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97.3 consolidates ratings success

Posted September 13th, 2011 by debritz

Brisbane's 97.3FM has hung on to its overall lead in the radio ratings, despite a small drop in audience, and is ahead of a neck-and neck B105 and Nova 106.9, with a resurgent Triple M not far behind.

612 ABC's Spencer Howson (pictured) remains No.1 in the battle for breakfast.

4BC has also had a ratings rebound, which put in back in front of 4KQ overall and equal fifth (approaching double figures for the first time in ages) in breakfast. However, the results are bad news for 4BH, which has dropped to a recent-memory low of a 4.6pc share overall (5pc on the by-demographic figures) and 3.8 in breakfast.

4BC may have gone in the right direction in breakfast, but 612ABC's Madonna King had a good survey, scraping ahead of BC's Greg Cary in the morning shift. Aunty's Steve Austin also did well, and is now No. 1 in nights. 4BC's Walter Williams also did well in nights, with a 2.7 percentage points rise.

The 4BH and 4BC figures are significant in a month where their sale from Fairfax Radio, possibly to the Macquarie Media group, is expected to be announced.

The breakfast results were: Spencer Howson 612ABC (13.4pc audience share); Nova 106.9's Mashel Laurie, Marty Sheargold and Tim Blackwell (11.3pc); and 97.3 FM's Robin Bailey, Terry Hansen and Bob Gallagher (10.7pc).

Overall, by session, the order was: 97.3FM, B105, Nova 106.9, Triple M, 612ABC, 4BC, Triple J, 4KQ, 4BH, ABC Radio National, ABC FM (Classical) and ABC News Radio.

B105's Labby (Jason Hawkins) and Stav Davidson rated 9.8pc, a recent low for the former high-rating team, which suffered the turmoil of losing co-host Camilla Severi to Nova 106.9. The addition of Abby Coleman to the show is not fully reflected in these results, for June 26 to September 3.

B105 was ahead of Triple M's The Cage, with Ian Skippen, Emily Jade O'Keeffe, Greg Martin and Greg "Sully" Sullivan (9.4pc), who tied with Peter Dick and Mary Collier on 4BC. 4KQ's Laurel Edwards, "Handy" Gary Clare and Mark Hine (8.5pc)were next, followed by Triple J's Tom and Alex (6.6pc) and 4BH's Michael Price.

The survey 6 results have been released in a week that sees more changes in the radio soundscape.

The figures also do not reflect the changes at Nova, which launched a new breakfast show in Brisbane this week featuring former B105 personality Camilla along with ex-106.9 cereal stars Ash Bradnam and David "Luttsy" Lutteral, and a new national Drive show with the most recent Brisbane breakfast team of Meshel, Marty and Tim.

In Sydney, 2GB and its star attraction, breakfast host Alan Jones, are both up in the ratings and in No.1, ahead of 702 ABC and Adam Spencer, and 2Day and Kyle Sandilands and Jackie O.

2UE, another Fairfax station on the block, is down overall and in breakfast, although Nova 96.9 and its departing long time breakfast host Merrick Watts had a slight rebound.

In Melbourne, 3AW and its John Burns and Ross Stevenson breakfast juggernaut, continue to lead the way ahead of Fox FM and 774ABC. Triple M's Eddie McGuire put on listeners as the AFL season draws to its climax.

Despite big names including Andrew Bolt, MTR is languishing at the bottom of the ratings pile. Its future seems sealed if and when its operator Macquarie gains control of its superior competitor 3AW.

While Hamish Blake and Andy Lee may not be setting the television world on fire, they are being missed on radio. In their hometown of Melbourne, Fox lost a ratings point in the Drive shift they now only host once a week, and numbers were also slightly down for B105 and 2Day.

As recommended by ...

Posted September 5th, 2011 by debritz

Today is David "Luttsy" Lutteral's birthday. Next week, he and his old pal Ash Bradnam will be returning to the airwaves on Nova 106.9 as breakfast hosts alongside former B105 star Camilla Severi. Reason enough, I reckon, for me to revive this old video of Ash and Luttsy endorsing this blog:

Cool on Camilla

Posted August 30th, 2011 by debritz

In reference to my post here, here are some of the comments on the Nova 106.9 website regarding their new breakfast star, Camilla Severi:

What the public wants

Posted August 30th, 2011 by debritz

One of the first things I learned in newspapers is that an editor should not pay an undue amount of attention to the content of letters to the editor. Mostly, I was told (and later discovered for myself), they were written by the same people grinding the same axes, and they were in no way indicative of the consensus of the general (or targetted) public.

The fact though was that, if you wrote to the newspaper enough, the chances were that you'd get published often and you'd have a disproportionate say. The same is true of callers to talk radio - ring in a lot and, especially if you're provocative or a bit simple (so they can poke fun of you), or it's a slow time of day, you'll get to air. Now, the same is true in the online world - post a lot of comments and no matter how awful, inane or inflammatory they are, they will appear.

However, letters to the editor are almost always read carefully and edited by professional journalists who understand the laws of defamation, contempt of court and sub-judice, and have a fairly well-honed sense of what is appropriate and fair, and what isn't. Many papers also go to the effort of confirming the true identity of the writer.

On radio, producers vet callers before they go to air, and "live" broadcasts are on a 5-to-7-second delay, meaning the announcer or panel operator can press a "kill" button if things get out of hand and the offending words won't be heard by the listeners.

But, as I noted on Facebook and Twitter yesterday, it seems that some media websites are not paying enough attention to the comments being posted on their websites. I wrote this in regard to Sydney's 2UE, which was still publishing comments referring to allegations about Prime Minister Julia Gillard which The Australian newspaper had already acknowledged were false.

I asked: Where was the moderator? To my mind, many of the comments on that issue, and many other issues, should have been edited or not published at all. It's got nothing to do with my political views, it's the simple fact that if any media site publishes a defamatory remark and it does get sued, it will only have itself to blame.

Meanwhile, over at the Nova 106.9 website, a potentially more dangerous game was (and, as I write, still is) being played. They were running a Twitter feed displaying any tweets using a particular hashtag, plus Facebook comments from a fan page, about their new breakfast show. I'm assuming the process is completely automated, which may be cheap but it is in no way in the station's own interests.

As it's turned out so far, it's meant that Nova has been "publishing" some rather unflattering and potentially hurtful comments about its own new breakfast star, Camilla Severi. I feel sorry for her but I'm also tempted to say, good on Nova for allowing people to express their views freely, even if they are at odds with the company's own commercial aims.

Presumably Nova's research indicates that the comments are wrong, and the new show will be a success. Maybe they think any publicity is good publicity. (However, I'm sure if somebody rang in and started bagging the station or its stars, they'd be "killed" pretty quickly.)

But there's a more serious issue here than simple abuse: what if somebody were to tweet an extremely defamatory or racially offensive remark using the Nova-nominated hashtag and it ended up on the company's website for a sustained period of time? What if somebody sued? Who would be responsible: the author (if they could be identified) or the publisher?

Surely a test case on this issue is not far away.

PS: I've posted some of the comments here.

It's Ash, Camilla and Luttsy

Posted August 29th, 2011 by debritz

As predicted on this blog, Ash Bradnam and Camilla Severi will host Nova 106.9FM's breakfast show.

I also reported (here) that David "Luttsy" Lutteral and Kip Wightman had been in talks to join the show, which replaced the Meshel (Laurie), Tim (Blackwell) and Marty (Sheargold) program, soon to be heard nationally from 4-6pm.

Luttsy has been confirmed as part of the line-up, and I believe Kip may also join (unless he's had a better offer from ARN, for whom he hosts the 97.3 afternoon show), as the show's anchor. He's certainly got the chops for another primetime gig. A non-scientific survey of online reaction suggests that would be a popular move (although some Tweets and posts have been less than cool about Camilla - see the edited extract from the Nova tweet feed, below.)

Nova says Ash, Camilla and Luttsy will be on air from September 12, suggesting Severi has been released early from her contract with B105, which reportedly runs to the end of the year.

They will be going head-to-head in the hits music arena with and the revised line-up of Labby (Jason Hawkins), Abby Coleman and Stav Davidson on B105. the resurgent Robin Bailey, Terry Hansen and Bob Gallagher on 97.3FM are playing a slightly older-skewed music list but are still chasing many of the same advertisers.

As I've been writing for months now, stay tuned for further changes in Australian radio in the coming weeks and months. 2012 will be a do-or-die year.

Movement at the stations

Posted August 26th, 2011 by debritz

As revealed exclusively on this blog 10 days ago, Nova 106.9's Meshel Laurie, Marty Sheargold and Tim Blackwell have confirmed they are moving to the network's drive shift. Drive incumbents Fitzy and Wippa will move to the Sydney Nova 969 breakfast show, replacing longtime host Merrick Watts, and will be heard on other Nova stations in a daily 6-7pm highlights spot.

The drive move will occur on September 12, giving Nova a headstart in the race for the 2012 ratings crown. Meshel, Tim and Marty - who will be broadcasting from Melbourne, not Brisbane (as I also predicted) - will name their Nova Brisbane breakfast replacements on Monday. I've long been tipping Camilla Severi and Ash Bradnam for the job. I also understand that former breakfast team members Kip Wightman and David "Luttsy" Lutteral have been in talks with Nova over the past few weeks.

As I have repeatedly stated here, there will be more changes to come, on both Nova and at other stations, as the battle for listeners' and advertisers' hearts, minds and dollars continues apace.

Update: In other radio news, the Fairfax press is reporting that Fairfax Media's "plan to sell its radio stations ... are in an 'advanced' stage". The assets include 3AW, 2UE and 4BC, and John Singleton's Macquarie Radio group, which owns talk stations 2GB and MRT, has long been tipped as as the buyer for all or some of the stations.

Private equity group Ironbridge Capital has also been named as a potential purchaser. Whatever happens, belt-tightening, including changes on air and behind the scenes, is inevitable.

It's Labby, Stav and Abby

Posted August 25th, 2011 by debritz

Brisbane's B105 has announced that Abby Coleman will replace Camilla Severi on the breakfast show. The timing of the announcement on Wednesday night would seem to have been designed to steal some of the thunder from Nova, which is announcing nationwide changes on Friday morning.

My understanding is that this will involve new breakfast shows in Sydney (with Wippa and Fitzy) and Brisbane (with Camilla, Ash Bradnam and Kip Wightman) and a national drive show with the existing Brisbane breakfast team of Meshel Laurie, Tim Blackwell and Marty Sheargold.

The big question is: has B105 released Camilla from her contract to work immediately at Nova 106.9, or will she be on the bench until January 1?

Shannon's royal routine

Posted August 18th, 2011 by debritz

One of the reasons I love radio is that is (or can be) a "local" medium. However, whoever's tweeting as @B105Brisbane on behalf of the Brisbane FM station right now doesn't seem to know the Queensland capital very well. When was the last time anybody north of the NSW border called the Ekka the "Royal Show"?

Through the looking glass

Posted August 16th, 2011 by debritz

This blog is starting to look like a one-topic wonder, but it's all happening in the Australian radio industry right now. The latest regarding 2012 is that Meshel Laurie will be hosting a national Nova drive program, from Melbourne, possibly with Marty Sheargold but maybe with Merrick Watts and an anchor (Tim Blackwell?).

Breakfast on Brisbane's Nova 106.9 will be Ash Bradnam and Camilla Severi, maybe with Kip Wightman as anchor and David "Luttsy" Lutteral as roving reporter (speciality: sport). Fitzy and Wippa, who currently host the national Nova drive show, will be parachuted into breakfast on Sydney's Nova 969, to replace the Merrick and Dools show.

Meanwhile, there's a growing rumour that if John Singleton's Macquarie Radio Network succeeds in buying the Fairfax Radio network, 4BC in Brisbane will be basically relaying 2GB in Sydney. If true, in my humble opinion, it's a big mistake. While BC isn't currently setting the world on fire, talk radio is a very local thing. To my mind, replacing Greg Cary, who is BC's best performer ratings-wise, with Ray Hadley would be madness. Singleton and co. only need to look at the performance of MTR in Melbourne to know this is not a good idea.

Still, the elephant in the room is the fact that things are tight in the radio world, and the revenue gained through national marketing and sacking local staff might be worth the loss of ratings points through networking. In this case, of course, the listeners (and the jettisoned loyal workers) will be the losers.

Brisbane radio update

Posted August 15th, 2011 by debritz

Updated @ 12.38pmAEST
The Brisbane radio rumour mill has been running overtime over the past few weeks, with contract negotiations in full swing. Today, B105 has denied a report in the Courier-Mail that Jason "Labby" Hawkins is following Camilla Severi out the door. I've been told by a station spokesperson that Labby is definitely "not going anywhere".

Meanwhile, Meshel Laurie, who has been rumoured to be leaving Nova 106.9 at the end of this year, denied on air this morning that she was moving to Sydney. I'm going to stick my neck out here and say that Meshel Laurie is definitely leaving Nova 106.9 and Brisbane, but not going to Sydney. Also, I've heard that the names of Kip Wightman, the former Nova breakfast anchor now heard in the afternoons on 97.3FM, and David "Luttsy" Lutteral (now an ambassador for Fourex), have been linked to those of Ash Bradnam and Camilla Severi in relation to the Nova breakfast show next year. (If they all signed up, it'd be back to the future, reinstating the original Nova Brisbane line-up with Severi replacing Laurie -- although Laurie comes from a standup background Severi doesn't.)

There are also (possibly mischief-making) rumours on Twitter about further changes at 612 ABC next year (in addition to replacing Richard Fidler in the afternoon slot.) I have asked some more questions, and will update the situation if I hear more.

As one source told me this morning, "This industry is weird." One thing I will repeat with authority is that radio in Brisbane won't quite sound the same in 2012.

Buy the book?

Posted August 14th, 2011 by debritz

It's common broadcasting wisdom that one way to know which radio stations are going to do well in an upcoming ratings survey is to count the number of billboards, TV commercials, sponsorships and taxi-backs the various stations have bought.

Those ads are not just there to get you to listen to the station, they're also there to get the name of the station uppermost in the minds of the anonymous individuals who are actually completing the survey. You see, some people aren't too bright and/or they don't really take the survey seriously, so they'll just tick off the box for the station whose name they remember, rather than the one they were actually listening to (if, indeed, they were listening at all.)

It's one of several flaws in the diary system of radio ratings, and the networks are not too shy to exploit it. You'll also notice that the stations throw around a lot of cash prizes at strategic times during the survey, with the hope of getting a good "book". So, when there is an unusual result, as there was in Brisbane last survey, some people in the industry are bound to accuse some other people of "buying" the book.

Now, I wasn't around in Brisbane to count the billboards or add up the value of the giveaways, so I coudn't possibly comment on that. In any case, this method isn't guaranteed to work -- perhaps it never has -- and, for its many faults, the survey generally gets it right in tracking trends, if not in putting absolute numbers on who's listening to what. Even if it didn't, it guides advertisers and ad agencies on how much they should spend with each station, so it's extremely important to commercial radio. The stations also do their own research, and they know what's working on air and what isn't.

Of course, knowing is one thing, being able to fix it is another thing altogether. Nevertheless, there's already a lot of manoeuvring behind the scenes, some of which has spilled over into the public arena. Camila Severi has been poached; Meshel Laurie is (reportedly) leaving; Ash Bradnam is back. And, as I've repeatedly said, that's not the end of it.

One theory is that most, if not all, Brisbane commercial stations will take the opportunity next year to reinvent their line-ups, especially in the breakfast shift, and tweak their formats. Some of them have to, to replace the people who are moving on, but others may take the opportunity to change, too, on the basis that it's going to be a whole new ball game, and there'll be a lot of audience 'sampling" of stations early in the year. Something entirely new, from left field, might just click.

The other factor over-arching all this is that times are tough. The networks simply don't have a lot of cash to throw at their talent. While some people obviously have very good deals in place, others might be forced to take pay cuts or be priced out of the market altogether. Good news if you're a rising star who doesn't want to earn a fortune straight away, or if you're an established name who's already got a deal in place. Not so good if you don't fall into either of those categories.

Whatever happens, radio in Brisbane won't quite sound the same in 2012.

Exciting, isn't it?

Nova's new show: Camilla and Ash

Posted August 12th, 2011 by debritz

Radio sources say Ash Bradnam, who left Nova 106.9 nearly two years ago due to personal problems that led to his arrest on drink-driving charges, has been re-signed to the network to front its breakfast show with Camilla Severi next year. Severi quit Austereo's B105 last week amid rumours she would be going to Nova, and Bradnam has recently been heard on B105's sister station Triple M as weekend breakfast host. I am told he will not be heard on the Ms tomorrow. Nova breakfast lynchpin Meshel Laurie is said to be serving out her notice, and if the latest reports about Severi and Bradnam are true, it leaves her co-stars Marty Sheargold and Tim Blackwell in the lurch.

It's a friendly business

Posted August 9th, 2011 by debritz

Here's an interesting instance of social networking (the Meshel in quetion is Meshel Laurie from Brisbane's Nova 106.9):

Interesting, that is, given the rumours about where Camilla, who just quit B105 (presciently on the eve of not-so-flash ratings news), will be working next year.

97.3FM tops Brisbane radio ratings

Posted August 9th, 2011 by debritz

The champagne corks will be popping in the Brisbane suburb of Stones Corner, with 97.3FM celebrating a win in the radio ratings. In second place is B105, which last week lost one-third of its breakfast trio, followed by Nova. In fourth place, in a tight field, was Triple M (based on by-session results) or 612ABC (on demographics). 612ABC's Spencer Howson remained the No.1 choice for breakfast listening, followed by 97.3's Robin Bailey, Terry Hansen and Bob Gallagher, B105's Labby (Jason Hawkins), Camilla Severi and Stav Davidson, and Nova's Tim Blackwell, Marty Sheargold and Meshel Laurie.

In another surprise, 4KQ's Laurel Edwards, Mark Hine and Gary Clare overtook Triple M's The Cage with Ian Skippen, Greg Martin, Greg Sulivan and Emily-Jade O'Keeffe, to claim fifth place in breakfast. 4BC's Peter Dick and Mary Collier held steady to be be seventh place, and 4BH claimed the wooden spoon among commercial stations, both in breakfast and overall. (It was also beaten by ABC youth network Triple J.)

The results are especially good news for the Australian Radio Network (ARN), which owns 4KQ and half-owns (with DMG) 97.3, but not so good for Fairfax which is trying to offload its radio network, including the lowly ranked 4BC and 4BH. While commercial talk stations are blitzing the field in Sydney and Melbourne, BC is being outgunned by 612ABC in every session except mornings (where Greg Cary has a slender lead). And while 3AW is the bolter in Melbourne, it's the John Singleton-owned 2GB that's winning in Sydney, with Fairfax's 2UE taking another hit in the latest Nielsen survey. Back in Brisbane, Farifax's 4BH is clearly losing the battle for the golden oldies to ARN's 4KQ. (While BH is claiming an increase in cumulative audience to 190,000, its audience share is down.)

Austereo, owners of the once all-conquering B105 and Triple M, also has cause for concern, with the departure last week of Camilla Severi adding to its woes. The new management following Austereo's merger with Southern Cross was probably expecting a better outcome. While it's far from a dire result, I think there will be some retooling of both the B105 and MMM breakfast shows.

DMG-owned Nova 106.9, which led the way in breakfast for several years, is holding steady, mostly gaining listeners across the day, but will be keen to regain the top spot in breakfast - especially, if rumours that Laurie is leaving, to be replaced by Severi, are true.

Camilla's move is just the beginning

Posted August 6th, 2011 by debritz

In his comments on Camilla Severi's move from B105 Brisbane to "a competitor station", Austereo Brisbane boss Richard Barker noted that the erstwhile breakfast star would remain with B105 until December 31. What exactly will she be doing?

It would seem unlikely that she will be on air, as that would only help keep her voice fresh in the audience's mind and help her new employer (rumoured to be Nova 106.9). And, while there are plenty of jobs behind the scenes at a radio station, that would mean keeping her "in the loop" on strategic decisions being made about her replacement and other planning matters.

She may be excluded from key meetings, but the Austereo Brisbane offices aren't so big that she could be completely kept away from whatever it is they are up to. So, assuming that she won't be making the tea or driving a Black Thunder, I wouldn't be surprised if Camilla will sit out the rest of her contract at home. Oh, and if her new bosses have any sense, she'll be back on air on January 1.

In light of this, there will be even-keener-than-usual interest when the latest round of official ratings results are released on Tuesday. B105 will almost certainly be at or near the top of the tree and its breakfast show will most likely be No.1 among FM stations, if not overall. How, I wonder, will the B105 spindoctors laud this success without acknowledging Camilla's contribution?

Meanwhile, although Camilla's announcement came as something of a surprise, I expect many more major changes in the Brisbane (and Australian) radio scene in the coming weeks and months. With new ownership structures already in place at Austereo (the merger with Southern Cross is complete) and DMG (Nova), 4BC and 4BH up for sale (along with other Fairfax Radio assets), and belt-tightening across the board in light of fairly ordinary advertising spending in all media, interesting times lay ahead.

I predict more line-up changes on air - not just limited to the afternoon slot at 612ABC, which Richard Fidler will vacate to concentrate on his national Conversations programme, or the expected departure of Nova's Meshel Laurie (to be replaced by Camilla Severi) - and some fairly brutal "consolidation" behind the scenes.

Camilla Severi: B105 statement

Posted August 5th, 2011 by debritz

B105 has issued this statement regarding the departure of breakfast show memeber Camilla Severi.

“Camilla has made a decision to leave the B105 breakfast team and to work with a competitor station next year,” said Southern Cross Austereo General Manager Richard Barker today. “We’ve had a great four and a half years with Camilla as part of the B105 family, and have loved working with her. She will stay with B105 until December 31, and we wish her all the best and every success, and of course we’ll miss her,” he said.
“We have some exciting plans for the B105 breakfast show, and will be trialling some friends of the show over the next few months. Labby and Stav are looking forward to having some fun, and there’s a couple of surprises in store. So stay tuned Brisbane!”

As I reported here, there are rumours swirling around about where she is going (I'm told she has not given this information to B105) and who she might be replacing (the word is that Meshel Laurie is leaing Nova 106.9 at the end of this year).

Camilla decamps from B105

Posted August 5th, 2011 by debritz

B105 Brisbane's breakfast trio is now, apparently, a duo. The two male members of the team, Labby and Stav, sent this Facebook missive:

Hey Guys, Camilla is no longer on the show as she has left to work at another station. We will miss her and wish her all the best. Meanwhile, the fun will continue with Labby & Stav for breakfast!

Camilla is, of course, Camilla Severi, the former Big Brother contestant who has been on B105 for the past four years, and her presence is being removed from the B105 website as I write this. The good news for aspiring female radio talent is there now a vacancy. Labby (Jason Hawkins) and Stav (Stewart Davidson) commented on Facebook that "we'll be looking at replacements [sic] soon".

Update: A source tells me that Camilla may be going to Nova 106.9 to replace Meshel Laurie, who is reportedly leaving at the end of the year. Also, I'm told one of the contenders for the B105 gig is Katie Clift, the daughter of Ian Calder, a former writer for B105's Morning Crew and now co-host with Jamie Dunn of the 98.9FM breakfast show.

Doesn't add up

Posted July 21st, 2011 by debritz

While I don't disagree with demographer Bernard Salt's suggestion that the ABC spread its staff around the country a bit more, particularly in terms of TV production, I do note that Aunty has people in places the commercial media never even visits. What really struck me about Salt's piece in The Australian, though, was this:

(If the image doesn't load, it says: By my reckoning, the BBC is four times the size of the ABC in a nation of double the population.)
According to Professor Google, the population of Australia is 21,874,900, and the population of Britain is 61,838,154. Now, I'm not a demographer, but that's surely closer to three times.

Radio rumour

Posted July 14th, 2011 by debritz

It's only July but the buzz at the ABC, coming from outside Queensland, is that 612 ABC in Brisbane will be looking for a new afternoons announcer next year. The rumour has it that Richard Fidler will continue to host the networked Conversations program but that another voice will be heard in the afternoon shift. If this is true, it will be the first change to the Brisbane metropolitan line-up in quite a few years. Stay tuned for more.
Update: When asked for a comment via Twitter (after PM host Mark Colvin had praised his efforts in holding down two jobs all this time), Fidler replied: "... can't... *gasp*... too busy... on-air right now..."

Close race in radio survey

Posted June 21st, 2011 by debritz

612 ABC's Spencer Howson remains Brisbane's favourite breakfast radio announcer, with 12.5pc of the audience cake, but B105's Labby, Camilla Severi and Stav Davidson (12.3pc) and 97.3's Robin Bailey, Terry Hansen and Bob Gallagher (12.0pc) are breathing down his neck.

The 97.3 trio put on 1.7 percentage points to make the top three in the cornflakes shift, outpacing Nova 106.9's Meshe Lauriel, Tim Blackwell and Marty Sheargold (10.7pc), who put on 0.6 points but had to make do with fourth place.

At the other end of the commercial-radio ratings ladder, both 4BH's Michael Price and 4BC's Peter Dick and Mary Collier lost points, with BH scoring only a 4.9pc share (on par with Triple J and not too far ahead of traditionally low-rating Radio National). 4KQ's laurel Edwards, Gary Clare and put on audience share to draw a respectable 7.9pc. In the middle was Triple M, in fifth place overall on 9.1pc, down 0.8 points.

Overall, the order was Triple M, 97.3, Nova, Triple M, 612 ABC, 4BC, 4KQ and 4BH. The losses for BC and relative stagnation of BH will beof concern to the owner, Fairfax, which has the stations (along with its entire radio portfolio) on the block.

It was slightly better news for Fairfax in Sydney, where 2UE put on a few listeners but was still thrashed by 2GB, whose Alan Jones remains the king of breakfast. (Ray Hadley's continued strength in the morning shift also puts 2GB in a good place whenever Jones decides to retire.) 2Day's Kyle Sandilands and Jackie O were a distant No.3 in the breakfast shift (after 702 ABC's Adam Spencer), dropping 1.3 percentage points on the back of many rumours about Sandilands' future in radio and the relationship between the duo.

In Melbourne, 3AW remained No.1 overall and in breakfast, but suffered some drops in listenership. Newish talk station MTR had some small gains, as did Triple M's Eddie McGuire, although he remains well off the pace in the breakfast shift, which is dominated by AW's Ross Stevenson and John Burns and ABC 774's Red Symons.

The devil you know

Posted June 4th, 2011 by debritz

The fourth and final episode of the Eddie McGuire-hosted sport quiz Between the Lines has gone to air on Australian television. It's the third show starring the former "golden boy" and onetime CEO of Channel 9 to get the chop this year. The others were Million Dollar Drop and This Is Your Life, which may return as a series of specials later in the year. (The Courier-Mail's Geoff Shearer has the details, here.)

While McGuire's Hot Seat continues to perform well in the 5.30pm slot, executives and shareholders at Nine must be questioning their star's long-presumed status as one of the network's solid-gold drawcards. While the exact details are secret, McGuire is reported to be on a very lucrative long-term contract, and he presumably gets paid handsomely whether he's on the air or not. Right now, the question is: should the man who also hosts a relatively-low-rating breakfast show on Melbourne's Triple M radio station and runs AFL club Collingwood be permanently benched by the TV network?

It could, of course, be argued that the "vehicles" (i.e. the shows) were flawed and it wasn't McGuire's fault that they all failed to live up to expectations. It could also be said they they weren't given a proper chance to find their audience (we all know stories of classic TV shows that took a couple of series to hit their groove). But, then again, it could also be argued that Hot Seat is a winning formula and it would be a success no matter who was hosing it.

From a business perspective -- and that's the way Nine management has to look at things, not least beause it is considering a float -- McGuire would seem to be a liability who doesn't deliver sufficient "bang for the buck". But he's not the only one in the broadcasting industry.

It's very common for TV and radio stations to pay way over the odds (and well beyond market rate) to hang on to certain talent -- if only to keep them away from other neworks. Earlier this year, after rumours he was in talks with Channel 9, the Seven Network reportedly upped the annual salary of The Morning Show's Larry Emdur to "well in excess of $800,000 a year". The Sunday Herald Sun quoted a Seven source as saying the deal "set a dangerous precedent".

It's about here, I suppose, that I should make some sort of comment about what heart surgeons, nurses, teachers, police and fire officers etc. are earning for the very important work they do, but we can take that as read. The fact is that TV stations are commercial enterprises, and it's entirely a matter for the owners of those businesses to decide how much they want to spend and how much they want to earn from their investment.

My real concern is that because they always take the "safe" option of using the same talent on air and off -- how many opportunities are there for first-time writers and producers, for example? -- television is becoming blander and viewers are deprived the opportunity to see something genuinely new and exciting.

Thank goodness, then, for the theatre and the internet -- and for all-too-rare initiatives such as Andrew Denton's $30,000 "disfellowship" for an emerging screenwriter. The TV execs would do well to note that the new ideas -- the ones that will make them money in the future -- are not all coming through the traditional channels.

Support the CEO Sleepout

Posted May 27th, 2011 by debritz

Brisbane Austereo (Triple M/ B105) boss Richard Barker is doing his bit for charity by taking part in the CEO Sleepout to aid the St Vincent de Paul Society of Queensland. "Vinnies" supports 4000 Brisbane families a month, and is working hard to reduce the number of homeless people in the city, especially those who have to sleep rough. You can support their work by clicking here and donating to the cause.
Update: Brisbane coffee king Dean Merlo is also taking part; his donations page is here.
Update 2: My former boss, News Ltd CEO John Hartigan, is also raising funds here.

Tune in, drop out

Posted May 22nd, 2011 by debritz

Fairfax has confirmed it is getting out of the radio business, and is seeking a buyer for its Australian network, which includes 2UE, 3AW, 6PR and, in Brisbane, 4BC and 4BH. I've written quite a bit about this, so I'll try not to repeat myself too much. Instead, I'll refer you to my thoughts here and here.

Now I'd like to address the delicate matter of money. Although Fairfax says it's confident of attracting several bidders, analysts predict the whole network of 15 stations may raise $250 million to $300 million. Fairfax paid $480 million less than four years ago. I don't know how much profit was made in that time, but it doesn't sound like a good deal to me.

And any potential buyer or buyers (if the assets are split up, which seems likely) would need to work hard on answering the question: Exactly what is a broadcasting licence worth these days? Free-to-air broadcast radio has certain advantages in terms of delivery, but it certainly doesn't have the game to itself any longer.

More and more people are choosing to listen-on-demand to podcasts on their computers or mobile devices rather than to scheduled services, and the radio stations are by no means the only ones pumping those out. Anybody with a half-decent PC can produce a broadcast-standard podcast - and it's clear to anybody who's taken the time to search that there are many "civilians" out there who have better program ideas than some of the professionals. (Ignorance of tried-and-tested formats, and freedom from highly paid consultants and their recycled branding concepts can be a very good thing.)

And while much is made of the success of the likes of Alan Jones and Kyle Sandilands, the fact is that big stars are costly to maintain and their continued success - or their portability to other markets - is not guaranteed. (I've noted many times before that Eddie McGuire isn't setting the world on fire at Triple M in Melbourne, which is also where even some of the big names of Sydney's 2GB and the much-touted input of Andrew Bolt are falling flat at talk station MTR.)

Having said that, while I wouldn't be rushing in to be a buyer, there is a chance that somebody will grab a bargain or two in the great Fairfax fire sale. But they'll have to be smart enough to set a low price and stick to it, and to truly understand the changing radio scene to turn a decent dollar. It's a very different market now to when most of the existing players (on air and off) got started, and copying stale formats with recycled celebs and other usual suspects just won't cut it. It'll take smarts, courage and a lot of passion to survive and thrive. More on that later.

A big win for B105

Posted May 10th, 2011 by debritz

B105 has emerged as the clear winner in the Brisbane radio ratings. In the third (second for the Queensland capital) official Nielsen survey for 2011, the Austereo station had a 12.8pc overall share (people 10+), well ahead of Nova 106.9 on 11.3pc, 97.3FM on 11.0 and Triple M on 10.4. 612ABC slipped back from 11.3pc last survey to 9.7, ahead of 4BC (8.8pc, a .03 increase on survey 2), 4BH (6.1, down from 6.3) and 4KQ (5.8 from 5.9).

In the all-important breakfast battle, 612's Spencer Howson still leads the way, although his share dropped from 14.7 to 12.9pc. B105's Labby (Jason Hawkins), Camilla Severi and Stav Davidson came in a solid second (12.2, up from 11.3), followed by 97.3's Robin Bailey, Terry Hansen and Bob Gallagher (10.3 up from 9.1). Former session leader Nova dropped from 11.0pc to 10.1 with its Meshel Laurie, Tim Blackwell and Marty Sheargold show, Triple M's The Cage with Ian Skippen, scored 9.9 (previously 10.7), and 4BC's breakfast team of Peter Dick and Mary Collier dropped marginally from 8.5 to 8.4, follwed by 4KQ's Laurel Edwards, Gary Clare and Mark Hine, who held steady on 6.6pc, and 4BH's Michael Price (5.9pc, down from 6.4) who was even with Triple J's Tom Ballard and Alex Dyson.

In Sydney, 2GB and its breakfast host Alan Jones continued their dominance, ahead of ABC702 and 2Day, while Melbourne's 3AW was No. 1 overall (on 16.3pc) and its cornflakes hosts, John Burns and Ross Stevenson, continued to attract more than 20pc of listeners. ABC774 was second, followed closely by Fox FM. At the other end of the scale, the much-hyped and well-paid Eddie McGuire hung on to a share of just 5.9pc for Triple M, which had a similar figure overall, and underperforming talk station MTR had just 1.8pc of audience share overall and 2.2 in breakfast).

DMG's struggling Classic Rock managed gains in Melbourne, to a 4pc share, but remained ordinarily steady on 2.6 in Sydney.

Ratings race proceeds apace

Posted May 8th, 2011 by debritz

All eyes in the broadcasting industry will be on the results of the third (second for Brisbane) Australian major cities radio ratings survey on Tuesday. This one promises to be interesting for several reasons:

1) It could help set the price for the Fairfax Radio stations, which are widely believed to be on the block. Fairfax's decision to slash sub-editing jobs at its newspapers in favour of outsourcing last week may be unpopular in journalism circles, but it shows new CEO Greg Hywood is serious about reorganising the business. The stations, including 4BC and 4BH in Brisbane, 2UE in Sydney and the high-rating 3AW in Melbourne, could be sold as a package or the network could be split up. (I've speculated about the options here.) Chances are, they will sell for less than Fairfax paid for them, but how much they fetch will depend on how well the stations are performing. 4BC did well last survey; 4BH not so well. However, the impact of the floods and cyclone earlier this year were still being felt, perhaps artificially inflating the figures for news-talk stations. If 4BC did benefit from a blip, the question will be: did it hold on to the audience?

2) B105 claimed the crown in terms of audience share but Nova 106.9, Triple M and 97.3FM were all well within striking distance of the prized No.1 slot. While the stations' managers will all say cumes (cumulative audiences) and demographics are more important, they do care who wins overall, and so do many advertisers who want to place their commercials on the leading station.

3) Again, probably thanks to the natural disasters, 612ABC had a strong survey overall and breakfast announcer Spencer Howson (yes, he's a friend of mine, and I used to be a regular on his show) did exceptionally well to lead by a wide margin in the most important shift of the day. Which way will Aunty's ratings go, and to what lengths will the commercial stations go to claim that that's not at all significant (when, of course, every person who's listening to the ABC is not listening to a commercial station, and therefore isn't exposed to the advertising that keeps these networks afloat).

May 9 update: 4) With Austereo also undergoing a change in ownership, the results may have some bearing on the extent of cost-cutting at the Brisbane stations. Both DMG (which is currently looking for a new program director for Brisbane's Nova 106.9) and ARN have already slashed their budgets. The radio business is resilient, but it is tightening its belt.
Roll on, Tuesday.

Brisbane stations to be left out in the cold?

Posted April 18th, 2011 by debritz

In his column in The Australian, Mark Day suggests that John Singleton is on the verge of buying radio assets from Fairfax. Day says Singo wants 3AW, which is blitzing his part-owned MTR in Melbourne, and 2UE, which competes with his top-rating 2GB in Sydney. But apparently he's not interested in the rest of the Fairfax Radio network, which includes 4BH and 4BC in Brisbane. If Day is on the money (and he often is), then will Fairfax hang on to the Brisbane stations, or will it find another buyer? Day doesn't speculate on this, but I will. If the stations are to be sold, who are the potential buyers? All of the existing players in the market have the maximum two stations -- except DMG (Nova 106.9) and ARN (4KQ), which share ownership 97.3FM, and could theoretically buy one of the stations between them. So,who from outside the tightly knit group of radio station owners would be interested? Perhaps Bill Caralis, who has mainly regional radio assets and has recently brought John Laws back to the Sydney and rural airwaves. If so, BH and BC would very quickly become cut-price operations, as Caralis's "Super Network" is not regarded as a big spender. While radio is by no means a sunset industry, it is undergoing a lot of changes, and anybody who takes on the stations would have to have a very clear strategy for them.
Meanwhile, there's news from former 4BC drive announcer Michael Smith. According to this Daily Telegraph report, one of Smith's producers Elizabeth Pearson, considered a rising star in the industry, has quit. The Tele reports that Smith's "chaotic approach to the program ... and blue-language sprays during meetings for his weekday noon to 3pm show left Pearson unimpressed".
Update: Jocks' Journal is reporting that Clive Palmer is said to be "putting out feelers" regarding the purchase of regional Queensland's Smart radio network. Might he be a buyer for 4BC and 4BH. Palmer is an outspoken personality, and it may be that the idea of owning a talk radio station such as BC appeals to him. (April 18, 5.10pm)

Brisbane radio: What next?

Posted March 30th, 2011 by debritz

So, what to make of the latest radio ratings? Although, as I cautioned even before the second (first for Brisbane) survey results were released, it's hard to know exactly how much weight to give to them, I'm going to have a stab anyway. My main reservations are: a) As always, the survey is flawed (and I'm not going to go into the reasons why for the umpteenth time); and b) that's even more the case this time around for Brisbane, where the survey period was shorter and it reflected broadcasting in the wash-up of the floods, cyclone and -- especially significant in the case of Triple M, which organised a fundraising rugby match that deservedly earnt some ratings brownie points for The Cage breakfast show -- the New Zealand earthquake. The obvious conclusion from the survey is that news-talk stations got a boost at the expense of the music stations apparently because of listeners' desire/need for disaster-relted information. But this creates a dilemma for station managers, particularly the powers that be at commercial talk station 4BC. They're looking for vindication that the decision to ditch breakfast hosts Jamie Dunn and Ian Calder in favour of Peter Dick and Mary Collier was a programming masterstroke. While BC's figures went up, it's not clear if that's because of the disasters, the line-up change, seasonal factors or a combination of all three. The next few surveys will tell if they just got a blip from the floods and cyclone, or from audience sampling of the new talent, and whether they have made, and will continue to make, real gains. One possible scenario is that Dick and Collier will poach some of Spencer Howson's currently inflated audience, given that the ABC is often the recipient of higher listening figures when there's a busy news cycle. Howson's numbers went through the roof in this survey, and it's likely there'll be at least a minor "correction" in coming surveys. Whether those listeners will go to 4BC, or to music stations, remains to be seen. Meanwhile, B105 will be blaming Mother Nature for the slight setback that put its No.1-among-the-commercials crown in jeopardy. It was a close call, with not just arch-rival Nova 106.9 but 97.3FM and even sister station Triple M in striking distance for No.1 status next time. The closeness of the four FM stations, which should have all been equally disadvantaged by the "flood factor" must be causing some discomfort at Austereo HQ (especially with the imminent change in ownership). The real pain, however, must be being felt at 4KQ, which fell to the bottom of the heap among the commercial stations and was leap-frogged by oldies rival 4BH (which also lost some audience overall). Owner ARN has shown some impatience with underperformers interstate in recent years but Brisbane's commercial wooden spooners are still doing much better than the also-rans in other markets, so they'll probably take a wait-and-see approach. The next challenge for the music stations is that the current political turmoil in Queensland may also drive listeners to the ABC and 4BC. If Premier Anna Bligh calls a snap election to square off against challenger Campbell Newman, the talk stations will continue to get a boost, but if the "will-she, won't-she" situation just drags on and on, people will get sick of it all and the music stations will be back in business.

Radio: Survey two results

Posted March 29th, 2011 by debritz

In Brisbane's delayed first radio ratings survey for the year, the overall winners were B105 (people 10+ by demographic) and Nova 106.9 (people 10+ by session, 5am-midnight). You could throw the proverbial blanket over the leaders' field, with B105, Nova, 612ABC, Triple M and 97.3FM all claiming between 10.4pc and 11.8pc overall. Spencer Howson was the individual standout, extending his lead in the breakfast shift by 2.2pc to claim 14.7pc of the available audience, well ahead of B105's Labby, Camilla and Stav (11.3), Nova's Meshel, Marty and Tim (11.0) and a resurgent The Cage at Triple M (10.7). 4BC, which changed its line-up this year, had healthy audiences increases across the day but remained among a group of three well shy of the leaders. BC averaged an overall 8.1pc share, up from 7.0pc last year (and, in breakfast with peter Dick and Mary Collier up to 8.5 from 7.2), but some of its gains may have come at the expense of sister station 4BH, which had small drops overal and in many sessions, including breakfast. The biggest loser was 4KQ, which shed almost 2pc of its overall audience, and lost share across all sessions to claim the wooden spoon among commercial stations. Triple J again posted a respectable result in Brisbane, with a 7.1pc overall share. B105 lost audience in the drive shift now vacated (except for a Friday cameo) by Hamish and Andy, but still had a winning 14.4pc share there, meaning the new Monday to Thursday team of Fifi and Jules is doing the job pretty well (and not just in Brisbane; interstate figures are healthy, too). In Sydney, where as elsewhere it was survey two, 2GB's Alan Jones led the way in breakfast with 18.3pc, followed by ABC 702's Adam Spencer (13pc) and 2Day's Kyle and Jackie O (11.7pc), which all other challengers well down in the single figures. 2GB, ABC702 and 2Day were also the top stations overall. The new, younger lineup seems to have made little difference at 2UE, which has remained static around 6pc audience share, and Triple M Sydney remains in dire straits, dropping 1pc overall to a 3.8pc share. Only Classic Rock is lower down the ladder among commercial stations, at 2.6pc. In Melbourne, it was 3AW, Fox FM and ABC 774 on top, and the same in breakfast, with second and third places switched. Ross and John in 3AW breakfast scored an impressive 21pc market share, making Triple M's Eddie McGuire looking fairly ordinary on a steady 5.9pc and newish talk rival MTR looking extremely bad. Despite some minor session gains, MTR averaged just 2pc overall and 2.3pc in breakfast.
PS: When I get the chance, I'll be posting some analysis of the figures.

Radio: second survey preview

Posted March 26th, 2011 by debritz

I love a good radio ratings survey, but I'm not so sure that the one to be released on Tuesday will tell me too much about the Brisbane market. It will be the second survey for the rest of the major metropolitan markets, but just the first for the Queensland capital due to the floods earlier this year. And it will cover only the period between January 30 and March 19, while the rest of the survey is now in "rolling" mode (i.e. the survey period overlaps with the first survey). Still, there'll be a lot of nervous people on and off air at the Brisbane stations - especially, I imagine, at 4BC and 4BH, where new line-ups are bedding in. As usual, the big interest will be in the breakfast shift. Can Peter Dick and Mary Collier do better than Jamie Dunn did at BC? Has 4BH's decision to replace Loretta Ryan and Moyd Kay with Michael Price paid off; and how will Moyd and Loretta do in the afternoon shift on BC? Meanwhile, will Triple M continue to defy the doldrums that have set in at its sister stations interstate? Can 612ABC's Spencer Howson retain the breakfast crown, or will Nova 106.9's Meshel, Marty and Tim, 97.3FM's Robin Terry and Bob, or B105's Labby, Camilla and Stav stage a comeback? Nationally, can Austereo continue to hang on to its massive drive audience now that Hamish and Andy are only on air on Fridays? Will 2GB continue to dominate in the Sydney talk scene or will 2UE's strategy of putting in a new, younger team begin to work? In Melbourne, can Triple M get any more millions out of Eddie McGuire than they are paying him (especially given the lacklustre performance of his new TV game show)? All will be revealed on Tuesday. And, while I don't expect any immediate action once the results come out, managements nationwide will be far less forgiving this year. Axes may well fall at Austereo (B105, Fox, 2Day etc), which will have to make huge costs savings once its purchase by Southern Cross Media goes through, and at Fairfax Radio (4BH, 4BC, 2UE, 3AW), which is rumoured also to be on the selling block. ARN (97.3, 4KQ and the Mix and Classic Hits networks) and DMG (Nova and Classic Rock, now half-owned by Lachlan Murdoch) are also in cost-cutting mode, and John Singleton's Macquarie Network is facing the dilemma of what to do with an extremely underperforming station in Melbourne (MTR) and an ageing superstar in Alan Jones at Sydney's 2GB. It's going to be a very interesting ride.

Wightman back on air

Posted March 5th, 2011 by debritz

Kip Wightman, formerly of Nova 106.9's breakfast show, has announced on Facebook that he'll be hosting the afternoon shift - midday to 3pm - on 97.3FM in Brisbane from Tuesday. Wightman has spent the best part of two years wandering the world, including time in Thailand and Boston in the US.
Fun fact: Kip's real first name is Christopher, but when he was a child his little sister couldn't say "Chris" and dubbed him "Kip". It stuck.
PS: Here's a video of him I prepared (much) earlier:

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