Austereo CEO Bans the Word Rock on Triple M

Greg Smith is an inductee into the Australian Radio Hall of Fame, and a Director of Radio Today.

A guy called Oedipus was Program Director of legendary Boston rock station WBCN from 1977 until 2004. He’s regarded as one of the world’s best rock programmers.

I recently asked him what makes a truly great rock radio station.

‘First and foremost: Passion. Passion for the music, passion for the lifestyle.

Sadly, most rock stations have abandoned passion for rote back announcing and dull concert announcements.

Second: Local. The community where we live and listen is our identity and the local connection makes us members of an exclusive club.

Third: Entertainment with Humour. Radio is such a personal medium and listening should help us escape from our mundane existences. We should be transported to unexpected destinations. Humorous presenters and breakers add to the joy and fun that is rock.

Tragically in America consolidation has meant the abandonment of talent for scientifically oriented programmers lacking in both creativity and passion.’

Oedipus can be contacted at The Oedipus Project here.

In my opinion there are not many programmers in Australia who know how to program a rock station. Jeff Allis (right) stands out as a great rock PD. He had the passion, the attitude & the swagger that rock demands. Also, credit must be given to Mike Fitzpatrick (Fitzy) for turning around 3MMM from a ratings disaster in 2009 to a powerhouse in 2013.

There are many successful Top 40, Hot AC, Classic Hits Content Directors but programming rock is a different beast. Jamie Angel is one of the rare examples where a Top 40 programmer made the transition to become a leading rock content director.

Top 40 Stations generally deliver a big Cume & lower Time Spent Listening. Rock Stations on the other hand can give you great TSL & a lower Cume.

Top 40 stations have to work hard at building TSL while Rock stations have to look at ways of building their cume.

Eriks Celmins, now known for his research skills, was at one time a very talented CHR PD. Eriks says, "A great Top-40 radio station generates passion and better TSL than a weaker competitor, with the combination of music genre variety, great breakfast show and big cut-through promotions".

Top 40 plays many styles of music while Rock lives on 1 to 2 styles.

A narrow focus equals passion. Passion = TSL

CHR = fast rotations. Rock = slow rotates

In the past, Australian rock stations have been too broad & too soft musically.

One of the most important rules of strategy is that you don’t go against predisposition.

When I say Triple M, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?

Most people would say rock. So why in 2007 was the rock word banned?

The consensus at the time was that sales couldn’t live on just men in the target. Advertising Agency feedback was that they disliked the bogan images that Triple M owned due to its rock position & no-one at agency land was interested.

Insiders tell me that senior management was fearful of being beaten by Vega. In fact it became an obsession. Programmers were told whatever you do don’t let Vega beat Triple M. This resulted in numerous variations of rock leaning formats. Too many changes & knee jerk reactions to Vega.

The passion had gone. Remember a narrow focus = passion.

Female friendly artists like Metro Station, Kelly Clarkson, Pink and The Veronicas were added to the playlist. The station wanted to appeal to both men & women. 2MMM became a variety format & in doing so disenfranchised young end males and failed to attract enough women to the format. Meanwhile, the 35 plus males were slowly drifting away as Charlie Fox was wooing them to WS.FM, quietly tweaking his station for them.

Triple M had lost its point of difference & by Survey 2 in 2009 it hit rock bottom with a 10+ share of 3.2%. The all-important breakfast show wasn’t helping with a 2.8% share 10+. Management was also worried that success for Triple M meant 2Day FM would take a hit. Thankfully this thinking was not supported by Rhys Holleran. He wanted the 2 stations to be no. 1 & 2 in Sydney.

So how did Southern Cross Austereo finally fix it and double its 10+ share by Survey 2 2013 exactly 4 years later after hitting rock bottom? Content Director, Jamie Angel (left) explains how.

“It’s great to be able to talk about Triple M in 2013. I’ve learnt over the last few years what an incredibly frustrating format the Rock niche can be. Frustrating from a ratings point of view in Sydney and frustrating for the whole team who’s worked their guts out, just to be kicked again (and again). There is so much expectation too on Triple M. It’s such an iconic radio brand and you just have to look at the industry forums to get an idea of the passion for Triple M. When we’re underperforming we’re talked about and scrutinised 4 to 1 over the rest (but when things improve ….. tumbleweeds. That shits me).

Thankfully after a few false starts, The M’s now has some real consistency and momentum. Obviously we’ll always be judged by our 10+ figures however, our business requires us to dominate certain segments of the audience and ultimately that’s what we’re measured against within SCA. Ultimately we’ve designed a station for men and this is how we’re measuring up as of Survey 3 2013.

1st up, it’s really great to have the old girl back at Number 1 25-39. The Grill Team have had a few incredible books and are now Number 1 Male 18+ as well as Males 18-54 and I’m excited that the Grillers audience is broadening and are now a close No.2 25-39 and 25-54 “all people” behind 2Day FM. It’s a real testament to the work put in on and off air to create the right sort of content for a man in Sydney in 2013.

Gus and MG have been the show glue for a few years now but Matty Johns has had a massive impact. Undoubtedly his influence has drawn in a new audience to sample Triple M breakfast and they’re staying around for a long time, last book had the highest breakfast TSL in Sydney! Believe it or not they’re now one of longest running breaky shows in the market and consistency will only see their numbers improve.

Workday is an even prettier picture. Triple M is a clear number 1 All People 25-39 and dominates all the male demos. Here’s where credit must go to Michael D Fitzpatrick (left) at 3MMM. Most of us have come to the dark side from the Today Network but Fitzy has grown up with the M’s and has a real understanding of, and love for, rock radio.

He’s been tinkering away with the music for over 12 months and has led the charge to embrace and champion the new style of rock music that we hear out of the speakers today. We’ve also pretty much moved from the 80s and now centre on 90s rock. We’re more progressive than we have been in the past and we’re challenging ourselves to keep exploring.

Whilst Triple M will always be perceived as a rock station, we’ve changed our positioning to “Real Music” which is helping us transition to these newer and contemporary sounds that some of our audience can find “challenging” at times. To be honest we’ve had very few complaints about the lack of Chisel now on Triple M and when I do take those calls it follows a pretty predictable path. “I’ve been listening since Mulray started and what you’re playing isn’t rock music!” What I love is their undeniable passion for the station, after all they took the time to tell us the station they’ve listened to their whole life, just isn’t what it used to be! But these listeners are now in their 50s and 60s.

Triple M just has to move forward or grow older and irrelevant. That ain't good for business. We spend an incredible amount of time talking to our audience about the music we play. Until recently our jocks were still setting up songs like ”This is a great song” but when you have a conversation with music lovers (our listeners) about the songs and artists we play and they will talk of emotion and feelings, lyrics, memories and have intricate knowledge of the artists and albums they love. At that same time we were in DJ Mode. Bringing back a real and tangible connection between the station and the music we play has been a real focus. Dave Gleeson at midday has really helped us get back on track in terms of engaging with the music we play. It’s hard to find an act with a drum set or guitar (or bloody banjo) that’s not played on Triple M, talked about on Triple M or presented by the M’s.

For the 1st time in years Triple M Sydney has a full time drive show. Merrick and the Highway Patrol are now killing it All People 25-39 and 25-44 and again dominate all the male demos. Merrick made me nervous to start with but turns out he was the good one and he’s just incredible to work with. Rachel has Triple M in her blood and the audience is (creepily) in love with her and Jules is undeniably one of the best writers and radio performers in the country. (Now they just need to stop with potty mouth).

NRL is now up and running but we know this will take time to grow broadly given its long history on AM. We’ve never really considered it a big winner 10+ for us but we know it will bring new cume to the station who then might sample breakfast, or the music etc. Personally, I believe we have the strongest line up on TV or radio, and the shows and calls sound great. I was disappointed weekends dropped this book however, breaking out the figures, in our 1st NRL survey we were the top footy station for All people 18-44 where we compete directly with the AM'ers on the weekend. And what it does do is make money, and that’s the game we’re in.

We now have a genuine under 40’s sound with our shows and the music strategy and the audience is now coming, and staying.

That’s just Sydney. All the other Triple M’s have even better stories to tell…. Damn it.”

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