ARN’s Duncan Campbell on the strength of the Pure Gold Network despite lockdowns

After the delayed fifth metro radio ratings of 2021, Mumbrella's Zanda Wilson caught up with ARN national content director, Duncan Campbell, to find out how the Pure Gold Network bucked the shift away from music-driven listening, as well the difference in listening habits comparing the current lockdowns to those in 2020.

A lockdown-driven swing back towards Nine Radio and the ABC’s talkback stations across multiple markets might be the clearest narrative to take from the fifth GfK metro radio survey, but look a little closer and there’s another network emerging with some great results.

ARN’s Pure Gold Network of stations, which includes WSFM in Sydney, Gold 104.3 in Melbourne and 4KQ in Brisbane, managed to buck the wider trend of audience shift away from music-driven formats this book.

The Pure Gold Network has performed despite the strength of talk

It’s no small feat, and ARN national content director Duncan Campbell admits that while the Pure Gold stations and their formats have always been strong, the result in Brisbane, where 4KQ went equal #1 with stablemate 97.3FM and Nova, was a surprise even to him.

“They are very strong formats, they always have been,” he says.

“4KQ’s growth over the last two years has been pretty impressive. I think the accessibility of that format on other platforms helps, through DAB+ and iHeartRadio and the like. So [listeners] are hearing that [station] in far better quality than they would with an AM transmitter.

“To have a duopoly in Brisbane, it’s something we never thought we’d have. I’ve been here for 11 years and if you’d said to me 11 years ago that 4KQ would be number one in Brisbane, I’d have laughed at you.”

The breakfast show on 4KQ is the long-serving trio of Laurel, Gary and Mark, and they are perhaps the only show across all of ARN’s stations that Campbell and I haven’t spoken in depth about previously.

“They’re incredibly local. The audiences are very familiar with those guys and they’ve been great for such a long period of time,” he says. “It’s just a very friendly, accessible show. There’s nothing too heavy, nothing too light. It’s just very easy to listen to.

“They’ve done an incredible job and it’s taken us a bit by surprise, the performance, to be honest with you, but it’s fantastic.”

4KQ had gains overall and on the Laurel, Gary and Mark breakfast show

As for the performance of the Pure Gold stations in Sydney and Melbourne, the results are less surprising but no less pleasing for Campbell.

On breakfast in Sydney, WSFM’s Jonesy and Amanda were the only FM show to gain more than 0.1 point in share, and one of only two shows to gain share at all. The pair took 0.8 percentage points to reach 8.8%, to sit in fourth among all shows, and only behind fellow ARN pair Kyle and Jackie O among the FM competitors.

“WS and Gold have been very strong stations for a long time. What’s particularly good about WS in Sydney is that despite the shifts to AM, which we would expect during a 10-week lockdown, they remained very strong and consistent with its audiences,” Campbell says.

“You would expect the adult audiences to move off to AM, off our Pure Gold stations, but we held them pretty well.”

On Sydney, Campbell notes that while KIIS FM’s Kyle and Jackie O had a reasonable share drop, the show was coming from a very high base last survey, when they became the #1 overall show for breakfast for the first time in the market.

“Two years ago a 12.1% share was great for K & J, so we’ve come off a pretty big high. The pandemic has obviously played into that. There are no concerns over that show and we are dealing with an extraordinary event in Sydney which does shift listening patterns.”

While there was significantly less movement in Melbourne, AM stations remained strong in the city. Gold 104.3’s Christian O’Connell was the only FM show to grow share, and Campbell puts the result down to both the uniqueness of the show and O’Connell’s ability to connect with listeners.

“He’s unique. We haven’t heard a show like that in Australia for a long time in terms of having a centrepiece as one host and then a series of sidekicks,” Campbell says.

“His communication style is very different and he’s very inclusive. When you listen, you feel like you’re part of the show, and focus group feedback we get is all about the level of intimacy people feel when they listen.”

Christian O’Connell was the only show on FM in Melbourne to grow share

It was the first survey result for the new-look KIIS 101.1 breakfast show, Jase and Lauren, which resulted in a loss of 1.6 points for the station to fall to 4.6% share, in the wake of the departure of long-time co-host PJ Harding.

“Whenever you change a breakfast show there’s a reset,” Campbell admits. “Lauren’s very Melbourne and stronger than PJ in her opinions. It’s very much the Jase and Lauren show rather than the Jase with PJ show. The dynamic needs to improve a little bit more, but the early signs are positive.”

Campbell also taps into something that multiple content directors I spoke to this survey pointed out. While FM stations generally lost share, the number of total listeners, measured by ‘cume’, remained at similar levels to last survey.

In effect, while people were listening to music-driven formats less often, a similar number of total people were still tuning in. “The other big difference this time around with the pandemic, is the fact that in Melbourne last year we saw dramatic drops in cume,” Campbell says.

“Those drops were very noticeable on all the FM stations when the, for those first lockdowns. This time in Sydney we’re more used to the pandemic. We understand it more so there’s, there’s less panic.”


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