Sofie Formica has an extensive background in television – she was a star of kids TV from the late 80s to the early 90s, the first woman to host a game show in Australia, and has appeared in the iconic Home and Away. After heading to America to work with Oprah, Formica returned to Australia and became well known as host of Seven’s Queensland-based lifestyle show, The Great South East.
Most recently, however, Formica has taken on a new challenge. In October 2021 she switched on the 4BC microphone, taking the reins of Afternoons on the station – and this year, winning the Best Newcomer On-Air ACRA for it.
Mediaweek spoke to Formica about what’s changed in her new role, and why her ACRA win was more than just a personal achievement.
Having swapped out the TV camera for the radio mic when she took the role at 4BC, Formica says that looking back, it was more out of necessity than design.
“When we were at a crossroads as to whether we stayed in Queensland with family, or moved back to Sydney or Melbourne for career, we chose lifestyle. Me making that decision to choose lifestyle and family over television meant that the opportunities for me have been really very limited living in Brisbane.
“I stepped away from Channel Seven for a variety of reasons just before Covid happened. The world got put on hold. It was by accident that at the same time, Channel Nine had purchased Macquarie Radio and were looking to re-establish live and local content across all of the capital cities. There was a gap for the Afternoon program, and I was asked ‘is this something you’d entertain?’”
Whilst TV and radio work both have storytelling at their heart, and have a lot of skills in common, Formica says that her role on Afternoons has taught her that the two medium are still very different.
“There’s an immediacy and an intimacy in radio that you just don’t get in television. Although I think that will change a little bit in time, because now a lot more radio stations have incorporated the visuals of having cameras, so people can watch you while you’re talking.
“You’ve got one way of communicating, and that is through the word and through voice – you don’t have the pictures to go along with it. That is different. Also, the speed at which it happens is different. You’ll hear breaking news on radio before anywhere else.
“Then there’s talkback, and the way that the audience communicates with you – which doesn’t happen on television. It’s really fantastic, we’ve already got a lot of regulars who are a part of the program. But it also opens you up to the other side of it as well, that people will disagree with you and tell you when they don’t like something.”
Despite only having taken up residence behind the 4BC microphone in October of last year, Formica has made a significant impact on her audience – enough to win her the Best Newcomer On-Air ACRA last month.
“My content manager here, Max Dudley, flippantly said to me at the beginning of this year, ‘I’ve nominated you for an ACRA,’ said Formica. “I laughed it off, I didn’t even give it any thought. Then all of a sudden, the finalists came out – they said ‘you’re a finalist’, and I was like, ‘what are you talking about?’”
For Formica, her ACRA win isn’t just a personal success, but a success for people who have reached a certain point in their life and career, and then – for whatever reason – decided to change direction.
“Nobody’s supposed to make a speech, but I felt like I needed to make the comment that I’m sure a lot of people in the room had either articulated or thought themselves, which is that I’m clearly not a newcomer to the planet. I just got up and said, ‘the irony isn’t lost on me that I could have literally given birth to the other two people who are in the category with me’.
“There was an intersection of a lot of things in my life for this to happen at this time – part of that was that my kids are all at university. They’ve all stepped up in ways that they haven’t before, to allow me to be the one that’s out of the house five days a week now – because I can’t dial this in.
“I know that people will go ‘well, it’s not a huge stretch to go from being on TV to then being on the radio’, and to a degree I would concur. But I am still a newcomer to this to this industry and to this job, so it was a really lovely nod and makes me feel like it’s been worth the gamble.”
With the end of the year on the horizon, Formica has no intention of taking her foot off the pedal into 2023 and beyond.
“It was Quentin Bryce who said – particularly for women – that you can have everything, but you can’t always have it at the same time. I think sometimes life is a combination of factors, and timing is the biggest part of it. I just feel like the timing for me has been really right.
“I will say that my intention now is to work very hard to make sure that I continue to find myself involved in the ACRAs as a recognition of not just what I’m doing, but what the entire team is doing. It’s something that I’m hoping that we’ll continue to see in the future: that we’re doing something that people like to listen to, and that we see success across the board.”