Brisbane radio in 2012
Posted January 9th, 2012 by debritz
Is Brisbane just a branch office, or is there serious money to be made here with the right kind of investment?
That's a question many businesses have been asking over the years, and the media is no exception. Sadly, we've lost a few players in the market over the past decade or two, especially when it comes to newspapers (down from three Brisbane dailies and two Sunday papers in the mid-1980s to one of each now) and our television stations are producing less and less local content (with, it must be said, some notable exceptions, but it's still a far cry from the 1960s and 70s, when Brisbane TV screened local variety shows, panel games, children's shows and current affairs programs).
So what about radio? Will it remain a bastion of localism, or will networking continue to encroach on precious airtime in the cause of cutting costs? Sadly, the early signs for 2012 are not good for those who like it live and local.
The local graveyard shift is pretty much a thing of the past. Overnight shows are either networked or voice-tracked: i.e. the talking bits are pre-recorded during the day and the program is compiled and broadcast by a computer. Even at 612ABC, the local announcer goes home at 10pm, meaning that, when you add in the networked current-affairs content, more than a third of total weekday airtime is broadcast from interstate. On weekends, only the breakfast show and news come from Brisbane. With one or two exceptions -- notably 4BC -- commercial radio stations in the River City pretty much turn out the lights at 6 or 7pm.
The good news is that, when it is local, it's competitive -- and no more so in 2011, when five stations were battling it out for overall ratings supremacy. It's a far cry from the 1980s when first FM104/ Triple M and then B105 were the bolters, and every other station was an also-ran. Competition is strong, and that can only be good news for listeners.
With all that in mind, here are my predictions for Brisbane radio in 2012, first my six best guesses, then predictions by network:
1. The axings are not over; everybody is on notice.
2. Another breakfast team to be shown the door by the end of the year.
3. Expect some lightning raids from southern bosses implementing strategies that might please the accountants but not benefit Brisbane audiences.
4. The likelihood of at least one station changing hands.
5. Crowding at the top of the ratings ladder will continue, but one station will make a break from the pack by year's end.
6. There will be far too much talk about babies on stations that ought to be pitched elsewhere.
612 ABC breakfast host Spencer Howson to continue to do well in the numbers game. As the commercials try to poach each other's younger audiences, he'll be king of the 50-pluses. Howson will remain No. 1 in breakfast at least until the commercial stations sort themselves out.
All eyes will be on Steve Austin, who has just reclaimed the morning current-affairs slot. Ratings should be healthy, especially in the lead-up to and aftermath of the state election.
Tim Cox, although largely unknown to Brisbane audiences, should be able to maintain, and perhaps build, Aunty's audience in drive, while Kelly Higgins-Devine will bring some new energy to the problematic afternoon shift (common wisdom is that people suffer "talk fatigue" after lunch and either switch off or switch over to music stations). Rebecca Levingston (pictured) is likely to bring a different approach to evenings, but I don't think anybody will expect her to better the huge ratings Austin has built up in the timeslot over many years.
Radio National fans will be very vocal if the line-up changes this year don't pan out well, but Triple J, which has been known to out-rate some of the commercial stations in Brisbane, seems set for another big year. If the programmers get the music mix right, it will continue to be the station of choice for younger listeners who don't like intrusive advertising, being treated as idiots or being taken for granted (yes, I'm looking at you, commercial FM).
Austereo (B105 and Triple M)
Southern Cross-Austereo spends up big to maintain its audience, but it's no longer the sure-fire cashcow it used to be. For the all-important female market, B105 faces strong challenges from Nova 106.9 and 97.3FM (which aims a little older).
The focus will be on whether the addition of Abby Coleman has sufficiently freshened-up the breakfast show or whether further surgery is needed. The one-time new kids on the block, Jason "Labby" Hawkins and Stav Davidson, will have to work hard to keep their show
Triple M pretty much has the blokes to itself, but there aren't as many advertising dollars in that market. As it proved with its axing of The Cage last year, Austereo is no longer shy about making dramatic moves, even mid-race, and maybe one or two more changes are just around the corner.
Australian Radio Network (4KQ and 97.3FM)
In my books, the biggest threat to the resurgent 97.3FM (co-owned by DMG) comes not from the other stations, but from within.
ARN has already shown disturbing signs of tinkering with the local formula that has made 97.3FM more successful than its sister Mix stations in Sydney and Melbourne. The breakfast team of Terry Hansen, Robin Bailey and Bob Gallagher (pictured above) is very competitive.
Memo to HQ: it ain't broke, and heavy handed interference won't fix it, especially if SC Austereo decides to pitch B105 older and go after your audience.
Meanwhile, 4KQ needs to keep an eye on what 4BH does music-wise. There are at least two distinct audiences there, because not everybody over 40 likes the same music. And, despite the focus on youth at the commercial FM market, there's money to be made from people who actually listen to, and act on, advertising.
Fairfax Radio (4BC and 4BH)
The product is pretty good, but the audience isn't there in the numbers Fairfax would like like. Still, 4BC consistently wins awards for advertising sales and is a very sound business (no joke intended). The challenge will be to find a way to break through the single-digit barrier.
As I've said before, there is no reason why commercial talk can't do as well in Brisbane as it does elsewhere. The big question will be whether to stick with the current line-up and try to build, or to try something new and risk alienating new listeners. That decision will most likley be made at HQ, not in Brisbane.
I think we'll see on-air changes, but I'm not convinced it will be for the better -- unless they find the elusive "Brisbane Alan Jones", whoever that may be.
4BH operates efficiently and complements its sister station by playing music for those "oldies" who don't like talk radio. They both face a challenge from 612ABC for audience, but not for advertisers' dollars, so the real "enemy" is 4KQ. (See above.)
DMG (Nova 106.9)
Nova is in a take-no-prisoners battle with 97.3FM and B105 for the younger female audience. There are actually two audiences -- late teens and twenty-somethings, and the late-twenties and thirties -- but the lines seem to have been blurred lately as each station struggles for every listener it can get.
The return of orignal anchor Kip Wightman (pictured above) to the breakfast show may mean some extra oomph, but the music mix -- which has become much more like the Austereo offering in recent years (thus benefitting Triple J, which is the destination of choice for new-music lovers) -- will be critical.
The new national drive show, featuring former Brisbane breakfasters Meshel Laurie, Marty Sheargold and Tim Blackwell, will come under close scrutiny. It's doing OK in Brisbane, but hasn't kicked-in yet in Sydney and Melbourne, and success there is crucial.
Photos: ABC, ARN
PS: My more general Australian radio predictions are here.