Post Covid, how long will Talk totally dominate in Sydney and Melbourne?

Peter Saxon asks 3 network CDs 

My first impulse for the headline for this story was to write “AM Talk dominates…”

But it didn’t feel right. Firstly, because there is no FM Talk to compare it to. And secondly, what’s the difference anyway between AM and FM when more than ever, it’s all about the content. Besides, on DAB+ and online, there’s no difference in sound quality between the two.

In Brisbane and Adelaide, the stations that broadcast a Pure Gold format, 4KQ and CRUISE1232, both do it on the AM band, yet rate in double digits and rank number three in their respective markets – proving once again, that broadcast technology follows content.

Sydney and Melbourne have always been Talk towns while Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth have been music driven. Why?

“Possibly because Melbourne and Sydney have always had big, bold radio stars,” says Nine Radio Head of Content, Greg Byrnes. “Talk in a Perth and Brisbane has always been a battle. But we’re building those big brands with big personalities.”

Despite “battling” in Brisbane and Perth, yesterday’s huge results for Nine Radio in Sydney and Melbourne means the network can boast being number one across those markets in all people aged 30+ as well as those 35 -64.

Over the past 20 years 3AW and 2GB have had a virtually unbeaten run in close to 160 surveys. But ever since COVID-19 hit in March 2020, their iron grip on the lead has only strengthened.

In Breakfast, 3AW’s Ross Stevenson and Russel Howcroft put in a blinder. According to the official GfK result, they posted a 24.3 share in the published the 5:30 – 9:00am timeslot. But if you look at their actual airshift of 5:30 – 8:30am they go up to 25.3, according to Byrnes. Which means they command more than a quarter of the entire available Melbourne audience (10+), leaving 15 stations in their wake to fight it out for what’s left.

When you add in the #2 station, ABC Melbourne (also mainly news and talk) with its 14.3 share, that’s almost 40% of the breakfast audience between the two.

In Sydney, few pundits gave Ben Fordham much hope of retaining the audience that Alan Jones had left him when he departed after Survey 2 of 2020. But Fordham has confounded his critics and posted a 19.8 share – a result not seen at 2GB for more than a decade.

Taking nothing away from the achievements of Ben Fordham and Ross and Russel, along with the cast and crew of 2GB and 3AW, it’s fair to say they were helped by being on stations with the right format for attracting an audience during a pandemic when people wanted news, discussion and more of it.

Although Fordham had become a seasoned professional, after spending eight years on 2GB Drive, replacing an icon like Alan Jones was always going to be a huge risk – as had been dramatically demonstrated by Jones when he left 2UE for 2GB and with Kyle and Jackie O when they quit 2Day for KIIS.

Of course, it was a huge advantage to 2GB that Jones did not land at an opposition radio station to which his audience could readily migrate. But the unforeseen factor was Covid, which meant that news-hungry listeners who might have sampled Fordham for a day or two, and left before he had a chance to win them over, stayed long enough to warm to him and form a listening habit. Which is one reason why some of the FM stations aren’t expecting to significantly close the gap between them and the market leaders anytime soon – despite the easing of Covid restrictions in NSW and Victoria.

Nova Entertainment’s Paul Jackson, whose stations, across the network, held relatively steady, had this to say: “When you do talk radio, you want all sorts of controversial things to be happening… not necessarily pandemics. But when you get that and you get a huge surge of engagement and listening, it’s a shop window for your own talent.

“I expect these numbers on these (talk) stations to be maintained for quite a while. I think, with the changes since getting vaxxed and people coming in internationally that represent new stories to emerge about whatever the outcomes are going to be, will probably keep news relatively front and centre across the summer months.”

ARN claimed the number one FM position in Melbourne with GOLD104.3 which managed a 10.9 share behind the two leading talk stations and almost 4.0 ahead of fourth placed smooth91.5. In Sydney, it was WSFM that grabbed third place (first on the FM band) just ahead of stable mate KIIS106.5

Network CD, Duncan Campbell, feels that station ratings will return to pre-covid levels fairly soon.

“Once we start to move on from Covid, you’ll see the AW and GB breakfast figures come back down to normal levels. They were very strong pre-Covid, by the way. That will impact the Nine result, which is setting a very high 15 share nationally. But that will come back to more like 13s, which is where they have historically been.”

Peter Saxon