Rebuilding an unstable station: Has 2Day FM finally settled?

The programming bosses are well into the new radio ratings year and for Hit Network’s Gemma Fordham, rebuilding 2Day FM from the ground up is starting to pay off. Mumbrella's Zoe Samios asks: will it last?

Hit Network’s content boss Gemma Fordham has had a tough couple of years. Despite her network’s strength in other markets, she’s been attempting to rejuvenate a station which never recovered from the loss of former breakfast hosts, Kyle Sandilands and Jackie O Henderson.

Simply put, the duo’s move to Kiis FM in 2014 was detrimental to the 2Day FM brand. There’s been 11 breakfast tweaks since then and this survey with Em Rusciano, Ed Kavalee and Grant Denyer – which finished with a 4.4% share – was its highest in five years.

Em, Grant and Ed’s latest breakfast share was the highest for the network since the departure of Kyle & Jackie O

But the journey to this week’s survey has been bumpy. Following Kyle & Jackie O there was Sophie Monk, Jules Lund, Merrick Watts and initially Mel B, but all failed to halt the decline in ratings.

Dan Debuf and Maz Compton were then brought into the breakfast slot before being dumped at the end of 2015. Rove McManus and Sam Frost joined, but were axed from the breakfast slot at the end of 2016 for Rusciano and Harley Breen. Breen left at the end of last year.

Fordham – who worked as content manager of 2DayFM breakfast from 2010 to 2013 – only returned in to the network in 2016.

This year she had some big plans: a new music format, two new breakfast show hosts, a new extended drive time format and the creation of commercial-free periods throughout the workday.

Fordham’s background is in production. For her, putting shows together is a “labour of love”. So the changes at 2Day FM, while big, are exactly what’s needed.

Fordham says this week’s results are a good start

What is often forgotten, however, is Fordham has been behind some of the major radio shows in Australia, beyond Kyle and Jackie O.

She was the mastermind behind Kiis FM’s Melbourne breakfast show with Jase Hawkins and Polly ‘PJ’ Harding, as well as new drive show hosts Will McMahon and Woody Whitelaw.

So are her latest changes to Sydney paying dividends?

Survey two produced promising results for 2Day FM, with Em, Grant & Ed up one ratings point to a 4.4% share. Earlier this year, the show also saw a slight increase, rising 0.6 points in survey one.

The 2Day FM breakfast team are still behind competitors in the time slot, with Kiis FM’s Kyle Sandilands and Jackie ‘O’ Henderson finished with a 12.3% share.

ARN’s WSFM sat in second place on the FM bandwidth, with Amanda Keller and Brendan ‘Jonesy’ Jones pulling an 8.1% share, beating Smooth FM’s breakfast show with Bogart Torelli and Glenn Daniel, which finished with a 6.6% share for survey two.

Sydney cumulative audience, survey two. Source: GfK (Click to enlarge)

Nova FM’s Michael ‘Wippa’ Wipfli and Ryan Fitzgerald were up 0.4 points to a 6.9% share and Triple M’s Grill Team with Gus Worland, Matty Johns, Chris Page and Emma Freedman also climbed slightly, up 0.5 points to a 6.5% share.

But overall, it was 2GB’s Alan Jones who continued to lead breakfast radio in Sydney, his share falling 1.2 points to 14.3%.

Across the workday, 2Day FM saw strong growth, up 1.2 points between 9am and 12pm, and 1.3 points between 12pm and 4pm. Hughesy & Kate’s drive time share lifted 0.3 points to a 5.5% share.

New Kiis FM hosts Will & Woody won the Sydney slot with an 11% share and also nabbed a win in Adelaide – at 14.1%. However beyond those two cities the drive time slot was well divided.

Hughesy & Kate dominated in Melbourne, with a 14.5% share, while Nova’s Kate Tim and Marty retained the top drive spot in Brisbane. The trio’s share was 14.2%.

And despite Will & Woody’s previous prominence in Perth breakfast, the duo were unable to beat Mix94.5’s Mick Molly and Jane Kennedy, which finished with a drive time share of 15.9%.

Despite this, Fordham describes this week’s Sydney results as a “really good initial indication”.

“The breakfast result – to jump up one full point when you’re coming off such a low base, the increase when you look at it was something like 33 percent is pretty phenomenal,” she says.

“And even our drive number – obviously it’s great for it to go up. Even the workday it’s beating Nova right now.

“We feel like we’ve slowly turned the ship around and now it’s about obviously maintaining that consistency and momentum and to see so many new listeners coming into the station is just really encouraging and exciting for everyone.” she says.

Fordham is also adamant the workday result is not “largely” to do with the commercial-free music runs.

Paul Jackson, Nova’s group programme director, isn’t so sure.

“If you go back a few books they weren’t getting any traction for the music position for a few months. And now when they have no commercials during the day their music is going upward,” he says.

Jackson says listeners are tuning in to 2Day FM’s music format as it doesn’t have ads

“The fact there is no commercials is making people try it. That will create some talkability in workplaces. You are in the early period of people giving it a go because of a lack of commercials as opposed to the music position itself.”

He adds “desperate times equal desperate measures”.

“If commercial radio stations take out commercials across the workday and guess what the audience figures go up that is to be expected – that is a strategy that has played out and we’ll see how that works going forward.”

He goes as far as saying he would never have done what his own station did 10 years ago: no more than two ads in a row.

“This is a business. Whether you are making widgets or radio, we’ve all got to make a profit and we have all got to make money, so it doesn’t really make sense to me as anything other than a short term tactic to gain some talkability,” he says.

But Fordham, who says she’s had a cumulative audience increase of around 70,000 across the workday, disagrees.

“We’ve only had a few of those runs in the last week, so the majority of the survey we haven’t had that. I really firmly believe that it’s the music. Now we’re very unique in the Sydney market and the music is largely the reason why,” she says.

“I get why [Paul] is saying that because his ego is probably feeling a bit bruised because we are beating them in the workday. The reality is Nova had a strategy for several years around minimal commercials which everyone knew they were famous for.

“We’ve been really clever about how we’ve approached it and the last few weeks we have been really smart about having the inventory in breakfast and drive which is obviously critical to a client but we haven’t had we haven’t not had inventory during the workday,” she adds.

Both Fordham and Jackson believe Will & Woody’s Sydney result is “overinflated”

For Fordham, being slightly ahead of “the path” is the only way the station can claw its way back into the highly competitive Sydney market.

What both she and Jackson are both critical of, is the performance of new drive show hosts McMahon and Whitelaw.

Fordham tells Mumbrella her drive show is getting attributed to “another brand in Sydney”.

“But that’s obviously something we always knew was going to be something we had to focus on and we were going to continue to hammer that message over the coming months, so it’s clear where their home is first,” she says.

Jackson also isn’t pleased with the drive show results, which saw Kate Ritchie, Tim Blackwell and Marty Sheargold fall second to Will & Woody. He argues the breakfast performance of Kyle & Jackie O has perhaps “overinflated” the drive numbers.

Perth cumulative audience, survey two. Source: GfK (Click to enlarge)

“We wanted them to win the book in the Sydney market, but obviously Kiis had a very strong start to the day and that probably feeds through to drive time,” he says.

But he does believe Smooth FM – Nova’s other station which rivals ARN’s WSFM – will return to dominate the Sydney market.

“I certainly am and in terms of WS, we are very close – we’re 8.5 and they’re 8.4,” he says.

“We have marketing for the first time in quite a while, whereas they have not stopped marketing since last year.

“We need this period of marketing again in a world where everyone is more visible and has more talkability that Smooth might have. It’s important for Smooth to have a new message and new image.”

For Hit Network, Melbourne is a very different story.

In the second radio ratings survey of the year, Hit Network’s Fox FM was the most listened to FM station, with a 10.8% share.

Its breakfast show with Fifi Box, Brendan Fevola and Byron Cooke held its FM lead on a 10.3%  share, ahead of Smooth FM’s 8.1%, Nova 100’s Chrissie Swan, Sam Pang and Jonathan Brown’s 8% share.

Melbourne cumulative audience, survey two. Source: GfK (Click to enlarge)

Gold104.3 FM – which does not have a breakfast host yet – finished with a 7% share. Triple M’s ‘Hot Breakfast Team’ Eddie McGuire, Wil Anderson and Luke Darcy lost its third place title as it dropped a whole ratings point to finish fifth with a 6.9% share.

Meanwhile, Kiis FM struggled to keep close to the other stations, finishing with a 5% share for its new breakfast duo Jase Hawkins and Polly ‘PJ’ Harding, who joined from New Zealand.

Fordham says Fox FM’s continuing success is based on two factors, one being heritage.

“It’s also because the whole station is performing in Melbourne, so we have a number one breakfast show. We obviously have a number one work day by quite a bit. So it’s just that if you get the audience in the morning and you get them all day and they just stick to you,” she says.

Another heritage Melbourne show is Triple M’s Hot Breakfast with Eddie McGuire, Luke Darcy and, as of recently, Will Anderson.

For Triple M’s head of content, Mike Fitzpatrick, the latest survey left a bit to be desired in Melbourne.

Mike Fitzpatrick was happy with his efforts across the country, but Melbourne was a little disappointing

“While it’s disappointing, it’s just a blip,” Fitzpatrick says.

“We have surveys go up and surveys go down you can’t always go up. That breakfast show – it’s very funny with Will in there and he’s been an excellent addition. It still is only 15 weeks with him there. So it’s still a new show for us that we’re working on. We always expected a bit of a dip. I thought it would come earlier than this, but to my ears it sounds great.”

But he’s not overly concerned, pointing to an almost 50,000 cumulative audience increase in Melbourne.

Behind Triple M in Melbourne breakfast were new hosts Jase Hawkins and Polly ‘PJ’ Harding. The duo had a tough start to the year, falling by 1.2 points to a breakfast share of 5.1%. There were close to no changes in this survey.

Fordham says the result isn’t the fault of the talent or Kiis FM. She points to the challenge of targeting a young “volatile” audience.

“It’s really hard to target that younger demo and get the results, because as soon as you’re targeting young it’s really hard for your sales team to sell, because all the brands want to buy 25 to 54,” she says.

“They don’t listen for as long and it will absolutely affect stations that are targeting that young. So that’s the battle that they’ll fight there and I don’t believe it’s a reflection on any of the shows,” she says.

Adelaide cumulative audience, survey two. Source: GfK (Click to enlarge)

Beyond Melbourne, Fitzpatrick is proud of the latest survey efforts.

He lists “the regrowth of Triple M in Brisbane to be competitive in breakfast – last year we were four points behind number one – now we are 0.9 behind number one. The success of Roo and Ditz in Adelaide with a consistent number two breakfast show, the outright smashing of everyone in Perth by Mix 94.5, and the growth after just two surveys for Kennedy Molloy,” he says.

“They’ve done 10 weeks on the air and they’re already number one for men in Sydney, number one for men in Brisbane, number one for men in Adelaide, number one in Melbourne and Perth. What a great story.”

In Brisbane breakfast, Hit105’s Abby Coleman, Stav Davidson and Matty Action tied with 97.3FM’s Bianca, Terry and Bob on an 11.9% share.

Nova’s Ash Bradnam, Kip Wightman and David ‘Luttsy’ Lutteral achieved the second best breakfast share with 11.6%, and Triple M’s breakfast show featuring Greg Martin, Robin Bailey and Lawrence Mooney was up 1.0 ratings from last survey, with a 11% share.

Jackson has no concerns about the results: “The good news is we own half the station so we are not too upset about that. It’s had some massive spikes in the numbers they’ve achieved and that’s fine.”

Jackson isn’t concerned about 97.3FM’s prominence in Brisbane, given the joint venture between Nova and ARN

But he’s definitely not complacent, despite Nova’s tendency to dominate in the Brisbane market, particularly in drive.

Nova’s Kate, Tim & Marty’s latest share was 14.2%, but was down on last survey’s 15.3%.

“It’s a real game on moment,” he says.

Although Fitzpatrick is more than pleased with his Brisbane results, he decides to point to another national show – Tom & Olly.

“They’ve just been pumping away in their 7pm – 10pm slot with a little show called Tom & Olly Have Questions. They’re essentially new to radio and it’s a development show for us and they are doing great things. They have gone up in just about every market apart from Adelaide where they are an 8% share but we were doing fours and fives in Adelaide at night last year,” he says.

Fitzpatrick is particularly pleased with the efforts of late show Tom & Olly Have Questions

For Fitzpatrick, it’s about future-proofing the business by ensuring there is always new talent flooding in.

Whenever you’ve got a great breakfast show you need to start looking to the next one,” he says.

Fordham agrees, pointing to a lack of development of talent in some other networks.

Fitzpatrick and Fordham’s comments follow the development of a new talent development unit, Hubble.

“They’re not thinking about who else is around. One of the things I’m really proud of our network doing is developing shows, and Carrie and Tommy are a perfect example of that,” she says.

“We’re really great at looking ahead and going ‘how can we make sure that we are finding talent and developing them?’ and making them be superstars for us. I don’t think the other networks are great at doing that.

“It’s the responsibility of the entire radio industry and some of the networks aren’t doing it. I’m pleased they’re not doing it, because I think they’re going to be up shit creek in a few years’ time.”

Adam Lang, CEO of Macquarie Media’s focus is just that – finding talent. His stations 2GB and 3AW reported the usual staggering shares, leaving the FM competition behind.

But he says despite the “relief” he feels every survey, it’s always about focusing on what can be done next.

One of his main focuses is building on the launch of Macquarie Sport Radio, which commenced in the last week of this survey. The new stations replaced Talking Lifestyle, which failed to resonate across various markets.

It’s too early to tell how the network has performed, but Lang isn’t concerned about the criticism he’s received so far.

“If we make a change on any of our stations, we get volumes and volumes of complaints. What we’ve learnt to appreciate that a lot of people’s habits and routines include listening to our stations and programs. When we upset that routine, it’s very very noticeable.

“We got a lot of complaints with Talking Lifestyle when we announced it stopping. We got the same amount of complaints when we announced it was starting.”

He also confirms to Mumbrella former Talking Lifestyle breakfast host Gary Linnell will not be returning to air.

Lang is relieved following the latest survey, but is always looking for what’s next

“Gary has decided he wants to stop. He wants to focus on writing and we’ve given him some time to consider. I would love to have him and he’s very talented, he had a great relationship with John Stanley and I’d like to see where that can end up but at the moment we don’t know.”

Lang’s other goal is building share in Perth and Brisbane. In Brisbane, 4BC’s share stood still on 5.6%.

“Essentially it’s the same very high quality shows we have in Sydney and Brisbane. There’s a couple of factors in the Brisbane execution. One is that we’ve got to balance that content to be truly national and also local enough to involve Brisbane and Sydney. That’s a real balance thing. Knowing we have the right presenters but balancing out the content that we have.

Brisbane cumulative audience, survey two. Source: GfK (Click to enlarge)

“Second is time in market. Alan Jones and Ray [Hadley] have been on 2GB for 16 years and it’s been three years in Brisbane. What we know we need to do is be a lot more present in Brisbane,” he says.

He still believes there’s a lot both music and talk show presenters can learn from one another.

And while Lang has consistency across most programming, so does Nova’s Jackson. Fordham says consistency can be asset, but planning what’s next is more crucial.

“Sometimes consistency can be an asset, so I can understand why PJ probably decided to stick his shows because he’s got faith in them. They’re performing and he felt there would be so much change elsewhere in the market that it could be good just to have them steady.

“I’m sure there is a level of nerves around what next year and beyond look like, because a lot of their shows are aged. If I was him, [I’d be asking]: ‘how are you future-proofing them?’

“This is not a shot at him or anyone. I don’t believe there’s future-proofing going on in terms of what is the next show in each market.”

Note: Duncan Campbell, ARN’s national content director was on leave this survey.


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.