Greg Byrnes on why Nine’s live and local strategy is here to stay

Nine head of content - radio, Greg Byrnes, celebrates his winners from survey two and points to areas where there’s still work to be done, in this chat with Mumbrella’s Zanda Wilson.

Replacing Alan Jones on 2GB breakfast is not a task many would relish. But Ben Fordham is giving it a red hot crack, and despite a dip in the second metro radio survey of the year, his share of 15.5% is still above the five-year average in the slot.

Fordham dropped 2.6 percentage points this survey, but after last book when 2GB had its best first survey result in over a decade, Nine Radio’s head of content Greg Byrnes is sticking to the hymn sheet.

It’s all about Nine Radio’s “live and local” strategy. “That’s what we announced proudly last year and that’s where we are taking talk radio,” he tells Mumbrella.

“People came to sample us during COVID, and they stuck around,” Byrnes adds, pointing to 2GB, Fordham and mornings host Ray Hadley all still being top of the market.

Greg Byrnes says listeners still need to “find” Ben Fordham

Any radio programmer worth their salt will tell you that when replacing a long-standing breakfast show, familiarity with a new host takes time. Alan Jones was on 2GB breakfast from 2001 to 2020.

“It’s still gonna take a little bit of time with those deeply entrenched listeners that listened to Alan for so long to really get what Ben’s about,” Byrnes admits. “People need to find him at that time of the morning.

“It was a big shakeup. They’re two very different broadcasters. But Ben has been on 2GB for 10 years. This gets back to COVID and the ‘reset’ but there are a lot of new listeners searching for local comment, information, news, sport, and they need to find Ben.”

If Byrnes and Nine Radio aren’t worried by 2GB’s numbers, proportionately they should be ecstatic by how 3AW continues to blow away the competition in Melbourne. The station grew share to 16.9% overall (up 0.6 points).

Relative newcomer and former adman Russell Howcroft’s breakfast show with popular radio veteran Ross Stevenson holds a 21.5% share. Despite a fall of 0.7 percentage points,  Howcroft and Stevenson are still so far ahead that they hold double the share of the next best rating breakfast show in Melbourne.

Byrnes says he was “always comfortable” that Howcroft would be the right appointment in that slot. “To work alongside Ross who is beyond comparison in Australian radio… Russ right from the outset understood what the role was, and that’s still evolving.

“Russ is brand new to the medium and will probably do it for years before he’s completely comfortable with it. There’s a lot more success ahead for those two.”

Looking at Sydney and Melbourne side-by-side, Byrnes says that while they are two very different markets, that the “live and local” approach will continue to be applied. “Our strategy for both is exactly the same.”

Fordham lost -2.6 percentage points

Another market where Nine has renewed its localism focus is Brisbane, where the network did away with the traditional syndicated breakfast slot that saw Alan Jones’ show broadcast on 4BC for many years.

Neil Breen was brought in for breakfast in May of 2020, a well-known personality in the market with a strong journalistic pedigree. In this week’s survey, Breen’s breakfast show rated a 7.2% share of listening and 4BC rated 6%. For comparison, the top rating stations in the market are all in double digits.

Byrnes admits that there’s plenty of work still to be done on 4BC. “We had some immediate success [in Brisbane] last year. I can assure you they are working so hard and Breeny knows Brisbane like no other.

“We’ve got plenty of work to do in Brisbane, no doubt about that. But it’s the right team in place. We are looking at having more local voices and content. It’s been a big, big chance for our Brisbane listeners who are used to hearing that network content predominantly out of Sydney.”

In contrast, changes at 6PR Perth, such as replacing the departed Basil Zempilas and moving Steve Mills into afternoons, to then install Gareth Parker on breakfast, is already paying dividends for Nine Radio. It’s a market that has been dominated by FM stations in recent years, so a jump of 1.1 points to an 11.9% share (third overall behind Mix and Nova) is impressive.

Gareth Parker had a great survey on 6PR Perth

“This goes back to that previous question about the live and local strategy,” Byrnes starts. “That’s what we’ve done with Gareth and Liam [Bartlett] and Millsy [Steve Mills] and Olly [Oliver Peterson] across the day at 6PR.”

“They are all established radio brands, less so Liam, but they’ve hit the ground running. We’ve had wonderful success with local voices, local comment and local opinion, all through a national lens.

“And that’s the strategy that we’ve adopted across the network. And again, they are working really hard. It’s a wonderful team over there.”


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