The radio dilemma: Brand recall and the uniqueness every station hopes for

A successful radio show goes far beyond talent and music format. Following the penultimate ratings survey of the year, Mumbrella’s Zoe Samios looks at the role brand recall plays and the challenge of diversifying programs.

For many, being stuck in traffic in a car usually means flicking through the radio channels until there is something good to listen to. Or at least, that’s what it is like for me. But imagine my delight when instead of being stuck in traffic listening to the radio, I found an Uber driver who had actually filled that radio ratings diary.

The conversation was lengthy: we talked about his preferred radio stations, the time of day he listens to them and what he listens to when he has passengers. But naturally the first thing I asked was: “What was it like to fill out?”

He told me it was challenging. It’s hard to remember what you listened to once you leave the car. And he had a fair point.

Brand awareness and recall has an important role to play in each survey, which means marketing often can help boost or disrupt the ratings of a particular show or station.

Re-call and marketing and incredibly important in radio ratings

Too often I feel the frustration of a programmer down the phone when they feel the content is brilliant, but no one knows the show. Or worse, when they’ve marketed a show or station and there’s been no change in result. Then there’s competition around who did more marketing than the other, or that all the shows are too similar.

“Marketing absolutely plays a role in recall and with our current diary system, recall is really important,” Triple M’s head of content, Mike Fitzpatrick, explains.

“There’s a couple of ways you get recall. If you are a heritage station, you are less likely to need it. You can use marketing to drive listeners for something tactical, but there’s also the benefit for low cume-ing stations like Triple M – it’s great to have marketing out there to remind people that it is there.

“But you can’t win by marketing a bad show. If you are using marketing strategically to drive people in to sample a show, it’s got to be right. A lot of stations – and I’ve made this mistake – market a show too early. People come in and sample it and have a first date, and they go ‘that’s not really a show for me.’”

For the record, Fitzpatrick is pleased this survey. The presence of the Triple M brand and well-known talent including Robin Bailey in the Brisbane market has paid off. For the first time since 2008, Triple M breakfast and the station have been number one, and it’s the consistency of the brand in market that has contributed.

The Triple M Brisbane breakfast team have delivered results

Triple M breakfast with Greg ‘Marto’ Martin, Robin Bailey and Lawrence Mooney led the breakfast slot with a 12.3% share, beating Hit 105’s Abby Coleman, Stav Davidson and Matty Action, who achieved an 11.2% share, and Nova’s Ash Bradnam, Kip Wightman and David ‘Luttsy’ Lutteral, who finished on 10.1%. 97.3FM breakfast with Bob Gallagher, Bianca Dye and Mike van Acker, averaged a 9.1% share.

But it’s not just breakfast: new drive show hosts Mick Molloy and Jane Kennedy also delivered for Fitzpatrick.

In drive, Triple M’s Mick Molloy and Jane Kennedy came in third behind Hit 105’s Carrie Bickmore and Tommy Little and Dave ‘Hughesy’ Hughes and Kate Langbroek’s 14.2% share and Nova’s Kate Ritchie, Tim Blackwell and Marty Sheargold had a 13.7% share in Brisbane. The pair pulled an 11.6% share, ahead of Kiis FM’s Will McMahon and Woody Whitelaw.

Down in Sydney, Fitzpatrick has a different challenge. The well-known breakfast team, The Grill Team, is about to be rocked by the imminent departure of NRL star Matty Johns.

In the Sydney FM breakfast ratings, The Triple M Grill Team sat ahead of Smooth FM and 2DayFM on a 6.6% share. While Alan Jones took out the breakfast win overall – on a 17.5% share – Kiis FM’s Kyle Sandilands and Jackie ‘O’ Henderson had the FM lead, on a 10.7% share, ahead of WSFM’s Brendan ‘Jonesy’ Jones and Amanda Keller’s 7.2% share – a 2.1 drop from last survey.

Kiis FM tied with ABC Sydney on a 10.7% share. Nova’s Michael ‘Wippa’ Wipfli and Ryan Fitzy’ Fitzgerald concluded the survey on a 7.1% share, beating Smooth FM’s 6%, Triple M breakfast and 2DayFM breakfast with Grant Denyer, Ed Kavalee and Ash London, on a 4.6% share.

Despite the soon-to-be gaping hole in his lineup, Fitzpatrick sees it as an opportunity to recreate the breakfast program. He says everything from The Grill Team name, and talent including Gus Worland, Chris Page and Emma Freedman, is up for negotiation.

It’s for the best, he says.

“Am I worried? Matty Johns in undoubtedly a talent. That show has been there for eight years. Generally, breakfast shows have a seven to 10 year life span. We’ve seen that show decline a little over the last couple of years. It always does better out of rugby league as I’ve seen – too much rugby league is the enemy of that show.

Everything is up for negotiation with the Triple M ‘Grill Team’, says Fitzpatrick

“We are still a rock, sport and comedy station, probably more emphasis on the comedy than the sport moving forward. But we’ll still deliver sports news when it’s relevant. We don’t need to come in everyday and go ‘right, what are we talking about with rugby league today?’

“I’ll be looking at putting in a show that can be there for another eight years. I want a show that the audience connects with, the lives beyond rugby league fans, that has genuine funny in it.

“I want something that gets people laughing in the morning.”

Fitzpatrick is backing the Triple M brand and it’s ability to quickly establish new shows in market.

“One thing we are very good at on Triple M is building shows, as evidenced by the Hot breakfast in Melbourne, a transition from Mick Molloy to Wil Anderson and we’re up year on year in survey seven. As evidenced by Marto, Robin and Moon-man in Brisbane, by Roo and Ditz in Adelaide, by Clairsy, Matt and Kymba in Perth. We are very good on Triple M at building shows and we are able to do that because we know what the audience expects from our brand,” he says.

Mike Fitzpatrick says Triple M Sydney will have more of a comedy focus

Nova’s preacher of consistency and stability, group programme director, Paul Jackson, says the impact will come down to exactly what Fitzpatrick replaces Johns with.

“It depends what they do. It’s a tough call. There’s potential for impact that because he’s the star of the show and the main draw card so they are definitely going to miss him,” he says.

Overall, Jackson is commending the abilities of fellow programmers who took bold risks to differentiate themselves this year, namely ARN’s national content director, Duncan Campbell, and his decision to bring in UK star Christian O’Connell, and Hit Network’s head of content, Gemma Fordham, for the 2DayFM strategy.

But Jackson has something to be commended for: the return of Smooth to number one FM station in both Sydney and Melbourne.

“If I can repeat that eight times year, I’ll be happy,” he laughs.

It’s been six years since Jackson went against all odds and launched Smooth FM, which he argues is now reaching new, younger audiences, including the 25-39s. Smooth FM is a familiar brand to most consumers: it’s known for its emotive approach, and up-beat ‘feel good’ music. Jackson has made a conscious effort to expand the music offering this year.

“It’s been an entire journey starting out as slow, relaxed, mood-based radio station, not targeting a demographic, but targeting something quite emotively, it has evolved. It still does that but it is quite a bright ’80s based contemporary pop station now, and the audience has evolved with it,” he says.

In changing the music, Jackson believes his station sits further from rock station WSFM. He goes as far as to say WSFM and Kiis have lost audiences from 2DayFM’s changed music format and commercial-free strategy.

After years of chops and changes, Jackson thinks 2DayFM finally has momentum.

“I don’t know what they are thinking in terms of what they would do, but they run no commercials in the morning, they’ve done a fair amount of marketing for it: it’s a good proposition. They’ve done well, I’ll give them plenty of credit for that. They’ve plugged away at it,” he says.

Paul Jackson says 2DayFM finally has a strategy

“I would think 2Day is bringing some of the audience away from WS. Smooth is playing a slightly different game, Nova’s the most contemporary of the radio stations in the marketplace. So 2Day is probably putting the squeeze on Kiis and WS and they’ve done a quite decent job of it.”

Hit Network’s Gemma Fordham agrees on the momentum. The station has had a year of ups and downs and lost breakfast co-host Em Rusciano, but it seems as though the audience might finally be sticking. That’s a relief, as Fordham suggests there will be no changes to the current breakfast lineup in Sydney.

“We’ve really got the next 12 months mapped out with that station and it’s going to be about consistency for us. The breakfast show – Ash has been filling in and she’s been doing a terrific job. The boys are doing an awesome job as well. As much as the market would love a big announcement, we are not necessarily looking at it like that,” she says.

“It’s not like we are going to be announcing a brand new show or anything. We will announce our full lineup shortly, but to be honest with you, I don’t anticipate there’ll be any surprises or changes anywhere in the whole network.

“We’ve had Ash on air for a while now, so I suppose that’s why it’s not a big announcement. The show is just the show. They are doing a great job and are happy with it. What I will say is that we’ve had a very different strategy with the breakfast show in the last few months, than we have previously. We’ve put in a lot more music.

Hit Network’s Gemma Fordham says 2DayFM lineup won’t be a surprise

“Most other breakfast shows are getting out four songs an hour, and we are playing seven songs hour, that has been a conscious effort. We decided as a group one of the entry points into the show is our music.”

But is Jackson right in thinking 2DayFM has taken the audience from Kiis FM and WSFM? According to ARN’s Campbell, that is not the case.

“We share most of our audience with Smooth. There’s a not a lot of audience sharing with 2DayFM. Because the cume remains solid for WS – it’s a case of time spent listening, which is really ticks in diaries. Smooth’s got some more ticks this time round. 2DayFM is a separate issue,” he says.

“They’ve been playing three hours commercial free in the mornings and it’s kicked in if you look at the results.”

Campbell would easily argue his Sydney-based stations have a major point of difference in Sandilands and Henderson specifically.

He’d argue the same down in Melbourne. In the latest survey Jase Hawkins and Polly ‘PJ’ Harding fell back 0.4 points to a 5.5% share, while his other gamble, Gold FM’s Christian O’Connell, bounced back after three surveys to a 7.9%. Fox FM’s Fifi Box, Brendan Fevola and Byron Cooke achieved a 9% share, Nova’s Chrissie Swan, Sam Pang and Jonathan Brown dipped 0.2 points to a 7.6% share. Smooth FM breakfast achieved a higher result – on an 8.1% share of listening and Triple M’s Hot breakfast with Eddie McGuire, Wil Anderson and Luke Darcy, remained stagnant on a 7.7% share.

“I’m most happy about the fact that we’ve seen a turn around with The Christian O’Connell Breakfast Show. That was a bold strategy which was heavily scrutinised within the business and it’s the first time a company has brought in talent from outside of Australia who is completely unknown and put them into a major market like Melbourne,” he says.

Duncan Campbell: Pleased with the bounce back from Christian O’Connell

“That was always the challenge – to get the level of familiarity right so we can actually convert listeners.

“Despite the Kiis result, we’ll probably see a turnaround next book for Kiis as well. It’ll be nice to have both those stations and shows turning around within year one. That’s the goal.”

One of the challenges for Campbell is getting marketing cut-through when there are so many messages and stations prompting listeners to switch channels.

“We had to compete with our stations for share of voice, and the biggest challenge was always that they were unknown. To get an audience to sample a show that they don’t know is always difficult,” he says.

“It could take up to 18 months to two years. But for Christian to turn around – which is not a full year either – he’s such a unique talent, and also demographically he’s a purely adult audience, so they’ll convert quicker.”

Recall can come through marketing, but it can also come from a heritage brand or station. That’s the case for Fordham and her Melbourne station, Fox FM.

It hailed the likes of Hamish Blake and Andy Lee until last year and is home to some of the radio industry’s best known talent, including former Kiis FM drive show hosts Kate Langbroek and Dave ‘Hughesy’ Hughes. Fordham says the network is running their own race, focusing on delivering from both an audience and revenue perspective.

“Melbourne is another great book – breakfast number one again. The station remaining at number two but with a huge cumulative audience of 1.13m, which is massive. Hughesy and Kate and Carrie and Tommy had sensational results as well,” she says.

Fordham is focused on diversity of thought across her network

“I know I’m very fortunate I get to say that, most of the time, but it doesn’t come without an enormous amount of work by all the team.”

But it hasn’t come without struggles for Fordham, who recalls sitting on a floor in LA talking with drive show host Bickmore one year ago, convincing her to extend the show to meet the needs of audiences.

For her it’s not only about the talent, but ensuring that people are getting the most out of them. In the last year, this meant extending Hit Network’s national drive time format to account for those still stuck in traffic.

However in her plight for new content and talent – which includes the commencement for new Adelaide radio hosts, Rebecca Morse and Andrew Costello, Fordham has remained passionate about something her star Kate Langbroek mentioned at the Radio Alive conference: setting stations a part through diversity of voice.

“I’m a big believer in diversity, and when I say diversity I mean diversity in the form of gender, ethnicity, age and diversity of thought as well. That’s something that is a real passionate point for me and for the wider content team. We actively seek opinions different to ours, and we do a lot of work both on and and off air teams being mixed up and working together on projects,” she says.

“I do believe there are benefits from diversity and I don’t believe that in the past, we have embraced that at all. In the past there was a huge lack of diversity and it was pretty dire. The industry is very different now and people recognise the merit in encouraging diverse workforces.

“The problem is we hire people like us and for a long period of time, the industry couldn’t make any ground. But it has significantly shifted now.”

If it’s about setting a brand a part from the rest, it would be hard to find an offering similar to 2GB and hosts like Alan Jones, Ross Stevenson and Ray Hadley, who continue to smash radio ratings records, day in, day out.

The average consumer is often shocked to hear talent like Jones leads the radio ratings, but Macquarie Media’s national executive producer, Michael Thompson, isn’t.

There’s nothing else in market like them, and they are the best at what they do, Thompson says.

“In terms of news, in terms of opinion, in terms of entertainment, you get everything in one place. It’s all about the personality. These programs resonate with listeners is because what you are hearing with Alan is Alan. What you are hearing with Ray is Ray. These are people who know how to entertain, who know how to inform, who know how to engage an audience,” he says.

That’s despite ongoing controversy, rumours and criticism surrounding Jones. Thompson assures Mumbrella he isn’t feeling pressure to make changes to talent like Jones, who is currently in hospital.

“No, certainly not. We are comfortable, we are not feeling under pressure. Alan is not well this week. We are hoping that he recovery soon,” he says.

Controversial as hosts may be, 2GB and sister stations 3AW, 4BC and 6PR all have a strong brand presence and, arguably, memorable talent.

It was just this year that Macquarie Media CEO Adam Lang told Mumbrella he wanted to grow 6PR’s share in Perth, and at the penultimate survey he’s managed to do just that.

6PR’s breakfast show with Steve Mills and Basil Zempilas grew 0.9 points to an 11% share – now performing better than ABC Perth’s 10.9% share, Hit’s 10.2%. Nova’s Nathan Morris, Natalie Locke and Shaun McManus topped breakfast with a 15.1% share, and 96FM’s Lisa Fernandez and Paul Hogan finished at just 6.6%.

“We always would like to keep growing. This is a very, very good sign of what these stations are capable of. I’d like to think we can continue to grow beyond this point for 6PR and 4BC,” Thompson says.

Macquarie Media’s Michael Thompson: We are not under pressure

“We’ve seen extremely encouraging growth, but as I said earlier, it’s not unexpected growth. If you listen to those programs, you’d think ‘these are very good shows with good presenters.’”

Brand awareness isn’t as easy for Macquarie Sports Radio, which failed to gain traction across the board. Thompson is confident brand awareness will come from cricket coverage and cross-promotion stations like 2GB and 3AW. He wants it to be complimentary, but he says it’s fair to say they want more audience share in each market.

“A lot of it is awareness. That does take marketing. But we have an enormous asset in 2GB, 3AW, 4BC and 6PR, in that Macquarie Sports Radio is set up to be a complimentary station to those stations. We do not have any concerns about using those dominant news talk stations to promote Macquarie Sports Radio.

“We do have quite a powerful marketing tool already.”

Marketing, heritage and diversity of thought: all three are key to the radio ratings survey. But in terms of predicting of the biggest challenge for a programmer, it goes far beyond the eight surveys a year.

It’s actually about predicting what’s to come from broadcast radio, as Triple M’s Fitzpatrick sees it.

“There’s a lot of ideas floating around about what people want from radio now. Whilst we are still an incredibly relevant media format, I wonder what the next step is for FM radio. How much of that is talk, how much of that is music, and that’s something that I’m always thinking about it,” he says.

“What does the next five years look like for commercial FM and certainly Triple M. The hunch for me is the win will come not from the songs you play but what is in between the songs.”


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