The Life, the Style and the Money at Radio 2UE

“Commercial aspects are part and parcel of all our programming decisions”: Adam Lang

Tucked away in a dark corner of 2GB’s program schedule at 10 pm on Saturday Nights was, until recently, an innocuous little lifestyle show aimed at the caravan, camping and 4WD crowd. And, so that the target audience would be in no doubt as to what the show was about, they called it The Caravan, Camping and 4WD Show.

Given the strength of the 2GB brand, borne of it’s firm grip on the number one spot on the Sydney ratings ladder, and the quality of the sales department, advertisers who sell things like caravans, camping equipment and 4WD vehicles came with fistfuls of dollars.

Trouble was, of course, that even for the mighty 2GB, listeners tend to be pretty thin on the ground at 10 pm of a Saturday, especially for AM talk stations, compared to, say, a Drive show. Besides, one might assume that as much as the target audience of C, C and 4WD enthusiasts would jump at the chance to listen to a show like that, they probably have better things to do on a Saturday night… like playing out their passion somewhere in the bush where radio reception is scratchy at best, and certainly out of earshot of 2GB.

So, ever keen to do right by sponsors who, after all,  pay the bills, senior management at Macquarie Media Ltd came up with the idea to put the show into a better time slot – Drive. Not on 2GB. Heaven forbid! But on 2UE on Fridays between 3 and 6 pm.

It’s the same show with the same hosts, only the name has changed from The Caravan, Camping and 4WD Show to The Great Escape. 

“The name change suggests a slightly broader show than those specific topics. It’s partly to do with the move from 2GB to 2UE and partly to do with the time slot it’s occupying on Friday afternoon when many of our listeners are looking forward to the weekend and we provide advice on how they might get away for the weekend,” says Macquarie Media COO, Adam Lang.

Before the merger of Fairfax and Macquarie, 2UE was trying to be a mini 2GB in the hope that its younger line-up of presenters would outlive Alan Jones. Since the beginning of last year, insted 2UE has been pursuing a course of differentiation by adopting a softer, less political stance with lifestyle shows, each designed to be a kind of money making silo.

But not every regular 2UE Drive listener was an instant fan of the Caravan, Camping and 4WD Show as it was still known when it launced on 2UE about a month ago. Sources tell us that some, presumably those who drive hatchbacks or take the bus, were miffed that their regular Friday talk show was replaced by a lifestyle show with little relevance to their own lifestyles. They made their displeasure known through 2UE’s social portals. The offending posts are no longer on display.

Mr Lang explains, “2UE and 2GB are different audiences and since we own both stations it does not make sense to do the same thing on both. On 2GB we have Ben Fordham with Sydney Live, very much focused on the audience need at that time – news, traffic, weather information.”

Still, it doesn’t quite address the ever-present debate between program integrity and commercial expediency… the separation of church and state as some like to put it. 

There is no doubt that the Great Escape is a good show, ably driven by its effervescent hosts Chris Bowen and The Duck. But does it have broad appeal? If it did, they’d have replaced Ben Fordham’s Friday Drive show on 2GB. But with Fordham currently rating a 9.2 share in Drive, no one would risk fixing what ain’t broke.

On the other hand, 2UE’s Drive is broke, languishing on a 2.1 share. Conventional wisdom suggests that It is unlikely that a show with such an esoteric focus as C,C and 4WD will gain much ground in overall listenership. But what’s to lose? One may at least be pulling incremental revenue out of the time-slot. As Mr Lang says, “The commercial aspects are part and parcel of all our decisions on programming.”

Nonetheless, surely there’s a danger of reaching a vanishing point. That is, a point where so much of the audience vanishes that the sponsors do too.

“I expect that would be a discussion you’d have with any advertiser who’s not getting results on any media,” says Adam Lang.

 ​ Peter Saxon

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