloody good ride – 10 years after a standing start.”

Wilkins has occasionally hosted his show from overseas, including one time with a microphone precariously perched on a bunk in the south of France.

“There was one weekend I would be away and I asked Paul if I could pre-record the show. He said don’t worry, he would get someone else in to host it. Someone like me hates to hear those words!

“When I came back, PJ said to me: ‘We won’t be doing that again.’ He said he had a tradie who came around that weekend asking him why Dickie wasn’t on air!”

Wilkins said he loves what he is doing now and he’s not getting up early in the mornings on weekdays as he did during his years on weekday Today. He still feels he has plenty to offer. “I love the work. I fell into radio almost by accident, but it’s almost the perfect thing for me given my background.”

Wilkins has always been loyal to his employers, something he inherited from his dad who worked for BP for 30+ years. “I was brought up to get a job I like and work hard to be the best you can be. I have had a few other media opportunities here and overseas over the past 35 years, but I turned them down because I’m very happy here in Sydney with friends.

“I consider myself very lucky.”

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