ARN’s Duncan Campbell on what will happen once lockdowns ease for non-talkback radio

After the delayed sixth metro radio ratings of 2021 dropped, Mumbrella's Emma Shepherd caught up with ARN national content director, Duncan Campbell, to hear from him about why talkback radio continues to be a driving force in the industry, as well as where to next for talkback and FM once lockdowns in Sydney and Melbourne ease.

2GB’s Ben Fordham kept the title of the #1 breakfast show in Sydney, with a significant swing towards the talk radio host and away from KIIS 106.5’s Kyle and Jackie O in the sixth GfK metro ratings survey of 2021.

Fordham recorded a two percentage point increase in breakfast share, making it his highest ever survey result. While Nine’s 2GB also had a great book overall seeing a 1.2 point bump to finish with a 16.4% share. 

Ben Fordham held onto his audience this survey

Continued lockdowns have again proved positive for AM radio in Melbourne too, as 3AW delivered a bumper share.

The station jumped up 3.1 percentage points overall to land on a strong 18.2% share of the market, with flagship breakfast pairing, Russel Howcroft and Ross Stevenson posting their best result of the year, rising a further 3% to a 23.8% share after Nine’s head of content – radio, Greg Byrnes called the pair a ‘powerhouse‘ following the previous recent survey.

Speaking of the success of talkback radio this book, ARN’s national content director, Duncan Campbell admits that while 2GB and 3AW’s numbers are strong, the results are still very much heavily impacted by the COVID-19 lockdowns in some states.

“It’s a bit of a COVID-book, however we are not seeing as much of a COVID impact for us as we did last year. Obviously, we are seeing some of the audience drift to 2GB, given the fact there has been lots of noise around COVID at the moment in Sydney,” Campbell says.

“Once COVID subsides, gradually we will get those audiences drifting back to a more normal listening pattern which will bring back 3AW and 2GB to traditional levels.”

3AW hosts, Russ Howcroft (left) and Ross Stevenson (right)

OMD’s head of trading, Nik Doble agrees with Campbell and admits “the swing to AM in lockdown markets is not surprising, but would treat it as circumstantial rather than an emerging trend, and expect a gradual swing back to FM in surveys ahead”.  

“Pleasingly, as we’ve seen with other channels, a rising news tide lifts the whole channel, and despite some share volatility the real story is that broadcast radio consumption is robust nationally, and as the local digital streaming offerings continue to expand, the total audio future looks healthy,” he adds. 

Spark Foundry Australia’s activation director, Cleo Lam, continues: “We continue to see strong momentum from Nine Radio across 2GB (+1.2% share) and 3AW (+3.1% share) – the talkback radio format remains powerful throughout lockdowns providing trusted news and insightful opinion for listeners.  

“As COVID restrictions begin to ease in the next couple of months across Sydney and Melbourne, it will be interesting to see Nine Radio’s retention strategy to keep audiences on their network as life gradually returns to normal. Retaining the younger-skewed audience would be especially important for Nine Radio.”

Lam adds that while Ben Fordham continues to deliver consistency on 2GB, as listenership gradually return to a normal pattern, we will hopefully see some consistency in the ratings for KIIS’ Kyle & Jackie O and Nova’s Fitzy & Wippa, which both saw declines. 

“It is also good to see 2Day FM’s Hughesy, Ed & Erin gaining +0.5% share. Melbourne’s Russel & Howcroft delivered stellar performance for 3AW in the latest survey, while there are no significant shifts in FM network share beyond SmoothFM – Fox’s new Breakfast show Fifi, Fev & Nick dropped a further 0.8% share.”

On Sydney, Campbell notes that while KIIS FM’s Kyle and Jackie O had a significant share drop, the show was coming from a very high base, when they became the #1 overall show for breakfast for the first time in the market in Survey 4.

In Survey Six, however, Kyle and Jackie O remained in double digits and third place in the breakfast stakes despite a 1.3 point drop to 10.8%, but remained #1 alongside Smoothfm 95.3 in FM both with an 8% share. Meanwhile, KIIS 106.5 lost 1.7 percentage points overall to finish third with an 8% share.

“I think that one survey where Kyle and Jackie O trumped Fordham was when everyone was in isolation, and it was always going to be a challenge to sustain that. And then you had COVID really starting to intensify, which saw a shift in audience back to 2GB away from KIIS, so there was a need for more news information, but overall still a very strong result and happy as they still got double figures, but I do think that as COVID moves on, we will see that share pick up slowly again,” says Campbell.

KIIS 1065 – Kyle & Jackie O’s 20 years on air

UM Sydney trading director Lorena Chiarella thought that the tide had turned a couple of surveys ago, when  Kyle & Jackie O took over in breakfast in Sydney, “but it is clear from the last two surveys that 2GB definitely does have that stronghold, and I think that just goes to show how important talk radio is in times of uncertainty.”

ABC Sydney’s Wendy Harmer and Robbie Buck took the silver medal this book, with the pair taking a 1.7 percentage point increase to reach a 15.7% share of listening, and ABC Sydney was also second overall with a 13% share (up 1.1 points).

Campbell comments that ABC’s increase in share this book, “has a lot to do with COVID”, but without dismissing it simply as a COVID result. 

“There was activity in the marketplace which indicated the reason for that share increase, and as we saw last year, once COVID starts to move on, which I think will certainly happen in NSW after next Monday through to the end of the year, that the audiences will return back to normal, particularly kids going back to school at the end of the year in November too.

“The only two markets that were really affected were Melbourne and Sydney. Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth, while there has been COVID activity, there’s not been the level of lockdowns and intensity around COVID restrictions as there has been in Sydney and Melbourne,” Campbell adds. 

ABC Sydney’s breakfast duo Wendy Harmer and Robbie Buck, announced on air last week that this year would be their last, after being paired in 2017. 

Campbell says that despite the radio duo announcing that they’ll be leaving the station, he doesn’t believe it’ll have any effect or a big shift in listening habits.

ABC’s Wendy Harmer and Robbie Buck

“ABC’s Wendy Harmer and Robbie Buck have a very specific audience. Listeners are very local to that station, so I don’t expect a lot of change once the pair move on at the end of the year. They’ve had a great run, and it’s often just time for a change, but I don’t see any impact on us or for the ABC.”

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, much like the last survey.

In Sydney, WSFM’s Jonesy and Amanda, who finished fourth, remained consistent, and on the same share of 8.8%, same as last survey. In August, WSFM unveiled its latest marketing push featuring the pair as bobble-head dolls.

Campbell notes: “Gold is really the highlight for us this survey, because it really has bucked the trend in terms of its grown its share in 10+ and in breakfast. It’s solid right across the day. There’s evidence of COVID fatigue, because WS and Gold, they play uplifting, familiar music, and makes you feel good, especially in such unprecedented times. 

“The level of change that resulted in the ratings last year due to COVID, compared to this year, it’s nowhere near where it was last year, despite there has been some movement, in particular the increase of 3AW’s share.

In terms of audience cume, KIIS FM and WSFM both increased, while Fordham jumped a lot as well. “Really, the large share of listening went to 2GB in this book,” says Campbell.

“However, the real highlight for us was WSFM, despite a 0.5 point drop, the breakfast share remained steady, the cume went up, and the station who lost quite a significant amount share in breakfast was Smoothfm. It’s encouraging considering the battle between Smooth and WS, that WS is holding its own. Even in a COVID survey, where you’d expect that older audience to drift off to 2GB.

“In Sydney, we’re delighted in the fact that KIIS 106.5 is strong, and I think it’ll pick up more towards the end of the year when we come out of COVID lockdowns, and WSFM is also holding its own and increasing its cume, so it’s a solid result for us at ARN.”

As for where to next for the ARN network, Campbell says he doesn’t see much changing any time soon, and he’s happy with all key talents.

“This year is probably the only year where there will be no chances for any of our shows. We have all of our key talents signed and locked in to long-term contracts which is great news for us, because it allows us to bed these guys in and create consistency, which is what we want,” explains Campbell.


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