Music for breakfast: Why 2Day FM has finally called it a day on talent-fronted mornings

When do you admit defeat? How hard do you fight for something that simply isn’t working? After six shows in five years, 2Day FM in Sydney has called it a day on talent-fronted breakfast radio. Just hours after making the tough call public, Hit Network’s Gemma Fordham talks to Mumbrella’s Vivienne Kelly about what happens next with the embattled broadcaster.

Kyle Sandilands. Jackie ‘O’ Henderson. Jules Lund. Merrick Watts. Sophie Monk. Mel B. Dan Debuf. Maz Compton. Rove McManus. Sam Frost. Em Rusciano. Harley Breen. Ed Kavalee. Grant Denyer. Ash London. Who is your favourite 2Day FM breakfast host from the past six years?

Despite there being 15 to choose from, the Hit Network’s head of content Gemma Fordham won’t be drawn on her top pick. And despite the churn and burn of on-air talent, and what she knows some will paint as an ongoing failure of 2Day FM’s strategy in the key market of Sydney, she throws her weight behind every step, and misstep, they’ve made along the way to get to where they are now.

Fordham: It hasn’t worked

“Look, we know how it goes. We know it’s like ‘Here we go, here’s show number four, here’s show number five’, but you know, every time we’ve done that, we’ve done it with the best of intentions of trying to connect further with Sydney. And every time we’ve done it, we’ve put in wonderfully talented people, and it hasn’t worked,” she says just hours after announcing 2Day FM is pivoting to a music-based breakfast program from Monday.

And one thing she’s clear on: it’s no-one’s fault – not Lund’s, not Watts’, not Monk’s, not Mel B’s, not Debuf’s or Compton’s, or McManus’, or newby Frost’s, or (despite what the tabloids would have you believe) Rusciano’s, or Breen’s, or Kavalee’s, or Denyer’s, or London’s – it’s a product of market conditions.

“And it hasn’t worked, not from a lack of people trying, not from work ethic, not from there being talent that aren’t actually incredibly talented at what they do – but it’s come from the reality of the landscape here [in Sydney].”

The ghosts of Kyle and Jackie O are still haunting 2Day FM

That reality, she says, is a market with legacy shows boasting intensely loyal audiences, which simply couldn’t be ignored any longer. Why keep fighting so hard for audience shares as low as 2.8%? Or even 4.1%?

It’s finally time to call it.

“We can keep fighting this fight with the same offering, but it’s not working,” Fordham concedes. “We know that now. We know that after six shows.

“So if we’re not going to play in that space, we had a really great option right in front of us, and the more it was being put in front of us, the more we were going ‘This is the right decision’.”

So, where are they now?

A music-based breakfast offering from 6am to 9am, not dissimilar to what the once-dominant station has been playing throughout the work day.

“I would describe [our music strategy for the breakfast timeslot] as vibey, energetic songs that you’ve forgotten about, songs that you’ve forgotten you love,” she says. “Those songs that really surprise and delight you, and there’s an absolute feel-good factor in terms of making people feel good on their way to work, starting their day with energy, that kind of tone. It’s tonally very uplifting, very fun, plenty of old school in there.”

If the people of Sydney just want bangers to jam out to as they get lost trying to find the Westconnex, spend over $25 on tolls, get stuck next to a school student with a bag big enough to knock them out on the T3 line, or decide to risk it for the biscuit and go in that damn bus lane because the traffic simply isn’t moving, and why shouldn’t they be the one who gets slightly ahead of the queue – then don’t they have Spotify for that? If we want to pretend 1996 was 10 years ago, not 23 as current timelines would tell us, then there are plenty of So Fresh playlists and discovery options on the streaming platforms.

Fordham, however, refutes that, noting that the self-indulgent media bubble can forget that the everyday consumer loves coming back to radio. With talking, commercials, and long Masterchef chat breaks accounted for on other stations, if people want music, they can come back to 2Day.

“Spotify in Australia – it’s probably slightly different in terms of the listening habits compared to other places in the world – it hasn’t really shown an increase in penetration here.

“What we know for radio, is that people still love the medium of radio, and they still love feeling connected, and so that’s going to be an incredibly important part of the show as well. It’ll be very much about a sense of the day in Sydney, with a hell of a lot of music in there that ultimately is going to make people feel good. And I think there’s an escapism in that.”

So, there won’t be phoners about when you forgot your kid at the supermarket, but new anchor Jamie Angel will still be connecting with the Sydney audience, she says.

“There’s still going to be an element of engagement with Sydney,” she explains. “There will still be callers in the show. Jamie is an exceptional announcer, and in the industry he is regarded as one of the best there has ever been. And it wasn’t necessarily easy for me to get him to agree to do it, but he is the best. And a lot of people will remember him. When he’s on air next week, a lot of people are going to remember him, because he was a key component of 2Day’s success back in the 2000s, and he’s an incredibly talented announcer.”

This desire to remind people of 2Day FM’s heyday though, surely only serves to highlight how far it’s fallen? Again, Fordham doesn’t think so, insisting that today is a good day, not a sad day, in 2Day’s history.

Today is a good day for 2Day, says Fordham

“For 2Day FM, I think it’s a great day,” she says with the enthusiasm of somebody who believes the only way is up.

“It’s always sad when there are people affected – it doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, it’s always sad, because it’s people’s lives who’ve been changed.

“But, ultimately, for 2Day FM, our purpose is to be there for the listeners of Sydney, and to deliver what Sydney wants. And it has been coming back to us time and time again, that the audience are asking for music from us in breakfast… and it would have been crazy for us to not listen to what they’re telling us, and ultimately that’s what we’re here for. We’re here to provide what Sydney wants.

“So for 2Day FM, it’s great… It’s obviously bittersweet, but for 2Day FM, and for the listeners of Sydney, it’s a great thing.”

Are you convinced yet? Fordham knows not everyone in the radio market will be, no matter how emphatically she declares this is the right move, despite declaring it time and time again each time the network announced a new direction, a new host, a new show.

Surely in a few months, we’ll be chatting again to reveal 2Day FM’s rebrand, a new market positioning, or a big on-air talent line-up? Give it a few months for the ratings pressure to ease, journos to stop tallying how many personalities have given it a go, and everyone to find a new target, and then ta da! The big reveal.

Fordham – in words we will definitely be quoting should she backtrack – is resolute. This is not 2Day FM in a holding pattern. It is 2Day FM finally listening to what the audience wants.

“There’s no rebrand. There’s no plans for some grand show. I can understand the speculation, but there’s absolutely nothing but commitment to this opportunity because ultimately it’s a gap, and it’s something different. It’s something different for Sydney, and it’s going to be tonally very different for this market. So that’s why we made the decision, and all of the feedback that we have supports it.”

Plus, there’s no denying that it’s cheaper – which in a softening market is no bad thing, she says.

“In terms of costs, I don’t want to absolutely pinpoint here, but there are other shows that are on in Sydney that are probably costing I’d say five times more than our show, and I’d say some shows in Sydney would be costing 10 times more than our show every year.

“And what I also know is that it’s extremely hard to monetise and make a high return on investment. The cost of those shows, versus your return, is significantly higher.”

So, six shows post Kyle & Jackie O. 13 people behind the mics. As the chapter on 2Day FM’s talent heavy breakfast ranks closes, what has the station learned? How will it avoid doing it all over again, and finding itself on this very treadmill again?

The last of the 2Day FM Breakfast hosts: Denyer, Kavalee and London

“I’d say what my key learnings are you’ve got to be prepared to take risks, and you’ve got to be prepared to fail,” Fordham says. “If you don’t, if we don’t take risks, then we’re never going to achieve what is ultimately necessary for the Sydney market. So my lessons would be, it’s important to take risks and follow your gut.

“The other lesson would be … I know this sounds really basic, but listening to who your consumers are. I think that’s a big lesson. I think as an industry we tend to go ‘Well, that’s what you do, you put a show in’ – and that’s what we’ve done. But what people forget is it’s cyclical… We’ve been in a cycle, and so we go ‘Oop we’ve done that we better just replace it with this’. And I think that’s probably the part that I’m trying to refer to in terms of taking risks, it’s listening to your consumer, and being aware of what the trends are.

“You know, content is thrown at everyone now, from so many different directions, there are so many content outlets. Previously, maybe five, six years ago, there probably may not have been appetite for a music-based breakfast show, because it was just when content was obviously becoming so critical. Not to say it’s not now, but you can absolutely sense that there is a calling for people that want to escape sometimes now.

“So it’s almost like listening to your consumer, and I know that sounds basic, but I think we can get caught up in what our world is, and what our radio world is, and we forget that radio is our entire world – but to the average person in Parramatta, it’s not even remotely on her radar. So sometimes I think we can get a little out of touch with the reality of where the cycle is at.”


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