Nine Radio’s Greg Byrnes: Doing talk radio is ‘a lot harder’ than what people think

Nine Radio's head of content, Greg Byrnes, spoke to Mumbrella's Darcy Song about what's on the network's 2022 report card, the business of talk radio, and why it's a harder gig than it looks.

2022 ended with a bang for 2GB and 3AW, both retaining dominant positions despite some speed bumps along the way.

For 4BC and 6PR though, there may be some extra homework to do as Nine Radio’s head of content, Greg Byrnes, gives the network an overall “strong B+” on its report card this year.

“It’s been a great year across the network but we never take that success for granted,” he says, with cume up across all stations, and time spent listening, which Byrnes says is a “remarkable” result coming down from COVID’s talkback ratings hit.

Greg Byrnes

He is proud of Nine’s stations being “hard markers in talk radio”, though he acknowledges that it can be a hard gig. Audiences need talk stations to be “always on” and relevant, but they will reward with trust when that expectation is met.

“We’ve started kind of winding down from last week ahead of the Christmas period, and then we have that story breaking in Queensland in relation to the shooting of the two young constables, which is a story of national prominence,” he says.

“I’ve come from the newsroom, so it’s what I know, but there is no stopping in talk radio.”

Talent, to Nine Radio, is an important part of this formula. Byrnes says doing talk radio is often harder than it looks, and many don’t realise it until they have a crack at the format.

“It’s generally three hours a day, even longer on weekends. It’s live, there’s no safety net. You need opinion, you need to engage, and you need to be able to entertain.”

“We need presenters who know their city, love their city, know their audience, and can engage with their audience. A good communicator who can hold policymakers to account and can make a difference. And it’s not a glib statement – we put a lot of focus on that when we look at lineups.”

Nine Radio’s lineup

Ben Fordham wrestled Sydney’s #1 breakfast show title back from Kyle & Jackie O in survey 8, finishing with 15.7%, although a decrease of 2.8 points YoY. Ray Hadley’s 2GB morning show also witnessed a bump in share to 15.9%.

3AW’s Ross Stevenson and Russel Howcroft remain steady in breakfast, quoting an impressive 22.8% share in Melbourne, unchanged YoY.  4BC’s Laurel, Gary and Mark and 6PR’s Millsy and Karl, however, saw a softer performance.

So what’s on the card for Nine Radio in the new year? Checking in with Mumbrella a few months ago, Byrnes was explicit about not sacrificing further TSL for the sake of chasing after a wider and younger audience. This time, he reaffirms that the 2023 strategy will focus on boosting that metric across the board.

“Time spent listening is our challenge. It’s just ensuring that all our programs are working on improving that,” he says.

“We know we have record numbers of people listening, and we need to keep them longer. The industry on the whole is facing the challenge of never has there been so much content available, so it’s actually [about] once you grab the listener, holding on to them.”

When asked about how Nine Radio plans to achieve that, Byrnes says it’s about finding a balance and not giving audiences “a reason to turn off”. While the network wants to “hold on to that loyal, rusted-on talk audience and respect them”, it’s also switched up the lineup in recognition of a new generation of listeners.

Chris O’Keefe

The last few weeks have seen a few talent movements within Nine Radio, including Chris O’Keefe stepping into Jim Wilson’s drive spot at 2GB, while 6PR’s Karl and Millsy breakfast duo is also relatively fresh, having taken over the slot just in November.

Others, perhaps less voluntary, include Chris Smith’s contract being terminated by 2GB after alleged misconduct at a Christmas party. Smith was the go-to fill-in for Ben Fordham and had a weekend show from 9am to 1pm. No official replacement has been announced for Smith yet.

In the days after the fallout of Smith’s latest alleged incident, many pondered why he was kept around for so long at the station, even more so when his colleague Hadley called the station from his holiday to wish him “good riddance”.

When asked, Byrnes says for now, it is best to refer back to Nine’s original statement on the matter.

With existing talents, Byrnes believes the network is well-prepared going into the new year.

“Millsy and Karl have long been embraced by the Perth audience given their long-tenure on 6PR and they begin 2023 with a solid foundation in the breakfast shift,” he says.

“Chris O’Keefe is also an award-winning journalist and has been a popular contributor on all 2GB programs over recent years. When he filled in for us last Christmas there was an immediate connection with our listeners and we can’t wait for his new drive show to get started on January 9.”


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