What will the radio landscape look like in 2018?

As another year ends, Zoe Samios chats with the radio bosses to discover what they've learnt from the tumultuous year that was 2017.

Another year of radio is done. Every network is claiming victories where it can – whether it be poaching talent from rivals, audience share gains, demographic wins or cumulative gains – and spruiking its credentials moving into 2018. 

And while all programming bosses are celebrating, some results could be seen as redundant, given the successful talent is shifting to rival networks.

Or at least that’s how Guy Dobson, Southern Cross Austereo’s chief creative officer, sees yesterday’s drive result.

He refers to Kiis network’s Dave Hughes & Kate Langbroek’s move to SCA’s Hit network, filling the hole left by Hamish Blake and Andy Lee.

They topped Sydney drive but Hughesy & Kate are off to SCA’s Hit network next year

“It’s kind of an irrelevant landscape today because they’ll be fresh and new next year. May the best team win,” he says.

In drive, Hughesy & Kate won in Sydney with a 10.8% share. In Melbourne, Fox FM collected another win, with Hamish & Andy finishing the year with an 11% share.

Nova’s Kate Tim and Marty dominated drive across Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth, with shares of 14.8%, 15.3% and 15.2% respectively.

But while Hughesy & Kate delivered a strong performance on the back end of the year, Dobson says he’s not expecting the same audience share going into the new year.

I’m not overly concerned about that. I just want those guys to get to their new home, enjoy what we have to offer, enjoy our audience and grow over time,” he says.

And he’s under “no illusion” he needs a strong breakfast show to help with the rest of the day.

Dobson’s under no illusions 2dayFM needs a strong breakfast show

“Obviously I’m hoping some of the magic rubs off on it, but they’re key to a greater plan we have for 2Day as well.”

With Hughesy & Kate ratings to dip following the network shift, and a new drive show for Kiis with Perth Hit breakfast hosts Will McMahon and Woody Whitelaw taking over, Nova’s Kate Ritchie, Tim Blackwell and Marty Sheargold are in prime position to dominate across the nation.

Nova’s group programme director Paul Jackson says consistency will be the focus for his network next year, with no talent changes expected.

“Our shows are going to be the same. You have five big experienced breakfast shows, Kate, Tim & Marty, Smallzy is one of our key shows, Greg Burns and DC Junior during the day. Nova is going to be consistent into next year,” he says.

But consistency cannot be said for networks Hit, Kiis, Triple M and Gold, who are all entering the new year with talent changes.

In Sydney, Hughesy & Kate’s move to the Hit Network will be coupled with a new breakfast show for Sydney, led by Em Rusciano and supported by Ed Kavalee and Grant Denyer – to be known as 2Day FM Breakfast with Em, Grant & Ed.

Em, Grant and Ed will commence their show in January

Rusciano and her co-host Harley Breen finished this year in sixth place on the FM bandwidth with a 2.8% share, down from survey one’s 4%.

Meanwhile, 2GB’s Alan Jones finished the year with a 13.3% total audience share, with Kyle Sandilands and Jackie ‘O’ Henderson finishing with a 12.1% share.

The duo were followed by WSFM’s breakfast with Brendan ‘Jonesy’ Jones and Amanda Keller with a share of 10%. Triple M’s Grill Team finished with a 7.9% share, Nova’s Ryan ‘Fitzy’ Fitzgerald and Michael ‘Wippa’ Wipfli had a share of 7.4% share while Smooth FM’s share fell to 6.5%.

Rusciano and Breen’s last few months have been difficult, but Dobson hasn’t lost hope.

“We’ve found out a lot about what we’re doing this year and next year is going to be a completely different take on where we need to go,” he says.

He promises a “different kind of breakfast show” with the continuation of a “very strong female lead”.

Dobson adds Denyer’s appointment to the show was all about “adding more dimension.”

“Creating a different sound, making a sonically different show rather than a two hander,” Dobson says will be the aim.

“He will make it a little suburban for us which I think is really important and there’s a few other bits and pieces to go on with 2Day as well in the next few months.”

His comments follow the re-release of Rusciano’s memoir Try Hard: Tales from the Life of a Needy Overacheiver (Extra sass edition), which has three new chapters. It suggests the show will be given two years to get traction in the market.  

Aside from Rusciano and Breen, the only other network in Sydney with a change in breakfast is Triple M’s The Grill Team, which will see the departure of long-standing co-host Mark Geyer in 2018.

Mike Fitzpatrick, Triple M’s head of content, does not believe his departure will have a direct impact on ratings next year.

Mike Fitzpatrick is pleased with Triple M’s performance, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne

“The shows are the sum total of their parts. You know it’s like in football no one team is more than just one team player,” Fitzpatrick says.

“MG was much loved and he’s still on the station, but I think that the real star of that show is Matty Johns. I certainly don’t feel like losing him will affect the results when we’ve had a great result.”

But in Sydney, inarguably one of the most remarkable results this survey was Kyle & Jackie O’s 12.1% share – their second highest since joining Kiis FM.

Duncan Campbell, ARN’s national content director describes the result as “huge”.

“Kyle & Jackie O is the most talked about radio show in the world… It’s a machine and they’re two of the best presenters in the country when it comes to breakfast radio,” he says.

Campbell is pleased with Kyle & Jackie O’s results, but admits he can’t claim credit for the show’s success

“It’s who Sydney wake up to and that has a hard habit to break. They can really do no wrong,” he says.

He says there is potential for the duo to take over Jones’ lead, which he has held for 208 consecutive surveys, but won’t put a timeframe on it.

“Anything’s possible. But Alan is also an extraordinary broadcaster and he has a significant audience of people above 55. They give a long time spent listening, which obviously generates share. The younger you go, the less time spent listening. But anything’s possible… I just wouldn’t want to predict when.”

Sydney survey eight cumulative audience. Source: GfK | Click to enlarge

Campbell adds he isn’t concerned about competition in Sydney breakfast.

“Fitzy & Wippa have really hit a fairly consistent position in the market and they don’t seem to – they ebb and flow a little bit – but they don’t really move outside of a certain range.

“Without being cocky about it, I think we’re fairly comfortable with our position in Sydney.”

Meanwhile, Nova’s Jackson congratulates Kyle & Jackie O, describing then as a “ten tier show”, but says Fitzy & Wippa cannot be compared, due to difference in audiences.

He argues Kyle & Jackie O’s audience is focused in the over 40s, while Fitzy & Wippa’s audience is skewed towards the 18-39s.

Jackson says comparing Kyle & Jackie O and Fitzy & Wippa is like ‘apples and pears’

“It’s apples and pears, and I think so long as we’re in the range that we’re in around 7.5% and 8% share for Fitzy & Wippa then that’s a very good number for us,” he says.

However Adam Lang, Macquarie Media’s chief operating officer, is not so comfortable.

Jones was on air all but three days of the last ten weeks. Lang isn’t resting on his laurels.

“We’ve just got to be mindful of how competitive Sydney is. There’s been a fair amount of speculation and change. But I think it’s really hard for us to recognise that we want to grow and so will Alan. He’s a mature man but he’s lost none of his drive.”

He says the result is the end of a massive year of disruption for Jones. For Lang – whose network has maintained the top Sydney breakfast position for 208 surveys – says he never takes the lead for granted.

Lang was impressed by Kyle & Jackie O’s result

“We know how hard we have to work to keep that audience. Sydney radio has always been competitive and I think right now it’s as competitive as it has ever been. So we take none of that for granted. We know we’ll have to work harder in 2018 than we did this year and we look forward to doing that.”

Over to Melbourne and the breakfast battle finished with a change in lead as Nova’s Chrissie Swan, Sam Pang and Jonathan ‘Browny’ Brown dominating on the FM bandwidth.

Chrissie, Sam & Browny finished with an 8.2% share, ahead of Triple M’s Hot Breakfast, which had a share of 7.6%.

Jo & Lehmo finished with a 7.4% share, while Fox FM’s Fifi Box, Brendan Fevola and Byron Cook dipped to a 7% share.

Meanwhile, Smooth FM fell to a 7.1%, and Kiis FM’s Matt Tilley and Meshel Laurie, who had their last show two weeks ago, came in fifth place with a 6.3% share.

Melbourne survey eight cumulative audience. Source: GfK | Click to enlarge

3AW won breakfast overall, with a 20.1% share.

Jackson says the return to the FM breakfast ratings crown in Melbourne was a well deserved win.

“It’s definitely one of the leading shows and with all the changes in Melbourne it has a great chance of being number show for much of next year,” he says.

He admits he’s not concerned about the arrival of KiisFM’s new breakfast show with Jase Hawkins and Polly ‘PJ’ Harding.

New Kiis 101.1 Melbourne hosts Jase Hawkins and PJ Harding. Campbell says there’ll definitely offer a point of difference

“They are unfamiliar with the marketplace, so they certainly have to go some way to make a quick impact but anything’s possible,” Jackson says.

“To come in as an outsider, especially at breakfast time and connect in many people’s lives I think would be quite hard. With all due respect I would be curious to see how that goes. We’ve got three Melbourne icons in our breakfast show. We believe that’s the right way to go.”

For Triple M’s Fitzpatrick, Hot breakfast with Eddie McGuire, Wil Anderson and Luke Darcy was one of the more impressive results of the survey.

Triple M’s new Hot Breakfast hosts

He says the change to Hot breakfast was like doing “open heart surgery” on the radio station.

“To have it go up and not backwards is just such an encouraging result. All is well for 2018 for that breakfast show,” he says.

“Look at Melbourne’s results in mornings from 4.8% to a 7.2% seems like a big jump, but it’s probably where we should have been a long time ago and that’s been driven by over 40s time spent listening,” he says.

Meanwhile on the Hit network, Fox FM’s share eased off in breakfast, down more than one ratings point to a 7% share in breakfast. In drive the network finished with an 11% share while overall, Fox FM had a share of 8.4%.

Dobson says while yesterday’s result was a “little iffy”, the station has been consistent whilst under fire.

“It has has been very consistent this year and it’s been under threat – a lot of marketing against it in Melbourne, a lot of new shows up against it,” he says.

Brisbane survey eight cumulative audience. Source: GfK | Click to enlarge

There’s been three different number one stations in Melbourne in the last 12 months. It’s a very buoyant radio market for entertainment.”

ARN’s Campbell disagrees, arguing 2017 was the year Fox lost its dominance.

“It’s still very strong, but it was always a dominant station down there… 8.4% is not a great figure for them. [Neither] is for their cumulative to be in the 700,000 range when it is normally a million,” Campbell says.

“Cumulative is a real indicator of when something’s going wrong and the cumulative on Fox has softened, so that that really makes them less competitive. Still competitive though.

“The station for us to watch and catch is really Nova from a breakfast and a station point of view.”

He’s confident Jase & PJ will be the point of difference Kiis needs to dominate in the Melbourne market.

“We’re going into that with their breakfast show having a real point of difference which we’ve never really had before, and a level of hunger and energy and enthusiasm from the talent that we haven’t had either for a while,” he says.

In the final survey of the year, Gold FM in Melbourne maintained its position as the number one network, despite declining in breakfast.

Adelaide survey eight cumulative audience. Source: GfK | Click to enlarge

Campbell says Jo Stanley and Anthony ‘Lehmo’ Lehmann’s most recent result was a reality check, pointing to the fact there was “never a trend” in their results.

In survey seven, the pair achieved an 8.4% share, but this survey they fell by one ratings point.

“It was a one off result. It’s great they got it, but a 7.4% for breakfast and the station 9.6%… breakfast needs to be driving that radio station. Until that happens, the goal is going to ebb and flow, and we want consistently strong results next year,” he says.

Campbell confirmed the station would not have a breakfast show for the first few months of the year.

Although Gold FM maintained its top FM position in Melbourne, it did see a decline in share, as did rival Smooth FM, with share of 9.6% and 7.8% respectively.

Gold FM, Smooth FM and WSFM have been battling it out for most of the year, with marketing pushes from both sides being attributed to audience growth.

Campbell says whilst Smooth are still competitive, they have “softened off”.

“It is the great battle of 2017 – Smooth against Gold and Smooth against WSFM – mainly because we share a lot of audience between those two stations so by and large if one goes up then the other probably will sort of you know go down to some degree.”

Nova’s Jackson attributes the latest fall in Melbourne to audiences moving across to 3AW.

“At a top level glance you see in 55 plus we lost seven share points and 3AW picked up four or five. So I guess probably some audience at the older end are probably distracted by news or other things.

Perth survey eight cumulative audience. Source: GfK | Click to enlarge

“We never do brilliantly at the end of the year and maybe that doesn’t impact other stations a bit like ours as well. I think people are just busier,” he adds.

Looking to 2018, programming bosses all have different things they will take on board.

For Campbell, it’s Brisbane that he’s learnt the most from.

In the latest survey, Nova’s Ash Bradnam, Kip Wightman and David ‘Luttsy’ Lutteral’s breakfast and Susie O’Neill show finished with a 14.1% share ahead of Hit105’s Abby Coleman, Stav Davidson and Matty Acton’s 10.9% share.

Triple M Brisbane breakfast with Greg Martin and Robin Bailey finished with a 10.1% share while 97.3FM’s Bianca Dye, Bob Gallagher and Terry Hansen) ended with a 10% share.

“When any personality that has been in a market for a long period of time moves or changes, that does dislodge listening or listeners. But what’s interesting in Brisbane those listeners really didn’t go to Triple M.

“Some followed Robyn, but there was obviously churn, so the audience moved around a bit but really the beneficiary of that was really Hit105. They did some marketing as well.

“We know there’s been audience movement, but we know that it wasn’t primarily because of Robin.

“97.3 still remains a very strong station. Its position is strong. We know what’s wrong with it and we’ll certainly fix that next year. 97.3 did not have the year we really wanted them to have this year, which is a shame, but but the market was disrupted and to be honest we underestimated it.”

For Macquarie Media’s Lang, while this year’s results reinforced the news talk format, he says there’s still a lot to be done with talking lifestyle.

“Brisbane and Sydney both went up a little, but we’re dealing at levels that we’re not yet satisfied with. So from our point of view we recognise some modest increases, but we really need to grow more than that and that’s all we want to do.”

Triple M’s Fitzpatrick says his biggest learning this year came down to trusting his content directors.

“There’s no point in having great programmers in each market if I’m just going to sit here in a office in Melbourne and tell them what to do.

“I’ve got some really talented people running those stations and a radio station should be the extension of the program director of content directors. So what I’ll continue to do is empower our content directors let them make the decisions and let them execute the strategy.”



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