Carving a career for yourself in the arts can seem a daunting prospect, especially when some creative professions don’t always have an obvious pathway from tertiary studies. But that doesn’t make a creative career any less ambitious or worthy. If anything, making your own way requires guts, determination and genuine talent.
Just ask Performance Studies and Journalism graduate Stacy Gougoulis, AKA radio host of triple j’s Weekend Breakfast show.
“When I started out, I never thought I could get a job doing radio, and working for triple j seemed like an impossible dream,” he says.
Gougoulis earned the gig with the iconic radio station by banking up a wealth of experience, starting as a volunteer with Perth’s RTRFM. In between his studies, he would hole up in the station’s studio in Mount Lawley, trying his hand in all areas of broadcast radio including production, hosting, news reports and music library administration.
“The experience was incredible. The people were amazing and just embodied the spirit of community radio,” he says.
“Peter Barr in particular, who was the breakfast host at the time, was a great mentor to me. On air, he was just so personable, affable and warm. He always had listeners on his side.”
Gougoulis continued to hone his broadcasting craft with RTRFM after he graduated from Curtin in 2009. He also drew upon his performance studies skills to secure work as an actor in local television commercials and plays, as well as in puppet shows for Constable Care. But many Gen Ys would argue his seminal work was in a television advertisement for roller shutter doors, which featured the 80s hit, ‘Shaddap you face’.
Gougoulis explains his acting talent may have never been unearthed if it wasn’t for the advice from a good friend.
“I actually originally enrolled in Professional Writing and Publishing as a John Curtin Undergraduate Scholar, but my friend later convinced me to switch to performance.
“It was a lot of fun, and I made a lot of friends through performing with the Hayman Theatre. It was the most fulfilling part of my degree.”
In 2012, Gougoulis moved to Melbourne to expand his professional opportunities. Through his connections at RTRFM, he did some on-air shifts with community station 3RRR, before working his way to triple j in 2014. He started out hosting the midnight to dawn segment, but he says despite his prior experience, there was still a lot to learn.
“It took me a while to adapt to the energetic pace of triple j,” he says.
“I got some valuable feedback from Jacinta Parsons [a fellow broadcaster], who told me that I didn’t really sound like myself on air – I had the basics down but perhaps I had to let go and relax a little.”
Gougoulis took the feedback in his stride, and his mellifluous voice and familial style is one that now eases thousands of listeners into their weekend mornings (or helps them recover from the night before).
He says there are no quick routes to becoming a good radio presenter, just plenty of practice.
“I think a good presenter is someone who sounds warm, approachable, knowledgeable and has the ability to connect with people.”
“But you’ve got to do it a lot to get good at it. I don’t think there is a short cut. You’ve got to just chat to a wide range of people and be able to hold conversations with them or, more often, conversations with yourself.
“Also, people love to hear you fail or spectacularly mess up,” he adds. “If I make a mistake timing out a song, I am usually just honest and say, ‘Yep, I stuffed that up’ and people are generally fine with it.”
When dealing with aloof musicians though, Gougoulis does have a few tips.
“If someone isn’t bringing a lot to the table, you try to be a bit cheekier, or you might try to make them feel safe so they open up.
“You’ve got to be comfortable and not fazed by what they throw at you, but also don’t be afraid to get out of things if they’re not working. Don’t try to drag it out.”
The year 2020 will be Gougoulis’ sixth with triple j and marks 14 years in radio. During this time, he has seen major changes in technology and music, but he says there will always be demand for good old-fashioned radio listening.
“It’s not just about the music, but company and presence. It feels like someone is there with you. Live radio especially is so immediate and responsive.
“There’s also the curative side – there is someone there who you trust to introduce you to great music. There’s a person behind it, rather than an algorithm.”
If being a host with one of Australia’s most popular radio stations wasn’t enough, Gougoulis also works as a graphic designer and illustrator. His freelance work has been commissioned for podcasts, portraits, album covers, brand publications and theatre troupes, just to name a few.
Gougoulis admits that undertaking multiple roles can be hectic, but it also allows for professional diversity and autonomy. When asked what’s next for the young creative, his answer is refreshing.
“I’m actually just trying to enjoy this job and have the freedom to illustrate. Just to keep doing what I’m doing.”
Name: Stacy Gougoulis
Studied: Bachelor of Arts (Theatre Arts), Bachelor of Arts (Journalism)