RTI Success Story: Daniel Hilliard

Daniel Hilliard was part of our 2016 October intake for our Advanced Radio Course, graduating in May 2017, and moving to Dubbo to start a new job at Zoo FM just four days after graduation! RTI’s Ti Butler sat down with Dan to chat about his time at RTI, and how he’s finding his new job!

So tell me about your story before RTI. How did you get interested in radio?

Well, I’d always been interested radio since I was a kid. It was always there in the background, and I was always ringing up trying to win prizes and competitions…

What was the first prize you ever won?

It was a bunch of CDs that nobody wanted to play on air! The only one I can remember was a cover of that song, (sings) “Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz, The poor girls all have Porsches and…” (stops singing) and yeah, something like that… and they were never going to play it on air, so if you wanted to win, you had to be the first caller through when Electric Blue by Icehouse started playing. I called up, and thought I was a champion, until I found out it was the CDs they didn’t want!

So had you done any radio before RTI?

I did a community radio Sunday breakfast show for about a year, and it all just became a bit hard; I’d just left school, and I wanted to pay bills, so I got sidetracked out of radio for a little while.

It takes a lot to switch careers – what drove you to come back to radio?

I was actually in sales, and ended up in retail. I was doing well there, so I got headhunted by the radio station in town where I grew up in Lithgow, and I wanted to be on air, but each time I tried, I’d get told “no, you haven’t been trained, what would you know about being on air,” so I said “you know what? I’m going to go learn!”

I looked at two other places with radio courses, but when I talked to Heidi at RTI, she not only had the answers to all the questions that I had, but she had answers to questions that were coming up that I hadn’t asked yet, and they were all so honest. Heidi was on the ground level, she knew the ins and outs of the course, she knew why people do the course, whereas the other places, you were just talking to people who were just going to enrol you and do the admin and read off a sheet. Trusting Heidi on it was the best decision I’ve ever made – I mean, some people I’ve spoken to have spent $22,000 for where they studied, and the actual hands-on broadcasting stuff was secondary; and I paid a third of that, got way more experience, way more contacts in the industry, and way more confidence to jump straight in.

How did RTI get you ready for this new job at Zoo FM?

Something that really resonated with me with RTI, that seemed to be a real point of difference, was how much hands on experience you get. I also knew at the time how much of an asset the small class sizes are, so you have an opportunity to get into the studio a lot, and practice, and mess up, and try new things, and play around. That meant that when I came here to Zoo FM, and I was asked “would you be able to anchor? Can you run a panel? Can you run a playout system?”, I had the confidence to say “yes, I can”.

And something very subtle – being able to pick the brain of the lecturers. At RTI, because you’re talking to people in the industry, you hear stories not only of their career progression, but also they have stories of people who have done the wrong thing, and how it didn’t work out for them, so you can dodge those minefields as well. So coming here to Dubbo, I had the right attitude, because we had contact with so many people in the industry.

So you picked up a job before you even graduated at RTI! And it’s in breakfast, as well! 

I knew it was a big opportunity, but I didn’t realise how big an opportunity it was until I got here and started talking to people in the industry. To get a position anchoring, co-hosting breakfast, is huge; coming from a regional town, I knew going regional wasn’t a bad thing; talking to Sarah-Maree [Cameron, one of RTI’s lecturers], she made sure that not only myself, but my classmates knew that going regional can be some of the best times of your career. And so far it has – my first weekend here was a regional show, which was an outside broadcast, we were in the trailer eating waffles on a stick and strawberries and cream and Dagwood dogs and doner kebabs, and getting paid for it, listening to great music… I’ve had people stop me in the street and go “oh, hey, you’re Dan! I listen to you in the morning, it’s been really good, it’s so natural, it’s like you’re sitting next to me, as a mate!” So the feedback has been really great!

You’re loving it?

I love the job, even though I’m a night owl, and I have to get up at 3:45am! Once I’m in here, I get to listen to music – and it’s my generation, 80’s ‘til now! I’ve fallen into an amazing position, and you just have to keep your head about you and remember not to come in headstrong; you’re fitting into their plan.

Do you have any words of advice for anyone considering studying at RTI, or perhaps those about to graduate?

Just remember that everybody who walks through that door has so much knowledge, more knowledge than you can even consciously consider, so listen to what’s being told to you, put it into action, and don’t wait to get things like assignments done, get stuck in, get in that practice, as early as you can! You do all of that, and you’ll have a position doing something in no time, and you’ll regret not doing it sooner. I’ve been here every day for four weeks now, and I’ve loved every single day I’ve been here. Sometimes I’ll just sit back after a break and go “oh my god, I can’t believe I’m doing this.”

You can hear Breakfast with Dan and Julz on Zoo FM in Dubbo, Cobar, and Wellington, weekdays 6-9am.

RTI’s next Advanced Radio Course intake starts July 3 – you can find all the details you need here.