Erica Hodge is the admired Content Director of MIX 94.5 in Perth and one of the very few female Metro Content Directors in Australia. She shares with TBS her radio journey and some advice for females aspiring to be a future Radio Content Director.
Please tell us about your journey from where you started in radio to where you are now.
I did my Bachelor of Arts in English, with a Journalism & Theatre Arts double major, at Curtin University from 1989-1992. After I graduated I worked part-time as the Breakfast News Editor at 6NR, which was the community radio station on campus (it’s now known as Curtin Radio). I added weekend news at 6IX later in 1992, and was then promoted to Breakfast News Editor. During the course of my degree I had done work placement for course credits at PMFM – and the news director there Harvey Deegan hired me to do weekend news in early 1994. I progressed to breakfast back up and then breakfast reader before heading overseas to travel in 1996.
After 18 months in the US & London I got a job in Derby (in the English Midlands) as Breakfast News Editor at RAM FM. Spent almost 12 months there – and added an on-air component to my role after a change in the breakfast show. My UK visa was due to expire in November 1998 so I started looking for work back in Australia. I applied for (and got) the breakfast co-host job at FM104.7 in Canberra. Flew out of London on a Tuesday morning in November (about 10 degrees), landed in Perth on the Wednesday afternoon (it was 40), flew out of Perth on the Thursday morning and landed in pouring rain in Canberra on the Thursday night. It was the first time I’d ever been there and I was moving there! Sat in on the breakfast show on the Friday morning and started on the Monday. No time for jetlag!
Absolutely loved my time in Canberra. Spent 4 years there before my co-host (Marty Haynes) & I moved to Wollongong to present breakfast on i98fm (owned & run by WIN TV). We had a very successful 6 year run together, before I decided that I needed a career change. My ego didn’t need the public profile that comes with being on-air, and I got the most enjoyment out of preparing my show, almost more than presenting it! So I drove up to Sydney to meet with Jamie Angel at 2MMM and ask his advice about pursuing a new path – producing. Call it synchronicity if you like, but my timing was blessed – he was putting together Triple M’s brand new breakfast show The Grill Team and they were looking for an Executive Producer.
I moved to Sydney in August 2009, one week after The Grill Team launched. It was a baptism of fire, after 10 years of regional radio to be producing breakfast in Australia’s biggest radio market. My learning curve was incredibly steep but, in hindsight, a big contributor to the role I’m in now. I paid a price though – I didn’t manage my health well during that period of time and was diagnosed with stress-related depression in April 2010. A product of very long hours, not enough exercise, using wine to de-stress at the end of each day, and some difficulties managing one particular colleague. For health reasons I chose to finish up with The Grill Team at the end of 2010 and spent the first half of 2011 working casual hours in the Sydney newsroom. I was so blessed to have incredible support from the company right through my health concerns, including the short term transfer into the newsroom. I think it’s really important to be honest about the challenges I faced during this period of my career, because too many of us continue to struggle to get our work/life balance right – and it’s critical we do.
Halfway through 2011 the opportunity arose to return to Perth to EP The Bunch breakfast show at Mix94.5. I’d lived overseas and interstate for 15 years. It was time to come home. It was an amazing privilege to join Australia’s most successful commercial radio station and one of Australia’s longest running breakfast shows. In May 2012 we notched up 100 consecutive surveys at number one. A month earlier I was made Assistant Content Director in addition to EP of The Bunch. Another learning curve, not quite as steep as the one at Triple M, but I relished it. I finally felt like I had a complete understanding of all aspects of Content. It was brilliant to broaden my focus out from concentrating on a show, to take in things like music strategy, airtime management, client integration. During my time as Assistant Content Director there were a couple of lengthy stints where I was Acting Content Director, which expanded my skill set further. Suddenly I was involved in reporting up to Head of Content and making some pretty major content decisions, as well as managing a wider Product team. It was during one of those stints as Acting CD in September 2013 that the then Content Director decided for health reasons to step down from the role. I was effectively made Caretaker CD for the transition period between the end of The Bunch and the move for Clairsy, Shane & Kymba from drive into breakfast. It served as a trial period, I guess, and on Tuesday the 29th of October 2013 I was officially appointed to the position. I was thrilled to say the least.
What’s been some of the challenges you have experienced throughout your career?
I’ve described my biggest challenge – and biggest lesson – the critical importance of balancing work & life and staying healthy. I know the warning signs now. Difficult talent will always be a challenge – I’ve been really lucky to be given the opportunity to do some amazing management training with Angela Heise, and once I understood that I shouldn’t take bad behaviour personally, it became easier to deal with.
Do you think females in the media can have it all? Children and a career?
It depends on what each individuals definition of ‘it all’ is. I certainly believe that it’s possible to combine both roles, not that I have personal experience. I met the love of my life when I was 40 and he already had two adult children so we decided not to add to the brood! I think you probably need to be super organized to be effective at both roles. But expectations probably need to be managed, because I’m sure there would need to be compromises in both areas.
Both yourself and Donna Puechmarin (2DAYFM Content Director) have been Executive Producers of shows, do you think this is important in becoming a Content Director?
I actually do. I think the experience of dealing with talent daily and the level of content creation that goes with being an EP is great grounding. EP’s must be good people managers, they must be creative, they must be hard working and persistent. All qualities essential for a CD.
What is your advice for those females who are producers, on air or in content teams who are thinking about being a Content Director?
Take advantage of your access to the best in the business. If you can’t get in front of them, get in touch with them. Soak up their experience. Seek out others in your position that you admire. Ask them questions. Compare notes. Broaden your experience beyond your role. Always be hungry for learning.