Crises bring ideas to the fore. Some good, some not. Some wonderful. Hoarding supermarket products was NOT a good idea. The Bondi Beach party was NOT a good idea. Trump wanting to end US lockdowns is NOT a good idea. AKQA, though, has launched a radio station. It’s a wonderful idea. It’s keeping AKQA-ers connected and AKQA work flowing. The idea came from Jessica Day, AKQA Melbourne studio concierge, enthusiastically endorsed and aide by creative director, Adam Grant. Jess and Adam took The Stable behind the scenes:
Jessica Day, Melbourne
The Stable: How did the idea come about?
Adam: Jess had the idea about the radio station first. A couple of weeks before the studio shutdown, our local AKQA leadership group got together to discuss ways in which we could maintain studio connection and culture in the event that we had to work from home, and so WFH-FM was born from that initiative. The Melbourne studio is a very social environment, so it seemed like an imperative to do something meaningful that would allow that social activity to continue – something that everyone could access and feel included in.
Adam Grant, Melbourne
Jess: The main theme of the year for our business is Connection and this got me thinking after the meeting. Music is a big part of my life personally. So is the AKQA studio culture. When thinking about how I could recreate the in-studio experience at home, bringing myself and energy to the team while working away from each other, the radio station seemed like the simple answer. From playing music, to hearing your colleague’s voices and laughter, I couldn’t contain my excitement on getting it started.
The Stable: How did you go from idea to radio station?
Adam: It happened in a flurry of Slack messages between Jess and me on the first Monday of working from home. We had an all-team meeting at midday, and we knew that that would be the perfect time to launch. So while Jess was addressing the studio over Bluejeans, I was madly setting up the stream. We made it just in time – at 12:41pm, I hit the button and the idea suddenly became a real-life radio station.
Jess: I burst into the office on Monday morning with so much excitement and told my managing director, Alisia [Muscat] about my idea. Alisia said, “Perfect, you can tell everyone in our virtual all-team meeting in two hours.” I was chatting to Adam on Slack and with his support, we were up and running straight after the team meeting.
The Stable: What sorts of content are being broadcast? Is there talk back?
Adam: It’s a combination of music and talkback programs. Every day we interview someone from AKQA on their top five songs on a theme of their choosing. It’s a good time to forget work or whatever’s happening in the news and to get a real human insight into one of our colleagues. I think it’s a great forum to have discussions that are less common in a traditional “work environment”. We’ve also had a number of employees broadcast their own original music, which has been amazing. Globally, we have DJs contributing sets from right across the AKQA network, so while Melbourne sleeps, New York is dusting off the decks, etc. This all happened organically with people hearing about it across the network. The content is incredibly broad, from art rock to R&B plus everything in between.
Jess: We have a Morning Show with Barnz [Barnaby Matthews], our Melbourne barista who has now turned radio host, and he takes all requests on Slack for better or for worse. We usually rely on Barnaby getting our day started right with a coffee, and now he can get our day started right with our favourite songs and a small chat. It helps that he’s a singer-songwriter when he’s not serving coffees so it couldn’t be more perfect. We’re looking to grow our content with more exciting shows, so stay tuned.
Barnz (Barnaby Matthews), Melbourne
The Stable: How did London come on board?
Adam: I’m honestly not sure. Jess and I received a few messages from AKQA-ers in the London studio and elsewhere who had heard about the station and wanted to get involved. We’ve spent a bit of time helping people to get set up and troubleshooting connection issues etc. so that we can have a truly global, 24-hour stream.
Jess: We did a little promotion within our Slack channels and from there interest grew. Along with me spreading the news, “Have you tuned into WFH FM yet?”. The London team reached out to us and here we are. It then featured in our global internal newsletter, and since then people from studios around the world have tuned in.
Alberto Aceves’ studio, San Francicsco
The Stable: Have you unearthed any stars? Favourite content?
Jess: So many! Barnz is an absolute natural in the mornings. On his last show, Felix [Lawi] from Melbourne recorded himself playing Chopin Fantasie on his piano. Felix blew my mind. It’s been so great seeing the skills of your colleagues come to life that you usually wouldn’t see. Another favourite moment is Alberto [Aceves] from San Francisco, spinning live from his decks.
The Stable: What is hard about working from home for AKQA people? How has WFH FM helped? What are you learning from it?
Adam: Like any business, AKQA is really just a collection of people, and it’s only when we exchange our thoughts and ideas that we make anything of value. As good as we are at collaborating in a formal setting through sprints and planned meetings, a lot of that exchange occurs informally, through kitchen conversation and sharing the corridors. So not having an opportunity to connect with each other in those sorts of ways could potentially be a huge loss for our group. That’s where I see WFH-FM’s greatest strength – it allows people to stay informally engaged with each other. You can be a passive listener, and still feel part of the community. It’s not just the station, it’s the social chat that goes along with it in our online channels.
Personally, I’ve learned a lot – from the intricacies of streaming software to program structure. I don’t think either Jess or myself would have imagined that we’d be acting as radio station managers 2020, but here we are. I absolutely love it and am excited by how we continue to evolve it. Radio is the most human of mediums for conversation and storytelling, and I think if anything, what the world needs now is some good stories.
Jacob Spaccavento, Sydney
Jess: The last week has been a big adjustment for everyone I know. Workin from home was a little hard for me especially as an extrovert. The culture in our studio is so strong, where people are constantly learning from each other formally and informally. Not being physically close to everyone is hard, so that’s why I wanted to re-channel this great energy into radio.
I think having the choice to listen is great as well. If people feel they need to put their head down and get some work done they can tune out, and on the other hand, those who need some banter and music in the background can tune in. The sense of identity and belonging to a community is so important in everyday life, but extremely important whilst practising social distancing.
I always wanted to be a radio presenter, so I am thriving right now. I did my presenter training a couple of years back but not having the in-studio equipment at home, I have learnt so much about online radio. From systems, programs, streaming and sound control I am certainly expanding my knowledge. I second Adam. I never would have pictured myself in this position as a station manager but here we are. I am so grateful to be working alongside Adam, as well as being surrounded by knowledgeable colleagues with a can-do attitude who want to be involved. My heart is so full watching the global network come together, that my mind is thinking of the endless opportunities we have right now. It has been such a delight to watch this idea come to life.