Having a Voice

A career on TV, an author, stand-up comedian, live performer and most famously a radio presenter, alumnae Jo Stanley ('90) has an extensive career in media. Reflecting on her career journey to date and what has driven her, there is one thing that gives her more reason than others - " To amplify the voices who are usually not heard."

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Can you explain your career journey to date?

I’ve been lucky enough to work in the media for 20 years. I started in commercial radio by chance. I was building a career in arts management, running venues and producing theatre by day, and doing standup comedy by night. I had been doing a show with my then comedy partner, Jodie J Hill, and the Head of Content at Austereo came and saw our show. He liked that we were outspoken and bold, so offered us a development show on Sunday nights. From there I moved through a few other week day shows, eventually landing in a breakfast radio show – The Matt and Jo Show on Fox FM. That was in 2003, and we did that show for 10 years, with record-breaking success. I sometimes can’t believe that was even me! It was the greatest gift of my life, to work with those people and have that connection with our audience. Everything I’ve done since then – hosting TV, writing books and columns, live performance, working with charities that I am passionate about – has been because of the Matt and Jo Show. I will forever be overwhelmed with gratitude for that time of my life.

How did Strathcona prepare you for your chosen career?

There are a lot of things that go on behind the scenes when creating a radio show, some planned, others more intangible. The creativity and constant need for coming up with ideas was something I remember doing at Strathy. We were always writing plays, creating stories, choreographing dances. It was a beautiful, vibrant and safe creative space. I have always had confidence in my ideas because of that experience. But also, a more intangible thing that must happen for radio to work, is an innate empathy and understanding of your audience – not as a collective, but a desire to understand every individual listening to you. I have always felt Strathcona taught me to be empathetic and kind and compassionate. To seek first to understand. It’s not something you’d put in a job description, but it’s absolutely critical to radio success – and indeed to every other part of my media career.

What did you study?

I studied Drama and Theatre Studies at Monash University. It’s now called the Bachelor of Performing Arts. I loved it – most of what I learned was in student theatre outside of the classroom. I threw myself into every element of theatre-making – writing, performing, directing, choreography, producing, stagehand. And I also was President of Monash Players, which was my first taste of leadership. It was a brilliant training ground for leading teams and management.

What was the major influence on your career path?

When I was on the Matt and Jo Show, I had a manager who asked me ‘what are you passionate about?’ I had been struggling with a lack of confidence and extreme anxiety. His point, when he asked me that question, was what is my purpose, my why? As soon as I started thinking about why I was doing what I was doing, it shifted my mindset from being me-centred, to purpose-centred, and I found the anxiety much easier to manage. For me, passion counteracts anxiety. I don’t think I would have lasted in radio if I hadn’t realised the reason I was there, which was to use this extraordinary opportunity of having a voice, to be of service to those who don’t have a voice. To amplify the voices who are usually not heard. For me, that has mostly been in the gender equality space. 

When did you decide that this is what you wanted to do?

There was a moment when I had to choose between radio and my arts management role. I loved both. And certainly radio felt much riskier, but it also felt like an adventure. And the great gift of being paid to be creative was worth the risk. I suppose radio found me, rather than me choosing it. But when I was given the opportunity I embraced it with all my energy.

What are your career highlights?

People often assume my highlights might be meeting huge stars or travelling overseas for work to cover things like the Royal Wedding (William and Kates!), but actually my highlights are always the people we spoke to every day. I remember the times we were able to do something really positive for someone, like give away a house to a single mum with three kids, and knowing that would change their life forever – or raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity. Or even just hearing from a listener that something I had said that morning on the show had helped her through a dark moment. That’s the greatest thrill and joy ever.

What do you enjoy the most about your career?

Making people laugh is joyous. Sharing conversations that bring information that is useful or inspiring, or helping people tell their stories – it’s all so rewarding. To me the whole point of the media is to bring people together, shine a light on injustices and celebrate the many courageous and brilliant people around us. 

What core attributes do you need for your chosen career?

A willingness to be disliked helps! You’re never going to be everybody’s cup of tea. It’s a hard lesson to learn, and I don’t always master the anxiety around that, but it’s critical to be sure of who you are and to do the work to know how to like yourself. Other than that, creativity and problem solving, being curious and listening carefully to others, and having a positive outlook – you need to be the one to set the tone for the environment you’re in.

“…being curious and listening carefully to others, and having a positive outlook – you need to be the one to set the tone for the environment you’re in.”

What advice would you give to someone looking to start in your industry?

I always find it hard to answer this, because I didn’t do the traditional training and work my way up through community and regional stations that so many people do. But now I think we’re in an amazing time of independent voices finding a way to be heard. We can make our own podcasts or Youtube channels. Start a blog. If you have something to say, you can find a way. The key is to do the work to know who you are, and what makes you and your voice unique. And then never sway from it. 

As you embark on creating a radio station, what do you hope to achieve with Broad Radio?

We want Broad Radio to be a voice for women who are over 35, and diverse women. Currently, of the voices you hear on commercial radio, only 27% are women. There are whole sections of the society who you would think don’t even exist if you went by what you heard on radio. We want to give a platform for all the glorious and diverse stories out there to be told.

Why are you so passionate about having the female voice heard?

The media has the power to not just reflect, but shape society. We know that gender inequality causes harm to women and their children – on every level, from financial security to health to safety to employment opportunities, the list goes on and on. So reaching gender equality in our media will drive gender equality elsewhere. But it’s more than that – it’s about the fact that when women thrive, the rest of the community thrives. And women are fabulous! They’re funny and clever and kind and inspiring. Why wouldn’t we want to hear more from them?

Final Note

We’ve been crowdfunding for Broad Radio, so that we can build an app and people can listen to our shows wherever we go. We’ve raised over $50,000 which has been amazing. I feel such enormous gratitude for the support people have shown us. My mum always told me communities can change the world, and I feel like I’m really seeing that with Broad Radio.