When the news is bad, can music do better?

Comment from Peter Saxon

As we mentioned in the introduction to our list of 23 of radioinfo’s most popular stories of 2023, (published on the eve of Survey 8) “Metro Surveys have always been among the most popular stories on radioinfo.

“In truth, five of the seven GfK Surveys released to date (Survey 8 will land tomorrow at 9:30 am) would have made it into the top 23”

You can make that six out of eight, now that the last Survey of 2023 has been released. As surveys go, number eight certainly provided more than its share of drama and intrigue.

Just as we thought a new order had almost established itself in Melbourne with 3AW on top and Gold104.3 entrenched in second place, Fox caught up to Gold to level peg on a 10.3 share overall. What’s more, the Fox Breakfast team of Fifi, Fev & Nick overtook Gold’s Christian O’Connell for outright second to Ross and Russel on AW.

Silly thought: No offence to Nick, but you’d think Fox might have found a Fred or a Fanny to be able to boast of having “Fifi, Fev and Fanny on Fox.” Imagine the fun they’d have with a revival of the old Fickle Finger of Fate segment from Laugh In. But I digress.

In Sydney’s survey, a similar situation ensued. Despite KIIS106.5’s Kyle and Jackie O beating Ben Fordham for Breakfast’s #1, for the sixth time this year, 2GB, with help from the likes of Ray Hadley (#1 Mornings) and John Stanley (#1 Nights) remains market leader overall.

Enter smoothfm. Remember them? That was the station that, prior to the pandemic used to pull 10 and 11 shares. Like a corporate covid patient, it’s been a long, slow recovery from the 6.0 shares they were getting a couple of years ago.

Well, yesterday smooth95.3 hit an 11.4 share, only half a tad behind KIIS on 11.5, overall, and just 0.7 adrift of market leader 2GB. At the same time, smooth’s a full 2.0 ahead of 4th placed WSFM. Sounds uncanny, but while Kyle and Jackie O run away with the Breakfast stakes, smooth beats KIIS in every other daypart.

In Melbourne too, smooth91.5 is making a comeback, currently sitting pretty on 4thplace on a 9.4 share, a mere 0.9 behind FOX and Gold tied for second.

Is the smooth brand on a roll or could smooth and other music stations be brought to a grinding halt in the same way they were stopped by the pandemic when listeners gravitated towards news/talk stations. 

We were able to track down NINE content head Greg Byrnes, and ARN’s CCO Duncan Campbell to ask how their networks might be affected by what looks like a lot of big news events coming to a head in 2024.

radioinfo: With major wars being fought in the Middle East and in Ukraine, and then a fairly important election coming up in the U.S. that could change the world order and directly affect Australia if the Americans choose the wrong way, is all that likely to drive people back to talk radio in the way that Covid-19 did?

Greg Byrnes: Well, that, along with just the news cycle in general even now Natural disasters, like floods, bushfires. We know our audience peaks when there is a thirst for information.

So, will there be a thirst for information around world events? Yes, there will and it will be a focus of our content. But we need to be careful that people need a reprieve too. They turn to us for companionship equally as information. So that the trick for us as programmers is getting the balance right.

Whether it be a federal election or referendum, we know when our audience tells us to “Stop talking about this. Enough already.”

Duncan Campbell: I think the wars will play out as they do. Australians have been through a lot of these conflicts a long way away. It doesn’t mean we aren’t concerned about it, but I think people have domestic challenges that are causing real concern, particularly with the inflation and price rises. People are looking for relief from that.

If prices continue to rise, that sharpens people’s focus on wanting to get a result. If I can’t get a reduction in prices, but can escape from that situation, even briefly, that’s where entertainment radio is strong. And the classic hits formats tend to do well because people sing along as they did during. Covid.

Although we invest in our news, but we’re not the hard news. I think people have changed a lot in terms of where they get their news from.

Note: We also reached out to both Nova Entertainment and SCA for comment. Neither had a spokesperson available at the time.

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