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The half-way mark: How radio programmers are managing the impact of their new lineups

It's half way through the radio ratings year and as always, everyone is a winner in their own way. Zoe Samios chats with some of Australia's programming bosses as they break down their wins and losses at the half way point.

Sometimes it can be hard to work out who has ‘won’ the radio ratings.

“The highlight was the number one national network really, with or without the DAB+ stations there. It’s an extraordinary achievement given the number of stations we have,” says ARN’s national content director, Duncan Campbell.

The radio industry is at the half-way point of the year, so how are they tracking?

“On the Nova Network side of things, it’s really great to see us as back as number one network on equal 9% share and the [cumulative audience] of 3.3m is just outstanding for all teams involved,” says Nova’s group program operations director, Brendan Taylor.

Adam Lang, CEO of Macquarie Media, says: “We are pleased to earn our place as the dominant destination of choice for the national metropolitan radio audiences to be informed, engaged and express themselves.”

To fully understand what being ‘dominant’ or ‘winning’ means to any programmer, a break down of cumulative audience and share is needed. And of course, there are numbers these networks are provided with, that Mumbrella isn’t.

But if the words ‘survey win’ are taken out of the conversation and are replaced with ‘growth’, ‘decline’ and ‘success’, a programmer will begin to give a real indicator of how some of Australia’s biggest radio shows, stations and networks are actually faring. And, given the radio ratings year is now at the halfway point, that conversation must go beyond one survey, or one win.

The year began with a few minor changes in some markets, but for three stations in particular, the change was more prevalent: ARN’s Kiis FM and Gold FM in Melbourne, as well as Southern Cross Austereo’s 2DayFM in Sydney.

In drive, Kiis FM got a new show with Will McMahon and Woody Whitelaw, as did Hit Network, with Carrie Bickmore and Tommy Little running until 4:30pm and Dave ‘Hughesy’ Hughes and Kate Langbroek from 4:30pm to 6:30pm. Triple M also launched its first ever national drive show, with Mick Molloy and Jane Kennedy.

The year also marked a new lineup for 2DayFM breakfast in Sydney, this time with Em Rusciano, Ed Kavalee and Grant Denyer. Kiis FM in Melbourne also got a new show, with Jase Hawkins and New Zealander Polly ‘PJ’ Harding. Gold FM kicked off the year without any breakfast hosts, before UK star Christian O’Connell hopped on board in June.

Meanwhile, Perth had a shake up following the departure of McMahon & Whitelaw, with Xavier Ryan and Ryan Jon taking over breakfast with Heidi Anderson. Perth’s 96FM also got two new breakfast hosts, in Lisa Fernandez and Paul Hogan.

For Macquarie Media, the changes came later. The axing of the Talking Lifestyle format and birth of Macquarie Sports Radio is only something of the last few months.

So, at the halfway point, what does this look like?

For Gold FM, despite three full surveys of a music breakfast, the results to date are promising, and this survey, which included the first few weeks of new breakfast star Christian O’Connell, saw share and cumulative audience increase once again.

British radio star Christian O’Connell’s first result is promising, but it is too soon to tell

In the first survey of the year, Gold FM kicked off with a 7.4% audience share, compared to 6.2% share for Jo Stanley and Anthony ‘Lehmo’ Lehmann in the first survey of 2017. In 2018, Gold FM’s breakfast share has grown to an 8.7% share in the most recent survey, compared to 7.5% the previous year.

But for Kiis FM in Melbourne, the story isn’t quite the same.

On Kiis FM, Matt Tilley and Meshel Laurie started 2017 with a 6.3% share, compared to Jase Hawkins and Polly ‘PJ’ Harding, which had a 5.1% share for the first survey of 2018.

In the first four surveys of the year, Matt & Meshel grew as high as a 7% share, before falling to a 6.2% share for survey four.

By comparison, Jase & PJ have fallen since the first survey, to a share of 4.9%.

ARN’s Campbell always knew the changes were a risk, but he admits the team at Kiis FM, are, inevitably, disappointed with the numbers.

Campbell’s focus remains on familiarity

“The focus for me will be familiarity. Our research tells us they’re just not getting traction in terms of familiarity which is a key issue because the show has chemistry, great content and we know that and people who discover it, they like it.

“At the beginning of the year and certainly throughout the year the marketplace has been very crowded from an above the line marketing perspective and we just don’t think perhaps the marketing has cut through and maybe some of the show content hasn’t been focused on your audience getting to know them as much as it could’ve been. I don’t think we have content issues or dislike of the personalities at all.”

However, after four surveys, Campbell says he has had to reinforce to the team why the numbers haven’t gone through yet. He still backs the show 100%, he tells Mumbrella, but managing disappointment has been a component of the last four surveys.

“We keep reinforcing why the numbers haven’t come through yet. And while of course it’s going to be disheartening to some degree, they’re in this for the long haul and that’s what they keep telling us, and we’re here for the long haul as well. There is no disharmony or disunity within that team because it was handpicked.”

But Melbourne, as a market, is incredibly competitive. Competing against Jase & PJ in breakfast were 3AW’s Ross Stevenson and John Burns, with a share of 19.2%, Fox FM’s Fifi Box, Brendan Fevola and Byron Cooke, with a 9.9% share, Gold FM’s Christian O’Connell, with an 8.7% share, Smooth FM’s Jennifer Hanson and Mike Perso on 7.3%, Triple M’s Hot Breakfast, with Eddie McGuire, Luke Darcy and Wil Anderson on a 7.5% share, and Nova’s Chrissie Swan, Sam Pang and Jonathan Brown on 6.9%.

Campbell says the duo might’ve worked in other markets that are less crowded, but argues the victory will more “sweeter”, when they “crack it” in Melbourne.

“They are the right show to take [Melbourne] on and when they do deliver it that’ll be a sweet victory.”

He does not, however, compare the ongoings at Kiis FM to that of 2DayFM, which until last survey sat on a similar share to Jase & PJ.

In Sydney, 2DayFM’s 4.3% share was competing against a 16.6% share for 2GB’s Alan Jones, an 11% share for Kyle Sandilands and Jackie ‘O’ Henderson, a share of 9.6% for WSFM’s Brendan ‘Jonesy’ Jones and Amanda Keller, a 6.9% share for Ryan Fitzgerald and Michael ‘Wippa’ Wipfli, a 5.9% share for Smooth FM’s Bogart Torelli and Glenn Daniel and a 5.8% share for Triple M’s Grill Team with Gus Worland, Matthew Johns, Chris Page and Emma Freedman.

“You’ve really got to [change the show]. I mean there’s all that publicity about the disunity and the argument and whatever is going on inside there and the fact there’s no one in the studios and its land-lined in etc.

“You have to keep changing until you get it right which is very extensive and particularly if you pursue the route that you’re putting known personalities on there and hoping that there’s some chemistry because there obviously was no chemistry between Em Rusciano and her co-hosts.”

And despite his criticism last survey, Campbell admits it is hard to put known personalities together and hope they work.

“I am the first one to say it’s not easy. I’ve been there with Mix106.5 before.

ARN’s Campbell promises he is not deflecting, but says 2DayFM will have to change its lineup

“It’s not easy predicting what the audience is going to like and if the combination of talent is going to work. But I think it all boils down to content at the end of the day. And if you look at the most successful shows in the last 5 or 10 years, those shows have had great content, but obviously also great chemistry with the personalities.

SCA and Hit Network head of content, Gemma Fordham, was unavailable for interview this survey.

At Gold FM, Campbell is feeling more optimistic. But, he’s careful not to be enthused by the first results upon the arrival of O’Connell.

“It’s a good indicator. We didn’t get too ahead of ourselves there, I’ve been playing that down a little bit because it’s early days and those sort of things tend to ebb and flow a little bit. We are after a trend and until we get that, we’ll be very happy,” he says.

While ARN and SCA deal with the ebbs and flows that come with changes to a lineup, Nova is enjoying the bliss that is consistency in its schedule.

Like Nova’s Paul Jackson, Brendan Taylor is also pushing Nova’s consistent schedule

In Brisbane, Nova106.9’s breakfast show featuring Ash Bradnam, Kip Wightman and David ‘Luttsy’ Lutteral retained the top breakfast slot, with a 12.7% share, helping Nova to a total share lead of 12.2%. Meanwhile in Perth, Nova’s Nathan Morris, Natalie Locke and Shaun McManus climbed 2.1 points to a 14.8% breakfast share, while drive show hosts, Kate Ritchie, Tim Blackwell and Marty Sheargold, finished with a 17.6% drive show lead.

Nova’s Taylor explains: “To highlight two markets in particular, Perth and Brisbane, both outright number one in their respective markets and both breakfast shows are number one as well so it’s a fantastic result for Dan Underhill and his team in Perth and Jay Adam and his team in Brisbane.

I’d like to highlight Smallzy [Kent Small] in particular, his number one national night show just recorded 39th number one, which is an outstanding effort for Smallsey, Zach [La Cava] and the surgery team.

But the Perth win, in particular, doesn’t occur very often. Taylor says whilst survey four is traditional a good survey, Nathan Morris, Natalie Locke and Shaun McManus in breakfast, Ross Wallman across workday along with Kate Ritchie, Tim Blackwell & Marty Sheargold are together in a “fantastic position.”

“They know their product, they know the town so well. The team is so focused. It’s about consistency and the team just perform well,” he says.

Perth could be described as the place of up and coming stars, for some, given Will McMahon and Woody Whitelaw, Kiis FM’s drive show hosts, were pulled from Hit breakfast in the same city.

However Perth’s drive time share – 7.5% – is one lowest for the duo across Australia. Will & Woody’s shares in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide, were 8%, 7%, 11.8% and 13.1% respectively.

Nova’s Kate, Tim & Marty led Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth with shares of 15.2%, 13.6%, 17.6% and the FM bandwidth in Sydney with a 9.7% share. The only other Sydney show to beat them was Ben Fordham on 2GB, with a 10.2% share.

Fox FM’s Carrie Bickmore and Tommy Little, and Dave ‘Hughesy’ Hughes and Kate Langbroek, took out Melbourne, with a 13.2% share.

Nova’s Taylor was surprised Will & Woody wasn’t resonating in Perth as well as other markets, given their background.

Will & Woody have been around for four surveys, but they haven’t had much traction in Perth

“You would assume they would be better and stronger because the market has worked with them and has heard them, but it’s obviously not resonating at the moment,” Taylor says.

Campbell, however, isn’t concerned.

“They’re progressing well. They have similar issues as Jase and PJ do. It’s a case of building familiarity as well. They are known in Perth and not in any other market but you know they do have the benefit in markets like Brisbane and Adelaide and Sydney of having established heritage breakfast shows to boost them up.”

Nova, for the time being, remains the leader in Perth. But over in Sydney, ARN’s Campbell doesn’t believe Nova will be able to knock off Sydney breakfast king and queen Kyle Sandilands and Jackie ‘O’ Henderson.

“There’s been such a long period of time with no real challengers, with respect to Fitzy & Wippa. They are established and have their audience, but there’s been no one come close to them really so they now have 10-12 years of habitual listening which is hard to break and the show’s consistent.

“I mean, I can’t claim any credit for the show, but I watch that machine work every day and it is very impressive. He’s an extraordinary broadcaster and so is she, so they’re a hard habit to break.”

One area that Nova would like to work on is Melbourne, with Chrissie, Sam  & Browny in breakfast.

“It’s probably not the growth we expected but the demos are really good in Chrissie, Sam and Browny’s 25-54 is good. It’s up 1.3%.

“There’s going to be a lot of listening and flicking around in the Melbourne market with all the show there and particularly with Christian’s new show. We’ll see that settle down towards the end of the year, I mean people are definitely going to sample his show.

But as ever, Sydney and Melbourne were dominated overall by Macquarie Media’s 2GB and 3AW. The lineup, Stevenson, Burns and Jones and Ray Hadley, continues to win survey after survey. Jones won his 212th consecutive survey this week.

Macquarie Media’s Lang and national executive producer, Michael Thompson, have commended the efforts of the usual suspects, but also made note of some other achieves.

“2GB is where the big story for us today is because that’s the best result for the station in more than five years”, says Thompson.

Macquarie Media’s Michael Thompson expected this week’s results

“It is quite extraordinary and it’s been driven by some really large increases in individual programs. Alan went up 1.3, and then Ray had a phenomenal jump up of three points up to an 18% share. Last time we had an 18% share was in survey eight of 2015, so it’s great to be back up to those levels. Chris Smith had a solid increase of nearly two points as well, Ben Fordham, when you see that’s an increase of 1.6 in drive, the 3pm to 6pm rather than the 4pm to 7pm that’s sent out by GfK, that’s a fantastic result. That puts him nearly two points clear of any competitor.

“For anyone to be achieving that kind of margin in such a competitive drive market, is something that we are really really pleased with. Steve Price to see his continued success at nights in what is a truly networked program, to be number one in Sydney and Melbourne and to be delivering strong results in Brisbane as well just shows he has an enormous appeal.”

For Macquarie Media this year, the changes to programming came later than most. With a format that failed to gain traction over its two years, the network axed Talking Lifestyle and opted for a new sports format, Macquarie Sports Radio.

The station plugged in a drive show, and separate breakfast shows for Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne.

While it might be too soon to tell, Macquarie Media’s CEO Adam Lang, and national producer Michael Thompson, expected the results this week.

In Sydney, total share for the station fell from 1.9% to 0.8% while breakfast with John Stanley and Beau Ryan went from a 2.5% breakfast share to 0.7%. In Melbourne total share was down to 0.3% while breakfast with Tony Leonard, Tony Shaw and Jimmy Bartel finished at 0.1%, an 0.1 ratings point drop. In Brisbane the result was more positive, total share went from 0.5% last survey to 1.1% while breakfast with Stanley and Ryan increased to 1%.

“It’s entirely expected that the audience that was used to Talking Lifestyle, that’s used to that style of content, is not necessarily going to be the same audience that is going to be looking for a 24 hours a day sports station,” Thompson says.

“We changed our breakfast program as well, that it was going to have an impact on the figures. The challenge for us now is to grow a new audience and to really start telling people about the station because what we have to offer is something that no one else has to offer. We have the best live sport. We have the rights to broadcast the NRL and AFL.

“We’ve got the Rugby Union, we’ve got the exclusive rights in Australia to broadcast the EPL and now we have the cricket. It’s a really exciting story to tell, the fact that here is a new home ground for sport in Australia.”

Lang adds the strategy in this instance is to get Macquarie Sports Radio to complement the news talk network, similar to “the way television promote their multi-channels”.

Lang says Macquarie Sports Radio is not a ‘short term’ play

“We do cross-promote our news talk station on our Macquarie Sports Radio stations and vice versa. What we see is – what we are really good at – is focusing on a mature audience that has a high appetite for information.

“We think it’ll likely to be a second preference station alongside our newstalk station for a very large part. Some will make it their first preference.

“What we are going for is the audience north of 40 as we do our news talk station and really dedicating our expertise to that craft of radio and newstalk and turning that attention to sports talk, if you like.”

And despite Sky Sports rating 1.2%, higher than Macquarie Sports Radio in Sydney, Lang is adamant there is a difference in their roles.

“Sky Sports Radio fulfils a brief and does it well. It has a very dependency on racing. Our point of difference is Macquarie Sports Radio is all sports all the time,” he says.

“Sky Sports Radio can be a fairly broad based breakfast show, but for the rest of the day they really have to dominate their coverage towards racing, horse racing.”

He is also adamant Macquarie Sports Radio is not a “short term play”.

“We are three months in. You bet we are [backing the station]. If you look at the Cricket Australia deal and that being six seasons and season one hasn’t yet begun and won’t until toward the end of the year, or October, we have really put a stake in the ground with Macquarie Sports Radio.”

“We are absolutely committed to Macquarie Sports Radio and we are gearing our business in terms of the sports rights acquisition to do just that. This is not just a short term play.”

Nova’s Paul Jackson and Triple M’s Mike Fitzpatrick were also unavailable for interview this survey.

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