“The year of breakfast” SCA’s new Head of Hit takes on radio’s biggest challenge

From age 14, Gemma Fordham has enjoyed a charmed career in radio and as personal assistant to one of the world’s biggest movie stars, Nicole Kidman. Despite marriage and bearing two young children, the pieces have all fallen into place as she landed one exciting position after another.

Although things have improved dramatically over the past decade, radio can still be a bit of a boys’ club. Surely, she would have found some resistance from old school males as she rose up the radio ranks…

“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t,” says Gemma.

“I think that traditionally there has always been a lot of males at the top and whether or not that’s been planned, I can’t say. But certainly over the years I’ve had people that supported me and encouraged me and it had nothing to do with my gender. 

Craig Bruce was one of those and Dean Buchanan another. 

“Somebody said to me the other day that I’m the first female to be head of (content in) a commercial network. I don’t even know if that’s true, to be honest. But if it is, there’s really something sad about that and I hope that I’m the first of many more females. 

“Times have changed a bit and there certainly are many more strong females in this industry now. Lots of content directors and some CEO’s of course. Cathy O’Connor for me growing up was a huge inspiration because she was really kind of the only female that was proving that you could do it.”

Although she fielded several offers, as she explained in Part One, Gemma’s heart was with 2Day-FM, where it all started. “On top of that I really liked the CEO here, Grant Blackley. I hadn’t met him before and when I’d had discussions with him there was something about him that I really liked – that he wanted to break the mould and he kind of really wanted to let us crack on with things and there was something about that that I found really appealing.”

So what’s on the agenda?

“In terms of priorities it’s a no brainer. Obviously 2Day is a priority. Working with the team here will be great and I know there’s a lot of fresh thinking here and I’m really excited about the direction we’re taking things at the station. 

Rove and Sam have come a long way from week one and done some fine hours on air now. 

“I’m calling it the year of breakfast because it’s really about getting our breakfast shows performing in all of the markets – not necessarily that they aren’t all performing now but some are more than others and some may need a bit more help. A lot of it’s quite obvious stuff that can easily be fixed.”

If you take the Sydney market out of the equation and look at drive on the FM band across the other metro markets we see Hamish and Andy a strong number one in Melbourne but third in Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth. Do you expect Hamish & Andy to improve their position this year in those markets and, if so, at whose expense?

“I think 100% they will! It’s the year of breakfast and that’s another reason why.  If we look at those markets, we’re not performing as well in breakfast there. Anyone knows that that’s the way it goes, if your breakfast doesn’t perform well, you’re not going to have a good lead into your drive show. So, I absolutely expect Hamish and Andy to improve in those markets. At who’s expense? That’s an interesting question. Well, Tim Blackwell a very dear friend of mine so why don’t I say it will be at their (Kate, Tim & Marty’s) expense.”

Why do you see them, in particular, as being vulnerable?

“I’ve been a fan of their show for a long time, which Tim knows, and I’ve not been surprised at all with their success. I think they’ve crafted a very unique show that has been different to what else was on the market. But equally I do believe that if you look at the last few years at what else was in the market before they started their show and as they were building that cume. Well, certainly the markets changed in the last 6 months and I know that in the next 6 -12 months I would expect it would shift away from them as well.”

Back to Sydney, and its breakfast show, which is obviously the network’s main concern. Conventional wisdom suggests that you can either buy an established breakfast show or build a new one. You’ve taken over the third new show in three years on 2Day-FM. Given that it took Eddie McGuire over three years to build a decent audience and Kyle and Jackie O years to get to number one FM, how long are you prepared to give the current show before you start making changes?

“Look, I wouldn’t say a certain amount of time Peter. To be honest I think maybe its having that knowledge like you just said. People forget. If we look  at the Sydney market, Kyle and Jack, who I adore, and I’m still good friends with them. It didn’t happen straight away with them, I’m very mindful of that. All the breakfast shows (in Sydney) have been on air for years and certainly working together as teams for a very long time. So I wouldn’t say it’s six months or 12 months or two years. For me its going to come down to seeing gradual improvement. That’s really what it will be.”

We’re almost two months out from Survey 1 results, but what, if any, are the encouraging signs that you detect with Rove and Sam?

“I think that there’s a lot. I’ve seen such a positive reaction in terms of not only the traditional things behind the scenes in terms of tracking etc. Also seeing them on Social. They work so hard and they’re both really passionate about it and they want to win. They stick around after the show. They plan the show with the team and work really hard over the weekend, in the evenings, at all angles of their brand. It’s not just about the three hours on air… and I know that everyone talks about this but it’s a really rare thing to have talent that genuinely want to work their arse off.

“And just hearing the content like comparing them from week one to today. if they continue to grow at that rate, it’s already exceeding my expectations, then it’s going to be very happy days.”

Hypothetically, if, say two years from now Rove, for some reason, lost his voice or 2Day was in the same position it is today and Kyle and Jackie O were out of contract, would you be inclined to make them an offer to return?

“I would love to think that i have that much power but I don’t. As I said earlier, I love the guys. I’m very proud to have been a part of that brand for a number of years. And they have a very good show. But I don’t think it would be the right path for them to come back to SCA and I don’t think it would be right for SCA either. That story’s kind of been done now for SCA and its time to move forward and look at the next stage. And I’m sure that Duncan Campbell (at ARN) would be happy to hear that as well.”

Final thoughts and predictions for 2016?

“It’s certainly going to be very interesting. I think for the Hit Network there’s a lot more to come and I think that the tide is turning a little bit. I think it’s good to have things be challenged and changed all the time and it’s good to not know which network is going to perform best and I think that’s good for everyone, it’s good for the industry,” says Gemma Fordham.

Read Part One.

Peter Saxon

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