ARN’s Duncan Campbell: “Radio’s Been One Of The Success Stories Of The Pandemic”

ARN’s Duncan Campbell: “Radio’s Been One Of The Success Stories Of The Pandemic”

Yesterday, Commercial Radio Australia (CRA) released its annual national radio ratings, based on survey results collected and compiled by Growth from Knowledge, from a five-city metropolitan demographic.

Unsurprisingly, AM talk radio remained king of the airwaves, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne. Notwithstanding, FM radio still held its own, recording impressive results in growing markets like Brisbane and Perth.

Stalwart programs, The Kyle & Jackie O Show and The Christian O’Connell Show were still popular among listeners, despite losing some listeners over the previous year.

B&T spoke to Australian Radio Network’s (ARN) chief content officer Duncan Campbell to get his take on the results, how the industry has been affected by the pandemic, and what ARN has planned for the future.

Programs like Kyle and Jackie O have been around forever, and based on recent ratings results are still doing well. Do you have any strategies to combat potential future listener fatigue?

Most of Sydney grew up with Kyle and Jackie O. The big benefit these guys have is this huge habitual listening, which drives that show every single day. They’re not going anywhere. They’re nowhere near the end of their life cycle, really. That show is as topical and relevant today as it was five, ten years ago. There are many more years left on KIIS. The audiences want them to stay, and they love them so much.

2GB, 3AW, and ABC continue to dominate the ratings. Do you have any strategies to combat this older listenership, perhaps by attracting a younger audience?

Our core target demographic for both the stations is 25 to 54. When talking about the top stations on AM, you’re talking about apples and oranges, demographically. They’re very different. We don’t see them as a competitor. We can’t compete, [and] we don’t want to compete for those audiences.

Now, if they start attracting those younger listeners then that might be [something to] look at. But at the end of the day, we’re an entertainment based FM network, and we’ve got some of the best radio talent in the country. The audiences are responding very positively. So we’re not about to distract ourselves by trying to compete with 2GB and 3AW.

Conversely, do you think you could try and attract an under 25-crowd?

We are working on that with The Edge 96.ONE. [We will] focus on taking The Edge national. It commonly services the western suburbs of Sydney, but it can be heard through three quarters of Sydney. It’s been many things over the years, but it’s currently used as a spoiler for the demos on Nova.

[The Edge] is a dance, hip hop and R&B format, and it’s very popular with the core we’ve got. We wanted to take that offering and make it more of a national platform. And I think we’ll certainly attract younger audiences, which ARN don’t have in great numbers at the moment. That’s the plan for next year.

What has been your main take away from the pandemic regarding listener habits?

The flexible working hours. People are now very used to working from home. We certainly saw impact on breakfast listening in Melbourne, early on in the pandemic.

[But] this ‘new era’ of talk radio, which is talked about is simply not true. I’ve always been a believer that once these things happen, the patterns [eventually] return to some degree of normality. Those ratings on 3AW and 2GB would come back and that has been the case.

The other big [lesson] is the importance of in-car listening to the media. There was time that people couldn’t drive more than five kilometres from their residence. That had an impact on in-car listening, particularly on the way to work. But it wasn’t to the degree that we perhaps thought it would be.

People still listen to the radio. People seek comfort in normality. They’ve seen what abnormality looks like and they don’t like it. I think in-car listening will return.

But the media has remained fairly resilient throughout the whole pandemic. Yes, there’s been shifts to talk [radio] at times, and back to music. But overall, radio’s been one of the success stories of the pandemic.

And you attribute this seeking of comfort and normality to shows like Kylie & Jackie O constantly retaining their top FM spots?

Radio’s just easy to access. It’s not complicated, you don’t have to download anything, it’s just there. You push a button and it’s free.

In a world which is more and more complicated, people are stressed and there’s information overload. Radio provides a curated playlist for you. That’s been highlighted in the pandemic. I think the medium’s very resilient and very strong.

We adapted our content for the pandemic [but] it was more a light-hearted approach, not a flippant approach, trying to give people relief from the pressures of lockdown. We’re very happy how we’ve managed to navigate it.

What would be your key message to media buyers based on ARN’s current performance?

This network has now demonstrated for two years a level of consistency that has not been seen by the other networks. We understand audio. We’ve got the number one podcast network in the country. And we are essentially the number one audio company in Australia. Take comfort in the fact that we can deliver audiences to you, whether they be big audiences or targeted audiences, to ensure that spend is maximised.

Radio is always undersold, it’s incredibly successful. And the key to it is these personal connections which the talent have with their listeners, and that’s very evident in the Kyle & Jackie O Show and also the Christian O’Connell Show. These personal connections are strong, and they’re enduring. That’s not highlighted enough. And if they’re there long enough that habitual listening gets established and that’s a very powerful position to be in.

Conversely, is there any room at ARN for an experienced radio personality like, say, Alan Jones?

Never say never with Alan. He’s a very talented broadcaster, [and] you can’t ignore the fact that he’s very passionate about what he does. But at the moment, it’s not happening.

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Australian Radio Network Duncan Campbell

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