ARN’s Duncan Campbell talks being Australia’s #1 FM station and the ongoing impact of COVID-19

Yesterday saw the first radio ratings release since the service was paused in April. ARN national content director Duncan Campbell spoke with Mumbrella’s Hannah Blackiston about the results for the radio network and retaining the title of Australia’s number one national network.

Nobody really knew what to expect from GfK survey six. In Melbourne, it was obvious the results were likely to be disrupted – a full lockdown meant no regular working day and paper diaries were replaced completely by e-diaries – but for the other states the cliched ‘new normal’ has mostly begun. How would that impact the figures?

“To be honest, I was surprised. I thought there would have been a greater impact from the pandemic outside of Melbourne,” ARN’s national content director, Duncan Campbell tells me when I speak to him after the survey results are released.

“Radio listening nationally has remained flat in terms of total listening and we might have seen a shift in terms of home listening, in car listening and at work listening. The greatest impact was in Melbourne obviously, but even in Melbourne total listening was up 5%, so it’s an encouraging survey for the medium itself and I was just surprised there wasn’t more of an impact outside of Melbourne where we saw some significant cume shifts, particularly in breakfast.”

Duncan Campbell

There was a big shift in Melbourne. The demand for news content during a global pandemic and local lockdowns resulted in audiences switching to Nine Radio’s 3AW and ABC Melbourne, seeing almost every FM station experiencing a drop.

For ARN’s Melbourne breakfast star Christian O’Connell, and his station Gold FM, the drop didn’t impact his third survey as the number one FM breakfast, or the station’s sixth survey as FM leader.

“[Those results] say that Gold is now probably embedded as the number one FM station there, despite the drops in cume, the rank was very strong. If you list off some of the ranks – number one FM, number one breakfast FM, number one mornings FM, number on drive FM and number one in cume overall, you would say that’s a great result.

“Obviously underlying that’s been the cume drop, but at the end of the day the rank is still the rank. So for us to be number one in Melbourne, given what was going on, is really a great achievement and a testament to Christian O’Connell and the strength of that breakfast show and also the station overall.”

Unsurprisingly, there wasn’t a big change for ARN in Sydney where Kyle & Jackie O retained their FM breakfast crown for the fourteenth survey in a row. The show boasted more listeners than any other FM breakfast show in the country. It was followed by WSFM’s Jonesy and Amanda who took second spot in the FM breakfast ranking, with WSFM named the second most-popular FM station.

“The strategy for ARN was an always on approach. So even when we were in this non-survey period, which was a long time, we still had an always on approach to the content that the breakfast shows around the country were producing and the stations overall remained in my view, very strong,” Campbell says.

“Kyle and Jackie O had some very strong content on the air right throughout this year and into survey six. That show really didn’t miss a beat, despite Jackie being in Melbourne for part of it for The Masked Singer, but that show generates some extraordinary content and that was part of the always on strategy we had, which I think has paid dividends for us around the country today.”

There are still two more surveys to come for 2020 and lockdowns pending, Campbell and the industry are hoping the return to a more normal reflection of listening is on the horizon. ARN CEO Ciaran Davis has said the company is seeing green shoots in the final quarter of the year, and should the Melbourne lockdown wind down as its currently predicted to, the next survey may look slightly different.

“I think we’ll see some permanent residual effects of the pandemic, in terms of flexible working arrangements, that’s probably the most obvious one,” Campbell adds.

“If you take Sydney, the roads are getting busier, even during school holidays at the moment they’re pretty busy, so I think we’ll see a gradual return to normal and a slow return back to in car listening. But the goal is to maintain that number one network position until the end of the year and beyond.”

Have more information on the article? Want to share an opinion? Just want to reach out? Email Hannah on hannah@mumbrella.com.au or get in touch via LinkedIn.


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