Radio’s Coming New Order of Stations

Comment from Peter Saxon.

Survey 8 results are now here.

With perhaps the exception of Sydney, which has been the most predictable of markets of late, for other cities Survey 8 will either firm up an emergent pecking order or toss all the balls in the air once again to render the market in a state of flux.

Survey 8 is more important than most because stations will have to live with those results for the extended period between tomorrow and March 10 when the first GfK Survey of 2020 will be released.

Regardless of tomorrow’s results, they can only serve as a current snapshot and won’t necessarily point to a trend that will or won’t continue into the coming year. Or, as the disclaimers at the end of those investment ads tell us, “Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future returns.”

Given the large number of line-up changes that many stations have announced in key shifts,  the results we see tomorrow could well be different to those in the same survey a year from now. At least, they should be. Otherwise, why change talent if you don’t get a change in listener numbers?


This is the most intriguing of markets – different from all the others. Here, for example, triple j is more succesful than anywhere else, often finding itself as high as third rung on the ratings ladder.

Up until about two years ago, Perth was dominated for more than a decade by SCA’s MIX 94.5. Last year, it and NOVA 93.7, were neck and neck, playing leapfrog survey to survey. This year,  NOVA has won the last four surveys, in a row. Is it now entrenched in the number one spot or will MIX94.5 make a come back?
It’s not as simple as that because now there’s a third station in the mix. 96FM, is threatening both stations for the lead. Since ARN brought back veteran Managing Director Gary Roberts and he re-instated Breakfast host Fred Botica, just a few month’s ago, the station’s leapt up the ladder from fifth spot to second in just two surveys, relegating MIX94.5 to third and breathing down the neck of NOVA.

What will Tuesday’s Survey 8 reveal about the trend in Perth leading into 2020?

Find out here, on radioinfo, tomorrow morning at 9:30.

2019 Surveys
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Is NOVA91.9 doing to ARN’s MIX in Adelaide what it’s done to SCA’s MIX in Perth?

NOVA’s won the odd survey in Adelaide in recent years but is this just another odd one or the start of a long run of number ones?

Next year they’ll have a new high profile Breakfast team in Ben and Liam who, like Merrick and Rosso before them, have a triple j pedigree.

Meanwile the NovaEnt owned FIVEaa will fight it out with ABC Adelaide for the #1 AM spot.

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The #1 position in this metro market was once the exclusive domain of 97.3 but is now subject to the closest run race of any in Australia with all of the top four stations posting an 11 something share in the most recent survey. Apart from the venerable 4KQ which, despite being anchored to an AM transmitter managed to once reach as high as second place, in every other survey the same four stations have been jockeying for postions on the ladder.

Yet, it is NOVA106.9 that has remained on top in all seven surveys thus far. But the competition’s too close to predict who will lead tomorrow and then in March 2020.

As for talent, no doubt Robin Bailey’s had a huge inlfuence on the market. She was doing breakfast at 97.3 FM when it was number one and ARN management admit it was a mistake to let her go. She was picked up by Triple M and helped improve their numbers dramatically until she had to leave in tragic circumstances to care for her ailing husband who passed away soon after.

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3AW, in terms of share, is the most listened to station in Australia, even out-performing its noisier Sydney sister, 2GB. Despite the retirement of John Burns from the Ross (Stevenson) and John Breakfast show, it’s hard to predict any change to the station’s long term dominance for the foreseeable future.

But there’s gold to be earned by occupying one of the next three or four positions on the ladder in Australia’s most lucrative radio ad market. But there’s at least seven stations seriously vying for them – including ABC Melbourne which, not so long ago, had a mortgage on second place behind 3AW and could be relied upon to keep the FM peloton at bay. Aunty has suffered much since she set the popular Red Symons adrift but has managed to claw her way back from fifth place at the beginning of the year to third last month.

As you may recall, gentle readers, after a major purge of established Melbourne talent two or three years ago, prinicipally at Nova, KIIS and GOLD104.3 there was a great deal of sampling by Melburnians… and still is. And just like the peloton in a bicycle race the FM stations were jostling for position. Finally, the stations, with “heritage” Breakfast shows – Triple M with Eddie and then Fox with Fifi re-establihed themselves at or near the top of the FM ladder – until smooth91.5 came along to spoil the SCA party. 

By 2018, Triple M had fallen behind and it was mostly smooth and FOX fighting it out for FM supremacy. This year GOLD broke away from the pack to join the leaders without getting its nose in front until Survey 6 when it finally reached number one and held on to the FM leadership (the yellow jersey of radio?) for Survey 7.

Although it’s only two surveys, which in normal circumstances can hardly be called a trend, the underlying principles are very strong. Firstly, GOLD’s recorded not only its best result in years but the highest share of any FM station this year. Put another way, no station had come within 4.0 of outright market leader, 3AW. However, in Survey 6, GOLD came within 2.0. Admittedly, 3AW experienced a rare slump in that survey. But, by Survey 7, it was back in form with a 15.2 share. GOLD, with its 12.5, was within 2.7.

Of course, much of this new found success can be attributed to the lift in GOLD’s Breakfast ratings thanks to Englishman, Christian O’Connell. He was always going to be a huge risk – unknown in Australia and sounding very different. He was always going to be an acquired taste. But like all the finer things in life such as wine and cheese, once a taste is acquired a very strong bond is formed. And listeners seem to be acquiring a taste for O’Connell and crew in droves.

With Fifi Box back at Fox after maternity leave and the taste for smooth already acquired by a large chunk of audience, next year is likely to define a new radio order for Melbourne.

2019 Surveys
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Like 3AW, 2GB is moored to first place in the nation’s most populated market. While there seems no clear and present danger in sight, there’s been quite a few changes to the talent roster. Replacing Steve Price with Deb Knight along with putting more women such as Natalie Peters, Erin Molan and Dr Sally Cockburn into their own air shifts will likely prove a move in the right direction. But losing George Moore from weekends is likely to be less productive. 

2GB’s biggest problem, though is its biggest star, Alan Jones. He’s still a ratings winner – no question. But ever since the advertiser boycott started several months ago, he can no longer be relied on as a revenue winner. Also, at 78 and reportedly in constant pain with an increasingly croaky voice, management is going to have to deal with replacing him sooner or (not much) later. 

Number One FM has gone to smooth95.3 all year with the next couple of slots divided between KIIS, WSFM and a resurgent ABC while NOVA96.9 has remained steady all year in or about 6th place. 

Unless there are any significant changes to any of the above stations next year, the survey results are likely to be in line with what we’ve seen this year.

2019 Surveys
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Peter Saxon