Fifi Box is probably best known as runner up on the 2007 ‘Dancing with the Stars’ TV series and for hosting her very own radio show, ‘The Shebang’ on Triple M in Sydney. She shares the highlights of her career in radio and beyond since beginning in Port Macquarie, and the surprising opportunities it has presented her.
> Fifi, you started in radio in Port Macquarie and your career has absolutely skyrocketed. How do you remember your time at Rox FM and 2MC?
I absolutely loved Port Macquarie, from the minute I arrived. I was living down in Melbourne back in 1997, and I caught the train all the way from Melbourne to Wauchope. The afternoon I got there, I absolutely fell in love with the place; I wanted to move there instantly.
I actually came up for a two week stint, because I was doing radio school at the time and it was the first radio station I got to work at. I rang my school to see if I could stay up here if they let me, and I ended up staying for two months. I was copywriting, doing some on air work, and I just wanted to stay and never go back to the cold world down south. You could say I literally fell in love with Port Macquarie.
> How has the transition been from regional radio to big city radio?
It was really tough to be honest, because I worked at Rox FM at the time Phil Brandell was the morning announcer. I didn’t get a permanent gig at Port, so I had to go back to Eastern Victoria. I kept in touch with Phil, and I was always envious because he was in Port Macquarie!
We had done a demo tape, sent some off … but then I decided to give up and move to London for a year. I convinced myself radio was just too hard to get into and I was never going to make it into the city. I came back after 12 months in London, and Phil contacted me when I got back and said, “You wouldn’t believe it, Triple M are interested”. So we flew into Sydney, and I have been here ever since. I’ve had nearly nine years at Triple M.
> You are a female radio icon, your voice being familiar in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. How strongly do you feel about the involvement of women on the airwaves?
I feel really passionate about women being on the airwaves. From the very early days of radio in Australia, it was always about the men and the male radio broadcasters who had their own shows. You often had a woman doing the news or reading the weather; she was never stepping up to have her name attached to the show. In the early 90s it was a great time for Wendy Harmer, Tracey Bartrem – you had women coming to the forefront.
It was a great breakthrough for me as a female because prior to that, it just didn’t look very possible. You had to be John Laws or Alan Jones or Richard Stubbs. Now I am incredibly grateful that women are given a microphone and a shared piece of the show. And I am very passionate about maintaining that, too.
> Is there a feeling of rivalry between female presenters? Or is it more united in terms of “women working together on radio”?
It’s funny you should ask that; it’s all a big beat up as far as I am concerned. And, I am sure, as far as my other friends are concerned. We are friends! Jackie and I have been trying to catch up for lunch, but we’re both so busy! Sonya Kruger is also another fantastic friend of mine, and in terms of the competition or the “radio rat race” I am up against Jackie and Sonya, but we just laugh it off and think it’s hilarious.
At the end of the day, each of us work for different radio stations – I am with a rock station, Jackie is at a hit music station, and you’re playing for different audiences, so the ratings are something the media sort of beat up. We don’t seem to take it too seriously behind the scenes.
> And of course, you came runner up in 2007 “Dancing with the Stars”. Did you think you could move on the dance floor as well as you spoke in the studio?
(Laughing) No way! I still can’t believe I got runner up! In fact, I quite seriously had only scheduled a few weeks in my year to commit to it, because I had just assumed I’d be the first to go! I never thought for a second I would go the full three months and stay until the final show. And that really, really shocked me, because I knew I couldn’t dance. If you saw the first episode, I was really the joke of the show – Wendell Sailor was so much better than me! I had an amazing partner in Paul Green and he really taught me to dance; by the final episode I actually felt like I was a dancer.
I still haven’t seen the final episode by the way! Channel Seven has sent me all the episodes, but I imagine maybe in 5 or 10 years I will sit down and watch it. And, I will add, I haven’t been on the dance floor since “Dancing with the Stars”!
> Radio is very spontaneous and unpredictable. What has been your funniest on air moment so far?
It is really unpredictable! I was doing an interview with Tommy Lee from Motley Crue on air, and he offered me some pizza. If Tommy Lee offers you pizza, you eat it! So, I was eating away and I got a stitch. I doubled over and had to leave the studio.
Because it was a live interview, there was no editing! It was really surreal – being on air with Tommy Lee, eating his pizza, getting a stitch and not being able to talk to him!
> Have you got any advice for people trying to get into the radio industry?
Because I was literally one of those radio amateurs coming up through the ranks and I didn’t have a profile and I wasn’t a famous actress, it was difficult.
I went to the radio school, I did my apprenticeship and was lucky enough to end up in Port Macquarie, which was just a radio dream for me at the time.
I did the hard yards, started out in regional radio, cut my teeth on everything. I was reading the news, writing commercials, and doing mid dawn shifts.
If you get your teeth stuck into it, learn all you can in a regional radio landscape, then you can knock on every door and say, “Hey, look at me! I really want to do this, give me a chance!” When I came to Triple M, I volunteered to do five weeks unpaid to start with, just to get a shot.
You do get knocked back a lot, but finally someone gave me that chance. When you get it, you just have to run with it. Persevere and don’t give up, because you really can make it.
> Who has been your favourite interviewee, someone who left an impression on you?
I’ve had quite a few! Michael Weatherly, from NCIS was a fantastic interview (giggling). I interviewed him at the Logies, and yes, he left quite an impression!
> What has been the highlight of your professional career so far?
Probably hosting the Logies; that was just surreal. I still can’t believe that happened! It was a mad moment, to be honest. I still think I am Fifi Nobody, and to be standing up on that stage hosting the Logies was definitely a career highlight for me.
> There is immense pressure in radio to get the ratings from listeners. How do you cope with that?
In terms of the stress and pressure of ratings, it is a very ruthless, cut throat industry. What you do, you do for your listeners; that’s what I and the people on my show never lose sight of. The minute you buy into the race, you’re not being true to yourself; you’re not doing the things your listeners want to hear.
If I just get on air every day, be honest with the listeners, be myself – and I am pretty goofy and weird at times – talking about things that interest listeners, the ratings don’t mean anything. If you’re having fun, that’s the best! The minute you do it solely for yourself, it’s wrong. I have the best job in the world, and if I can’t enjoy it, then I’ve got a problem!
> What does Fifi Box do when she gets time to relax?
I sleep a lot! Ha ha! I watch DVDs and I eat a lot. I don’t have a great social life, contrary to what people believe when you are in this industry. I barely get time to see my friends, so I spend a lot of time lying on the couch watching telly!
> Thank you for your time Fifi.