Nine Radio’s Tom Malone on Alan Jones, the importance of localism and the 2020 content lineup

Since Nine took ownership of Macquarie Media in 2019 there’s been a raft of changes pushed out across the media business. Mumbrella’s Hannah Blackiston spoke with managing director Tom Malone to find out why these changes were necessary and whether there are more to come.

He’s only had his feet under the desk for a couple of months, but Nine’s newly-appointed managing director of its radio assets, Tom Malone, is very confident in what makes 2GB, 3AW, 4BC and 6PR great.

“You always need to listen to your audience and we do that better than anyone, that’s why people like Alan Jones and Ross and John have been number one for thirty years, because we’re very good at listening to our audience. We’ll always listen to them,” Malone told Mumbrella.

Tom Malone at 3AW studio in Docklands. 6 November 2009. The Age News. Photo: Eddie Jim.

Malone is responding to the raft of changes made across the Nine Radio business since the Australian media giant took ownership of the radio assets formerly known as Macquarie Media.

A brief history of Nine Radio

Nine completed its takeover in November 2019. Before that, Macquarie Media CEO Adam Lang left the business. Immediately after Lang’s exit, Macquarie Sports Radio’s talk content was paused amid a content review. Next, 3AW boss Stephen Beers was out, although not for long. He returned a month later.

Alan Jones was also put on content review, although this happened before Nine’s takeover bid was confirmed. Malone’s appointment came next, then EP Michael Thompson left, Sky News’ Greg Byrnes entered, commercial boss Mark Noakes left and he was followed by Ross Greenwood.

John Burns announced 2020 would be his last year with 3AW, Denis Walter was moved to Nights, Steve Price was out, Deb Knight was in, Brooke Corte replaced Greenwood and Penny Kaleta was brought in from ACM to be the new sales head.

Chris Smith came back, after leaving under Lang’s management, Dee Dee Dunleavy came in for Afternoons on 3AW, overnight programming was syndicated, Paul B Kidd partnered up with John Stanley and, finally, Macquarie Sports Radio was replaced, with a return to historic music formats.

Deb Knight has found a new home after Today, on 2GB and 4BC

In between all that, the entire business rebranded to Nine Radio, new news and sports coverage was brought in under the Nine News and Wide World of Sport branding and Nine CEO Hugh Marks admitted Jones’ controversial comments about New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern hurt the company’s bottom line. But more on that later.

You’d be forgiven for quick-scrolling through all that. It’s a lot of changes in a very short time, some of them minor, a lot of them major, as Nine sought to make the changes that were needed in the business, says Malone.

Starting 2020 afresh

“While it probably seemed like a lot of changes, some of them were in the wings waiting to happen anyway, and we were able to come in and act pretty quickly on some things to make sure that when we started the year in 2020 everyone knew what the lineup was and we could focus on getting those programs up and running and then focus on the business side of radio,” he says.

On the subject of the newest changes, the end of Macquarie Sports Radio, Malone says it was a ‘pretty easy decision’.

“You only need to look back at the success of Magic and 4BH a few years ago when they were both running a music format to see that this was a pretty easy decision. We’ve identified a gap in the market, which is the best of the 70s, 80s and 90s, filling a gap between the easy listening format which is at the older end of the scale and Classic Hits which is a bit younger.

“It will be a great music format for our audience.”

Not just a great decision for the audience, Malone adds, but commercially, a good choice for Nine too. An efficient music channel costs a lot less than a talk one, especially a talk one with flagging ratings.

Nine Radio’s new commitment to music

Alan Jones and the bottom line

I couldn’t let Malone go without a chance to ask about Jones. A rare chink in the Nine armour was shown in 2019 when Marks admitted the advertiser boycott had hurt 2GB, and therefore Nine Radio. But talk radio is a notably inflammatory environment. Jones himself is no stranger to defamation suits, and he isn’t the only one. How can a major media business like Nine guarantee advertisers a brand safe environment, but still allow Sydney’s number one breakfast show to go on unfettered by pesky editorial guidelines?

It turns out you don’t. Nine’s dedication to its advertisers is such that Malone promises me the business has done significant work over the last few months to ensure brands can be confident putting their money into these environments.

“We’ve taken pretty big steps to make sure we’re a brand safe environment for advertisers this year. We’ve worked over the past couple of months to review and strengthen our editorial policy and its compliance with the CRA code of practice and the guidelines on our licensing conditions and the broadcast servicing standards and all those sorts of things, the laws governing defamation and suppression – we’ve done all of those things.

“We’ve had constant communication with all of our on-air presenters to make sure they’re aware of those expectations and that’s something that we’ll continue to do going forward as well, so I’m pretty confident with what we’ve done in the last couple of months that advertisers can be really confident that we’re a great and effective place for them to advertise.”

Time will tell if Jones can be beholden to those standards, but for now it seems the groundwork has been put in place to ensure a boycott like the one we saw in 2019 won’t happen again.

The future of Nine Radio

Also on the commercial front, Malone tells me the sales teams in each city have begun to come together, with Sydney’s radio sales team moving into Nine’s Australia Square offices just this week, Brisbane and Perth planned for early February and Melbourne soon after, meaning Nine is ready to start taking its combined offering to market. So far, the response has been a good one.

“We’ll start to see more combined sales approaches, but already clients are speaking to us and seeing the sense in things we’re doing, like the WWOS brand extending from television to radio. It’s early days but the signs are already very promising around how we engage with advertisers.”

While the nature of media is to always be in flux, Malone is confident with the lineup currently on offer from Nine Radio. He concedes that more changes may be needed in the business in the future, but for now, the main focus is on the locally-focused radio consumers know and love.

“The focus for Nine Radio is to empower and strengthen those local brands in each market. That’s the power of radio, it’s an extremely local, intimate, and engaging medium and that’s why it’s such a great medium for advertisers. The most engaged audience you’ll find is on radio.”


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