Em and Harley – Have they got what it takes?

Peter Saxon sticks his neck out with an opinion

In television, programming decisions are quick. If a TV show doesn’t rate after just a handful of episodes, it’s axed… replaced by re-runs of something like Big Bang Theory that can be relied upon to stem the viewer exodus til a replacement can be found. 

Alternatively, the show will be moved to an “exciting new time slot” like Saturday nights at 11 to soak up the initial 13 episode run. And then axed.

In television, they believe that after a couple of episodes, the viewers have made up their minds. Once departed, they’re unlikely to return.

Radio’s different. Isn’t it?

A new show needs time to bed in, they’ll tell you. Time to connect with it’s audience. True, if we’re talking about relatively unknown or untried talent on a small contract. Even Kyle and Jackie O were once just that. It took almost a decade at SCA before they hit number one on the FM band.

But when you’ve paid a fortune like ARN did to buy that number one talent, you’re going to be pretty nervous about that first survey. After all, it wasn’t so much the talent you were after as their listeners who aren’t signiatories to any contract and therefore under no obligation to come across. (The day it becomes cheaper and less hassle to pay people to listen rather than pay talent big salaries, no doubt some networks will be onto it.)

With big name, high price talent, you’ll get quick results one way or another – pretty much like television. From K&J’s very first survey at KIIS, the gamble paid off in spectacular fashion for ARN while SCA has struggled to field a breakfast show that could attract enough listeners to return 2Day to anything like its former glory.

After two and a half breakfast shows since 2014 and with new CEO Grant Blackley installed, SCA threw the dice once more by hiring big name, high price talent in Rove McManus along with radio novice, Sam Frost. Sadly there was no ‘hoped for’ swift uptick in ratings and by 3 or 4 surveys in, it was clear that listeners had made their choice and weren’t checking the 2Day box in their diaries.

However, radio is very different to television in that there’s no relatively cheap U.S. sitcom you can recycle as a reliable placeholder. And your talent contract is for three years not 13 weeks. What’s more, while the quality of a half to an hour long show on TV certainly has an affect on its time slot, a radio breakfast show impacts on the whole station’s brand.

So, well after you, your competitors and that pesky broadcast media has come to the inevitable conclusion that your breakfast show’s just not working, you’ve got to keep telling everyone that you’re in it for the long haul and have every confidence, full support etc, while you work feverishly behind the scenes to make the changes that must be made before you come out with the big announcement that you’re going to take the show in a new direction.

As the fourth new breakfast show in as many years, there’s much riding on this pairing of Em Rusciano & Harley Breen. But Em cares not a fig for SCA’s problems. She’s doing it for her own reasons. Which is as it should be. 

“Initially I said no (to the gig,)” Rusciano told news.com.au, “because I said I don’t think I can do it and I don’t want to go crazy again.”

But the Head of Hit Network Content Gemma Fordham told her, “You owe it to the women of Australia and your daughters to have your voice loudly heard and I’m going to give you the platform. You’ve got important things to say.”

Already Em’s had plenty to say about topics ranging from Alan Jones to anti-vaccinators.

So, has Em & Harley got what it takes? Will this be the show that finally gets 2Day FM off the canvas?

I’ll stick my neck out and say, “I think so.”

Why? Because to my ears, this show has what the others lacked: Attitude. 

Sure, it’s still a bit rough around the edges. The chemistry doesn’t flow as effortlessly as it will after 100 shows. Doing the show from Melbourne is going to be a challenge. Nonetheless, the details can be fine tuned.

But you can’t manufacture “attitude.”

Sure technical competency is important but any art form, whether painting, acting, music or hosting radio ultimately succeeds by connecting with an audience. Call it X-Factor, The Right Stuff, Chemistry, The Secret Ingredient. Or, as the French say, “je ne sais quoi” (I can’t put my finger on exactly what that means but it sounds so sexy).

I think SCA is finally onto a winner – or at least a show that puts 2Day FM back in the contest. And that’s gotta be good for Radio. N’est-ce pas?



Peter Saxon

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