Nine Radio’s Greg Byrnes on backing Ben Fordham and the Sydney talk dip

Nine Radio's head of content, Greg Byrnes speaks to Mumbrella's Calum Jaspan on the tough month for talk in Sydney, 3AW's continued dominance and the ongoing push of 'live and local'.

A year on from replacing Alan Jones on 2GB’s breakfast spot, Ben Fordham’s show took another hit for the second radio survey in succession, but Nine Radio’s head of content, Greg Byrnes insists only one thing matters, “he’s still number one”.

Byrnes was happy with Nine Radio’s performance straight off the bat, following another round of radio ratings: “Number one in Sydney, number one in Melbourne, it’s a great talk survey. It’s just maintaining our dominance across the country”.

The most recent book saw Fordham drop to a 13.5% share, down 2.0 percentage points, continuing a steady decline from the highs he saw at the back end of 2020, and the 18.1% share in March’s first survey of the year, which was 2GB’s best survey in a decade.

“In relation to Ben, anything above a 12, we felt would be very strong, and he’s still number one. Today marks 12 months of him doing the show, which is quite extraordinary to think that he’s still a clear number one while it’s a tough market.”

Fordham has reached a year in the breakfast seat at 2GB

So with a year under his belt at Sydney’s most popular talk radio station, Byrnes remains happy when asked how he felt Fordham is continuing to settle in.

“Very well. He’s number one in a very competitive, tough market. I know how hard Ben works. He’s one of the fiercest competitors I know. And as I said, we’re 12 months in and he’s number one. And he has a lot of fire in the belly.”

Greg Byrnes says “It’s just maintaining our dominance across the country”

For Byrnes, it’s not about applying the same logic to each market, but assessing trends in each and taking away what you can.

“It just depends on the market. We’re live and local in each market. And really we treat each one differently around the country. Certainly talk is down in Sydney at the moment.If you look at the talk stations in Perth it’s strong, Melbourne, it’s strong. The Covid norm is different around the country.”

As Byrnes references, in Melbourne, talk did continue to dominate, with 3AW taking out the top spot, despite a slight drop. Highlighting this, Ross Stevenson and Russell Howccroft remain nine points clear at the summit of the breakfast market, with a 20.1% share, almost double the ABC, its closest competitor.

Byrnes told Mumbrella after April’s survey that “people came to sample us during Covid, and they stuck around”, but it seems despite record numbers, things are returning to the mean, however both of Nine Radio’s key stations remain king.

Russ and Ross cleared a 25% share in each of the last three surveys of 2020, reaching a high of 28.4% in November. For Byrnes, this doesn’t suggest a lapse in form, rather it highlights how extraordinary those numbers were at the time.

Howcroft and Stevenson

“They were record numbers at the end of last year. And, and let’s not forget that there’s still a 20% share today. 10 points clear of the nearest competitor, and I don’t think you’ve got a commercial competitor in double figures, right?”

“It’s well above average, what Ross and Russ are doing. Yeah, it’s down from extraordinary numbers last year, but still very, very strong.”

Elsewhere, Nine’s ‘live and local’ strategy is taking shape in some of Australia’s other markets, with 4BC’s Neil Breen jumping up a point in Brisbane to take an 8.2% share of breakfast.

“It’s very encouraging. It was always going to be tough returning live and local, or certainly local into Brisbane. And the signs in breakfast are very encouraging. The station overall is well ahead of the five-year average. It was never going to be an easy task, and we said that from the outset, but what we have today is very, very encouraging and I’m very pleased for Breeny and the team for working very hard on that show.”

4BC’s Neil Breen

And it’s not just Ben Fordham that continues to settle into his new slot, Gareth Parker is seven months into the breakfast show in Perth, after taking over for Basil Zempilas. Parker today saw a slight dip of 0.6 points to a share of 11.3%, yet 6PR reached a 9.5% share, the best cumulative audience in 15 years.

“The moment you change these talk formats and talk personalities, it takes time for the audience to adjust and recognise them. There’s a great team in Perth, and we’re really looking forward to what can be achieved with that live and local focus.”

A slight drop for 6PR’s Gareth Parker, but overall gains for the station

Asked about what is on the horizon for Nine Radio, and what they can expect moving forward, Byrnes appeared calm about the outlook in the coming months.

“Well, you always want to build. It will be interesting to monitor the Covid norm and what that means around the country. We’re coming off pretty extraordinary figures around the network over the last 12 months or so. Let’s just see where things settle. Melbourne’s back in lockdown right now as we speak. So it’s all a bit of an unknown.

More specifically, in order to build on recent success, Byrnes notes, “we need to be that source of trusted news, opinion and companionship, and that’s what we need to provide day in, day out and every day better than the last.”


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