Features

Duncan Campbell on an ‘unsettled’ first survey and why radio hosts never really retire

Australian Radio Network's Duncan Campbell speaks with Mumbrella's Zanda Wilson about the dominance of Christian O'Connell, promising results of Kiis Melbourne and 97.3FM Brisbane, and pays tribute to the outgoing Fred Botica.

Australian Radio Network (ARN) may not have made as many changes to its radio lineup as some of the other networks this year, but through small tweaks and renewing focus on some shows, national content director Duncan Campbell is pushing for new heights in 2021.

Most FM stations suffered in 2020, with long lockdowns in Melbourne particularly seeing deeply entrenched FM listening making an abrupt pivot towards news-talk stations like 3AW and the ABC.

Campbell was one of those to predict a shift back towards COVID-normal listening habits this year. “So that was the thing with the figures last year [for talk radio]. They were too overinflated.

“They were the result of a pandemic and a special event which has now subsided. People are returning to the new norm, but it’s closer to the old norm. There’s a big drop for 3AW, but it’s back down to where they always were [before the pandemic].”

ARN national content director, Duncan Campbell

One show that stepped up last year in difficult times for many, was the Christian O’Connell breakfast show on Gold 104.3. It has picked up where it left off last year, as the #1 FM show in the city, rising 1.4 percentage points to an 8.9% share of listening.

So how long can O’Connell, a presenter that Campbell has previously admitted was a risk to bring over from the UK, dominate the FM band in Melbourne?

“Long may he reign,” he laughs. “One step at a time. Gold is a very strong radio station first and foremost, with a very strong breakfast show, this is Christian’s ninth number one in breakfast.

“He’s on board with us for the long term. Gold is now the established number one FM station in Melbourne, which is great.”

Campbell is also hopeful that the shift back to FM in Melbourne might allow KIIS 101.1 breakfast show Jase and PJ to carve out a meaningful slice of the market in 2021. “We invested in Jase and PJ three years ago, we always said we would stick by it by them as long as it took the audience to get to know them. That seems to be slowly but surely happening.”

Within the national KIIS Network, Brisbane station 97.3FM is another station that hasn’t been as consistent as ARN might have hoped.

But in what was one of the tightest books in the city in years, there are six breakfast shows sitting between a 10% share and an 11.4% share. 97.3’s Robin, Terry and Bob hold that 10%, but the station holds 9.9% overall (up 1.1 points) to be the equal third rating station in the city.

“It’s great to see them bounce back to 9.9 points overall and the breakfast show increased by 1.8, giving Robin, Terry and Bob a lot of confidence,” Campbell says.

“Without sounding dismissive, we took a hit last year and we are aware of the challenges, we’ve corrected that and put some money into marketing with a TVC for the first time. The first one in a long time in Brisbane. We’re certainly back in the pack there.”

Robin, Terry and Bob are getting back to their best on 97.3FM

Sydney was one market where both ARN stations lost share, a rare result and one that Campbell admits is a bit of a head-scratcher. Not just because his stations fell, but the way that most FM offerings in the market lost share.

“Sydney’s a bit hard to read because it goes against the flow of the rest of the country. The rest of the country makes complete sense, but Sydney is an anomaly,” he ponders.

“I mean a 3.7 point uplift for the ABC, 2UE up 1.1, 2Day FM flat, Kiis down, Triple M flat, Nova down, WSFM down. I don’t know how to read that, to be honest. I’d say it’s probably a bit of summer listening, and there’s been a news focus, but I don’t really have an answer to that one.”

Having said all that, WSFM, traditionally a very consistent station for the network, dipped by 0.5 points to a 6.6% share, with breakfast show Jonesy and Amanda fairing even worse on 5.7% (-1.7), and may be a concern.

Campbell remains confident that the station can bounce back over the course of the year, but admits that he will be keeping a close eye on things. “The station historically has done better. This book we will treat as an anomaly, because the breakfast show in Jonesy and Amanda is probably sounding better than it did last year.

“They’ve hit their straps this year, so my ear tells me the station is performing better than ratings would indicate. Every time they’ve done down, WSFM has bounced back. Having said that, we will be putting more emphasis on marketing and raising awareness in the levels of the show and the station.”

The morning of the ratings, ARN couldn’t resist throwing a spanner in the works. Campbell jokes that he was just trying to keep media journos on their toes by announcing the departure of Fred Botica from 96FM, and replacing him with former Mix 94.5 stalwart, Dean ‘Clairsy’ Clairs.

Fred Botica is back into retirement… again

Campbell took the opportunity to publicly pay tribute to the departing Botica, who came out of retirement to return to the station alongside long-time radio partner Lisa Shaw in mid-2019. His return culminated in a #1 ratings position for the station late last year, and now he’s riding off into the sunset once more.

“He’s had an amazing career in Perth, it’s extraordinary really. He’s a hell of a nice guy and he’s a passionate radio guy. His impact has been significant [at 96FM] along with Gary’s [Roberts], and the other members of the team. Him coming back to 96 with Lisa [Shaw] has been a real positive for that station.

Clairs, who Campbell worked with in the early ‘90s, was also supposedly retiring after he announced his departure from SCA’s Mix 94.5 last year.

So does anyone ever really mean it when they say they’re “retiring” from radio?

“Kyle Sandilands said he was retiring when he left 2Day. Radio people, you can never believe when they say they’re going to retire,” Campbell jokes.

“We’re glad to be back working with Dean again. Let’s just wait and see how it ends up at the end of the year, I think people will be pleasantly surprised.

“We did a market study recently in Perth, it was done while survey was on. The market is in a real state of churn, it’s far from settled.

“There’s a direct head on attack from Triple M, and Mix 94.5 is one of our competitors. There’s a lot of settling to do there. The audience hasn’t made its mind up yet.”

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