An exclusive interview for radioinfo with Duncan Campbell, ARN Group Content Chief by Dave Charles, President of Media RESULTS Inc.
The rise & rise of ARN since you joined 12 years ago has been impressive. What would you say were the top three reasons for that success?
There are many reasons for the success including signing Kyle & Jackie O and Christian O’Connell but first the foundation of that success was laid and that foundation was due to these three factors:
First we had a CEO in Ciaran Davis who in 2010 reset the business with a Ratings, Revenue and Profit approach. It was Ratings first which enabled me to put in place approval processes that meant I had very clear visibility over the whole network so I could ensure nothing that wasn’t part of our strategy would end up on air.
Secondly, we had budget to conduct music research and market studies using panels of listeners that went through key strategic filters rather than listeners taken from competition winners or recruited via the station website. The methodology is expensive but it’s very good and enabled us to put a winning music format into each of our stations.
Thirdly, we set the strategy from the centre and while it was locally executed we monitored our stations and if needed micro managed the execution to ensure we sounded the best we could and we were continually I improving the output. Monitoring of radio stations is very important but like a lot of the basic fundamentals of radio is a lost art these days.
As I said there are lot of reasons for the success but the foundation we laid prior to 2014 when K&J moved to North Ryde and KIIS was launched meant we could capitalise on that move because the rest of the network was largely in good shape.
The Christian O’Connell success was not something a great majority of industry colleagues predicted. Were you confident that the show would be a success or was it a real gamble that paid off?
TS Elliott said “ Only those who risk going too far can find out how far they can go”.
We had two significant moments over the past 12 years that were game changers for us, one was hiring Kyle & Jackie O and the other was hiring Christian O’Connell. Throughout the whole process of getting him and his family a visa and getting him out here and getting ready for the first show I was always quietly confidant.
Of course it was a gamble to some degree as it had never been done before but I knew Christian from my time in the UK and I knew what a great broadcaster he was but I didn’t expect the level of success he is now enjoying to happen as quickly as it did.
The recent Infinite Dial Survey showed that 80% of Australians listen to radio each week. Does the resilience of the medium surprise you?
Short answer is no. The death of radio has been predicted many times over the past 30 to 40 years and many have been disappointed, and I struggle to understand why these people are so keen to see radio go the way of the VHS Tape etc because I love the medium and it’s been a big part of my life for 38 years now.
Radio is more than tech and this is what most people miss. The magic of the medium is the personal connections between the personalities and the listeners and those connections are strong, personal and enduring. That’s why radio is so resilient and the proof is in the numbers.
Off the back of survey 4 results this week CRA released a summary of radio listening which showed the cumulative audience for commercial radio now sits at 12 million which is the highest ever figure and a 7.6% jump over the past year.
When people tell me someone has predicted that radio will be dead in three years I channel the Michael Caton character in the great Australian movie ‘The Castle’ and say “Tell ‘’im ‘e’s dreamin”.
What do you see as the biggest threat to Radio in the next 10 years?
The shrinking talent pool of talent both on and off the air is the biggest threat to radio. We have not been training the next generation of Content Directors which means a lot of the principles of radio have been lost. The same can be said of many functions in radio where there is a talent shortage which results in people from other sectors being employed with no radio experience.
In some cases that’s been a good thing but we as an industry should be training the radio talent of the future now and I’ll hold my hand up and include ARN in that. It’s an industry wide issue that’s fixable but we all need to act now.
At 12 years you are the longest serving Group Content Director since the advent of FM. Did you ever imagine you would be in the role this long and what keeps you going?
When I joined ARN 12 years ago I thought that if I was lucky I would get 10 years as I felt that was a good lifecycle for a role like this and after 10 years the company would be ready for an injection of new thinking. But we were enjoying great success and still are, and we had not mapped out any real succession plans and I had unfinished business with one or two of our radio stations and we were getting into podcasting and Ciaran wanted me to stay.
I love it you know and I still get up every morning and get to do something that I love. I won’t lie to you, this role sucks a lot of personal time out of your life so getting a good work life balance is challenging but I’m not complaining. There are not many Chief Content Officer roles in Australian commercial radio.
SCA, Nova, ARN and I guess Nine are the only ones so I’m very grateful and have enormous respect for those that currently hold that position at other networks and those who have held it previously. I’m conscious though not to overstay my welcome but I’m sure Ciaran Davis will let me know when that time comes.
Beyond your day to day radio life, what does Duncan Campbell do for fun?
When not working I like to do things that takes my mind off work. I fly Drones and find that strangely relaxing as I have to focus solely on not crashing the drone which means I can’t think about work so I actually relax.
I’m also learning to edit video which has been good and is different to audio. I also love to travel, I love the beach, I binge on Netflix and spend time with my family. I have five nieces and nephews who are a lot of fun to be around and two sisters and despite losing Mum and Dad in the past 8 years we remain a very close family which I am grateful for.
What advice would you give new radio and new media talents entering our business today?
My advice is simple. Always work on the basis you have more to learn and seek out people who you can learn from and ask lots of questions and listen. Listening is an art form and I listened a lot to people who could help me develop as a Content Director. You are always learning and that’s part of what excites me about the business.
Business wise, what keeps you awake at night?
Consumer confidence and the economy keep me up at night. Despite strong ratings which are essential, for the business to continue to invest in Content advertisers need to be spending as if they don’t then the need to reduce costs becomes more important. A Radio business is strongest when ratings and revenue are strong. It’s not much fun when you’re in a cycle of cost cutting due to a weak economy.
I recently published an article in North American media trade called THE CRIME OF GENDER BIAS. What do you do in your capacity at ARN to make sure that ARN gives woman equality in key roles in radio?
We look for the best people for the roles we have available and we are the only network that has two female Content Directors in a metro market. Sue Carter at Gold and Ali Longhurst at KIIS 97.3 in Brisbane. I recruited both of them as they were the best people for those roles. We created the 3PM Pick up with three women as hosts, our Podcast to Broadcast strategy has seen two radio shows on Saturday hosted by women.
There is a policy of Inclusiveness and Diversity at ARN that doesn’t mean I have a quota to meet but it does mean we don’t have a gender bias and that’s evident by the number of women in senior roles both on and off the air at ARN.
Who are your media mentors and why?
I have been lucky enough to have met some great radio people since I joined 2PK in 1984. From my first Program Director Brendon Atchison, my first consultant Mike Wass who I met when I was at 2QN in Deniliquin. He was the first great influence on my career.
Then there was Peter Don from BPR who I learnt a lot from, Peter Sinclair who programmed Gold 104.3 when it first launched, Greg Smith of course and the likes of Eriks Celmins, Larry Bruce, yourself Dave, Brad March, the late Peter Harvie and Ciaran Davis.
I learnt a lot from all of them by listening.
The three great programming influences though were Mike Wass, Peter Don and Greg Smith.
They all influenced my career greatly and without that influence I wouldn’t be where I am today and I’m grateful that they were all so generous with their time.
What’s the best way for our readers to contact you Duncan?
“A winning Content Director must develop great judgement. It is all about asking your target audience what they want & then airing creative content that supports the strategy. Your goal is to get the audience afraid to turn off because they might miss something. Duncan Campbell has nailed it.”
Greg Smith (former CEO of ESP Pty Australia)
Dave Charles, President Media RESULTS Inc.
Mobile: 289 242 8313.
Email: [email protected]