It’s been a big year for Australian Radio Network (ARN) – big in terms of finishing number one in the radio ratings overall for 2017, and in terms of the talent changes it has made for 2018 (which you can read all about here and here). B&T caught up with the network’s head of content, Duncan Campbell, to discuss all this and more.
How would you rate ARN’s overall performance for 2017 out of 10?
I’d say a seven-and-a-half. We continue to punch well above our weight as a network that has not as many radio stations as NOVA and certainly not as many as SCA.
Also, after a soft first half [of 2017], we’ve also managed to return to a much stronger ratings position in H2 as the number one network in the 10-plus category around the country in terms of share, and that’s despite those issues still being there.
I think that’s testament to the fact that our strategy is strong, and we just need to focus more on execution in those areas where we have those concerns.
What’s the biggest challenge that ARN has faced this year, and which is the biggest challenge it faces going forward?
The biggest challenge this year has been Melbourne, and that was probably the biggest challenge last year as well. That really was the catalyst for the level of change which has been rolled out this year in preparation for 2018.
We want to have a stronger duopoly in Melbourne equivalent to what we have in Sydney, so if we can achieve that, it positions us as a dominant player in the radio market.
Melbourne has been a challenge for us for several years, and kind of forced us to shift our approach in terms of talent. Historically, we – and most groups still do this – put two high-profile people together on the air and hope that to some degree they work.
We did that with the team who’ve just finished up in Melbourne – Matt & Meshel. They were talented and were known, but there was no chemistry, and the chemistry we were hoping would develop didn’t.
For audiences to be drawn to a team on the air, there has to be chemistry between them, and that’s one thing you can’t buy.
We spent a year preparing for the [talent] change, and our philosophy has shifted to hiring established teams that have obvious chemistry, but aren’t that well-known.
Our new Melbourne breakfast team for 2018, Jase & PJ, have chemistry in spades, and a huge amount of youthful energy and hunger about them, which doesn’t exist in a lot of heritage shows.
This change also forced us to think about re-energising other parts of the business. So, we’ve changed the breakfast show in Perth, which has been established for seven years, and we also made the tough decision to change the GOLD 104.3 breakfast show.
Why did you decide not to renew the contracts of GOLD’s Jo & Lehmo in 2018?
You look for long-term trends when it comes to ratings performance, and for ARN to achieve the strong duopoly in Melbourne, you do need the breakfast show to be at the station average or above it, and the GOLD breakfast show has never done that.
Even at the number one ranking, which they achieved in Survey 7 – the first time they’ve achieved it – Jo & Lehmo were still more than two points behind the station average.
That doesn’t mean that weren’t talented or didn’t have a good show or didn’t deserve that number one ranking – the result was just a one-off and there was no trend established.
What was the decision to get rid of Hughesy & Kate and Matt & Meshel before their contracts expired?
Hughesy & Kate were actually part of our plan for 2018, and the decision not to include them was a very late one.
It was based on the fact that we wanted to sign them for two more years, and Kate [Langbroek] only wanted to give us a year because she wanted to take her family over to Europe in 2019.
We tried a lot of avenues to keep them on, such as offering up a house in Europe and pre-recorded shows, but to no avail.
So, we made the decision that instead of having to worry about finding someone to work with Dave and have that chemistry in a year’s time, we’d replace the drive show for Melbourne now.
The reason behind both teams leaving before is because partly they wanted to. We didn’t tell them beforehand, but the audience knew they were going anyway. There was no secret that their exit had been covered in the press a lot, and a lot of support staff were leaving too.
In order to keep it clean, we just decided to make their last show on Friday 8 December. There was no malice about it.
Which commercial radio network would you say is ARN’s biggest rival?
NOVA Entertainment would be our biggest rival. We compete with them fiercely in Sydney, as they are the other CHR (contemporary hit radio) station, and smoothfm and WSFM share a lot of audience, as there is between smooth and GOLD in Melbourne.
In Brisbane, traditionally NOVA has been the main competitor with us, and it’s also even been a threat to some degree in Adelaide.