Best of British luck, ARN

Comment from Peter Saxon

When I spoke to ARN heavyweights CEO, Rob Atkinson and Content Director Duncan Campbell just before Christmas last year, they agreed that the changes already made at the network were likely more than any other radio organisation had ever made in a single year. However, Campbell was adamant, “There’s some real thought gone into this strategy backed up by research. This has been a massive undertaking to make all the changes that we’ve made.”

To recap on just the majors, they had jettisoned a proven, high profile national Drive team, Hughesy and Kate in favour of the up and coming Will and Woody. They had also replaced Matt & Meshel on KIIS 101.1 in Melbourne Breakfast with a Kiwi duo no one’s heard of in Oz, Jase and PJ. To top it off they’d dumped Jo & Lehmo, the breakfast duo on GOLD104.3, despite the fact that they’d reached #1 for their time slot in Melbourne.

What Messrs Atkinson and Campbell were dying to tell me but couldn’t – unless I’d agree to be placed in an induced coma until the official announcement – was that they had persuaded a British radio superstar in Christian O’Connell to quit his hugely successful show on Absolute Radio and risk his career and reputation in one of the world’s most competitive markets on the other side of the planet where almost no one knows his name. 

A  countryman of O’Connell’s, Mumbrella’s Tim Burrowes, who migrated to Australia from the UK a decade ago, wrote from experience in his weekend newsletter as he outlined the obstacles to connecting with a foreign audience.

He said that although Australia felt 99% the same as Britain, “It gradually dawned on me that elements of the cultural backdrop I took for granted weren’t there. I hadn’t grown up with Laurie Oakes breaking the big political news on Nine. Melbourne’s AFL passions and Sydney’s NRL leanings had passed me by. I had never seen or heard of The Castle; I had no idea of the vibe of the thing.”

In his first few weeks as editor of B&T, Burrowes spelled Quantas with a U in a front page headline.

It’s hard enough in print but in radio which picks up and amplifies the British accent and every intonation and nuance that separates the true blue from the blow in, there’s no place to hide.

Nonetheless, there’s one important cultural trait we share with our UK cousins (two if you count cricket) and that’s our deep and abiding love of British humour. As excellent as our distinctive laconic home grown style is, we can’t quite replicate British humour which, I daresay, Australians appreciate more than any other country in the world outside of Britain..

As far back as The Goons in the 1950’s with Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers and Harry Secombe through Monty Python, The Young Ones, Little Britain and Ricky Gervais, listening to podcasts of his show on Absolute Radio, it’s easy to discern where O’Connell’s comedic roots lie. 

Short of enticing Andrew Denton back behind a mic, ARN clearly isn’t content to put together another Woppo, Berko and Beryl in the hope that they’d gel as an on air team yet still end up with just another variation on what’s been the norm in Breakfast radio in Australia for the past 30 years or more.

If it’s a point of differentiation ARN is after for GOLD 104.3 then Christian O’Connell will deliver in spades. Whether he connects with the listeners left him by Jo & Lehmo is the $64 million question. It’s a big throw of the dice for both ARN and O’Connell. 

In that great British comedy, Yes Minister, Sir Humphrey might have described such a venture to Jim Hacker as, “A courageous decision.” But you’ve got to admire them for that.


Peter Saxon

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