What five years’ worth of radio data tells us about the industry: Melbourne

In the last few months, Mumbrella has been crunching five years’ worth of cumulative and average audience data from radio stations across the five metro cities. So what do the results show? In a second piece as part of this series, Zoe Samios looks at the Melbourne market.

Eight times a year, Mumbrella, other news outlets, and the radio industry sit down in front of a series of numbers, which define the success of a respective station or program.

The results are dependent on respondents who complete a paper or online diary for GfK.

Over the next five days, Mumbrella is breaking down some of the GfK’s findings in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth between the years of 2014 and 2018.

Yesterday, we looked at Sydney. Today Mumbrella looks at Melbourne, a market a number of programmers believe is the most competitive and toughest to crack. It is the city of the long-adored Fox FM, and now home of one UK breakfast radio star and a very solid set of music-focussed stations.

Melbourne is a city with some of the most loyal radio followings in Australia. But what do the numbers show?

The always consistent 3AW

This time five years ago, 3AW was still part of the Fairfax Radio Network. Five years on and outside of its new ownership in Nine, not much has changed. The station still delivers strong numbers, predominantly in breakfast with Ross Stevenson and John Burns, who at the end of last year celebrated 137 survey wins and a total of 208 wins in Melbourne. Drive show host Tom Elliott has been with the station since 2013, a move which has resulted in a gradual climb for the station in the afternoon.

Ross Stevenson and John Burns have won 137 consecutive surveys

A look at the last five years shows an incremental climb in both cumulative and average audience.

In survey one of 2014, the station began with an average audience of 66,000. Over time and with slight fluctuation, 3AW increased the amount of time people decided to listen to the station. That number grew as high as 86,000.

By the end of last year, the number fell back slightly, but it is still an increase from five years ago. 3AW has also managed to expand how many people are listening to the station, according to the figures.

At the beginning of 2014, cumulative audience sat at 596,000, while at the end of 2018, that number was at 681,000.

Naturally, there have been spikes, the biggest and most obvious in survey three of 2016, where the cumulative audience grew from 588,000 to 735,000, a result that was considered ‘staggering’ at the time.

It’s worth remembering that average audience takes into account ‘how much’ listening I did, whereas cumulative audience takes into account ‘whether I listened at least once or not’.

The 3AW data shows that despite a change in ownership, the audience has not just stayed, but grown. A demographic breakdown of the audience is not part of this series, but a quick glimpse at the first survey of 2014 compared to the same survey in 2018 suggests a lot of this growth is in the people aged 40 and over.

In survey one of 2014, 3AW’s 25-39 cumulative audience was 78,000, while its biggest audiences were from 55-64s – 143,000 – and people 65+ – 200,000.

By 2018, the 25-39 age demographic has slipped, now sitting at 39,000. People aged 40-54 make up a cumulative audience of 156,000, while 55-64 is now at 133,000 and people 65+’s cumulative audience is at 245,000.

The 2014 breakdown compared to 2018

Macquarie Media CEO Adam Lang, and national executive producer Michael Thompson have not hidden the fact the audience skews older, but the steady decline of the 10-17, 18-24 and 25-39 demographics could be a challenge moving forward.

The rise of Fox FM

Fox has long been heralded a strong, heritage station in Melbourne. Its heritage is so strong that when Hit Network rebranded every station in Australia, it chose to keep the ‘Fox’ name, as it did with 2Day FM Sydney.

It’s known for investing in some of radio’s best talent – Hamish Blake and Andy Lee among them.

But despite its heritage, the last five years have seen a lot of change. It has been five years since the station, owned by SCA, had axed its breakfast duo – Matt Tilley and Jo Stanleyreplacing the show with Fifi Box and Dave Thornton. Two years later, Byron Cooke joined the team, before AFL star Brendan Fevola came on board in 2016. Today, the show remains the same with the exception of Thornton.

At the end of 2017, Blake and Lee stepped away from radio, which resulted in a new strategy for drive: Carrie Bickmore and Tommy Little extending their 3pm show by half an hour, and Hughes and Langbroek joining the network in a new show which finishes at 6:30pm.

Over the last five years, a lot of Fox FM’s growth can be attributed to the breakfast slot.

At survey one of 2014, Fox FM’s average breakfast audience was 67,000. One year later it had slid to 57,000. But slowly, it has begun to climb. By survey eight of 2018, Fox FM breakfast’s share jumped to 84,000.

According to cumulative figures, a lot more Melbourne listeners began trialling the station in the middle of 2015, following the arrival of Cooke. But the highest cumulative audience for breakfast to date was 666,000 at survey seven of 2017.

In the last year with the absence of Thornton, the show has held both from an average and cumulative audience perspective.

For the most part, drive has held strong, despite the absence of Blake and Lee. And it’s worth noting Blake and Lee’s departure was not a first for the pair.

In 2010, the pair left radio after years of dominating ratings in their time slot, to focus on their Gap Year and Caravan of Courage shows for Nine. Two years later, they returned with a daily, pre-recorded morning show, before taking an afternoon slot and eventually returning to drive time.

A year on from the exit of Blake and Lee from drive, average audience for the drive time slot finished at 67,000 – exactly the same place as the year before – while cumulative audience was at 591,000, a slight dip from 2017’s 617,000.

It is a decent result for the drive time slot. Other programmers were previously cynical of the departure of Blake and Lee from Fox FM, and the impact it would have on the station. Perhaps the decision to bring well-known radio personalities Dave ‘Hughesy’ Hughes and Kate Langbroek across helped. When looking at the Fox FM station as a whole, remains robust and healthy.

Every single year cumulative audience has grown from the station. At the beginning of 2014, Fox FM had a cumulative audience of 1.045m, which has now grown to 1.208m.

At the beginning of 2014, average audience was 47,000. Survey one of 2018 showed Fox FM’s total average audience at 57,000.

Gold FM and Smooth FM climb to new heights

One of the areas Mumbrella explored in its first piece of this radio series, which looked at the Sydney market, was the growth of music-led stations WS FM and Smooth FM.

What started out at a cumulative audience of 755,000 for Gold FM in survey eight of 2013, has a cumulative audience 985,000 as of survey eight of 2018.

In the last year alone, cumulative audience has grown from 949,000 to reach an audience as high as 1.054m at survey four, following the arrival of new Gold FM breakfast host, Christian O’Connell.

For those hoping to better understand cumulative audience, we explain this in the first piece.

If cumulative audience increases, a programmer would hope for an increase in average audience. Fortunately, at the same time as the spike at survey four of 2018, average audience jumped from 57,000 to 61,000.

However Gold FM really began to gain momentum mid way through 2017, when it still ran a breakfast show with Stanley and Anthony Lehmann.

A closer look at the breakfast shows Gold FM’s total audience in the last year is largely affected by the major change in breakfast by ARN’s national content director, Duncan Campbell, which saw O’Connell join the breakfast slot after years in the UK.

Since commencing on air on June 4 2018, O’Connell has delivered some of the highest cumulative and average audience numbers of the last five years.

O’Connell’s cumulative audience to date has not fallen below 373,000, while average audience sits at 58,000 or higher.

In 2015, when Brigitte Duclos and Lehmann hosted the show, cumulative audience was much smaller. At survey one of 2015, cumulative audience was at 312,000 while average audience sat at 42,000.

The numbers grew with the replacement of Duclos by Stanley, but the best results to date from both an average and cumulative audience perspective sit with O’Connell.

Like its Sydney counterpart, Nova’s Smooth FM was only two years old five years ago. It replaced Classic Rock, which replaced a woeful Vega 91.5.

Nova’s group program director Paul Jackson has previously said the brand ignored consumer research in the run up to the launch, after the public rejected the music.

“In the months leading up to the launch in May 2012 we did some music research to test the water and to get a feel about what people might love or not,” Jackson said in 2016.

“We tested 200 songs, and [Buble’s] song came second bottom. Nobody liked it and our heart sank. The very bottom was Take That’s Back for Good which is a favourite of [Nova CEO] Cathy O’Connor and mine.

“We were hoping to play lots of this stuff on the radio all the time and we had a moment when we thought fuck, this is never going to work. But we realised very quickly we’ve got to create this thing, take it to people, present it to them and they will tell us what they think of it.”

Five years and it shows a success story for Jackson and the Nova team. In survey one of 2014, cumulative audience sat at 623,000, but by survey one of the following year, it had climbed to 729,000. By survey one of 2016, there was another incremental increase, with Smooth FM Melbourne reporting a cumulative audience of 758,000. Survey one of 2017 saw Smooth post a cumulative audience of 885,000 and the same time the following year, that number rose to 877,000.

It’s a similar story in average audience. Take survey eight 2013, for instance: Smooth FM’s audience average was 31,000 for Melbourne.

By survey eight of 2018, that number was at 55,000.

As mentioned previously, if a radio business launches a marketing campaign or has a change of on-air talent, it would be expecting the cumulative audience to increase, as it represents reach – i.e. it can shows whether people are ‘trialling’ the new station, new format or new lineup. What Smooth FM and Gold FM both show, according to this data, is that not only are more people trialling the stations, but more people are staying once they’ve had a listen.

A slide for Kiis FM

If there was a station in Melbourne that was being closely watched by rivals in the last year, it would be Kiis FM.

The station has made a number of changes to its breakfast show in the last five years. In late 2014, Kiis FM axed Chrissie Swan – who now co-hosts Nova breakfast – from the show with Jane Hall. Hall was joined by Matt Tilley, but was replaced a year later by Meshel Laurie, who joined from Nova.

After just two years of co-hosts Tilley and Laurie, ARN’s Campbell axed the pair and replaced them with popular NZ drive show hosts, Jase Hawking and Polly ‘PJ’ Harding.

It’s not quite the lineup of radio hosts 2DayFM has had in the last five years, but a lot of change nonetheless.

So how has it all affected the cumulative and average audience numbers? On the surface, it doesn’t look to bad: a steady run with slight decline.

Take survey one of 2014: cumulative audience for the station was at 947,000, while average audience for the station was 36,000.

Those same numbers are 894,000 and 32,000 respectively.

The lowest average audience actually comes from the drive time slot, which is now run by Will McMahon and Woody Whitelaw. Whitelaw and McMahon joined the station in 2018, while former drive show hosts Hughes and Langbroek went over to the Hit Network. Hughes and Langbroek had been on air for three years with Kiis FM, having joined at the same time as the rebrand of Kiis to Mix Melbourne.

Hughes and Langbroek’s average audience peaked at 58,000, while cumulative audience climbed as high as 507,000 – which was survey one of 2016.

By comparison, the highest average audience for the new drive show hosts in Melbourne is 47,000, while McMahon and Whitelaw’s highest cumulative audience came from in the last survey of 2018 – at 460,000. McMahon and Whitelaw are back on the airwaves this year, but only time will tell if this is a challenge with familiarity or popularity.

Breakfast has also suffered in the last year, but overall, the last five years have been quite inconsistent. For the best part of the last two years, Kiis FM Melbourne breakfast has been a story of decline. Laurie and Tilley’s first survey in 2016 had an average audience of 53,000 but later fell as low as 40,000. Cumulative audience for the pair’s first survey was 461,000, but fell to 372,000 but survey four.

The next two years saw a number of spikes and falls, which can be seen predominantly through cumulative audience. Fortunately, Hawkins and Harding appear to have recovered. At the back end of 2018, the breakfast slot’s average was 49,000, and cumulative audience bounced to 427,000.

Triple M’s five year low

It has been almost nine years since Triple M recruited former Nine CEO and presenter, Eddie McGuire, to host what is now known as Triple M’s Hot Breakfast, a sports-oriented panel, which today stars Wil Anderson and Luke Darcy.

When McGuire was recruited, he was joined by Darcy, sports broadcaster Mieke Buchan and comedian Tony Moclair.

Moclair left the Hot Breakfast in 2010, followed by Buchan in 2011. Mick Molloy later came on board before leaving mid way through 2017 to create a national drive show with Jane Kennedy.

But McGuire, like Matty Johns in Sydney, is at the heart of the breakfast show. What this usually means that irrespective of other big changes on the team, overall the audience should stick.

When Wil Anderson came on board to replace Molloy, the numbers dipped. But the new data put together by Mumbrella shows there was more decline underneath surface headlines.

The last year of Triple M Melbourne breakfast has seen some of the lowest cumulative and average audience numbers in five years. In survey one of 2018, McGuire, Anderson and Darcy had a cumulative audience of 299,000 while its average audience was 65,000.

In the last year, cumulative audience has fallen as low as 292,000 for survey five, while average audience fell as low as 56,000 in survey two of last year.

The average audience low is the lowest of five years, while the only cumulative audience lower that survey five of 2018 was survey three of 2014, when cumulative audience was 289,000.

Triple M breakfast steady decline, which appears to have occurred from midway through 2017 when Molloy announced his exit, might have been worrying for the station, had it not recovered slightly at the end of 2018.

The last five years of drive at Triple M Melbourne have been varied, with a major spike in 2015, when the show was led by Merrick Watts.

But 2018 saw a major change of Triple M network, the first nationally syndicated drive show, with Molloy and Kennedy.

The pair commenced on drive in October of 2017, and for the most part, has seen growth from a cumulative audience perspective. Average audience dipped to its lowest point in five years at survey five, but bounced back to 45,000 at the end of the year.

Overall, Triple M’s cumulative audience at survey eight of 2018 was 575,000, down form 2017’s 622,000. In 2016 at survey eight, the cumulative audience for the Melbourne station was 630,000 and in 2015 that number was 638,000.

But average audience finished at 35,000, a slight increase from survey eight of 2017’s 33,000. For a station with a traditionally low cumulative audience – due to its target audience – the decline isn’t good. However, an increase in average audience suggests the people trialling are sticking around.

What a major change in Nova breakfast did to ratings

In 2013, Nova 100 Melbourne said farewell to its long-standing breakfast show hosts, Hughes and Langbroek, as they headed to take on a national drive show on the newly launched Kiis FM. The pair were were the first breakfast show for the station, when it launched in 2001. They were replaced by Tommy Little and Meshel Laurie, who continued the show until 2015.

In the first two years of Hughes and Langbroek’s absence, average audience fell off significantly, from 73,000 at the end of 2013, to 58,000 by the end of 2014. Cumulative audience spiked while average audience fell, a sign the show wasn’t sticking with audiences.

At the end of 2015, after Laurie announced she would join KIIS 101.1 and Little announced his resignation, Nova 100 announced that Chrissie Swan, Sam Pang and Jonathan Brown as the new breakfast hosts.

Two years later, the trio would be crowned number one breakfast show in Melbourne for the first time. Breakfast average audience, which fell as low as 44,000, now sits closer to 2013, climbing as high as 69,000 in 2018. But cumulative audience has struggled, particularly in the last year. Since Swan, Brown and Pang’s arrival, cumulative audience has been staggered, climbing up as high as 588,000 in 2017, but then falling as low 420,000 less than a year later. It seems to have recovered, but the significant changes in cumulative audience could be attributed to audiences trialling new talent, like Kiis FM’s breakfast show, in 2018.

More declines for ABC

ABC 774 has seen steady decline from both a cumulative and average audience perspective for the last five years.

The departure of long-standing breakfast presenter Red Symons at the end of 2017 impacted results. ABC 774 witnessed its lowest cumulative and average audience figures in at least five years, in the year after Symons had left. And while breakfast presenters Jacinta Parsons and Sami Shah have recovered some of the damage, it was still the worst year of the last five.

Let’s look at the numbers in breakfast to start with:

At survey eight of 2018, ABC breakfast Melbourne had a cumulative audience of 498,000. That year it spiked to a five-year high of 568,000.

Average audience at survey eight of 2013 was 113,000 and climbed to 148,000.

By 2014, cumulative audience was at 504,000 and average audience sat at 119,000. Survey eight of 2015 showed a cumulative audience of 487,000 for the breakfast slot, and an average audience of 115,000.

In 2016, cumulative audience for the same survey was at 496,000, and fell to 474,000 in 2017 and 439,000 in 2018.

But what about average audience? In 2016 at survey eight, average audience was at 112,000, before falling to 110,000 in 2017 at the same survey and 85,000 at the most recent survey.

This is the second feature as part of this series. See the other markets so far:


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.