Barry Keohane: “people have learned to upskill or get left behind”

Looking to level up your radio game? Barry Keohane is an industry veteran who, when he’s not programming award-winning programs, spends his time educating the next generation of radio leaders.

With a career that’s seen him land critical roles at stations across Australia and South East Asia, Barry Keohane is one of the country’s foremost radio veterans. Every year he also programs a respected Industry Certificate at the Australian Film, Television, and Radio School (AFTRS), where he helps radio professionals level up their careers with leadership, managerial, and other top-level skills.

It’s still about two months before his Radio Content, Management, and Leadership course kicks off for 2021, but as Barry will tell you, radio is a shifting industry right now, and preparations must never be left behind. He’s currently hard at work adapting the course to a rapidly evolving media landscape, and hand-picking the special guests he’ll be inviting into 2021’s virtual classrooms.

We recently sat down with Barry to talk about how radio pros can take their careers to the next level themselves. If you’re somebody with experience who wants to nail that promotion, or you’re hard at programming your very own show, we’d recommend you heed his sage advice.

Radio mixer interview barry keohane

HAPPY: Hey Barry, thanks for taking the time. To start, could you introduce yourself and tell us what you do at AFTRS?

BARRY: No problems Tom. I’m Barry Keohane, and I’ve had a long career in the Australian radio industry, creating successful radio brands not just in Australia, but in South East Asia. I’ve had the great fortune of working overseas and developing strong leadership skills through my work with diverse teams. Most recently I’ve led ARN’s Mix 102.3 in Adelaide to numerous number one surveys, something I’m extremely proud of. I’m also a consultant, professional coach, and trainer. My role at AFTRS is the Head Lecturer for the Radio Content, Management, and Leadership Industry Certificate. This is my fourth year now as Head Lecturer.

HAPPY: What kind of radio professional would your Industry Certificate be most useful for?

BARRY: Great question Tom. This course is really designed for experienced radio staff in the commercial, community, or public broadcasting sectors who are looking to take that step up into more senior roles. They might be eyeing off that Content Director position at their station or another network, or about to take over leading a team (such as an executive producer of a show), or maybe another senior programming role. It can also help those people who are already in these positions brush up on or learn new skills.

HAPPY: Is there a sort of ‘career ceiling’ you can hit in radio without developing these skills?

BARRY: There are so many different opportunities in radio, it really is all about where people want to go with their career. Some people are great on-air and will forge a very successful career by doing just that. Others might have a flair for promotions and marketing, while others may look to senior content roles that help create and guide a station’s vision and lead a team of diverse content creators. While on-the-job experience is crucial with any role, this course really consolidates on the skills you can pick up at the station and focusses on what you need to not just be good leader, but to be a great leader. This course really does provide a launching pad for those wanting to move into senior content roles.

HAPPY: Is upskilling something that people in radio tend to neglect, even accidentally?

BARRY: Maybe once upon a time it was, but with the industry constantly changing and adapting to shifting audience needs and new technologies, people have learned to upskill or get left behind. And I think that is what radio and its people do so well. They can see change coming, and pivot accordingly. I look at some of the great radio content leaders in Australia who were once simply strong radio programmers, but now they have their finger on the pulse of digital platforms, social media, and podcasting – and continue to create and maintain very successful media brands.

Each year we update the content of the course, based on industry feedback, to ensure we are reflecting what stations needs in their leaders. This ensures that when students complete the course, they will be ready to take on a content job in today’s radio landscape.

HAPPY: Have you noticed an increase in course interest during the pandemic?

BARRY: COVID last year did shake up the radio industry (like all industries), and with it came people who were looking at ‘what’s next’ for them in case the industry continued to change. So yes, it did create some added interest. The great thing for us was that the entire course is already online, so we really didn’t need to do anything. The only change we made was that our residential workshop, which we normally hold at AFTRS in Sydney, moved online. The benefit of this was we were able to invite some amazing international speakers to work with our students at no extra charge!

HAPPY: Can you tell us about those industry guests a little?

BARRY: One of my favourite parts of the course is the amazing industry talent we have access to through our network of contacts. Because this course is so highly regarded, everyone we approach to talk says yes! So our students have access to the best in the business each week through our weekly Zoom sessions. And because of the size of the group, this is really a great opportunity for our students to ask questions of people who they sometimes may not have access to. It really is a who’s who of radio that appears each week. I know last year that students were so inspired by some of our speakers, they went back and watched the Zoom sessions again, just in case they missed something.

HAPPY: I’m sensing it’s a great networking experience, as well as an educational one. Would you agree?

BARRY: Definitely. Each of our industry guests is more than happy to not only give up one hour to talk with the students, but many offer their content details for students to email and ask questions, or maybe just discuss ideas. A lot of our guests have been where our students are, and excited to give back and help our group take that next step.

HAPPY: Is that part of the course – meeting like-minded radio professionals – still applicable given the current online delivery?

BARRY: Our online environment is really conducive to talking radio and sharing ideas, and I think that is one of the real strengths of this course. While the world was coming to terms with Zoom last year, we have been using it for a number of years and understand the benefits of working online. One of the things I do is ensure that we all get to know each other, what each person does, and where they work. This breaks the ice and allows people to network with each other. Last year I increased our weekly Zoom sessions by 30 minutes. So once our guest leaves, we just stayed on and talked radio. Lots of questions, stories, ideas… all about radio!

HAPPY: Lastly, is there a particular part of the course, or your teaching in general, that you’d like to highlight?

BARRY: Just one?! I’d like to say that over the last four years I’ve fine-tuned the course, updated the content, and introduced new guests to really give our students the best and most up to date learning experience. My role is also to be there for support, so I encourage the students to reach out with questions at any time if it will help them get over a road block, or simply to discuss an idea for an assessment. The learning environment AFTRS has created with all its courses is unbeatable, and it’s a pleasure to be involved with the course again this year. I’m really looking forward to working with a new and diverse group of students.


The Radio Content, Management, and Leadership Industry Certificate begins on April 19, 2021. Find out more or enrol here.