Radio bosses explain why a few bad surveys aren’t enough to pull a show

The fifth radio ratings survey for the year marks a positive turn of events for some. For others, it could’ve been better. But as Mumbrella’s Zoe Samios explains, consistency is key.

Radio ratings day can be unforgiving to talent, producers and programmers. Eight times a year the metro and national programs are put under the microscope by advertisers, rivals and the trade press.

And when the numbers begin to slide in the wrong direction, the gut instinct for any radio programming boss would be to make changes. But is it better to wait and watch, or abruptly pull the plug?

Em, Grant and Ed have been on air since January this year

ARN’s national content director Duncan Campbell and Hit Network’s Gemma Fordham are both familiar with this question. Fordham’s Sydney station, 2Day FM, and Campbell’s Melbourne stations Kiis FM and Gold FM have all been in headlines this year, for better or worse.

But upon interviewing the bosses after yesterday’s survey went live, the story was one of confusion, frustration and ‘glass half full’ one-liners. At least, more than with previous surveys.

There was one phone call, however, which was more optimistic than others: Nova’s group programme director, Paul Jackson.

While the other networks are still adapting to major changes and talent challenges, Jackson has been quietly and repetitively emphasising the same message this year: consistency.

A lot of Jackson’s breakfast shows have been on air between eight and 10 years. Nova Melbourne’s Chrissie Swan, Sam Pang and Jonathon Brown are the newest show, and have been on air for three years.

This survey he is celebrating a one million cumulative audience for Nova Sydney, a 40th consecutive survey win for Smallzy’s Surgery, and the best share for Sydney breakfast’s Ryan ‘Fitzy’ Fitzgerald & Michael ‘Wippa’ Wipfli in the show’s history. He’s also celebrating the highest Sydney share for drive show hosts Kate Ritchie, Tim Blackwell and Marty Sheargold.

Nova’s Fitzy and Wippa had their best survey to date

Nova FM’s total audience share was 7.9% – up 0.8 points from last survey. It meant Nova 96.9 FM had a higher overall share than Kiis FM (7.0%), Triple M (5.4%) and 2day FM (4.2%). Nova Entertainment’s other station, Smooth FM, climbed 1.2 points to a 9.6% share, only to be beaten by ARN’s WSFM, which led the FM dial with an 11.3% share. Sydney’s leading station remains 2GB, which finished with a 14.1% share.

In breakfast, Nova’s Fitzgerald and Wipfli climbed 1.1 points to an 8% share from last survey, the GfK figures show. It was a sizeable jump for the show, despite still falling behind Kiis FM’s Kyle Sandilands & Jackie ‘O’ Henderson (9.3%), WSFM’s Brendan ‘Jonesy’ Jones and Amanda Keller (10.3%), and 2GB’s Alan Jones (16.9%).

It was Fitzy & Wippa’s best number ever, we won all the demos, we beat Kiis – for Nova Sydney it’s one of the best surveys we have ever had,” Jackson says.

He attributes his success to the shows which he believes “have great chemistry”.

“You’ve got to have a vision for the dynamics of the show, what it needs to sound like and you’ve got to work with them and coach them every day. If don’t have chemistry, you can do all the coaching under the sun and it won’t work,” Jackson says.

“We built Lewis and Lowe and Chrissie, Sam and Browny from scratch. In that period, 2DayFM had probably been through four or five shows. They could’ve picked that show, anybody could have done.

“We don’t let shows on air until they’ve spent a lot of time together and done lots of demos together and we’ve heard it and we are comfortable with it.

“I just don’t think you can take big names stick them together just because people have heard of them and think it’s going to be good.”

It was also a solid result for Jackson’s other station, Smooth FM, which placed second on the FM dial in Sydney – with a share of 9.6% – and topped the Melbourne FM stations, leading with a 10.4% share.

But as ever, one station’s growth can be another’s fall. And although Kiis FM’s Kyle & Jackie O breit’akfast show could never be dubbed unsuccessful, this particular survey was not its best.

The duo lost the FM breakfast crown after falling 1.7 points from an 11% share to 9.3%. ARN’s national content director Duncan Campbell – whose company ARN owns both WSFM and Kiis FM – is cognisant that the station did not perform.

Kyle & Jackie O’s fall from the throne a ‘one off’

However he describes it as a “one off”, adding the pair are “exceptional broadcasters”. And sticking with the theme of consistency, he says he wouldn’t make any drastic changes for the sake of it.

“I haven’t done a deep dive into the numbers but what’s interesting is that we still have some strong cume even though it’s down a little bit – and Kyle and Jackie O still remain the most listened to show in terms of cume in Sydney,” he says.

“But we take these results seriously, so we will be looking at what the issues are from a station perspective and potentially any sort of fine tuning with breakfast but we are certainly not panicking.”

Campbell attributes the “one-off” incident to the incredible growth of his other station, WSFM, and the marketing efforts of Smooth and Nova. He says WSFM’s Jones and Keller have pipped Sandilands and Henderson at the post.

“The WS book is an exceptional result all round. So very happy for WS – the duopoly remains relatively strong, not as strong as perhaps we would like to be but it’s still strong and Sydney remains a key dominant market.”

Campbell adds yesterday’s result would be a very different story if the fall in Kiis FM was attributed to growth in a station like 2Day FM. But that does not appear to be the case. In the latest survey, Hit Network’s 2Day FM fell back a full ratings point to a 3.8% – a lower share than the eighth survey of last year – when co-host Em Rusciano was still working with Harley Breen. Now, Rusciano works with Ed Kavalee and Grant Denyer.

Hit Network’s Fordham tells Mumbrella: “You do see these drop offs today and part of me thinks ‘we haven’t changed anything’ so it seems odd to have such a such a dip.

“We know that the music strategy is right and the new format is right which we obviously started at the beginning of the year and we’ve seen so much momentum behind it.

“Of course there’s no doubt that it’s not where we want to be performing. We want to be in the high numbers but we’re also right making sure that we’re looking at the overall trends and seeing where we need to make some improvements, because we look at something like the 18 to 24 demo and there’s WSFM has had an increase of 11% which is just crazy. That just doesn’t happen.”

But despite ongoing speculation and rumours surrounding her breakfast hosts, Rusciano, Denyer and Kavalee aren’t going anywhere, nor are drive show hosts, Dave ‘Hughesy’ Hughes and Kate Langbroek. 

Fordham will continue to tweak the station until it is consistently performing

“Unfortunately for them – they’d probably love a sleep in,” she laughs.

“You are always tweaking any station – we really are, we do it with every single station. We’ll continue to tweak with 2Day – I mean we have to. Until it is performing consistently above where it is now, it will continue to get tweaked.”

ARN’s Campbell is more cynical. He still believes the show will be gone by the end of the year.

“There’s no recovery in sight at the moment. They’ll have to do something and the music tactic which they deployed – even running commercial free mornings – just doesn’t seem to be working for those guys. It’s down to a 3.7% in mornings. The station itself has some significant systemic issues,” he says.

Down in Melbourne, it’s a very different story for Fordham. Fox FM dipped overall by 0.4 ratings points by still holds a 10% share, just behind Smooth FM’s 10.4%.

In breakfast, Fox FM’s Fifi Box, Brendan Fevola and Byron Cooke were triumphant in the FM battle with a 0.4 point jump from 9.9% to 10.3% and a cumulative audience of 634,000. Although the drive show format – with Carrie Bickmore and Tommy Little followed by Hughes and Langbroek – fell 1.2 ratings points, it still finished with a 12% share of market, making it the lead FM drive show.

“First of all I’m just delighted that we are so far ahead,” Fordham says.

“We’re incredibly proud of that. The team worked so hard and also when you’re number one people are always chasing you, so you’ve got to continue to be the best in the game and the guys – Fifi, Fev and Byron – have delivered on that consistently.”

Outside of Fox FM, Gold FM fell 1.3 points in breakfast to a 7.4% share. The show sits behind Smooth FM and Nova FM – which are both on 7.7% breakfast shares – but ahead of Triple M’s Hot Breakfast with Eddie McGuire, Luke Darcy and Wil Anderson and Kiis FM’s Hawkins and Harding. The two shows had audience shares of 7% and 5.9% respectively.

Looking at the cumulative figures, Gold FM fell off by 67,000 to an audience of 395,000, while Kiis FM’s cumulative audience grew by 28,000 to 433,000.

Campbell says Kiis FM has turned a “critical corner”, suggesting the station might finally be through the churn.

Jase & PJ have turned a critical corner

“I can say that with a level of confidence because we were coming off of a down book and we’ve actually corrected a full percentage point,” he adds.

However he doesn’t believe his other station, Gold FM, and its breakfast show with Christian O’Connell, is through the churn.

“What we’re seeing now is the churn which was hidden by a very strong result last book. He was only on it for four out of the 10 weeks last survey. So this is a full survey. The churn was masked by the strong results some degree.”

Over at Triple M, head of content Mike Fitzpatrick was a bit disappointed with the results. His breakfast shows in both Sydney and Melbourne didn’t deliver the audience share expected, despite the survey – which ran from May 27 to June 30 and July 15 to August 18 – being in the middle of the AFL and NRL seasons.

Any day you go down is not a great day,” he says.

“And when you look at the male figures, we’ve done better in the past. There’s some green shoots – Kennedy Molloy had their first off book in Sydney this time around but they grew in total men. The Chaser had a great survey in Sydney growing total men and mystifyingly Kennedy Molloy haven’t had a great book in Melbourne, given it’s their home market, I would have expected a little bit more growth there, but I’ve got to remember they’re up against a formidable opponents across the road at Nova with Kate, Tim & Marty who are a heritage show.

He also looks to the two music stations – WS and Smooth – which he believes accommodates the commuter who wants to forget the day on the way home.

Despite his disappointment, he laughs when asked about knee-jerk reactions, which he describes as “so ’90s.”

Ratings aren’t always a true indication of how good a show sounds. Ratings are an indication of how many people can remember they listened to your station.”

Regardless, Fitzpatrick says it will take time to recover the fall, given Triple M has a much smaller cumulative audience.

Something he’s incredibly proud of, however, is Triple M Brisbane. The station’s breakfast show, with Greg Martin, Robin Bailey and Lawrence Mooney climbed 1.6 points from 11.1% to 12.7%. In drive, Jane Kennedy and Mick Molloy boosted their audience share by 1.2 points to a 12.3% share.

Triple M’s Brisbane share climbed to 11.6% as a result, beating Nova FM’s 11.4% share. The last time Triple M beat Nova in Brisbane was survey six of 2010.

Brisbane is a highlight for Triple M

Brisbane without a doubt is a highlight. It’s the first time we’ve beaten Nova in years. It’s been a long time coming.

“We’ve finally got the right breakfast show up there to lead the charge. With Laurence, Robin and Marto, it’s a great show and a really good chemistry and that’s obviously coming through now.”

But he’s careful not to poke ARN’s Campbell, who previously made comments about the show after it took axed 97.3FM breakfast host Bailey on board.

“Everyone says things in the heat of battle. It’s good to remember those that go up are going to have to come down and I’ve put myself in that place as well so I’m perhaps a little bit more considered when I’m talking about ratings. Our older leader Peter Harvey used to say ‘don’t delight in other people’s downfalls’.”

Hit Network’s other station, Hit 105, ended up leading the ratings up in Brisbane, with an 11.8% share.

Fordham says the team deserves it and is confident it can be sustained: “Two months ago you’d look at the dominance of Nova which they have had in that market for many years and you just slowly chip away and find that tipping point and the fact that the team have done it and it’s not just been an anomaly, now that they’ve done a second time it just goes to show strength in the brand there.

In Adelaide it’s a different story. Just last week Fordham announced breakfast show hosts Amos Gill, Cat Lynch and Angus O’Loughlin would finish in September and later this week the new team will be revealed.

“It’s a show that will fit the format of the station and the other shows being obviously Carrie and Tommy and Hughesy & Kate. It will have a stronger synergy with the station and Angus, Cat and Amos have done a great job and they’ve been really loyal and passionate,” she says enthusiastically.

Fordham is excited by the replacements for Amos, Cat and Angus

“They were very transparent in their discussions with me as well. The reality is it didn’t quite fit the station anymore because we’d shifted the station older and obviously we had a breakfast show with three young people on it and that made it quite difficult,” she admits.

But Fordham isn’t the only programmer changing breakfast shows mid year. At Macquarie Media, it appears as though the launch of new station Macquarie Sports Radio might have been rushed.

In Sydney, Macquarie Sports Radio switched breakfast hosts from Beau Ryan and John Stanley to Mark Levy and Mark Riddell, while in Melbourne the show’s anchor became Matt Thompson. He does the show with Jimmy Bartel and Tony Shaw, after the exit of Tony Leonard.

Sydney breakfast’s share dipped 0.1 points to a 0.6% share while in Melbourne the breakfast show had a share of 0.1%. Brisbane, which listens to the same breakfast show as Sydney, fell by 0.1 points to a 0.9% share.

Like last time, national executive producer Michael Thompson says the results are to “be expected”.

The new Macquarie Sports Radio Sydney breakfast show have the ‘right tone’

“Sydney and Brisbane, the breakfast program changed two weeks into survey five. So that’s now hosted by Mark Levy and Mark Riddell and they were only there for the second half of survey five so we’re not expecting to see results from them just yet in terms of figures but if you’re listening the program, you’re already hearing the results.

“The engagement levels in Sydney and in Brisbane – it’s quite incredible, and it’s just one of those programs that just feels right. It sounds right. It’s got the right tone.

For Melbourne Macquarie Sports Radio, we changed the breakfast program there two weeks ago in the final two weeks of survey five to be anchored by Matt Thompson. So again not expecting to see anything for some time but the same thing you can hear it in the program – the pace is there, the energy is there, and Matt Thompson is so incredibly well connected in terms of in terms of the AFL and sport in Melbourne that we’re already seeing stories being broken,” he explains.

The changes to Macquarie Media come four months after launch, which naturally begs the question: why not start with the breakfast hosts that exist now?

“If we could have started with them we probably would have, but the fact is that we launched very quickly to make the most of the Commonwealth Games because it was a perfect launch for the for the station,” Thompson says.

“So we had to get going quite quickly. After a few months we can we can hear what’s working and we can hear what’s isn’t working and so we make the changes that we see necessary and yet in an ideal world we probably would have started with those those programs.”

Fortunately for Macquarie Media, the results from 2GB in Sydney and 3AW in Melbourne are enough to make up for the loss in audience on the sister station.

Hadley had his highest breakfast show since 2011

2GB led Sydney radio overall, with a 14.1% share while 3AW did the same in Melbourne – on a 13.2% share of listening.

Thompson and Lang are both confident the efforts of 2GB’s Alan Jones and Ray Hadley more specifically, will continue to boost the station.

“Ray has grown from an 18% share to a 19% share which is just phenomenal. That’s his best result since 2011 and he is very very pleased.

“It reflects the tone of the show lately. Ray has never sounded better than he does at the moment and even though last week was out of survey five, it was part of survey six it’s a really good example of Alan and Ray at their best really commenting and commentating on the events of the last week in terms of politics.”

Last week in the heat of the coverage, Jones was through into the limelight for using the ‘n’ word live on air. Lang and Thompson both refute the idea he’s a liability.

“Alan apologised for what he said last week. He acknowledged that it’s an old fashioned offensive term and he shouldn’t have said it,” Thompson says.

“It has definitely overshadowed the fact that he did an awful lot of fantastic work last week covering the leadership spill in Canberra.”

Lang adds: “He’s not a liability. In this case, the line on Thursday morning – it’s a very old line and it’s offensive. He understands its offensive. The intent behind it was not bad intent, it just came out. The moment I spoke to him about it he was very clear that he regretted it and apologised for it.”


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