Rebel FM is a Gold Coast-based radio network dedicated exclusively to the love of rock, in all of its many fist-pumping myriads, both classic and contemporary. Those with a penchant for guitar-based sounds have been tuning into the 99.4 frequency since the station transformed into a dedicated rock station in 1992 through the efforts of radio industry lifer and rock and roll tragic Cheryl Jowitt and her husband Aaron.
The pair leveraged off each other’s strengths, with Aaron taking the role of music programmer/director and engineer and Cheryl gravitating to the sales and marketing side of the operation. Together they forged not only a station dedicated exclusively to rock and roll, but also one of the few independently owned family radio networks in Australia.
Chatting with Cheryl in person and via email, her reluctance for the spotlight gives way to an enlightening insight into the foundations of the long running station, and the role that she has played in its success, as one of the first female trailblazers in a traditionally male dominated industry.
Cheryl has spent her entire working career ensconced within the world of radio, saying of her formative journey; “I met my husband at a radio station in Tasmania and if it wasn’t for him, I’d probably still be working somewhere on air. He inspired me to greater things and together in our early twenties we started our first commercial radio station, (SUN FM), in November 1996 in Beaudesert. Five years later, we had five stations operating.
“By 2002 we had nearly 50 stations operational around regional Queensland and New South Wales. It was this stage that we converted SUN FM to a rock station.” Which is what rock aficionados now know as Rebel FM.
As to the reason why they chose to focus exclusively on one specific genre of music for their radio network, Cheryl frames it within a duality of smart business sense passionately driven by a love of the source material.
“We found that most stations were trying to be all things to all people, which means catering for a big cross section of the audience – which is a very difficult ask. The music influences of someone who is twenty is very different from someone who is forty or fifty years of age.”
This outlook also shaped Cheryl and Aaron’s decision to branch out into a more laid-back strand of the rock and roll equation, launching the co-aligned Breeze FM network in 2003, catering for the adult contemporary (35 to 64 year old) listening demographic, with a focus on non-pop classic hits and oldies.
The Breeze FM network also broadcasts on the Gold Coast (on the 100.6 FM frequency), as well as regional Queensland and New South Wales. Cheryl expands on the synergies between the two networks.
“Most people will tend to go from one to the other, depending on their mood. When you want to blow off the cobwebs you turn on Rebel, and when you want to sit back at night with a nice wine, you go with Breeze.”
As one of the first female go-getters within the realm of radio, Cheryl has proven to be somewhat of a pioneer. For an ambitious woman, getting ahead and making a mark in the media, particularly in the often testosterone-driven field of rock, was a rite of passage that she can now reflect back on with a degree of wisdom and acknowledgement that the times have indeed a-changed and moved on for the better.
“Media was a tough place for a woman in the 80s and you’ll often hear people in the industry say what happened in the 80s should stay there and never be spoken about again.
“At that time, I was one of only a handful of women working in commercial radio in Australia on air. It was a very male dominated industry. It’s taken many decades for that to change, but now we’re seeing a lot of women, not only on air, but in management roles as well.”
Cheryl is also forthright when it comes to how she came to be a rock and roll gal and why it resonates with her so profoundly.
“It’s the storytelling of rock that I love.”
“Rock stars tell their story in a real gritty, truthful way that really hits home. And that’s very similar to really good country music.”
While broadcasting into such far flung regional hubs as Stanthorpe, Cooktown, Goondiwindi and Tenterfield, the entire Rebel FM operation is run from Helensvale on the Gold Coast. Cheryl and her family made the Coast their permanent home for lifestyle reasons around 12 years ago, having previously resided fairly close by, in Jimboomba.
“I’m lucky enough to live on acreage, so Saturday mornings, my neighbours aren’t upset too much when I blow out the cobwebs by turning up some classic Aussie rock on the sound system,” she laughs.
“Usually, Rose Tattoo, The Divinyls or AC/DC. I’ve seen them all perform live and I reckon the time I saw Rose Tattoo in a paddock surrounded by bonfires, out the back of Townsville (which I coordinated as the promotions manager at radio station 4TO at the time) was one of the best live performances ever.”
With Rebel FM broadcasting for close to twenty years now, its focus on operating as a closely knit operation akin to an extended family is clearly a big part of the station’s success and longevity.
“I feel that Rebel’s success has got to do with the fact that we are real,” Cheryl states.
“Our people love what they do, love the music and are really passionate about spreading the message.”
Cheryl’s marketing savvy and forward-thinking outlook has also more recently seen Rebel FM branch out into the global realm of digital streaming, such as on the I Heart Radio platform. So there’s still plenty to keep her busy, albeit at a more serene level, which suits her just fine, she says.
“These days I live a more quiet life, still running our radio networks, overseeing our digital marketing business, Rebel Digital (and a few other companies), which allows me to indulge my passion for marketing and helping local business owners to build stronger businesses.
“I also want to further my work with women, to help them follow their true purpose in life and to learn how to excel in their own power. Equality for all genders is important and I think that once we remove all preconceived perceptions of gender and start looking at people as humans regardless of race, gender, sexuality or religion, we’ll all be a lot better off.”