Radio Rivals: Enemies no more

Comment from Peter Saxon: NOW UNLOCKED.

At one of those radio drinks and nibbles functions, I was chatting to a veteran Content Director who, way back, had been a “Programme Manager” at a time when “content” was a job description associated with cows – beasts not known to be hard-nosed high achievers.

He told me that he missed the competitiveness of those days before the major networks merged. He longed for the return of those times when MMM, Sydney literally hated 2Day and FOX hated EON (Now MMM, Melbourne). 

Stations loved to indulge in stunts that got up their rivals’ nose. When 2WS (now WSFM) first started in 1978 it named its mascot, a cockatoo, ‘Garvin’ after Garvin Rutherford the boss at main rival 2SM (still 2SM but no longer as much of a rival). 

WS went so far as to include his name on a series of billboards and bus sides featuring listener testimonial grabs. One said something like, “2WS has better music and is now my favourite station” – G. Rutherford, Bankstown.

Stations often used to place a billboard opposite the studios of their biggest competitor. It was a cheeky tactic designed to stir up the opposition’s presenters and off-air staff. The last known incident was in 2011 when 2UE, launching its new line-up with Jason Morrison, David Oldfield, Michael Smith and Paul Murray bought signage that dominated the road that led to the media enclave which housed 2GB and 2CH as well as Nova 969, Classic Rock 95.3 (now smoothfm) and Channel Ten. 

Whether such tactics achieved any kind of tangible result for their perpetrators remains moot but since the merger of Fairfax and Macquarie the feud between them, real or imagined no longer exists – at least not between its stations. Same goes for all the stand alone FM stations that were once enemies who have joined either SCA, NovaEnt or ARN as part of their networks’ duopolies. 

Of course some rivalry still exists between networks, particularly when they are competing for similar targets. But now with so many external challenges to the radio industry there seems to be a lot more cooperation. What were once enemies are are at worst frenemies.

I’ve sensed the change when speak with the Content Directors after each survey. Until recently they were still relatively quick to point out the flaws of their rivals but not so much now. 

“Maybe when I was 28 and gung ho,” says SCA Chief Creative Officer, Guy Dobson “but now I just go ‘meh’ and look after our own.”

When I asked Paul Jackson at Nova Entertainment what effect the departure of Hamish and Andy from HIT and the arrival of Will and Woody at KIIS would likely have on Nova’s National Drive team , he told me, “I don’t really look at it like that. We’re all looking at our own information and got our own theories. So when you’re against Nova’s Kate Tim & Marty you can’t do what they do, you’ve got to do something different. I respect other stations for hiring people who do things differently. 

“We can see that with Jase & PJ and Christian O’Connell coming in as well. I can’t really speak for them (ARN) but what it does do is call on listeners to reassess, to sit up and notice that radio is a good thing. At that point they have to assess, ‘do I like this show or do I want something different?’ For us, any change is an opportunity to say hang on, we’re here, we’re the best.”

Surely Jackson has an opinion on how Englishman Christian O’Connell, will go in Melbourne…

“The honest answer is, I have not got a clue. I don’t know how that will go at all. I know Christian and I’ve worked with him before. He’s a great guy, an exceptional talent but it all comes down to how things translate. It’s like footballers around the world, some transfers work brilliantly, others don’t travel so well. I did that myself coming out here and people told me I wasn’t going to last very long. And you dig in and one way or another for most of us, you work at it til it does work,” says Paul Jackson.

Peter Saxon