Why 2Day FM changed its music format

Consumers listening to 2Day FM lately may have noticed something a little different. Hit Network’s head of content Gemma Fordham explains the changes to the station’s music format, and why the brand needed to differentiate itself.

It’s 9:26am on a Monday morning and you are in desperate need of some music to get pumped for the rest of the day. You might turn on the radio in the car, hop onto a radio website, or listen through an app.

What do you hear? Justin Timberlake’s Cry Me A River. It takes you back to 2002, when pop culture enthusiasts were seeing just how many lyrics they could link back to Britney Spears.

Em, Grant and Ed’s new show wasn’t the only change to 2Day FM this year

The next song is Ed Sheeran’s Perfect. It reminds you of your cousin’s wedding last month. What a good song for a first dance, you think.

And as Perfect fades out and the next song comes in, you pause. It’s Prince’s Kiss. Hold on.

What is going on here? Things aren’t what they used to be. 

2Day FM listeners could be forgiven for their confusion of late. Why? Because it changed its music format.

Aside from the less subtle, ongoing changes to 2 Day FM’s breakfast talent lineup, there has been another challenge the SCA-owned station has been struggling with – differentiating itself from rivals Nova 96.9 and Kiis FM.

A sample of the 2DayFM music format

To put it simply, 2Day FM was sicking of playing in the sandpit with the other kids. It wanted its own sandpit.

For a number of years, the three stations have been playing exactly the same music, same songs, on the same rotation, according to the station.

Gemma Fordham, Hit network’s head of content says “anyone in radio would understand why” the change needed to occur.

“Having three stations doing that, it wasn’t smart for us and it wasn’t really going create our own niche, and create our own laneway. That was probably really where it came from. We knew we needed to carve out our own lane,” she tells Mumbrella.

Fordham says a universal music strategy doesn’t work for the Hit network

When Fordham and SCA’s chief creative officer Guy Dobson, looped in the rest of the 2Day team, it all became “glaringly obvious”.

“Sydney doesn’t really have a station that is a true contemporary variety station and we see globally they are doing so well at the moment,” she explains.

“Certainly in the US and UK, we’ve seen such a trend – and I’ve been saying this for 12 months now – towards old catalogues, old school.”

On top of a gap in market, it was also important Fordham’s strategy for 2Day FM lined up across the board.

The relaunched music format was coupled with the arrival of new breakfast show co-hosts Ed Kavalee and Grant Denyer, who joined Em Rusciano in January this year. It also came around the same time as Dave ‘Hughesy’ Hughes and Kate Langbroek’s arrival at 2Day FM, one of two shows in SCA’s extended drive-time format, alongside Carrie Bickmore and Tommy Little.

With more mature stars, she needed a connection between breakfast, the music work day and drive.

“Certainly with the shows like a Hughesy & Kate, like we’ve seen with their results around the country, even though they may be older in age, they are evergreen in the type of content they do. They’ve always been quite young and relatable. Whilst the shows may not be ‘young’ shows, they are broad shows, and that’s what the music strategy is about as well.”

Hughesy & Kate content is ‘evergreen’, Fordham says

It’s also worth noting Fordham slightly tweaked the Adelaide Hit music format, “not as far” as 2Day, but edging towards it.

She points out audiences are different in each city, and to have one “universal approach” for the network’s music, was never going to be the way to go.

“Audiences are different in every city and it also comes down to what the competitors are doing in each market and what the demographics are.”

A station like Fox FM, for instance, would not change, as it has been a successful Hit station for a number of years.

Fordham’s 2Day FM also hopes to surprise and shock listeners with music they haven’t heard in a while, seeking to tackle an issue the radio industry has contended with for some time – work day listening.

“If you are playing the same songs on rotation all the time, it can be quite mundane for workplaces to listen to so certainly we’ll see how we go with that strategy with 2Day but our gut feel is that we are bringing people back to the radio during the work day when previously is has been quite low on their radar.”

And while the industry may doubt whether this could work as a long-term strategy, she believes it does.

“I hate to ruin the art of it but there is a science to it and our music director Kiri for Sydney, she’s just the best in the business,” she says.

“Without getting too scientific, you may hear a song but it may not play again for another 10 days and when it plays again 10 days later, it will play in a different day part.

“There’s only so many songs you have in there as a young station. You can only have 200 to 300 songs to play with. When you have a format like 2Day you have far more songs to play with and choose from so it makes it a lot easier to deliver on variety and make sure it doesn’t sound like its fatiguing in any way.”

Whether the strategy succeeds in bringing audiences back to the once-dominant 2Day FM network in Sydney remains to be seen.

In the first radio ratings survey of the year, the SCA-owned station edged ever-so-slightly upwards, finishing with  4.1% audience share, up from 3.9% at the end of 2017. Rival Nova had 7.4%, after falling 0.1 audience share points, and Kiis remained firmly ahead with 8.1%, despite a 1.9 point drop.

Fordham says, despite the numbers, the network is heading in the right direction.

“That’s obviously off to a great start. When we do aggregate the numbers all together for breakfast across DAB+ as well it’s a really strong story for us in Sydney and with Em, Grant and Ed, they’ve also increased in cume (cumulative audience) by 17,000 which is great, and the station overall has increased by 87,000. There’s some really strong indicator there and we’ve obviously made some significant changes to 2day FM format, so we’ll see how that progresses over the next few books,” she says.

“You’d be feeling pressure if you’ve made a significant number of changes and the results haven’t come through today but no, I do not feel any pressure.”


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