Radio Battlegrounds

After a challenging 2012, the lines have been drawn and the troops are in position for the 2013 radio year. Colin Delaney looks across the country at the old and new faces and the biggest fights on the cards in the battle for the ratings win.

2012 was a tumultuous year for Australia’s radio industry. Marred by several well-publicised incidents, the reputations and standing of talent, management and key brands in the space took a beating, as did the image of the medium as a whole.

But the stage is now set for the battle of 2013 after the ratings season begins on January 20 and those in the industry Encore spoke to are hopeful the coming 12 months will see a turnaround with a number of new additions to the talent lineup and the return of many industry veterans. UM CEO Mat Baxter believes one show in particular will be a major game changer for commercial FM – a one-hour program by a couple of relatively safe, audience-friendly sets of hands, Hamish & Andy.

In addition to their weekly national drive show on the Today Network, which moves from Friday to Monday, the duo will also host Hamish and Andy’s Business Brunch from 10 to 11am Tuesday to Friday. Also a nationally syndicated show, it will, according to Baxter, change the dynamic of the FM weekday around the country, including in Sydney.

“Last year The Kyle & Jackie O Show would regularly slip over 9am, perhaps by 20 to 30, even 40 minutes and hold their audience. The Today Network is trying to drag an audience longer into the working day, a time that is typically low rating,” he says. Given Hamish and Andy’s track record with pulling an audience, there’s every chance the largely forgotten time slot could become something of a cash cow for the Today Network.

Adelaide Mix 102.3 breakfast team


Today’s Sydney winner, the Kyle & Jackie O show, looks poised to continue its domination of the breakfast time slot. Last year illustrated that it takes more than controversy for the duo to lose their audience and in September the show scored its highest audience share to date in Sydney surging ahead from 10.6 per cent to 12.7 per cent. The figure had stabilised by the end of the year – they finished 2012 on 10.3 per cent – and in 2013 they face their toughest competition in the harbour city. WSFM’s breakfast team of Amanda Keller and Brendan Jones, who won the Australian Commercial Radio Award for best on-air team in 2012 and hit a ratings high of 9.7 per cent in mid last year, have longevity on their side. Also in the race are Nova’s Fitzy and Wippa with their star still on the rise, although they have some catching up to do with just over 6 per cent audience share.


It’s a different story in the hugely competitive FM Brisbane market where in the last 12 months Australian Radio Network’s 97.3fm and dmg’s Nova 106.9 have been neck and neck. As 2012 came to a close, 97.3fm led the the charge with a 13.5 per cent share of the total audience across the day as Nova 106.9 dropped from 14.3 per cent to 13.1per cent.

Nova’s Brisbane breakfast team


With the two stations jostling for top spot, both Southern Cross Austereo offerings B105 and Triple M have been left in third and fourth position. According to Craig Bruce, head of content at SCA: “B105 needs to re-engage with Brisbane – simple as that. Our commitment, starting with the breakfast show, is to be more relevant with local radio in 2013.”

Media analyst Steve Allen from Fusion Strategy agrees. He says: “If B105 could fix mornings it’d be right up the clacker [of 97.3fm and Nova]. Brisbane’s FM radio business is competitive. They run close races. I wouldn’t write off anyone of those four. If Triple M could get these results in Sydney and Melbourne they’d be cock-a-hoop. Brisbane is areal race.”

“The other opportunity is for us to grow Triple M’s 25 to 39 male profile,” says Bruce. “Nova wins this demo while playing Ke$ha next to Nicki Minaj. We think there might be some males who would prefer something more real on Triple M.” Triple M held an 11.8 per cent share in the 25 to 39 demographic at the end of last year while Nova captured 22.6 per cent of the pie leaving much room for growth.

In Perth, Southern Cross Austereo’s Mix 94.5 begins the new year on a high after closing out 2012 with a 14.2 per cent share of the audience across the week with the other commercial FM stations a few percentage points off the pace.

SCA head of content Bruce attributes the success in Perth to being locally focused. He says: “Being local is radio’s number one weapon in today’s media landscape. Linda Wayman, the GM of Southern Cross Austereo in Perth, has been a huge advocate for this. In a parochial market like Perth you can’t afford not to be focused on how you can engage with local stories and people.”

There have been no on-air changes at Mix for the new year but challenger brand 96fm has taken Wayne ‘Macca’ McClean off afternoons. While his show finished 2012 with a respectable 14.2 per cent share of the Perth audience, he trailed behind Mix’s 17.1 per cent in the same time slot. He has been replaced by Brad ‘Potts’ Pottinger who cut his teeth on radio in far north Queensland.

Kyle and Jackie O


Brad McNally, 96fm’s program director, says their biggest point of difference is a recent relaunch that aims to cement the brand in the minds of Perth listeners restoring it to its 1980s heyday.

Another tight challenge is Melbourne’s breakfast, where Fox FM’s Matt & Jo hold the top FM spot but face fierce competition from Nova’s Hughesy & Kate, who are entering their 12th year in the time slot. Eddie McGuire and Mick Molloy on Triple M will continue to deliver the well-established Hot Breakfast with relative newcomers Chrissie Swan and Jane Hall having been paired for Mix 101.1 only since last year.

“There are certainly some great breakfast shows in Melbourne right now,” says SCA’s Bruce. “Fox has got them coming from all angles.”


The biggest programming upheaval over summer took place in Sydney. Not only were there major changes at 2UE (see the talk radio section), but ARN’s Mix has shaken things up with its two most important shows, breakfast and drive.

Claire Hooper and Tim ‘Rosso’ Ross’s 2012 breakfast offering underperformed for Mix with the pair finishing the year on 3.5 per cent, down from 4.3 per cent for the station in the same time slot the previous year. Yumi Stynes and Sami Lukis have stepped in to replace Hooper and Ross and will deliver Sydney’s first all-female breakfast show. Paul Jackson, rival network dmg Radio’s group programming director, says: “It doesn’t really matter that it’s an all-girl team. From a listener’s perspective, it’s about ‘do they have great chemistry?’”

ARN’s Campbell certainly thinks they do. “We’re excited about the show,” he says. “They’re sounding very strong.” Campbell will be watching closely when the results of the first ratings period come in on March 5. He hopes the pair will have an impact on the audience share of Nova’s Fitzy & Wippa show.

Fox FM’s breakfast team

As a result of the shuffle at Mix, Claire Hooper, Rosso’s former on-air partner, and Ant Simpson, Lukis’ drive partner, will not return to the station. Now flying solo, Rosso has moved to the national drive slot. Campbell says of Rosso: “He’s pumped and has a point to prove. It will be music intense. We’ll get away about nine or 10 songs in the hour.”

The time slot move for Rosso pits him against his old partner Merrick Watts on Triple M, although Watts shrugs off any rivalry, telling Encore: “Generally, Triple M seems to be a stronger radio station than Mix. But they’re not competing radio stations so I don’t think they’re going to be taking any listeners from each other.”

Meanwhile, dmg Radio will be hoping that its new mini-network smoothfm, which broadcasts in Sydney and Melbourne, will continue to make progress.

Turning to South Australia, there have been significant moves in Adelaide’s breakfast lineup across rivals dmg’s Nova91.9 and Today Network’s SAFM with Dylan Lewis, named best music personality at the 2012 Australian Commercial Radio Awards, joining Shane Lowe in Nova’s breakfast slot. Dmg programming boss Jackson says: “Dylan is a ball of energy and we knew we wanted Shane to stay. When they got together we just thought ‘this is brilliant’.”

Lewis’s position was made available by the departure of Dan Debuf and Maz Compton. The Nova pair will defect in March to the Today Network in what Bruce is calling a national ‘late drive’ slot from 6 to 8pm.

Perth’s 94.5 breakfast team


Meanwhile, SAFM’s breakfast lineup has been completely reshuffled. An experiment installed in September saw the station run a news show from 6 to 7am with Rebecca Morse and Ryan ‘Burgo’ Burgess before the Hayley & Angus Show from 7 to 10am, hosted by Hayley Pearson and Angus O’Loughlin.

The experiment failed to gain traction and the audience percentage share fell from a healthy 10.3 per cent peak in July to just 6.9 per cent by the end of the year.

Jackson, from rival dmg, sympathizes with the troubled slot: “It’s easy to criticize but until you are in this job you don’t realize how difficult it is.”

In 2013 SAFM is playing safe with a more traditional 6 to 9am show, the Michael, Hayley & Burgo Show, which sees Hayley Pearson and Ryan Burgess team with 2012 Big Brother favourite Michael Beveridge, who follows in the footsteps of other BB alumni on the dial including Nova’s Ryan Fitzgerald, Triple M’s Rachel Corbett and Chrissie Swan.

Bruce is confident the setup will help the station bounce back from being fifth in the city’s FM race. He says: “I think SAFM is going to have a breakout year. Michael Beveridge has joined our new breakfast lineup and I can’t remember hearing someone take to breakfast radio so naturally. He is a star of the future.”

Nevertheless, it’s got a long way to go until it catches market leader, ARN’s Mix102.3 which currently commands a 15.5 per cent share.

Staying with Adelaide talent, SAFM’s Angus O’Loughlin has been selected to helm a new national music program across the Today Network from 8 to 10pm called The Bump – an interactive request show programmed by listeners via social media. It replaces The Hot 30, cancelled after the well-publicised Royal phone prank. The show will go head to head with Nova’s national evening show Smallzy’s Surgery.

From a commercial perspective, a point here and a point there can help a network to lure advertisers away from rival networks, but key to giving radio the edge this year is an image overhaul. The medium, UM’s Baxter says, “needs to keep its hands clean to show it has its internal processes in order”.

And while there are some promising new shows and faces on the 2013 schedule, reshuffling the deck won’t make the house of cards any stronger if there’s still a joker inside to sabotage it.

Talking Talkback

Sydney’s premiere talk station 2GB, which holds a healthy lead over rival 2UE, will likely be unaffected by the changes its challenger has put in place over summer. In the breakfast slot, Ian ‘Dicko’ Dickson, best known for his stint as a judge on the reality TV series Australian Idol, and the relatively unknown Sarah Morice have taken over from Jason Morrison. Morrison finished 2012 with a 4.5 per cent share of the breakfast audience, well behind 2GB’s Alan Jones who continues to dominate the time slot pulling 18.2 per cent of listeners at years end. Also ahead of Morrison was ABC702 on a healthy 10.4 per cent. Of the new breakfast hosts, UM’s Mat Baxter says: “It’s an interesting move by 2UE but I’m not sold on it. Dicko was strong on Idol, but every attempt to change his image in other media has not worked.” Baxter sees it as an attempt to pull in a younger audience demographic.

“The move to this combination, you could argue, might appeal to a slightly younger demo,” says Baxter although radio insiders feel it’s unlikely given most younger listeners are likely to be surfing the entirely different FM dial.

Still at 2UE, Paul Murray and John Stanley began broadcast their shows from the newsroom of The Sydney Morning Herald on January 14. Set in a new interactive studio, Murray has made the switch from hosting drive time to take on the 8.30 to 11.30am shift. Again, industry commentators see it as a play for a younger audience.

“2UE has to grow the new generation and they and their shareholders have to be patient,” says Fusion Strategy’s Steve Allen. “Hadley will go for another 10 years, but Jones won’t and that gives the first opportunity to 2UE to have a crack at it.”

Heading south to Adelaide, the biggest recent change has been Jane Reilly’s appointment to co-host the highest rating breakfast show in town with Keith Conlon. The program enjoyed a 15 per cent share at the end of the year just ahead of ABC891’s Matthew Abraham and David Bevan on 14.2 per cent. Reilly replaces John Kenneally who has moved to a Saturday night music shift with a new show called Talk Music which delivers classical, pop and jazz from 8pm to 12am.

Meanwhile in Brisbane, 4BC which finished the year on 5.4 per cent and is a far stretch from catching ABC612 which finished the year on 11.3 per cent.

Melbourne’s 3AW is the best positioned of the Fairfax owned radio stations. It continues to lead the talk charge with few rivals to challenge it. The biggest change for the station is the departure of Derryn Hinch from the drive time slot. He left in November and was replaced by Tom Elliott. The station’s general manager, Shane Healy, says: “Though Tom might not match Derryn’s numbers in the first few years, we think we can grow them. Tom is a little more responsive to the audience. Derryn was opinionated in a tight format and didn’t move outside.”

And finally in Perth, Jane Marwick replaces Tony McManus hosting 6PR afternoons. McManus moves on after 13 years at the station but spent most of 2012 at the bottom of the ratings tally. He will move to Cairns to present the breakfast show on 4CA.
This feature first appeared in the tablet edition of Encore. To download click on the links below.




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