Was Vega a flop or just ahead of its time?

It was a sad day for DMG Radio yesterday when it was forced to hammer the final nail in the coffin of its baby boomer Vega stations.

I remember writing about the launch of Sydney and Melbourne stations back in August 2005. It has now become a sad irony that the radio network was named after the brightest star in the constellation Lyra.  

Four and half years later and after paying $158m for the two licences, DMG has been forced to concede defeat.

As of this morning, the Vega stations have been renamed Classic Rock, scrapping its existing format to provide listeners with, well, classic rock songs – seven days a week.

In Sydney, at least for now, it will continue to feature host Maroon during breakfast in Sydney, and Dicko and Dave in Melbourne. The stations will also syndicate Barry Bissell’s Cover to Cover on Sundays 9-11am and a weekday show from Alice Cooper at 7pm.

The Vega stations limped to the finishing line in the latest ratings survey managing just a 3.4 per cent in Sydney and 3.7 per cent in Melbourne.

One question some observers are already asking is will there be room for another rock station to rival Austereo’s Triple M? DMG seems to think so, with Classic Rock’s heavy music format and very little talk.

Much has been written about why Vega has failed to make any significant impact throughout its short history. Despite hiring some heavy hitting radio veterans including Angela Catterns, Shaun Micallef, Denise Scott, Wendy Harmer and Francis Leach, it has not been the rising star DMG had hoped for.

Its Melbourne station boss Sam Thompson even told The Age that the Vega brand had been “damaged” for years because it was too broad and didn’t stand for anything.

But was that really the problem? Is it possible that perhaps it was just ahead of its time with its slightly more contemporary style for older listeners?

To take an overseas example, in the UK the Heart FM network, now owned by Global Radio, started out at the bottom of the pack, progressivly increasing its share, percentage point by percentage point off a small base. Throughout this time it stuck to its adult contemporary positioning, as the population also continued to age.

In the latest ratings figures, its London station finally toppled rival Magic from the number one spot after the latter’s three-year winning streak.

So I would argue that perhaps it wasn’t a case of trying to carve a niche with no demand. It simply entered a market, at least for now, that was too small to sustain another player, and therefore was just not commercially viable.

And let’s not forget digital radio.

It’s likely that there is still some untapped potential worth exploring for another new digital radio star of Vega’s ilk.

Camille Alarcon


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