Greg Byrnes says Ben Fordham is still outperforming expectations, but 2GB will ‘aim higher’

Nobody said replacing Alan Jones would be easy, but Nine Radio won't be turning its back on Ben Fordham anytime soon. The 2GB host held his share from last survey, despite losing the top breakfast spot, and Nine Radio's head of content Greg Byrnes joins Zanda Wilson to break down each metro market following GfK's fourth metro ratings survey of 2021.

Ben Fordham is no longer the #1 breakfast show in Sydney. That was the headline splashed across the media when this week’s radio ratings dropped, and for good reason, with KIIS FM’s Kyle and Jackie O ending a 17-year streak for 2GB.

While not an ideal result for the Nine Radio station, it’s far from disaster stations at 2GB. After sliding for a few surveys, Ben Fordham arrested the momentum, with just a 0.2 point drop to keep a respective 13.3% share of listening.

And, as Nine Radio head of content Greg Byrnes rightly points out, 2GB is still the top-rating station in Sydney, holding an 11.8% share.

It’s “absolutely” pleasing to see Ben Fordham maintain share on breakfast, regardless of what others are doing. “Ben’s TSL (time spent listening) is also up, which is great. And 2GB maintains its number one [position] overall. So considering all other factors, I’m happy,” Byrnes says.

Ben Fordham held onto his audience this survey

As for those who dethroned Fordham? Byrnes admits it’s a “great” performance from KIIS FM, but tells Mumbrella that 2GB breakfast is still performing ahead of expectations laid down when Fordham took over from Alan Jones in 2020.

“We said we thought a 12% share would be about right for Ben, given that [the departure of Alan Jones] was such a big change in breakfast. So he’s [on] a 13.3% and he has held [that share]. We will aim higher, there’s no doubt about that.

“He’s replaced a program that was on for decades. It’s a new sound at breakfast and it’s the future of breakfast.”

In this survey, AM radio in Melbourne seemed to benefit from the recent lockdown, so will the Sydney lockdown create a bump next book for AM radio and Ben Fordham?

“Each market is different and each city is different and each of our radio stations is different. I don’t think we can compare one market to the other,” Byrnes says. “COVID has been a different experience in each of those markets, and the lockdowns have been different.”

“On the lockdowns, what’s been really pleasing for me is that during this ratings break all of the announcers said: ‘listen, we’re going to have to work’ [through the break]. No one likes to cancel a holiday, but they understood that our audiences would expect their regular hosts to be on air. And that’s been really pleasing.”

Meanwhile, Ray Hadley remains a shining light for 2GB on mornings, with the veteran presenter racking up a 134th consecutive survey win.

But Byrnes says Nine Radio made the right call installing Fordham in breakfast despite industry speculation at the time that Hadley could start earlier and bring his audience with him. “He’s suited there [on mornings] and the results show that.

“The audience knows him, Ray calls it as he sees it. He’s been there as a consistent voice for over 20 years. It’s a good example of why the moment you make a change, it’s a risk,” Byrnes explains.

“He’s got a wonderful sense of middle Australia, but is also very well connected with the movers and shakers. He’s got a wonderful sense of the everyday Australian and what they expect, what they want from their policymakers and decision-makers. He holds all of them to account.”

Ray Hadley has won 134 consecutive surveys

3AW remains a titanic proposition in Melbourne, and it’s easy to forget how new Russel Howcroft is not just to the station but to radio in general. Together with Ross Stevenson, they delivered 3AW a 20.1% share on breakfast, while the station recorded a 15.5% overall result.

“Ross and Russel have a wonderful sense of Melbourne, both of those guys love their city. But right across the board on 3AW, Neil Mitchell’s share is up, then right into the overnights, football, weekends, 3AW is the voice of Melbourne,” Byrnes says.

When audiences turn to 3AW, whether it be during lockdown or otherwise, they know what to expect, Byrnes insists. “The Melbourne example shows that during lockdown the audience comes for companionship.

“The audience expects a certain quality of broadcasting from 3AW, and the responsibility that goes with that is not taken lightly.”

Byrnes concedes that Sammy J’s share on ABC Melbourne breakfast is a good result, but won’t be comparing that to what Ross and Russell are doing.

“I should actually point out too that for the 40-54s on 3AW, they’re at an over 13% share. Which is quite remarkable. For the network, we are up 6% for 40-54s. And for the 25-39 we are up 26% for the network.

“For 3AW, that 40-54s figure, that’s the sweet spot.”

Nationally, the first half of the year-to-date has been punctuated by intermittent lockdowns. Byrnes admits that this has certainly increased an appetite for news off-the-back of 2020, but says Nine Radio will keep running its own race, lockdowns or not.

“People are eager for more reliable information but It hasn’t changed what we do, other than to put a greater focus on the companionship aspect of what we offer. We’ve always prided ourselves on fast and reliable news and information. And it just highlights that when they want news, people turn to talk radio.”

Ross and Russel remain streets ahead in Melbourne

Part of that proposition has seen a bigger focus on local strategy in markets like Perth and Brisbane.

Gareth Parker on 6PR breakfast is the #3 station in the market with a 10.4%, despite a slip of 0.9 points. While Byrnes admits that it’ll be a challenge to push the long-established FM and music-driven stations in Perth, 6PR is going to “give it a red hot crack”.

“You’ve got Gareth and Liam, #3 overall and certainly #1 for talk. There’s been a lot of change on 6PR, but what’s encouraging in this survey is that it has held [share]. Obviously ratings go up and down, but there’s wonderful growth and we’ve got work to do to attract that over there.”

In Brisbane, a market where Alan Jones was piped in for breakfast over a long period, Neil Breen is still building audience. This survey he lost 0.9 points to rate 7.3%, and Byrnes says 4BC needs to keep showing it has real local news and personalities.

“What Breeny has managed to do in this last survey is really to break some news. The team just needs to do that day in and day out.

“When the audience finds us, they like what they hear and stick around. It is very much a new position in Brisbane, and we are working around the clock to ensure each day is better than the next.”

He says it is about changing audience expectations in the market there towards Nine’s “live and local” mantra.

“Recently we’ve trialled a local afternoons show there with Sofie Formica [who is filling in over survey break]. That’s part of the proposition of getting local content back on in Brisbane.

“We’ve got breakfast, drive, Wide World Of Sports… and we’re slowly getting there. Brisbane wants Brisbane voices.”


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