Talk Radio: Still a Tale of Two Cities

Comment from Peter Saxon


“The differences between Sydney and Melbourne is one of the great fascinations of Australia,” says MacRadio COO, Adam Lang

What works in Sydney radio rarely works in Melbourne and vice versa. Except perhaps smoothfm.

But nowhere is the divide greater than in the nature of AM Talk. In both cities, talk stations dominate. MacRadio’s 3AW and 2GB have had an iron grip on the number one spot for yonks in their respective markets while the ABC Local Radio outlet can be relied upon to hold down second or, sometimes, third place.

To add some complexity to the situation, the other three metro markets, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth have, for decades, been music led cities with FM stations populating the top positions. That is, until the most recent survey when Adelaide’s FIVEaa – the only AM talk station on NovaEnt’s books – took the lead from ARN’s MIX102.3. 

That anomaly aside, in the most recent GfK Survey, 3AW in Melbourne had a blinder with a massive 15.5 per cent share of all people aged10+ Monday to Sunday. By comparison, 3AW’s Sydney sister, 2GB, limped in to retain their number one spot with an 11.4 share, just 0.1 ahead of smooth 95.3 on 11.3. 

The 3AW breakfast show with Ross Stevenson and John Burns raked in a gargantuan 21.1 share of listeners – easily, the highest of any breakfast shift in Australia.

Mr Lang, effusive in his praise praise of his southern talent says, “I think what we have in Melbourne is a generational talent like Ross Stevenson leading the way followed by another generational talent in Neil Mitchell. We also have an incredibly talented line up across the board – great football coverage. Its truly a high functioning station. Unparalleled in Australia!

“2GB is probably the same thing but there’s more competition in Sydney. But we’ve had a very disrupted breakfast show through Alan Jones’ health in the last six months. 3AW is undoubtedly achieving excellence in Melbourne and 2GB – we’ve had to trade through some troubles for known reasons and we’re managing through that,” says Mr Lang.

Of course, losing your breakfast star to long bouts of illness is going to have an affect on ratings. But there’s more to it than that. 3AW which covers a broad range of topics is a very different style of station to 2GB which is heavily focused on conservative politics. 

In 2010, before it merged with Fairfax, the old MacRadio tried to export a 2GB style format to Melbourne that would challenge 3AW and the ABC. Within two years the experiment, dubbed MTR, was abandoned, having failed to lay a glove on either of its rivals.  

Over at ABC Local Radio, where its heritage stations rate similarly – 8.9 in Sydney and 9.2 in Melbourne –  Director of Radio Michael Mason absolutely believes that Sydney and Melbourne are very different radio markets and that his stations, though true to the ABC brand reflect those differences in each city.

So, what drives the difference between Sydney’s Talk Radio listeners and Melbourne’s? Is it the weather, the landmarks, the beaches?

I reckon it’s the Footy.

Michael Mason says, “I think it’s true that AFL defines Melbourne much more than, say, NRL does Sydney. AFL takes up so much more airtime, it probably leaves less room for other discussions, including politics,” says Mr Mason, “A keen interest in AFL is common to most Melburnians which helps brings different cultures together. Perhaps AFL is the ideal safe topic for a heated discussion.”  

Mr Lang disagrees. “I don’t think it’s actually a big difference to the radio stations and how 2GB relates to Sydney and how 3AW relates to Melbourne.

“Ross Stevenson is certainly a massive Hawthorn supporter and AFL is part of the breakfast show. Neil Mitchell covers it too. But as we know, Alan Jones is a great fan of athletes and Ray Hadley is very heavily into the NRL. But Neil’s rating a 17 and Ray a 15. It’s pretty close overall.

“I think that the nature of Ross’s show is that he is all encompassing. He is very inclusive as a bloke, very humorous. He’s pacy and moves along. Whereas with Alan’s show there is a lot of issues that he really drives. He will break the news more than just report it. They are different styles of shows. I don’t know that it’s all the AFL,” says Mr Lang. But then concedes, “It’s certainly a factor.”

  Peter Saxon

Tags: | | | | |