Nova’s Paul Jackson talks Ben and Liam, Smooth FM and what to expect from the next two radio surveys

Yesterday saw the first radio ratings release since the service was paused in April. Mumbrella’s Hannah Blackiston spoke with Nova Entertainment chief programming and marketing officer Paul Jackson about how listening has changed during the pandemic and the success of new boys Ben and Liam.

“Of course Melbourne stood as sort of a standalone, we anticipated a drop in commercial radio, it’s very understandable for the moment in time we’ve been living through in Victoria,” says Nova’s Paul Jackson. “To see those 11, 12, share point swings to 3AW and ABC, it makes absolute sense. Everybody’s in the same leaky boat in that sense.”

I’m speaking to Nova’s programming and marketing boss shortly after the release of survey six – the first survey since the ratings system was paused in April. While some were waiting for wild swings and unpredictable changes, the results could have been confused with any other survey outside of a pandemic, minus the standalone Melbourne.

Jackson is very happy with how Nova performed in survey six, and says the best is still to come in tougher markets like Melbourne

“I’m sure as Melbourne comes out of lockdown, into October and November, the numbers will revert slowly back to normal. Probably in survey eight, when we get to December, we’ll be seeing Melbourne in a more normal light,” predicts Jackson.

“Within that, there’s nothing materially that would be a product issue or anything like that, over and above what’s happening in Melbourne, to concern us. The roads are a bit quieter in Sydney, people are still working from home, so there’s a slight impact there – it’s normal to see a plateau like that in our business.

“But I felt like for Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth, you’re going to get a true and honest read in each of these marketplaces because everyone’s in their normal habits. And those markets played out exceptionally well for us. In Perth and Brisbane, from a Nova point of view, we’re fairly dominant on the cumes and shares, and in Adelaide it was a fantastic day for us because our new boys, Ben and Liam, are the number one breakfast show after only eight months.”

Last year, Triple J breakfast duo Ben Harvey and Liam Stapleton announced they were making the move to Adelaide, taking up the breakfast slot on Nova 919. It was a return to their hometowns, but that didn’t mean guaranteed success. It still felt like a big risk, both for Harvey and Stapleton and for Nova. Triple J-style youth-focused content wasn’t necessarily guaranteed to copy across to breakfast on a commercial station.

“At first glance, they’ve come from Triple J, they’re young guys, you don’t know if it’s going to be a bit alternative, or a bit juvenile, but they’re not. They’re real deep thinkers, it’s smart, intelligent humour.

“And they’re very local focused, we can see in their numbers, they’re not just the number one radio show in cume and share, but right across all the demographics from young to old. We have a wonderful show for the Adelaide market in the longterm.”

Jackson says Nova was prepared to give the duo a solid year, or 18 months, to make their splash, but the station has been very impressed with the performance. It may, says Jackson, have something to do with the current environment people are listening in, their willingness to ‘give something new a go’, and the search for escapism.

“For the size of the Adelaide market, with three main stations in Mix, SA FM and Nova, plus SA FM making the changes back to that name, there’s been a lot of radio talk, so then to meet the new boys in market, who are Adelaide boys, they’re really playing on the localism.

“To look at them as number one breakfast show, it’s a testament to them.”

Nova 106.9 was named number one station in share and cume in Brisbane and Ash, Kip, Luttsy and Susie O’Neill took the title of number one breakfast show in the market. Jackson says that market has been a long road for the media company, but Nova is happy with where it’s ended up.

“Brisbane was a huge win for us, the last year or so have been very tough, you’re always either one point behind or you’re very happy, but everyone is sort of neck and neck,” he says.

“The team has worked very hard, especially in just working out the small stuff and making it easy for the audience to listen. It’s an evolved product, to take a heritage breakfast show and iron out a few things throughout this year which has really added to our ratings. We took the time to do our own research and talk to the teams and try a few things out and we’ve certainly done well with that and resonating with the audience. It’s a proud day for the whole team in Adelaide, I know they’re all ecstatic and deserve it.”

Smooth FM is another big part of the Nova Entertainment business, and it’s the number one station in Sydney in share and cume. Jackson says Smooth has been a very successful part of the Nova business for a long time and this survey saw it be one of the only FM stations to grow in Sydney and Melbourne.

The secret is in the formula says Jackson. It’s easy, relaxing and feel good. If people aren’t looking for news content in 2020, they’re looking for escapism, and that’s what Smooth can deliver. Plus, Jackson says, Smooth hasn’t been held to the 2020 music cycle which has seen some big stars holding back their new releases because of the pandemic.

“Smooth lives in this territory where it’s easy and relaxing, but it’s also feel good,” he says.

“In our research, the image that Smooth has in the market is its a station that makes you feel good, it’s uplifting, that’s what they associate with Smooth. From where Smooth started seven or eight years ago to where it is now, people see Smooth as highly engaging, upbeat, bright, breezy, just a feel good radio station. But it does take you to that oasis of a place that is easy and relaxing.

“In this period what we tried to do is bring in more music that’s slightly kitsch, a bit fun, and keeping the sense of feel good ticking along nicely during the day. Even as we slow the station down in the evening, when we start Cameron Daddo at nine o’clock, not eight o’clock, we go a bit more relaxing. Smooth is very different from anything else in the marketplace.”

Have more information on the article? Want to share an opinion? Just want to reach out? Email Hannah on hannah@mumbrella.com.au or get in touch via LinkedIn.


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