FM Talk Radio: Where’s it at?

Brian Carlton tells Peter Saxon what he thinks.

FM Talk is a term that’s been buzzing around radio since not long after after the introduction of FM radio in the 1980’s.

FM had to invent itself from scratch and AM had to reinvent itself as a result of FM and I think since then we’ve had this sort of frequency divide and I always thought it was largely BS and an artificial thing.”

“When it comes to putting together a show I don’t really think about it differently on AM or FM. What I think about is the nature of the audience  to which I’m broadcasting. Thats a far more critical thing than whether a scratchy AM frequency or a nice clean FM frequency.” says Brian Carlton (pictured) – who arguably knows more about talk on FM than anyone. Having been program manager at 2GB (AM) and The Spoonman on Triple M (FM) he now has his own morning talk show covering Northern and North West Tasmania out of LAFM in Launceston and networked to AM stations: 7BU Burnie, 7AD Devonport, 7SD Scottsdale and 7XS Queenstown. 

In his first survey, in May this year Carlton shot to number one between 9 am and midday with a 28.2 per cent share of the available audience – more than 7.0 above his station’s average and 6.0 clear of his main rival on ABC Northern Tasmania.

“I saw no reason why you couldn’t do a talk show on FM radio and its how the Spoonman thing came about in the late 90’s initially and then rebooted in the mid naughties, Carlton says. And he had strong allies at Austereo.

“All the research was telling them that as the FM stations had grown a bit older and their audience was no longer a bunch of canting teenagers like I used to be back in the 80’s, they needed to either work out how they were going to maintain or keep attracting that new core music audience of, say, 11’s to 17’s every five years OR do they make a strategic decision to grow older with their audience. 

“One of the things the MMM research came back with in the mid 90s was that the core Triple M audience had gone beyond just going to an Angels concerts or listening to AC/DC – and all of that was still very much part of their lives – but they were now married, they had a mortgage, they had bill shock, they had issues that were getting up their nose, the roads were clogged, they were paying too much for tolls and all of the stuff that affects the average working person these days was hitting these former teenagers as they were growing up into their thirties and forties,” says Carlton. 

It would be remiss not mention triple j. While the station itself is 42 years old, the ABC’s youth network continues to attract 18 – 24 year olds.

While triple j has maintained 18-24s as its core demographic, Triple M targets “all men” but, nonetheless, skews to 40-54s. Both are considered music stations, yet they feature far more talk than they did when they launched on the FM band back in the 80s.

The mentality that FM is largely for music and AM radio is for talk has been the biggest hamperer of having what you might call a broader range of formats on FM radio. It’s pretty sterile at the moment to my way of thinking,” says Carlton.

Will there be a time when an FM station offers 24 hour talk? 

“Thats what Im suggesting will be the next shakeup in the industry. It might happen when one of the FM stations decides that continually attempting to reinvent your music format in an attempt to attract a younger audience every few year is too difficult. 

“The thing about music is that it can be played by all the radio stations more or less at the same time. There’s not a lot unique about it. You can have a different voice between those songs but ultimately its the same music. 

“The unique content for radio is talk – people talking. Having conversations. There’s so much engagement in so many issues at the moment.

“I really feel sorry for music programmers – far more so than people trying to generate talkback content. Its a hard hard job. I don’t envy them for a second. If they’re sick of doing that. 

“(On the other hand) The thing with 2GB. If you’re worried about the heritage audience you’ve been growing for many years falling off its perch… the thing with Singo (John Singleton), (what he fears) more than anything else, is an FMer deciding to go wall to wall talk,” says Brian Carlton.


Peter Saxon

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