‘Isn’t there more to life than ratings?’ SCA’s Adrian Brine on building great radio brands in 2020
Adrian Brine, Southern Cross Austero’s (SCA) assistant head of the Hit Network, has said he’s glad we are no longer in the “rate or die” phase of radio.
He admitted that the “rate or die” mentality of radio programming ensured programmers knew where to focus their energies, but said he likely wouldn’t have succeeded under that regime.
“It seems a bit extreme, doesn’t it?” he said to Fox FM’s current content director Amanda Lee on the Fox Bosses podcast, looking back on the radio brand’s 40-year legacy.
“Because there’s lots of other ways that brands can interact with your radio shows and your talent. And there’s lots of other upticks that can happen from building a great brand now. It may not potentially be the greatest rating show of all time, but it’s a really great brand, that might now transition even better into on-demand, and we’ve built that, and we can now move it across into an on-demand space that is actually going to give us measurable things that we can put advertisers up against.
“I do think that it would have been a tricky environment for me to be in back then, I think, when it was all about rate or die, because my perspective is just too broad.”
This broad perspective, he said, has come about because the content landscape looks so different in 2020.
He conceded that being a content director and programmer in 2020 is difficult because attention is pulled in all different directions – from linear radio, to catch-up and on-demand, and from social media to client integrations.
But with this comes the opportunity to look beyond just the ratings figures – “Isn’t there more to life than ratings?”, he asked Lee.
Despite ratings not being everything, Brine noted that getting the talent mix right is still one of radio’s biggest challenges.
He reflected on his time trying to get the Melbourne Breakfast line-up ironed out and working following the end of the iconic Matt & Jo Show.
“The biggest learning I made was through the Breakfast show developments, of that struggle of the show changing so much and voices coming in and out, and Fev [Brendan Fevola] being in there and Fi [Fifi Box] being there and Dave [Thornton] being there. We never really had clarity on the roles of everybody as much as we tried.
‘Fifi, Dave, Fev & Byron’ was one of the many line-ups Fox FM toyed with
“And I just remember one day I just went in, with the now infamous pie chart and I put it up on the screen…. I’m at the end of my tether going ‘Guys, I think this is the best thing for the show’. I put the pie chart up… ‘This is how I see the voices in the show working’… Oh my God. Lost the room. Lost them completely. I’m sure after that they were all talking going ‘Oh my God, can you believe he put up a pie chart?’ I won’t do that again. That was a definite learning of what not to do. You learn these things,” he said.
The other challenge, he said, was realising Thornton’s time on the show was up.
“That specifically was really challenging, and probably pushed my ability around talent management to the limits, because it was really hard for both of us. It was really hard for Dave. He wasn’t sure whether he wanted to continue in that show, he wasn’t sure whether he was getting the value that he needed from the show. By that point I’d put him in the comedy box, either mistakenly or what I thought was best for the show, and he wanted more than that, and I couldn’t give him that, I think.
“And so it was a lot of tough conversations. It was really honest. I remember going to Brunswick and having a beer with him at his house, because that was just an easier way to talk to him about it – ‘We’re not getting what we need. How are we going to do this? What do you want to do? What do I think we need to do?’ And it just did eventually get to a point where it wasn’t working for him in particular. It came to its natural end, I think,” Brine remembered.
And despite its recent ratings hit, Brine still fully backs the current iteration of Melbourne’s Fox FM Breakfast show, Fifi, Fev & Byron.
‘Fifi, Fev & Byron’ are all Melbourne, according to Brine
“The ying and yang between Fev and Fi is not something you can capture or create. It needs to be natural,” Brine said. “I think she just needs the right person, the right personality to be able to bring the best out in her, and Fev provided that. And on the flip side, Fi’s an experienced broadcaster for Fev to learn from, and he could fit into that mould perfectly. So they created this must-listen-to banter, must-listen-to relationship, really close relationship, and that’s really important for a lot of shows is that they make that close relationship. And Byron is the facilitator of that relationship. And his role potentially on some days is more important than the others because he’s got to be able to bridge the gap and bring them together.”
The show, he said, remains quintessentially Melbourne – something some of its rivals, including Australian Radio Network’s (ARN) GOLD104.3 and KIIS FM aren’t offering.
“Just Melbourne, Melbourne, Melbourne. They were true Melbourne identities. Particularly we leaned on that extremely heavily when Jase & PJ arrived [at KIIS] and when Christian [O’Connell] arrived [at GOLD] – ‘Old mate from the UK. We’ve got your measure’. You have to lean into what you’re good at and what you’re famous for, and through and through Melbourne guys – [Fev] played for one of the biggest football clubs in Melbourne, Fi’s been a Melbourne radio icon for so long.
“So you tap into those things and that’s how we programmed it. I remember having conversations with Fi about ‘What promos are we running that are showing that we’re all Melbourne? We’re Melbourne this, we’re Melbourne that’. That’s how her brain works. She’s just really tuned in to how to even promote the show that she’s on, which is rare too.”