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Features March 9, 2022

How will music stations fare in tomorrow’s radio ratings?

Senior Journalist, B2B
How will music stations fare in tomorrow’s radio ratings?

Tomorrow marks the return of the radio ratings for 2022.

Even in ‘precedented times’, outcomes from the first survey of the year were hard to predict.

In years gone by (think pre-COVID, pre climate crisis, pre looming war), the news cycle would often be slow and subdued in the first few weeks and months of a calendar year. As everyone rode out the final relaxing weeks of summer, the preference has traditionally been for music stations.

We couldn’t exactly describe the start to this year as very relaxing, so will the trend of summer listening, which usually favours music formats, remain?

In a summer still plagued by some stubborn border closures, and even more stubborn cloud cover and rain up and down the east coast, plus a desperate push to return to ‘normal’ life, travel habits and social engagements, you’d be forgiven for not knowing where consumers have been placing their attention and which formats suit their moods.

So here’s a few numbers, trends and pinch points to look out for when tomorrow’s numbers drop.

2DayFM has slightly shifted its music strategy. How will this play out? 

Keen listeners and observers have noted that 2DayFM is now chasing a different demographic via a revamped music strategy.

It’s now targeting the over 35s, with what one former programmer described as a “familiar singalong” playlist.

CEO of Southern Cross Austereo (SCA), Grant Blackley, recently told Unmade the station is no longer a top 40 hits station.

“Purposely we are positioning above what is KIIS and Nova, and below WS, and substantially below smooth,” he said.

“We are going firmly into that slot. It’s a subtle but noticeable change. We are not going to compete in a top 40 manner at all.”

This adult contemporary format may aim to skew lower than NOVA Entertainment’s smoothfm and ARN’s WSFM, but could it chip away at their shares?

In Survey 8 of last year, 2Day had a 3.8% share, while hit stations Nova and KIIS had 6.8% and 8.3% respectively. The older-skewing smooth had 7.9%, while WSFM led the FM pack on 8.8%.

And speaking of 2DayFM, how about its Breakfast show? 

A number of former programmers noted that 2DayFM’s Breakfast show, The Morning Crew with Hughesy, Ed & Erin, is under-indexed compared other day parts across the station.

In Survey 8 of last year, the station had a 3.8% share (an increase of 0.3 points), but Breakfast was down to a 2.7% share – a decline of 0.2 points from the prior survey.

2Day’s strongest performing day part in Survey 8 of 2021 was Afternoons (measured as 12pm – 4pm), when it had a 4.7% share.

It’s worth keeping an eye on whether this trend continues, particularly in light of 2Day’s shifted music strategy.

If it does continue, a former programmer noted that this means the station’s music strategy – not its talent line-up – would be the thing drawing listeners to the station.

The Breakfast show kicked off Survey 1 last year with a 4.4% share, ahead of the station’s overall average of 4.2%.

In every subsequent survey, however, Breakfast performed worse than the station (with the exception of Survey 4 when they were tied on 3.3%).

The station has been in steady recovery since its low of 2.6% in Survey 6, while Breakfast has been languishing below a 3% share since Survey 5.

SCA chief content officer, Dave Cameron, has repeatedly insisted he is sticking with the current The Morning Crew line-up after years of the station unsuccessfully chopping and changing shows and talent.

It seemed like the only option after years of change and inconsistency, however the rumour mill got back into gear again when SCA’s LiSTNR platform recruited former Brekky hosts Mike ‘E’ Etheridge and Emma Chow from ARN’s The Edge to front its new digital-focused RnB Fridays radio station.

With Mike E & Emma now in the SCA family, and a new 24/7 digital RnB station, SCA certainly has a number of options should the new 2Day format or Breakfast show need another shake-up.

Mixing it up: Will anything change in Adelaide? 

Another one to watch is Adelaide, a city which one former programmer described as “a very tight music market”.

In Survey 8 last year, the leading music station was ARN’s Mix 102.3 on a 10.9% share.

The only station which had a lead over it? The ABC on 12.2%.

Since then though, Mix has pinched the ABC’s Breakfast host Ali Clarke, who had an enviable 17.4% share in Breakfast, well ahead of Mix’s 12.2%

Mix has been described as a “station in disarray” by one observer, given the change in talent line-ups (including the disappearance of long-time host Jodie Oddy, the recruitment of her replacement Erin Phillips, and the subsequent departure of Mark ‘Soda’ Soderstrom) and behind-the-scenes upheaval.

It now has the seasoned Clarke with relatively new radio recruit Phillips which has the potential to mix up the market.

The other one to watch is SCA’s SAFM, which is still plugged into the wider Hit Network strategy, despite the switch back to its heritage branding.

After Survey 3 last year, SCA’s Cameron admitted SAFM was still being punished in the market for its bungled rebrand to hit107 in 2014.

At the time, the new hit107 targeted young women in their 20s, promising to be “playful, social and colourful” radio.

“We changed the brand for seven years, and it was confusing for the audience here in Adelaide,” he said last year. “The hit107 brand did not resonate with the market… It’s a change that wasn’t a strong change seven years ago.”

Cameron acknowledged that in reintroducing SAFM in 2020, it would take a few years to get it back to a market-leading position.

In the last survey, SAFM had 7.4%, while its Breakfast show of Bec, Cosi & Lehmo had 8.0%.

One former programmer said they expect SAFM to fare well this survey.

Who will take the Gold medal in Melbourne? 

In terms of music stations, there was basically no touching ARN’s GOLD104.3 in Melbourne last year.

It finished Survey 8 with a 10.1% share, well ahead of smooth’s 8.0%, and even further ahead of more hit-focused stations Fox (6.6%), Nova (6.2%) and KIIS (5.6%). Triple M dawdled behind on 4.8%.

One former programmer noted that with the enduring strength of the talk-based 3AW (on 16.6% in Survey 8), and the consistency of GOLD, most of the other stations are caught in a battle for bronze.

They believe GOLD will only get stronger, with a great Breakfast show in The Christian O’Connell Show, a strong music proposition and “no real turn-off factor”.

Another noted that Nova 100’s Breakfast show Chrissie, Sam & Browny is likely to be the beneficiary of KIIS’ slow start to the year, with co-host Jase Hawkins on leave for the birth of his child.

Future surveys will reveal if the Jase & Lauren show, featuring Hawkins and Lauren Phillips, can cut through the tight market.

One commentator believes the show had potential to cut through in its previous iteration as Jase & PJ with Polly ‘PJ’ Harding, but isn’t sure this new show is in the race to be on the podium.

The race’s results will be revealed tomorrow…

Join The Music Network tomorrow for all the radio ratings coverage you need. Then, later in the day, tune into the That’s Entertainment! podcast with Jake and Viv for the inside scoop on what it all means.

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