“There’s no algorithm”: What Nova’s Smallzy has learned in 20 years on air

Kent ‘Smallzy’ Small

Plus: The global shows that Smallzy draws inspiration from

Back in 2003, songs like The Black Eyed PeasWhere Is the Love? and Eminem’s Lose Yourself were dominating the Aussie music charts, and bringing them to Nova listeners for the first time was Kent ‘Smallzy’ Small.

20 years on, Small has gone on to interview the biggest names in music – some of them several times over – and become the go-to man for artists like Ed Sheeran looking to break their music in Australia. 

Mediaweek took a trip to Nova’s Pyrmont studios to chat with Small about two decades behind the mic, and what it is that keeps him coming back.

When asked whether or not there are any plans to celebrate the milestone, Small laughs “There isn’t a grand plan, I’m just going to pretend I’m not as old as I am.”

I feel like I just woke up and it’s been 20 years. I don’t think it has really even sunk in – I feel younger now than I did 20 years ago. We’ll go out to dinner but it will need to be low key – hangovers are a lot longer now than they used to be 20 years ago!”

Reflecting on how the industry has evolved in the time since he first jumped behind the Nova microphone, Small said that one of the biggest changes has come in the form of the tech used to make shows happen. 

“Look at this studio that we’re in now,” Small said, referring to the high-tech Nova studio overlooking the water at Pyrmont. “This whole idea 20 years ago, people would have just gone But why? We have 11 cameras in the studio capturing the content, there are interactive signage boards and if we want to do a full takeover, we’re able to change up the graphics and the visual imaging package for social capture in a couple of minutes.”

Kent ‘Smallzy’ Small

Whilst the studio may look like a spaceship compared with 2003, Small said that the heart of what makes radio great “hasn’t changed since Marconi sent his first little telegram – and that’s human connection.”

Connecting to people is just as powerful today, and I actually think probably more powerful. Without getting too deep, we’ve never been more connected as individuals with the internet and social media, but never felt more alone, which is so strange.

“I love being able to get on the radio and instantly talk to people, and have people talk to me. There’s no algorithm, you switch the radio on and if someone likes what you do, they’ll tell you. And if they hate what you do, they’ll also tell you! You don’t have to worry about whether the algorithm pushes your content out.”

Making the point that “there are no new ideas,” but that you can find inspiration anywhere, Small said that he just loves listening to radio – no matter where it comes from. 

“I’m a bit of a radio nerd, through and through. I love to listen to radio from around the world – I love to see what Greg James is doing on Radio One breakfast, what Scott Mills is doing on Radio Two, what the Capitol Breakfast Show is doing in London, what Ryan Seacrest is doing in LA. I even find Joe Rogan and his podcast really interesting. 

“I scour their playlists to find out what songs are working in the rest of the world and see what we can work into the show here, maybe a track that hasn’t made its way onto our radars here in Australia. I listen to radio everywhere, I take inspiration from everything.”


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10 Years On Top

In Survey Six this year, Smallzy’s Surgery officially marked a decade as the country’s most-listened-to Evening show. 

See Also: Radio Ratings: Nova’s Brendan Taylor on Smallzy’s 10 years at the top

“The last one was anxiety-inducing. I was like if it all ends now, you’ll be the guy that almost got 10 years,” Small laughs.

I’m humbled by it, I never take it for granted. I’m so proud of the work the team put in, we go into every show putting 100% in. I never take the opportunity to broadcast every night for granted – not if the bosses are listening, but I love this job so much that I’d do it for free. If it all ended tomorrow, I’d find some community radio station and I’d just be doing some mad bootleg show. 

“I love getting behind the mic, I love talking to people and having people talk back. There’s something so exciting about it, even to this day.”

Summer Breakfast

This year will see Small take over the reins of Summer Breakfast once again, moving to the polar opposite end of the day for four weeks. Using it as a chance to stretch his legs, Small said that “It’s fun to host a different type of show with a different output and a different way of doing things.”

One of the Achilles heels of being successful for a long period of time is that any changes you make to the show are done incrementally, because what you do, people love, so you keep giving people what they love. But when you do anything for a certain period of time, you want to mix it up. You’ve got to take the evolution slowly, because consistency is part of the reason why you have the ratings success. 

I enjoy the breakfast shifts, because I can do something completely different. It gives me four weeks of the year where I can just do something completely different, which is great. You always keep learning and training your brain to think about something slightly differently, so it’s a bit of a reset.”

Top Image: Kent ‘Smallzy’ Small

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