Not the time to be popping the champagne says Nine’s Greg Byrnes after big radio ratings

After another month of talkback dominance in both Melbourne and Sydney, Nine's director of content - radio, Greg Byrnes says that audiences continuing to turn to 2GB and 3AW is not unexpected. Mumbrella's Calum Jaspan speaks to Byrnes about keeping the audiences, and reading into this round's results.

You might not have expected it a few months ago, when 2GB’s Ben Fordham had just surrendered the station’s Sydney breakfast crown to Kyle and Jackie O, ending a 17 year winning streak, but for GfK radio survey six for the year, it came as little surprise that the talkback breakfast program held on to, and further built on that lead this time around.

The station consolidated its lead at the top of the pile, and Nine’s 3AW in Melbourne also proved again to have a stronghold over the market, while handsome for Nine Radio, the success has come under the cloud of lockdowns.

How confident Nine’s director of content – radio, Greg Byrnes is that the results are a sign of a more permanent shift towards talkback was telling in his final remarks in an interview with Mumbrella.

“No popping of champagne and things. Obviously we can’t, but we wouldn’t anyway, because it’s not the time to celebrate,” he says.

Ray Hadley, performing well in both Sydney and Brisbane

Fordham’s share reached 18.8% this time around, a far cry from his 13.5% in June and 13.3% in July, and with Ray Hadley following Fordham on mornings cracking 20% and slowly inching his way towards 150 consecutive book wins.

Ongoing lockdowns have proved timely for the station after Byrnes said the station had to “aim higher” just two surveys back. Survey five and six of the year have both been profitable for talkback, with habits changing and consumers in both Melbourne and Sydney favouring news while in lockdown.

In Melbourne, breakfast pairing Russel Howcroft and Ross Stevenson delivered a 23.8% share, recreating some of the station’s big results in 2020, where the city again found itself locked down. 3AW also posted a 18.2% share.

Byrnes says that 3AW has been the place to go for news for Melbournians for a long time, and in a big few months for news in Melbourne, with protests, ongoing COVID lockdowns dominating the news, an interstates AFL Grand Final for the second successive year and a surprise earthquake, this month was no different.

A best result of the year for Howcroft and Stevenson

“That’s where the term powerhouse comes from. For me, what they achieve on 3AW is quite remarkable, given the impact it has on that city.”

To illustrate this point, Byrnes says that in the hour following the earthquake on 22 September, the 3AW switchboard received 30,000 calls.

Despite Howcroft and Stevenson posting year-best results, Byrnes affirms that “it’s still only a new partnership”, that the two are still getting to know each other “in so many ways” and that the prospect of what to come is “very exciting”.

“They obviously are Melbourne.”

On whether the good results will stick around for 3AW beyond lockdown, which has proved to be more the case in the Victorian capital, than in Sydney, Byrnes says it is “the indication at this stage”.

Earlier this year, the pair was still delivering above a 20% share in April, despite no lockdowns in the second reporting period of the year.

“Lockdowns have had a big impact in Melbourne, and people turn to 3AW.”

Carat group investment director – Melbourne, Steph O’Donnell, says that we should expect AM to continue holding increased share across main demos.

“End of lockdowns won’t necessarily mean an end to the frequent COVID news updates, and the politics between each state that has been a consistent narrative. Let’s also not forget there is a Federal Election just around the corner,” she says.

“Given the lockdowns, and change of behaviours in these markets, I expected some obvious trends within the DAB+ results. Whilst this is the case for younger demos and GBs, the overall market is not seeing the same growth at speed. This perhaps highlights that whilst audiences are looking to radio for continual news updates, other audio content is much more fragmented with multiple devices in the home.”

Spark Foundry Australia’s activation director, Cleo Lam told Mumbrella that over the coming months, it will be interesting to see Nine’s retention strategy in order to keep audiences on their network, “as life gradually returns to normal”.

“Retaining the younger-skewed audience would be especially important for Nine Radio.”

The question will be whether the end of lockdowns will see people turn away from news and talkback, with FM stations winning back some of the lost audience.

Ben Fordham “continues to deliver consistency”

In Sydney, the story has been no different, however if results this year are anything to go by, it remains more of an uncertainty whether results will further go 2GB’s way as lockdowns begin to ease today.

The 16.4% overall share for 2GB is the station’s best since the ratings system change in 2004, says Byrnes, with this book also being Fordham’s best result to date as breakfast host too. Lam says that Fordham is continuing to deliver consistency for 2GB with this result.

Byrnes avoids going into too much detail on Fordham, who’s performance has been under a microscope since his long-tenured predecessor, Alan Jones stood down well over a year ago now.

“We would expect that in lockdown the audience would come to us, but then we have to make sure what we serve up is appropriate, and the figures show that that is the case.

“2GB definitely does have that stronghold, and I think that just goes to show how important talk radio is in times of uncertainty,” says UM Sydney trading director Lorena Chiarella.

Nik Doble, OMD’s head of trading said “the swing to AM in lockdown markets is not surprising, but would treat as circumstantial rather than an emerging trend, and expect a gradual swing back to FM in surveys ahead”.

In the FM space, KIIS FM’s Kyle Sandilands last week said that new state premier Dominic Perrottet would be banned from his and Jackie O’s show moving forward, citing his religious beliefs. When asked if there would be a similar ban on Nine’s 2GB, Byrnes laughs and offers a firm “no”.

In a similar story to the Melbourne breakfast pairing, when asked what can be done to get drive host Jim Wilson performing at similar numbers and competing for the number one spot, Byrnes says that time is the key.

“Jim’s been in for 12 months, and delivered his best share and best cume. Talk radio is hard to do, and also you’ve got to be accepted by the audience. So it takes time.”

4BC in Brisbane delivered its best result of the year, with a 7.6% share overall, and Ray Hadley’s show, which also airs in Brisbane being the number two show overall in the morning slot.

With a positive result for the station last week, it also saw a new afternoon show go to air, hosted by Sofie Formica, as well as closing out the week with a frequency switch to 882AM, designed to “give the audience a clearer and better listening experience”.

4BC flicked the switch and the frequency on Friday

“There’s a lot going on in Brisbane. It’s a very exciting times, and while we’re trending upwards, that’s great.”

Byrnes foreshadowed a good survey ahead when speaking to Mumbrella following last book, saying that events like the AFL Grand Final would create talking points, some momentum and a bit of excitement for 6PR.

This wasn’t the case however, with the station dropping back 0.5%, and Byrnes saying that “the news cycle has not helped Perth”.

Given what’s happening on the east coast really dominates the national agenda, and the COVID factor in Perth is very different from Sydney and Melbourne, it sucks up a lot of the air in relation to the national agenda and that makes it hard for a city like Perth and a radio station like 6PR where the news agenda is what drives content.”

With expectations for both Melbourne and Sydney residents to be beginning to make their way back into the office for survey seven, all eyes will be looking at whether talkback sticks, and then maybe Byrnes, and Nine Radio can begin to feel more confident about bringing out the champagne.


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