Grand Jury Confidential: Aaron Kearney

NYF’s weekly Grand Jury Confidential features profiles of New York Festivals International Radio Program Awards award-winning Grand Jury members. Each interview provides a glimpse into the brilliant careers of prominent award-winning radio executives from around the globe who are recruited to select the World’s Best Radio Programs℠. These dedicated individuals commitment to their craft is an inspiration to us all.

Aaron Kearney, accepting an NYF Silver Award in 2013 for The Magic Red Box

This week, NYF takes a few moments to connect with 2016 Grand Jury member, Aaron Kearney, Presenter/Broadcaster for  Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Aaron is a multi-award winning broadcaster, journalist and sports commentator with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the 44th MEAA Prodi Journalist of the Year. He’s covered some of the world’s most exciting events including the Olympics  FIFA World Cup, Rugby World Cups and AFC Champions Leagure.  He is a Walkley Award and two-time New York Festival World Radio Award winner (Gold and Silver), Kennedy Award finalist and is one of the few Australians to win awards for his work for television, radio and newspapers, magazines and online.

In the interview below, Aaron shares his insights on all things radio, including early leadership lessons, the defining moment in his career and his favorite radio program that he created.

NYF: Who or what were your early influences in your career?

Aaron Kearney: Perhaps surprisingly, it was my first job, working in a pizza restaurant that gave me many of the skills that have served me well in producing and presenting daily radio. It taught me the importance of preparation, systems and processes and the ability to be consistent and professional in circumstances that are inconsistent and test professionalism. If you can master those basics, you can always be creative with your ingredients and deliver something delicious (while always remembering to give the customer what they want and need).

NYF: What’s the most important thing you learned from your first job?

Aaron Kearney: That a job was not a career. An old timer, seeing I was feeling pretty good about landing this great media job, said to me; “You have achieved nothing yet. You have been handed an opportunity. See what you do with it before you become too self-satisfied”.

Needless to say, I learned to listen to wisdom, even if sometimes it was hard to swallow.

NYF: What were some early leadership lessons for you?

Aaron Kearney: To make your decisions based on what you want to achieve, not what your competitors are doing. It is important to be aware of the competitive landscape but I have always concentrated on my audience and what I am trying to do for them, not what others are trying to do. People respond to authenticity and I didn’t want to be broadcasting with my competitors in my head.

NYF: What qualities are the most important to have?

Aaron Kearney: I was once told by a talent scout that the best radio talent is “infinitely interested in everything”. Another mentor told me; “Anyone can broadcast World War 3, the story is doing the work for you. It takes a professional to make the 15th annual local police golf day riveting’. That was before social media, and his words are now more poignant than ever. Things are boring, people aren’t. Be interested and you will find the interesting.

NYF: Tell us a bit about your evolution in the radio industry?

Aaron Kearney: There is a cliché that says; “Radio is the original social media”. It is true. I see that technology has hurt certain areas of the industry, such as music programming and sports results programs. People get from Facebook what they once got from their local “ZOOFM Show”. But I also see that it has never been easier to connect across the globe and never been easier to feel disconnected with those around you. Authentic radio has an intimacy and an immediacy that is yet to be bettered by any technological innovation. But mass-produced, fast-food radio that thinks its audiences are dumb is doomed.

NYF: What was a defining moment in your career?

Aaron Kearney: Probably winning my first New York Festival Award. As a small-town boy from the bottom of the world who worked really hard to produce world-class radio, walking up Fifth Avenue to the after party with a Gold trophy in my hand gave me a sense of pride and self-belief I had never experienced before.

NYF: Will you share how the culture of your company encourages creativity?

Aaron Kearney : The ABC (Australia’s public broadcaster) promotes the four core values of integrity, respect, collegiality and innovation. While budgetary restraints, the changing media landscape and good, old-fashioned human nature can conspire to challenge those values, they combine with a commitment to serving the audience to produce a very effective environment for creative excellence.

NYF: What’s your favorite radio program that created?

Aaron Kearney: I am not quite sure what this means. That I have created? My favourite show is the one I am about to do. I don’t dwell too long on successes or failures. I try to look for markers of success and failure and incorporate or eradicate them from my next show. My most successful shows are those that have just the right balance of ingredients. I want laughs, moments of reflection, anger, affection and above all, a sense that spending time with my show was time well spent. I now work internationally, often in developing nations, and even though culture, language and audience expectations change, the bottom line is the audience must want to spend time with the show.

NYF: What are the hallmarks of award-winning radio programs?

Aaron Kearney : I don’t know the answer to that definitively, because part of the radio listening experience is subjective. But I know that the best things I hear always sound real and sincere. I like a sense of honesty and earnestness (even if you are trying to be honestly and earnestly ridiculous). I think the truly great programs recognize what it is that radio does better than any other medium and dishes that up in authentic, engaging ways. I tell my interns; “You gotta be able to make a 17-year-old boy care about the subject of menopause and little old ladies care about the latest video game. Then you are doing top-shelf radio.”

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