Comment from Peter Saxon.
I’ll wager that the good folk at Sky News and The Australian were ready and waiting to get stuck into Nine Radio’s management for letting Alan Jones go, ever since April last year when GfK Survey 2 was released.
Jones had posted a 17.9 share of the Sydney breakfast audience, a very high number, even by his standards, off the back of his “farewell tour.” The question on everyone’s lips at that point – in particular, 2GB management’s – was how much of that 17.9 would his replacement Ben Fordham be able to keep?
With the rapid shift of listeners from 2UE to 2GB the last time Jones changed stations and more recently Kyle and Jackie O’s example of moving from 2DayFM to KIIS, still firmly in everyone’s mind, they expected the answer to be swift – likely by Survey 3, scheduled for the following month. But Surveys 3, 4 and 5 were abandoned due to the COVID pandemic which meant that there were no results to be had until the end of September, almost 6 months later.
It must have been an excruciating wait for many radio pundits and, particularly 2GB and Fordham detractors, who were champing at the bit to be proven right and see Fordham fail when Survey 6 landed on September 29 last year. They were dumbfounded when Fordham returned a 17.3. Slightly down on Jones’ final result but still up amongst his best.
As our trend graph shows, Fordham, had a bit of a dip (16.1) in Survey 7 of 2020 but bounced back with a 17.1 in Survey 8. And what must have been exasperating for the Jones backers at Sky News and the Oz, Fordham put in an absolute blinder in the first Survey of this year posting an 18.1 share of breakfast. Surely, this couldn’t last forever.
And it didn’t. The show suffered three consecutive losses after that, culminating in last week’s Survey 4 which returned a 13.3 share and due to a huge surge of 2.6 share points by Kyle and Jackie O on KIIS106.5, 2GB lost the Number One Breakfast crown that Jones had worn for two decades.
Finally, the Jones camp at News had the results that they’d been waiting for, for more than a year. And they were going to let the bosses at Nine know all about it – all the while careful not to attack Fordham directly, who had always lionised Jones and agreed that it was as if he was following Bradman at bat.
“This is a disaster for 2GB!” railed The Australian’s Sophie Elsworth in a chat with Andrew Bolt on Sky News.
Time for a reality check:
- As I’ve reported previously, management was well aware of the risks they were taking when they let Jones go. Accordingly, their expectations for the new breakfast show were relatively low with a pass mark of a 12.0 share. To this point, Fordham on 13.3 remains well ahead of their expectations and if not for a freakish 2.6 gain by Kyle and Jackie O in the most recent survey, Fordham’s 13.3 should’ve been enough to keep him on top in breakfast. In fact, Jones had done worse in Survey 1 of 2017 when he could only manage a 12.9 yet still retain the lead.
- Apart from bragging rights, losing the breakfast crown to Kyle and Jackie O is unlikely to affect advertising in the near term since the two shows attract very different audiences. Nonetheless, 2GB will need to stem the flow of listeners away from the station to maintain its advertising rates.
- As for Kyle & Jackie O, as our trend graph shows, they have enjoyed a meteoric rise since Survey 1 this year. Their 12.9 in Survey 3 was already a record high for them before they laid on another 2.6 for a remarkable 15.5 share to catapult them to #1 in last week’s Survey 4. Taking nothing away from the duo, who are acknowledged even by their competitors as one of the best radio teams on the planet, the fact is that content directors, including their own Duncan Campbell, generally agree that any gain more than 2.0 in a single survey cannot be relied upon as an indication of future performance.
Steve Price, who launched his own show, Australia Today on SCA’s LiSTNR app and is replacing Ray Hadley on the network’s regional stations, was quoted on the Sky News website as saying, “People running Channel Nine radio were very nervous about hollow threats from advertisers and decided to dumb down the station”.
Prue MacSween told SkyNews.com.au that Nine management had clearly been “spooked by these woke, PC, warrior activists.”
On Sky News TV, Ms Elsworth went on to ask, “Why didn’t they leave Alan Jones in that spot?”
As anyone who’s been following the Alan Jones saga closely would know, the main reason why Jones and 2GB parted company, had little to do with his conservative views. It was all about the way in which he expressed them. Surely a man of Jones’ education and eloquence could find a better way to express his conservative opinion about New Zealand’s progressive Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, than to suggest Scott Morrison, “be fully briefed to shove a sock down her throat.” And, ‘I hope Scott Morrison gets tough here with a few backhanders. And,’‘I hope he goes for the throat this morning’.
The ACMA Chair Nerida O’Loughlin - note ACMA not some random ‘activist group’ - said in May last year, when handing down the media watchdog’s findings, that Jones’ comments are not appropriate for public radio broadcasting in today’s Australia said, “The repeated use of violent metaphors by Mr Jones and his apparent encouragement of aggressive silencing of Ms Ardern was highly offensive and did not meet contemporary community expectations.”
Jones, in police terms is “known” to the ACMA as a serial offender, putting his employer’s broadcast licence at risk.
This “nervousness about hollow threats” didn’t start with the new Nine management as the people at Sky would have you believe. In a letter, in mid August of 2019 from then Macquarie Radio’s executive chairman Russell Tate (left) that was meant for Jones as much as it was to appease advertisers and the ACMA, he said he would conduct a review of all 2GB/4BC Breakfast content, “Macquarie stations and presenters will continue to initiate and encourage debate on important issues but must do so in language and tone that all of contemporary Australia finds acceptable."
Jones was made to apologise to Ms Ardern but Tate wrote, "Notwithstanding his apologies, I have today discussed the matter with Alan and advised him that any recurrence of commentary of this nature will result in the termination of his contract."
That statement by Tate was referenced by the ACMA chair, when on May 21, 2020, just three days after Jones had announced he was leaving, she brought down another finding that he’d breached the accuracy rules in regards to statements he’d made on climate change. Also on the horizon were accuracy breaches in regards to the pandemic which Jones, against the government’s medical advice characterised as nothing more than the flu. However, happily for Nine, with Jones departing, the ACMA decided not to persue the matter further.
The irony is that Bolt, Price and Elsworth who claim that Nine wants to shut down conservative voices are all qualified, seasoned journalists compared to Jones, who describes himself as an "entertainer." As such, they know how not to push the ACMA’s buttons by avoiding the type of inflammatory language and personal attacks that routinely lands Jones in hot water. And if they can do it without staining their conservative credentials, why can't Jones?
They also seem to have a better grasp of the defamation laws. None of the three have cost their employer $3.7 million as a result of suggesting on air, without having absolute proof, that it was a prominent family’s fault that a dozen people perished in the Queensland floods.
I should add that Chris Smith, who hasn’t been mentioned in any of this, works both at Sky and at 2GB and is also an established conservative voice and yet manages to stay under the ACMA’s radar and is yet to be threatened by a boycott. He, like another well known conservative, Ray Hadley, are strong advocates for vaccination and have a deep appreciation of how deadly this pandemic is and the importance of everyone adhering to the rules.
Bolt who seems to dare not mention the media regulator’s role in Jones’ departure, asserts that, “2GB’s new owners, Nine, got scared particularly by a tiny group of far-left internet activists, particularly one vicious one called Mad F----ing Witches.
No, Andrew, as I said earlier, if anyone “got scared” it was Russell Tate, executive chairman of the previous owners, Macquarie Media back in August 2019.
Bolt then boasts that, They (Mad F----ing Witches) tried to take on Sky, we showed them the door. But over there at 2GB, they threatened their advertisers and that if Jones wasn’t removed…”
Was it really that simple, Andrew? How exactly did Sky manage to show them the door, appeal to their better nature?
From what I can make out, Jones only appears on Sky four hours a week and for half an hour with Peta Credlin (another conservative voice often heard on 2GB) and another with Graham Richardson as well as a short, daily comment. So, on a multi-channel network like Foxtel, if some advertisers want to boycott Jones’ show, it’s not that difficult to redistribute those ads to other programs and other channels.
In fact, many of the advertisers who boycotted the Alan Jones Breakfast show continued to support other dayparts. That might isolate the problem, but it doesn’t solve the problem because breakfast is by far the station’s biggest revenue generator, commanding the highest rates. In radio, you can’t just do a work around of breakfast without serious damage to your bottom line.
The Sky website quotes a number of anonymous sources at 2GB to make their case. I doubt, however, they spoke to any sales staff who rely on commissions for most of their income. The ones I spoke to, took none too kindly to a man who earns more in about three weeks than they do in a year deciding to double down and insult the advertisers that the sales people were trying to win back by calling them spineless. "Now, someone in the corporate world has got to develop a spine here because these are minorities ... keyboard warriors," Jones said.
Bolt questions whether Jones actually decided to retire, “Retire? I’d actually say, he had a gutful of the betrayals and the lack of support,” he says.
I wish someone would betray me with a $4 million payout. After that, I wouldn’t feel the need for their support.
On top of pressure from the ACMA, the boycotts, the worry about what defamatory statement Jones might make next (which affects insurance costs) the man was approaching 80 and in ill-health. He was taking more and more sick days away from the microphone and having more stints in hospital.
After yet another week off, and a chat with Nine Radio boss, Tom Malone he made public the fact that he would retire, saying it was on doctor’s orders. That was confirmed, on condition of anonymity, by an insider who had been a Jones confidant for many years. He assured me, ‘He’s really unwell and been told he must cut back severely on his workload.’
Now it seems that that lighter workload plus a $4 million golden handshake has done wonders for his general health and Jones is once again ready for the rigours of radio. But 2GB Content Chief, Greg Byrnes has confirmed that any comeback won’t be with 2GB.
Of course, if this whole thing is really about free speech and the stifling of conservative voices, rather than leave his colleagues at Sky News to bash Nine management for the sport of it, Alan Jones might yet find another avenue by which to ply his trade like Steve Price has with a podcast and a networked show on another network.
On the other hand, if Nine thought that Jones could go to a competitor, they might have done more to keep him for longer. But if he wants to prove the point that they were mad to let him go, why not have a chat to Bill Caralis who might see value in reuniting Alan Jones with John Laws, two of the three (the third being Kyle and Jack) greatest living Australian radio shows ever, on his Super Network.
The battle between Jones and Fordham on breakfast would be fascinating and may just entice Bill to get 2SM back into the GfK ratings surveys.