Australia’s most listened to nighttime radio jock opens up to TMN about Australian music, scoops, his globetrotting lifestyle and Johnny Ruffo.
With the latest radio survey still fresh in people’s minds, it’s fair to say quite a few of the major networks are heading back to the drawing board with some of their content. That is no concern for Kent ‘Smallzy’ Small, however, with Smallzy’s Surgery scoring as the highest rated Nights show across the country. And just last week, the 10-year Nova veteran picked up an ACRA for Best Entertainment/Music Presenter for the second year running.
So what differentiates his show from the other networks’? He can’t quite say.
“I wouldn’t be able to tell you what it is that I do differently to what someone else is doing,” he says. “I’m blessed to work in an environment where I’m allowed to do the things that I like to do. If that wins some awards along the way fantastic, that’s just the icing on the cake. If it gets me a couple of number ones in the ratings then I’m also very blessed.”
And it’s not as simple as just sticking around for a decade – Small says he’s earned that flexibility by balancing “Everything you do that you haven’t been told to do is a risk, and if it pays off and it works well then yeehaw, that’s awesome. It allows a little bit more freedom.[…] it’s less to do with the time that I’ve been with the business, more with the consistency and the results that breeds the freedoms to back a new song or interview someone that I think should be interviewed.”
Small refers to his role as a form of content curation. “You’re bringing together all of the pieces in a world that is so busy and so noisy, you curate the songs and things that you think are most important or relevant for your audience.”
Perhaps what makes the Surgery stand out the most is the interviews – and specifically, Smallzy’s knack for really getting to know an artist. They eschew the typical promo tour content you can get any day of the week – “Generic 101 interview: plug the song, plug the album, and out they go,” says Small dismissively.
Instead, provided they hit it off, he’ll uncover just little extra something that stands out from the rest of the interviews – his secret weapon is to ask something mundane (like “What’s your coffee order in the morning?”) and follow that conversational thread into unexpected, often personal territory. He builds connections into relationships, and wields responsibly the trust and access that goes with it.
As if to illustrate his point, the night before Small spoke to TMN, he broke the news of Ed Sheeran’s recent accident – which resulted in the guitar-toting superstar breaking both arms – to the world.
“My official line on the scoop with Ed last night is just to say [that] Nova and Ed Sheeran, we’re blessed to have a close relationship that has formed over the years,” he explains. “When you have a close relationship these things can pay dividends.
“Let me tell you, it was certainly unexpected last night. When I found that out originally, I was like ‘Oh shit!’ Number one: I hope [he’s] okay. Number two: no one else in the world knows this, what does one do with this information right now?”
Popular demand as well as what tests well helps drive the Smallzy’s Surgery playlist – whether it’s an international up and comer, a big established name or a hometown hero. Unusually amongst local radio hosts, Small doesn’t even pay lip service to the idea of favouring Aussie artists. “I don’t ever view [programming choices through] the lens of, ‘This is an Australian artist, we should support that’, or ‘This is Taylor Swift’s new record, we should support that’. That does not happen. Good songs are good songs, and that’s generally the only lens I put through it.
Of course, the fans – who are famously vocal on social media – do have a say. “I’m led by the audience too,” he admits. “Sometimes there are things that they are onto way before I’m onto it and I’ll take their lead on it, because who am I to argue with what the people want, right?”
Recently Smallzy threw all his support behind Johnny Ruffo’s ‘Team Johnny’ for walk4brain cancer, after Ruffo announced he’d been diagnosed with the disease earlier this year.
“That literally could be any one of us,” reflects Small. “I’ve known Johnny for years. If someone was to ask me, ‘Who can you imagine is doing it tough?’ He’s the last person I would think would be doing it tough. I was shocked.”
The revelation inspired him to do some research to better understand the scope of the issue. “1600 Aussies are diagnosed with brain cancer every year. […] Here is a guy that everybody would think would be the last person to cop a health moment like that” continues Small.
“Then I knew he was aligning himself with the walk for the brain cancer cure. I was like, ‘Well if we can play your songs and interview you when times are good then the least I can do is in your time of need stand by you, and shine a light to your cause, and raise some money for it.’”
At the time of writing, Small has raised a total of $2975 for the walk, while Team Johnny in total has raised $18850.
So what’s Small’s coffee order? A skim latte, made at home – because for him, that extra effort makes all the difference.
“Yeah, life’s too short for shit coffee. That’s my takeaway. Particularly when you work shift hours as well. I’m here ’til 11:00 at night some days. You have to really look after yourself.
“That was my one thing that I was asked at the [ACRAs]: ‘What advice would you give to younger people and people in the biz?’ Look after yourself. It’s taken me 33 years to get to that point but you’ve got to look after yourself because this business… you give so much to it. When you’re creative, and I’m sure you know this, when you’re creative you can keep going, and going, and going, and going.
“I’d do this for free I love it so much. Otherwise you’ll have this amazing gig or create this amazing experience and set up for your life, but you’ll be in bad condition or bad health, or don’t have a social circle of friends or family around to share it with. That’s my big learning.”