ARN’s Ciaran Davis on why Kyle & Jackie O are the global benchmark for breakfast radio

Following a strong performance in most markets, ARN CEO Ciaran Davis breaks down the second survey of the year with Mumbrella's Zanda Wilson, and picks out some areas for improvement.

The second GfK metro radio survey of 2021 has been and gone, and now it’s clearer to see who has made a strong start to the year, as well as which networks are still waiting for some new shows to bed-in with audiences.

Australian Radio Network (ARN) was generally strong across the board, and CEO Ciaran Davis had little to complain about when we spoke about the most recent results for his network, and others.

HT&E and ARN CEO Ciaran Davis

After survey one, which his colleague, national content director Duncan Campbell, conceded was “strange” in Sydney, audiences in the harbour city seem to finally have started that shift back to entertainment-driven programming.

ARN stations KIIS 106.5 and WSFM both had good results. Breakfast shows Kyle and Jackie O (up 1.1 points to 10.9%), and Jonesy and Amanda (up 2.0 points to 7.7%) each grew their audience share.

The KIIS 106.5 breakfast duo has dominated the FM breakfast ratings in Sydney for such an extended period of time that it’s often hard to find new things to talk about, though Kyle Sandilands has repeatedly professed on the show he doesn’t look at the ratings.

“I think they do care about the ratings, they’re very strongly focussed on them,” Davis tells Mumbrella. “If you look at the style of show they do – and they’ve been doing it for 20 years – around the world they’re the benchmark for what other radio programmers and breakfast shows listen to.

“Their chemistry is outstanding. They can rejuvenate themselves in terms of the content and bring in new audiences while retaining the old audiences.

“So again, not surprised that they bounced back, they always do because they’re a great radio show.”

Kyle and Jackie O are still the “benchmark”

As for Jonesy and Amanda on WSFM, another show that has been in market for over a decade, it’s a show that hasn’t performed as strongly recently as it has historically. Last book, Campbell told me there would be a renewed focus on that show.

“Jonesey and Amanda have been down before, but they always bounced back and yes, we did put more effort into it over the last few weeks,” Davis explains. “They’ve been remarkably consistent for 17 years.”

WSFM overall has an 8.3% share overall, up 1.7 percentage points. It remains behind its closest format competitor, Smooth FM, which has been out ahead for some time.

Davis admits that the goal is to beat Smooth, but he won’t put a timeline on it. “It’s a strong focus for us. That’s certainly what we’re always trying to do,” he says.

“[WSFM is] still producing great content, day in, day out. Whether or not we can [beat Smooth] this year remains to be seen, but the core audience is very strong, cume [audience] is very good. We’re pretty pleased with where we sit today.”

It’s been well-documented that there were plenty of naysayers who told ARN and Duncan Campbell that bringing Christian O’Connell from England to put him into Gold 104.3 breakfast in Melbourne was too risky.

Now, with another #1 FM survey under his belt, Davis tells me he backed Campbell’s instincts from day one. O’Connell has an 8.5% share, and has performed even better in recent surveys. Overall, Gold FM has an 11.3% share.

“I remember when we were [in the UK] talking to Christian and we had lunch. I came back three months later and he had spent those three months listening to Melbourne radio, and had made notes about every show, every station, every presenter, and had written a style guide for how he was going to launch himself into Melbourne.

“Christian’s attention to detail his ability to understand markets and where he can position himself is extraordinary. So I had no doubt at all that was going to be number one.”

PJ Harding will depart KIIS Melbourne in June

Melbourne is, however, one market where ARN does have a problem. The underperforming KIIS 101.1 is a slight smudge on an otherwise excellent survey.

And now, after survey upon survey of ARN execs telling this reporter that it was only a few months before breakfast team Jase and PJ would translate their strong social following and excellent chemistry into share, the dream is dead. Polly ‘PJ’ Harding will leave the show in June to head back home to her native New Zealand.

“It’s perfectly understandable that she would want to go back,” Davis says. “Their following on socials and podcasts has been extraordinary but they just haven’t been able to break through in the ratings.

“We’ve been spending a lot of time planning the new show. We’re ready to add the extra piece missing to break through into that top two or three in Melbourne, and we’re very close.”

Another recent change saw Fred Botica depart 96FM mid-survey, with ARN securing the services of ex-Mix 94.5 host Dean ‘Clairsy’ Clairs’. The show jumped 1.5 percentage points to land on a 10.4% share, getting closer towards the top of the pile.

“It was a great book, and we’re sorry to see Fred go,” Davis admits. “I think the introduction to the changeover was planned extremely well. We’ve been working on it for a while, and [Clairs and co-host Lisa Shaw] have instant chemistry.”

Dean Clairs has hit the ground running at 96FM

The lead-up to the latest Adelaide survey was shrouded in mystery for Mix 102.3, with hosts Erin Phillips and Mark ‘Soda’ Soderstrom missing in action.

“The stuff they did at the start of the year, they were running at a hundred miles an hour. So they break was needed,” Davis says, before confirming they will be back on air next week.

Interestingly, none of the speculation seems to have hurt the show’s results, with a 12% share on breakfast in just Phillips’ second survey since taking over from the long-serving Jodie Oddy.

“Erin is exceptionally well-known in the market, exceptionally passionate about radio. She still has a lot to learn on radio, but she’s got something very special, and we’re not surprised that show is where it is today, because of the strength of the station.”

With the Jase and PJ show coming to a close, those in the industry calling for that show to be put into drive instead of Will and Woody will have to choose something else to complain about.

It was a strong result for Will and Woody, up in several markets, but Davis says the important thing with the pair is that their value to ARN goes beyond just numbers in the ratings.

“Their commercial friendliness is fantastic. They are very good at delivering campaigns, which as we know is an important part of drive. That show is working very well for clients, and they’re on the right path in terms of ratings as well.”

Listen to the Mumbrella team break down the results across the metro markets on the latest episode of the Mumbrellacast:


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