Waking up is easy (when you’ve got a voice you know)

There’s an app I enjoy using named Radio Garden, where you spin a virtual globe and wherever it stops, a local radio station from that part of the world plays.

It’s a fun audio trip to parts of the planet I’ll never physically venture to, although for 20 minutes at a time I’m chuckling along to jokes about the traffic in Madisonville, Kentucky, or hearing about a fundraising drive for Mearns FM, which of course, plays the very best local music from St Cyrus all the way up to Aberdeen. Or down to Aberdeen – I never actually learn enough about these strange places I’m eavesdropping into, but I have noticed a trend in my listening habits – the more local the ‘content’, the longer I end up listening for.

This seems counterintuitive: surely the hyper local updates from areas in South Africa have no appeal to anyone outside of that area. Surely I’d prefer a serving of The Eagles followed by J Geils Band courtesy of 101.5 KROCK, Oahu’s destination for classic rock.

I was reminded of this disconnect last week, when I spoke to NOVA’s group programming director Brendan Taylor, who had just shuffled Ben, Liam, and Belle into the national 6-8 pm timeslot, and moved Fitzy & Wippa with Kate Ritchie out of it, leaving the latter team with just their Sydney breakfast audience. During the very first ratings book of the year, they jumped to the second-top FM show, behind Kyle and Jackie O. NOVA’s strategy in 2024 is called Live and Local, and it’s working for them.

NOVA are sure hoping that going national works for Ben, Liam and Belle, too. “We’ve always considered them to be a network show, from their starting point in Triple J,” Taylor told me, explaining how they honed their craft in local markets before taking the leap.

Although going national rules out any hyperlocal content, they are leaning into the ‘live’ aspect, slotting into a time slot traditionally filled with reruns.

“To have a live show that the audience can connect with on their commute home, particularly in those heavy, heavy markets like Sydney and Melbourne, I think it’s going to be received really well,” Taylor predicts.

The quickest way to get a feel for a city is to turn on the radio.

You notice it a lot when either travelling, or flicking through things like Radio Garden (pandemic-era-travelling), where all the local references baffle and delight, and haven’t yet been dulled into your brain. But perhaps you’ll notice it even more when all that hyper-locality is suddenly stripped from a radio show you listen to every day. We have a few fun test cases brewing.

Everyone at ARN is convinced that Kyle and Jackie O’s entry into the Melbourne market will be a home run.

They have a lot of reasons to think this – after all, when KIIS poached the pair in 2014, they immediately debuted on top of the radio ratings in Sydney breakfast and have stayed there ever since. They are likely to do likewise in Melbourne.

Interestingly, the show they bumped from KIIS breakfast in Melbourne, Jase and Lauren, is their main Melbourne competition, and the opposite of what they offer. Without giving off vibes of oxen-milk lattes in laneways and circular ovals, Jase and Lauren is a very ‘Melbourne’ show. They have a loyal local listener base, who they refer to as The Family – which is hard to do without giving off cult vibes. They are live and local. As Taylor told me, they should have probably already been on NOVA.

Funnily enough, after being axed from KIIS, Jase and Lauren enjoyed their highest ever ratings at the station, climbing to 9.1% of the listening audience. And while they will bring a bunch of their listeners over to NOVA from KIIS, it is expected that Kyle and Jackie will attract a whole bunch more.

“Podcasting, in particular, solidified our minds around their national appeal, and the Melbourne appeal,” ARN chief Ciaran Davis told me last month.

Around 11% of Kyle and Jackie’s podcast downloads come from Victoria, meaning they’ll be bringing a pre-built audience of around 275,000 listeners – minus those listening from Falls Creek or wherever.

It’s a smart strategy, but it’s not a neat like-for-like trade. Podcasting isn’t radio, after all. They are different formats, and people listen to them for different reasons.

Podcasts are a rambling, shaggy Bob Dylan song, with bum notes and mic hiss. Radio is a shiny auto-tuned pop hit with eight co-writers, all the edges straightened, penned with a stopwatch in hand.

Kyle and Jackie O make a radio show, which is then distributed as a podcast. It needs to exist as a radio show, first and foremost. Kyle’s shock jock-ness is less shocking when it passes through a dozen hands and three different editing suites.

Plus, those already listening to the podcast won’t suddenly think, “You know what, I’d enjoy this more if it were intercut with pop songs every ten minutes, stretched over three hours, and required me to wake at 6am to catch it.”

Kyle and Jackie O are already national celebrities, even if they do a local show. So they will succeed in Melbourne. But will this Melbourne success threaten their Sydney stronghold?

Davis insists “the show is not geographic-specific” and is “very much entertainment-based, it’s very much pop culture.”

“It’s very much about the relationship between Kyle and Jackie, and what they both bring to the show.” And, he is correct.

Still, adding another city to the listener-base removes a lot of the freedom to just talk, about what’s happening outside the window. Will Kyle be able to casually drop references to The Ivy pool, or mention people from Vaucluse without having to explain what exactly he is hinting at in each case? These seem like small concerns, but perhaps they aren’t. It’s local knowledge. It’s shorthand. It makes radio listeners feel understood, and feel like they understand, too. He lives near where I live. That’s the shopping mall I go to. I was also stuck in that tunnel for twenty minutes this morning. I also hate the Bulldogs. I do want to win tickets to see Pink. Yes, I understand the train situation should I win. The type of shortcuts that people use in everyday conversation need to be mentally edited out of any national conversation. It’s a trade-off. Melbourne wins. But does Sydney lose?

As the locality leaves and a layer of homogenisation creeps into the show, it becomes another network show.

It was already the glossiest Sydney radio show there is, but at least you knew if Kyle got into a prang on the Harbour Bridge with some prat from Mosman on the way to work, he’d probably tell you all about it – and he wouldn’t need to leave out any of the details.

No matter how inconsequential they felt at the time.

Enjoy your weekend.


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