Drivetime shapes up as radio’s 2018 battleground after Hamish & Andy’s long goodbye

With five of the eight audience surveys for the year now complete, Australia's commercial radio players are beginning to shift their focus to 2018. Mumbrella's Zoe Samios rounds up programming bosses' views on how they're all travelling - and explores how drivetime is up for grabs next year

It has to be one of the longest notice periods in radio history. But nearly nine months after Hamish Blake and Andy Lee revealed that they’ll be departing radio – again – to focus on television, the industry is beginning to ask what national drivetime radio will look like without them.

One of the biggest unanswered questions for the radio industry this year is arguably the replacement of Southern Cross Austereo’s long-standing Hit Network drive show hosts Hamish Blake and Andy Lee, who are set to depart at the end of the year to focus on their television careers.

But just as importantly, ARN’s contract with Dave Hughes and Kate Langbroek, whose show airs in Sydney and Melbourne on Kiis, on 97.3 in Brisbane and Mix in Adelaide – is also up for renegotiation.

This week’s survey gave Gemma Fordham, SCA’s head of content for Hit Network, a taste of what life after Hamish & Andy could look like.

With Blake on paternity leave, the network’s rising star Ash London held the fort.

Across the five metro markets, the Hit network had mixed fortunes in the 4-7pm slot. Hit’s Sydney station 2DayFM grew share slightly by 0.3 points to 6.8%. In Melbourne, Hit’s Melbourne station Fox FM saw a drastic fall of 2.6 points, although it still remained top FM station in the timeslot with a share of 10.3%.

Meanwhile Hit105’s drivetime share in Brisbane fell 0.7 points to 11.2%, while Hit107 in Adelaide fell 2.1 points to 9.7%, and Hit92.9 Perth saw a slight increase of 0.6 points to 14.4%.

Nova’s Kate, Tim and Marty – Kate Ritchie, Tim Blackwell and Marty Sheargold – dominated drive in most markets, winning the FM battle in Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide, and tying for the lead in Perth with SCA’s local Mix94.5 show Lisa & Pete, on 14.5%.

Fordham tells Mumbrella that while winning the drivetime slot in Melbourne without the Hamish & Andy show on the air was “amazing,” she will not look for a short term fix for their departure.

“There’s no news because of a couple of things,” Fordham says.

Fordham reveals her reasons for not announcing Hamish & Andy’s replacement

“We are not going to replicate Hamish & Andy.

“We are now at a point where yes we absolutely have our plans and we know what we are doing, but it’s been about a process of understanding what the audience wants now and what the behavioural habits are and what the listening habits are in the audience.”

Fordham emphasises the fact the changes won’t begin until Hamish & Andy complete their show on December 8.

“We are also respectful of the fact whatever we put in, the boys are still on air for a good few months yet and we have some really big plans for the next few months with them,” she adds.

A bullish Paul Jackson, Nova’s group programme director, believes Kate, Tim & Marty will continue to dominate nationally. He claims Hit Network will start the year on the “back foot” with the duo’s departure. He tells Mumbrella: “No matter what you replace Hamish & Andy with, it’s not going to be Hamish & Andy.

“You are on the back foot before you begin and we have an established show.

However, Fordham says Jackson underestimates the network. “He’s entitled to his opinion. You could argue that we’ve essentially almost had a full survey book without Hamish & Andy and I would say that based on today’s results around the country, we didn’t die in the ass,” she says.

“I would like him to think we are going to start on the back foot, I’d rather him underestimate what we are capable of.”

Meanwhile, Duncan Campbell, ARN’s national content director, confirmed to Mumbrella that Hughesy & Kate’s contract was set to end this year. On Kiis FM Sydney , Hughesy & Kate were up 1.2 ratings points to 10.1%, putting them second in the FM drive time slot. However, on Kiis FM Melbourne the show fell 0.7 points to 6.8%, taking the show to fifth in the city’s FM battleground.

ARN’s 97.3FM in Brisbane saw Hughesy & Kate fall 0.9 ratings points, to 11.3% and in Adelaide, the duo climbed 1.8 points to 13.8% on Mix102.3.

Campbell says the company is negotiations with drive show hosts, Hughesy & Kate

He confirms in an email to Mumbrella: “H and K are up at the end of this year and we’re in negotiations now with them.

“We’ll continue to strategically drive marketing where necessary and getting prepared for 2018, and we’ll announce any sort of movement there later on in the year.”

Nova would not comment on how much longer is left to run on the contracts of Ritchie, Blackwell and Sheargold.

In the city by city battles, Fox FM and Nova Entertainment’s Smooth FM both had reason to be pleased in Melbourne. Fox won the cumulative audience battle, while Smooth topped the fight for audience share.

FoxFM’s cumulative audience was 1.149m.

Second was Nova100’s 1.050m, followed by Gold104.3 and Kiis 101.1FM, which had cumulative audiences of 891,000 and 870,000 respectively.

SmoothFM posted a cumulative audience of 859,000.

Melbourne audience share:

Meanwhile it was a particularly successful survey for ARN in Sydney, where ARN’s WSFM defeated Nova’s SmoothFM for the first time since the first survey of the year gaining 0.7 ratings points to take the top FM spot in Sydney.

WSFM increased its shares across breakfast and drive, capturing a total audience of 9.3%.

In cumulative audience, WSFM people 10+ figures were 724,000, up 74,000 from last survey, while SmoothFM’s figures fell 45,000 to 809,000.

Nova’s SmoothFM also fell an additional 1.1 ratings points in Monday to Sunday audience share.

Sydney radio’s cumulative audience figures for survey five saw Nova in the lead. Source: GfK | Click to enlarge

Campbell attributes the overall win to “long term strategy”, and focusing on delivering “relevant and engaging content.”

The Sydney result in particular comes weeks after WSFM announced it has locked in its “heritage personalities”, Jonesy & Amanda, for an additional three years.

WSFM defeated rival Smooth in the latest book

Nova’s Jackson believes the result was partially to do with WSFM’s efforts, and in part to do with SmoothFM’s need for improvement.

According to Jackson, rival WSFM’s win wasn’t a surprise given the “good” marketing campaign they ran.

Jackson says: “Maybe it’s also partly us, and we could freshen up a little bit.

“We’ll look at it, in terms of the music, we’ll change a few songs around, we’ll have a look at our position versus everyone else’s I guess, and it’s our jobs to do that.

“I don’t think when you haven’t won a book you are used to winning, you can just sit there and do nothing.”

But Campbell disputed Jackson’s claim WSFM’s win was attributed to its major marketing push: “With respect to Paul, to position it as a marketing win sort of undervalues the focus that’s gone into the station.”

For Jackson’s other station Nova, there were “exceptional” cumulative audiences across the board.

Paul Jackson says with SmoothFM has room for improvement in Sydney, Nova was “exceptional” across the country

“All the Novas are number one, except for Nova 100 in Melbourne, and ironically that’s the one which has the most listeners in the group. It has over 1m listeners,” Jackson says.

Nova reported a cumulative audience of 995,000 in Sydney, 1.050m in Melbourne, 566,000 in Brisbane, 331,000 in Adelaide, and 546,000 in Perth.

His confidence in Sydney was partnered with that of Melbourne – confident Nova could take over FoxFM in Melbourne, especially with the upcoming departure of Hamish & Andy.

“One of our absolute priorities is getting Nova on top of Fox,” he explains.

“Fox is the best-known heritage brand in this country for many many years, and it’s probably got some better attributes about it.

“I think it’s a fantastic opportunity for us to win Melbourne next year, and maybe even this year.”

Melbourne’s cumulative audience tells a different story to the shares

While FoxFM may suffer from the departure of Hamish & Andy, Campbell believes the station has “problems on multiple fronts.”

He believes Hamish & Andy’s departure is the “biggest story of the year”, but says FoxFM – the duo’s home station – has problems with their breakfast show as well.

“The impact of the Hamish & Andy’s departure will be significant and we are seeing the beginnings of that already in Brisbane on Hit105 which took a significant drop this survey, Melbourne of course, although drive to be fair wasn’t down that much, but the station was [down].

“Melbourne is their home town, so I expect they will leave a significant hole for Fox to try and fill and also I think Fox has problems with its breakfast show as well.

“It’s a confusing breakfast show. How many voices do you have to have on a breakfast show, and how many faces can you fit on a billboard?”

He explains: “In a listener environment where the lifestyles are so busy and hectic, throwing four voices and them, and faces, and names, it just gets confusing and you’ve got Hamish & Andy have had tremendous success in Melbourne particularly and nationally, leaving at the end of the year.

“Fox have got some real challenges ahead of itself. I’m surprised they’re not announcing their replacements.”

Fordham back-handed Campbell’s comments: “All I’ll say is Duncan should just concentrate on his Melbourne breakfast show, because last I checked it’s behind ours.”

Looking to Brisbane, ARN’s 97.3FM breakfast show with Bianca, Terry & Bob saw a slight slip, with its breakfast show dropping 0.8 ratings points.

Cumulative audience figures remained stagnant, down 2,000 to 515,000.

The station placed second to Nova, well ahead of other rivals Hit105 (456,000), and Triple M (366,000).

However, Campbell had no concerns, and stood by his previous claims that Triple M wouldn’t grow.

Triple M’s breakfast show includes former ARN breakfast radio host Robin Bailey, who joined the rival network earlier this year.

“A 0.1 growth on Triple M breakfast is just pretty much flat to be honest, and while 97.3 overall came down a little bit, it maintained its number two position in terms of the station,” he argues.

“Nova’s the challenger, it’s sort of heading back to the two horse race scenario which we’ve always had in Brisbane, and the breakfast show is still the number one FM breakfast show in Brisbane, which is a great achievement.

However, Mike Fitzpatrick, head of content at Triple M, found the latest results encouraging, with his stations across Australia either growing or remaining stagnant.

“We had the number one FM breakfast show in Adelaide, we had the number on resurgent Mix in Perth, growth in Brisbane, growth in Sydney breakfast, and growth everywhere in Melbourne but the Hot breakfast.

Mike Fitzpatrick: Triple M is focused on its demographic, not 10+ audience

Fitzpatrick’s focus remains on where the station makes its “bread and butter” – with 25 to 54-year-old men.

“As long as we are winning that, I’m happy,” he tells Mumbrella.

“10+ is a bonus on top of that. It’s nice for ego to think you are number on 10+, but you can be number one 10+ on share, but it doesn’t mean you have the most listeners.

“We made a product that is targeted purely at men that like sport, comedy and guitar-based music, and as long as we are winning that demo, which is all men 25-54, which we do, we win male 10+ around the country.”

Triple M also has a gap to fill in its offering, with Triple M breakfast host Mick Molloy to join Jane Kennedy on a national drive show next year.

Fitzpatrick said while Molloy is “irreplaceable”, the network will have an announcement at the same time as Hamish & Andy’s replacement is announced.

He disputed Campbell’s claims from last survey about the network not growing.

“I don’t listen to another other breakfast show and I don’t listen to any other stations, I focus on what Triple M and what Triple M is doing.

“Robin Bailey has obviously made a connection with our male listeners, as we always thought she was going out, and we seem to have grown a little bit. We’ll keep doing what we do in the hope we continue to grow and I’ll be happy with that.”

Brisbane’s cumulative audience for survey five. Source: GfK

One of Triple M’s biggest success stories is Adelaide, which Fitzpatrick attributes to “consistency.”

In the latest Adelaide survey, MIX102.3 maintained its lead on 13.1%, while 5MMM, and Nova91.9 rose 1.2 and 1.5 points to 12.1% and 11.2% respectively.

Mix’s cumulative audience was 335,000, while Nova and 5MMM reported audiences of 331,000 and 224,000.

The great story about Adelaide is it’s a lesson in consistency, the same as with Eddie and Mick on the Hot breakfast.

“It’s taken Roo & Ditts almost three years to the month to get to number one. Breakfast shows take a long time to make an impact on the audience. It’s like driving to work with your best friend everyday and when your best friend leaves, or quits, or moves town you don’t just automatically replace them with someone else.”

Fordham has a similar view with regards to Hit Network’s Sydney breakfast show – The Em Rusciano Radio Show with Harley Breen – which has reported modest growth for most surveys this year.

She says trust is the biggest thing for the network now given the shifting of talent over the last few years:

“We are really mindful of the fact we are going to have to work really hard to gain the trust again of the people of Sydney, which is one of the reasons we have a market campaign out at the moment – which is also about awareness.”

She says the current advertising campaign in market, is purely about awareness.

“We know the show sounds good and the feedback around it is very strong so really now it’s about enticing people to sample the show and that’s what largely the marketing campaign is about and that’s what the guys try to do on air everyday – create content that creates some talk around what type of show it is,” she says.

“What I will say is we are very pleased with the result today and it is absolutely on target for what we were aiming for, and the station overall is in really great shape.”

Fordham confirmed the show would be back next year.

In Perth, SCA’s Mix retook the lead at 14%, beating Nova’s 12.5%. In third placed was Hit jumping 0.7 points to 11.7%.

The biggest cumulative audience was from Nova at 546,000, followed by Hit’s 514,000 and Mix’s 521,000.

Fordham said of the results: “From a company perspective that obviously is hugely successful for the network and company, and I know we were expecting to see it [Mix] where it landed today.”

While there is strong rivalry between the three FM commercial networks, there’s a fourth party who sees them as major competitors: Macquarie Media.

CEO Adam Lang says: “We look at AM, FM and DAB+ streaming, and we are all distribution platforms for us to broadcast our radio content so we regard everyone of them as a competitor,” Lang explains.

Lang confirms Alan Jones isn’t going anywhere

“In breakfast and drive, the stars hired to broadcast there, they are much more focused on the content they create, not just music. And we compete with them too,” he says.

“We think it’s nothing less than respectful to think of all of them as our aspiring partners and competitors.”

In Sydney Macquarie Media’s 2GB climbed 0.7 points to 12.6%, while in Melbourne 3AW showed an incremental increase of 0.4 points, to 14.8%.

Perth’s 6PR climbed 0.6 points to 7.4%.

The company’s News Talk network produced strong results, but the company’s revamped Talking Lifestyle Format – which is heavily supported by branded content – faded in Melbourne and Brisbane, while Sydney posted small growth.

Lang confirms he is still confident in the format.

“There’s no international precedent for it, there’s no national precedent for it. We are really confident in the format. We know that we are getting great engagement from our listeners so now we just need to get that growth across the three markets all together.

“In Sydney, where we’ve had two commercial talk stations, what was 2UE has led in to Talking Lifestyle for Sydney, so you’ve got a heritage audience there that’s used to talk. But in Melbourne and Brisbane, we’ve had a really chronic change from a music format into a talk format.”

Lang attributed the success of Sydney’s 2GB to the range of talent across the day including mid morning presenter Ray Hadley and noted Alan Jones’ presence was critical.

“The breakfast shows at any radio stations are vital, critical and with that Alan Jones – he’s been in radio since 1985,” Lang says.

“He’s won 205 surveys now, so there’s no doubt he’s important.”

Lang tells Mumbrella Jones will be back for the rest of the year and beyond.

“He’s a phenomenon in terms of his work rate and his capacity to work, notwithstanding these very serious operations he’s had to have,” he says.

“He’s immensely capable for work and willing to do so, and we look forward to a long period ahead with Alan in breakfast.”


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