Tom Malone on ‘revitalising talk radio’ at Nine Radio and the power of being brand safe

Yesterday saw the first radio ratings release since the service was paused in April. Nine Radio boss Tom Malone spoke with Mumbrella’s Hannah Blackiston about creating a brand safe environment and investing in local content.

Looking across yesterday’s radio ratings, it’s hard to ignore the performance Nine Radio delivered. One survey doesn’t constitute a trend, but for the first time the business has delivered GfK ratings since a number of large content changes, it was a good position for boss Tom Malone to be in.

“I didn’t even allow myself to have an expectation because it was the first survey in a new era for Nine Radio, so we just wanted a starting point,” Malone tells Mumbrella. “But having said that, I’ve very happy with the results, I think it’s a great endorsement of the changes that have been made and the strategy we’ve put in place.”

Tom Malone is happy with how Nine Radio performed in survey six
Photo: Eddie Jim

But it’s not just about this survey. It’s about ‘doing a good show tomorrow and next week’ says Malone.

“We started out on this course nearly 10 months ago with a strategy to rejuvenate talk radio and show the impact talk radio has and I think COVID has done that, it’s proven that people turn to talk radio for the latest news, sport, traffic, they turn to talk radio when they want the latest information and they want someone to help them process. That’s what we do.”

Melbourne was one of the best performing markets for Nine Radio, despite a big change in breakfast which saw renowned ad man Russel Howcroft join Ross Stevenson. Overall, almost all FM stations slipped across the survey, while AM surged, presumably impacted by the current lockdowns across the city.

It was a great result, says Malone, not just for Howcroft and Stevenson, but for 3AW in general. The station is also working on appealing to a wider demographic, claiming the number one spot in 40-50s.

“We’re very cognisant of the fact that it’s the listeners that deliver the result and the listeners that need us, more than ever, to provide a service and we hope they do a good job in that,” Malone explains.

“In these times listeners want to know what’s going on now and they want us to be there for them as a sense of comfort and companionship and these results prove that. We’re very grateful to the people of Melbourne for supporting us so strongly.”

In Sydney, all eyes were on Ben Fordham, who took over from Alan Jones earlier this year. A seemingly untouchable landmark of Sydney radio, Fordham had no easy task in replacing Jones, and there was plenty of speculation before the ratings were released that he would be eclipsed by ABC.

But that wasn’t the case – Fordham held strong, dropping less than one percentage point. All the chatter, says Malone, was ‘irrelevant’, and Fordham pulling the exact same result as Jones wasn’t something the radio business was relying on. Malone says the decision to bring Fordham into breakfast was more about Nine Radio’s plan to ‘reshape talk radio’ and make it appeal to a broader demographic, rather than trying to build another Jones.

“We’re striving to do the best possible content and then deliver an audience for advertisers that they can market to,” he says.

“It’s a great result for Ben, it’s a great first survey, but he and his team know more than anyone that they still have to turn up to work tomorrow morning and do it all again. That’s the strategy we’re implementing and we’re working hard to serve quality content to our listeners and work with our advertisers.

“We’re really happy with our focus on local content, because let’s face it, in these times that’s what people want. They want local relevant content and that’s what we provide in each city.”

Malone and the team hope that strategy will continue to pay off, and while the results may change slightly from survey to survey, the focus is on the ‘broader strategy to reshape talk radio’.

“We’re very happy, not just with the overall audience numbers, but in terms of the increase in the demographics, which is great,” Malone adds.

“We’re going to continue providing the best possible content, providing a service for our listeners as well, and keeping an eye on operating costs and driving greater revenue so we’re a profitable business. Because ultimately, we have to deliver value back to our shareholders and that’s what keeps this business going.

“It’s a mix of audience, costs and revenue that deliver outcomes and that’s what we’ll continue to focus on.”

Have more information on the article? Want to share an opinion? Just want to reach out? Email Hannah on hannah@mumbrella.com.au or get in touch via LinkedIn.


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