2GB and 3AW delivering ‘absolutely extraordinary’ numbers, but aiming higher

After the first radio survey of 2021, Mumbrella's Brittney Rigby asks Nine Radio's Greg Byrnes whether Ben Fordham has hit his stride, what an AM decline in Melbourne means for Russel Howcroft and Ross Stevenson, and whether their extraordinarily high shares can realistically get any better from here.

Yesterday, Nine Radio’s 2GB in Sydney and 3AW in Melbourne recorded their best first survey results in more than a decade. 3AW slid 3.3 percentage points overall but still remains well ahead of the pack, more than five points ahead of its closest competitor, Gold 104.3. And 2GB climbed 0.6 points for a 14.4% share, still more than two points above its stiffest competition at the ABC.

Head of content Greg Byrnes says the figures are “impressive”, and he chalks them up to the impact of the pandemic on listener habits. During COVID-19, people turned to talk radio, so “we had people sampling us for the first time, and they liked what they heard and they’ve stuck around”.


Nowhere was that trend more evident than at 3AW in Melbourne, the local city most impacted by a high number of COVID-19 cases and consequent lockdowns. People needed information, so they turned to talkback, and combined with the curiosity attached to any new show, Russel Howcroft’s addition to the breakfast slot was just what 3AW needed.

In their first survey, Howcroft and his co-host, Ross Stevenson, climbed an astonishing 8.8 percentage points, soaring to a 26.1% share. In the next, they pushed further, up to 28.4%, before finishing 2020 back down at 25%. Yesterday, the duo dipped again by 2.8 points for a 22.2% share of the breakfast slot’s audience, but Byrnes isn’t worried. While they are significant percentage point changes when compared to those of other stations, he notes 3AW is falling from an incredibly high share to an incredibly high share.

“They’re unprecedented, remarkable numbers,” he tells Mumbrella. “If we compare year-on-year in relation to 3AW, breakfast wise … it’s still up 6.7 points. And we throw these numbers around in relation to Melbourne, but they are absolutely extraordinary.”

Howcroft and Stevenson

For a show with close to a quarter of the market’s breakfast listeners already, is the mandate still survey-on-survey growth? Or is the challenge now to settle in to a narrower, more stable range of listenership, and hold steady? “Knowing Ross and Russ,” Byrne says confidently, the plan is “absolutely to keep growing”.

“Those unprecedented numbers in the high 20s, we showed last year that we can actually achieve that. And knowing those two and the crew behind them, they will be aiming to get back up there again, make no doubt about that, because if the content’s right, and the mood is right, those numbers can be achieved.”

Overall, 3AW dropped 3.3 points and the ABC was back 2. Melbourne wasn’t the only market which pulled away from AM stations this survey, but Sydney had a very different result. The ABC recorded huge shares, and Ben Fordham achieved his best result ever since taking over from Alan Jones last May.

Leading the Sydney breakfast pack, he gained share for the second survey in a row, up one percentage point to an 18.1% share, a 3.3 point year-on-year climb versus Jones’ performance at the start of 2020. Does this mean Fordham has really hit his stride in the 5:30am-9am slot?

“He’ll just be starting,” Byrnes responds. “Survey 8 last year, he said ‘we’ve got a 17[% share], we need an 18[%]’. Well he’s got an 18[%]. Knowing Ben like I do, he will now want a 19[%] and be coming after 3AW breakfast.”

Similarly to Howcroft and Stevenson, the initial sample period for Fordham is over. He’s been on air instead of Jones for almost a year now, and he’s had some time to discover what works. But Byrnes is adamant: like his Melbourne counterparts at 3AW, Fordham will be determined to keep pushing higher.


“I suppose the message is don’t tell me, show me,” he explains. “We can tell everyone how good the program is and all the issues he covers and the laughs he creates and the emotion that that evolves, but he needs to do that, and have the listener make up their own mind. And he’s talented enough to not only understand that, but to have the ability to build on that audience.

“And he’s shown that he can.”

His successor in 2GB’s drive slot, Jim Wilson, has had less luck. The former Seven sports journalist has, each survey, further eroded the 10.5% share he inherited from Fordham to now sit on 8%. This survey, the show barely declined, only sliding by 0.1 points, and Byrnes remains confident his strategy will work; Wilson just needs time.

“You must remember, Jim was brand new to this medium when he took on the role,” he adds.

“And he was taking over from a successful program. The program is getting better each week. Jim has really set about to identify campaigns for our listeners that he can make a difference with. And that’s what he’s determined to do. And again, if you listen to the program, you’ll hear that’s occurring.

“But I can’t stress that it’s a brand new medium for Jim. I know he’s loving it. And he walks in everyday fired-up and the audience will hear that. And we’re confident that the strategy with Jim will work.”


If Byrnes has his way, there’ll be no talent switch ups for at least 10 years. The only change he wants to see is that of share trending upwards, and listeners don’t like hearing much change at all. With a little more breathing room, Fordham, Howcroft, and Stevenson can continue resetting the benchmark, and Wilson can begin cultivating a stronger audience.

“It just takes time. It’s a talk audience. We’ve said that from the outset, our audience doesn’t like change and there’s been a lot of it.”


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