OPINION: Austereo fails with Triple M re-badge

I was raised in Griffith where, before you ask, marijuana doesn’t grow on the side of the road and the only organised crime I ever saw was the year the North Sydney Bears came to town for a pre-season game and got rolled by a Group 20 invitational team.

Built from the ground up in 1916, Griffith is a pup compared to most country towns and the guaranteed supply of water courtesy of the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Scheme has essentially made the region drought-proof over that time which means someone around town always has coin.

If rice prices are soft, grapes are good and if they’re off then citrus prices are OK. Recently cotton and hydroponics (tomatoes and lettuce mainly, will you stop thinking about marijuana) have been added to the cycle of abundance.

Back then it was a town of less than 20,000 and it punched well above its weight. We had a bowling alley, cinema, indoor pool and at least three Chinese restaurants that I remember. I’m sure there were much worse places to grow up.

One of my strongest memories as a youngster was listening to Radio 2RG 963. Like most Gen X’ers, our local station was one of only a few windows to the world. My kids don’t believe me when I tell them I grew up with two TV stations (one being Aunty), one AM radio station and cassettes and vinyl bought from the Griffith Record Centre at the top end of Banna Avenue. I’m convinced the day I got a Sony Walkman for Christmas ‘84 was a far bigger deal than the day my kids got their first ipod. We were comparatively starved of stimulation.

During the day, 2RG was talkback and easy listening (think Electric Light Orchestra) but after 7pm each night we got a decent mix of Aussie rock and international superstars albeit delivered in a very matter-of-fact manner (one night the DJ called INXS, The Inks) but wonderful to me regardless.

On a clear night when a northerly was blowing you could pick up a decent signal from Sydney which was something else altogether. It was like a portal into the future – slick station promo’s, traffic reports, a music bed leading into the news … even the advertisements were cool. Rock of the 80’s, 2SM was pretty much my favourite thing in the world.

Anyway, I moved away in the late 80’s and my family left town not that long after so now I go back only a few times a year for work (one of my clients owns a diverse Griffith based business that includes PV solar installation, an electronics retail store and electrical trade services) and to see old friends. It always brings back a lot of great memories although on my most recent trip I was confronted with something that really affected me.

When I turn off the Newell Highway at Ardlethan I always tune the radio to 2RG to get a feel for what’s happening in the district. Within seconds I heard the announcer refer to the station as Triple M. What? I quickly checked the display. Yep 963 AM. And then he said it again … Triple M. Surely there must be a mistake? An FM call sign on the AM band 500 kilometres from both Sydney and Melbourne. For a moment I was completely thrown and then it dawned on me: Southern Cross Austereo owns and operates both ‘brands’ … 2RG had been Sydneyfied!

2RG Griffith was now ‘Triple M’ as was 2WG Wagga and 3BO Bendigo and 2GZ Orange and 4GR Toowoomba and 25 other stations in regional Australia that many of us have known for years.

And Austereo’s regional FM stations hadn’t escaped this blanket re-brand either. StarFM Griffith was now ‘Hit FM’ as was The River in Albury, Sun FM in Shepparton and a stack of other established, local FM stations.

Over the next few days, I kept the radio locked on 2RG to see what this all meant. And it meant absolutely nothing. The day’s funeral announcements were still read live to air in prime time at 8.45am (yes, you read that correctly). The stock reports, sport cancellations, local news bulletins and distinctive, locally produced adverts were all still there. It was the very same station with local content generated mostly by local people with local idiosyncrasies.

And the most striking thing to me is that the station I was listening to had absolutely nothing whatsoever in common with the Triple M brand that I know. I shudder to think what Doug Mulray would think of all this and I know Wazza the Rock Dog would be turning in his grave.

Triple M is 30 years of urban Australian commentary. It’s early Andrew Denton and vintage Jimmy Barnes and Rocktober and quirky sports broadcasting. It’s the Horden, Festival Hall and The Espy rolled into one. As far as radio goes, it’s been a little edgy and sometimes controversial and, in more recent years, been pigeon-holed into a bit of a bloke-fest. None of this says Griffith, Mudgee or Dubbo to me.

According to Southern Cross Austereo, the main reason for the change is to make its regional network more appealing to major advertisers through streamlined national promotions. I get that but I also think country folk are smart enough to know that these syndicated programs are completely disconnected from their town – Hamish & Andy is Melbourne-centric and largely pre-recorded and Ray Hadley (born and raised in Paddington) doesn’t really give a toss about anything west of Penrith.

A statement from the parent company announcing the changes last December banged on about common goals and efficiencies and a stack of other motherhood stuff but finished with: “the localism in the regional stations will stay the same regardless of the re-brand.”

So, the obvious question is … what’s the point?

You could argue that the Triple M brand has stood the test of time and that it can mean different things to different people so what’s the harm, however to me, it’s confusing and lazy.

It lumps every town in with the other and dilutes 80 years of broadcasting history in these regional centres just so every station can share the same livery. What it saves on the cost of signwriting and stationery it loses on credibility.

In this era where personalised content, one-to-one marketing and building deep connections with your customers is so important, this goes against the grain. It assumes people (and advertisers) are sheep.

If you’re listening out there in Coffs Harbour or Newcastle or anywhere else that’s had their local radio station stripped of its identity, I’d love to hear your opinion on this.

This article originally appeared on the Marketing Sherpa blog and was republished with permission from the author.

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15 May 2017 - 10:30 am

You mention Newcastle, but the irony is that KOFM is still there (no name change), and NX has changed names that many times it’s fairly irrelevant to have another name change (plus, its market is too young to remember its heritage anyway, nor do I think they would really care).
I myself was skeptical of the change when it was announced, but I think over time people won’t be thinking too hard about it. It makes sense to have common brands across different markets, especially with everything being driven so heavily by the web now.

15 May 2017 - 10:31 am

What’s the point? I feel like you’re making and simultaneously missing the point. The local content is still there strong as ever, Except now the fine people in your town can be in the same national competition as everywhere else to win tickets to see guns n roses live in concert. It’s win win

nick bartlett
15 May 2017 - 10:47 am

Great article. In the Internet era radio is being threatened by online music streaming. Yet radio still has one advantage – it’s local. Local people, local news, local community. The spread of Triple M means the loss of the local “feel”. The spread of Triple M can be likened to the Ebola virus. Not wanted and not needed. Not needed in Melbourne in the 1980s. Not needed in Griffith in 2017. I have this feeling that it will keep spreading.
As for 2SM when it was the Rock of the 80s – it was slick. Promos, news themes, ads, jingles, DJs….so slick……it’s a pity that it was not able to move to FM. It would have been nuclear in stereo.

Robbie Wood
15 May 2017 - 11:12 am

For the record, Wazza was cremated.

Marcus Hudswell
15 May 2017 - 12:09 pm

4GR Toowoomba is the oldest commercial license in Qld, and now its Triple M. If it works for the network, well that’s the main priority. Community radio may well be the big winners here, I recently bought a new car and havent even listened to AM radio for months.

15 May 2017 - 8:35 pm

Regardless of whether you are right or wrong, you have presented a compelling argument. Well written, well thought out. Well done !

15 May 2017 - 9:26 pm

Its funny how people only ever talk about the Triple M of the old days . I have an association with the radio station that goes back longer ,way longer than most . I have never even met Doug Mulray . Wazza The Rock Dog was a legend and a friend of mine he was a wonderful human but jog my memory what contribution did he make to the on-air sound??? (I say that with the greatest respect ).Long live Triple M whether its in Griffith,Sydney or wherever .Its just as important as any other brand in radio .

16 May 2017 - 3:21 am

Steven when DMG owned the station 20 years ago to SCA or whoever in future it doesn’t mean a thing. It will still be local and relevant no matter what name. Calm down

Gary Radio
16 May 2017 - 6:53 am

Everyone loves to roll around in nostalgia from time-to-time, but the point is these stations have jumped in a time machine and arrived 10-20 years into the future. They now get better production pieces, promos, music features, shows and content – it now makes sense when Triple M is rocking footy on their stations across the weekend, for example. They still maintain the localism and ability to do the content that has made them loved in their local community – so it’s a win-win for them. At the end of the day, a well established national brand is more important that a few people would rather live in a bygone era. It’s called evolution, baby!

16 May 2017 - 7:29 am

This article demonstrates small time thinking by a small time marketer that services small time businesses, so this opinion piece is somewhat understandable. However, it’s concerning a ‘marketer’ can’t see the benefits of consolidation to a national brand for Triple M, from both a business and consumer point of view. Doubt any notable brands will be calling for a sherpa anytime soon.

Marketing Sherpa
16 May 2017 - 10:09 am

Thanks to Radio Today for re-posting my blog on their website and FB page. Thanks also to everyone who took the time to make a comment or contact me. I even had Ray Hadley’s office get in touch to correct a factual ‘anomaly’ (I used Wikipedia as my original source however, evidently he was born at the old Royal Hospital for Women in Paddington but was raised predominantly on the mid-north coast of NSW and western Sydney) and I thank the other reader for alerting me to the fact that Wazza was cremated (and, as such, could not turn in his grave!). A few people questioned the motivation of writing this opinion piece and a few others intimated that I’m an old-timer more interested in walks down memory lane than commercial reality. For a decade I managed large advertising budgets and regularly dealt with media buyers and radio advertising execs. To this day I advise my clients on the most relevant form of advertising for their businesses. My judgement is not clouded by nostalgia. The main point I endeavoured to make is that I think listeners are smart enough to realise that syndicated shows run across state and regional borders and any major promotions or events are not designed for a single market. I don’t cop the argument that a mass re-badge such as this convinces those living in regional areas that they are now part of a bigger tribe. I would shocked if there was any market research undertaken before this decision was made. As a few readers commented, change is inevitable and people will not remember the old call signs in a few years. I agree with this. There are countless examples of businesses that have re-branded or consolidated brands (Woolworths have retired Flemings, Jewels, Franklins and Safeway in the past 25 years and I don’t think too many people lost any sleep over this) but the counter argument to this is, if aint broke …. I’d be interested to know from SCA advertising reps in these regional areas if local advertisers have pushed back over the loss of regional identity but, if true, SCA would never publically acknowledge this. If you’re interested in reading more of my blogs – mostly observations about brand recognition, loyalty and consumer behaviour, and please visit http://www.marketingsherpa.com.au Cheers, Steve

2WL, 2NX, 4GG
16 May 2017 - 11:16 am

Only those who live in regional and rural areas realise the importance of local brands. Executives with views of the Opera House don’t quite grasp that living in Griffith is different to living in Bondi.

16 May 2017 - 1:54 pm

Consider yourself shocked Steve.

SCA did research and also test markets before the rebrand. It’s been detailed in more than one article across multiple industry publications and websites. No publicly listed company would make a decision like this flippantly.

Ultimately listeners don’t care as long as they continue to get the same or better content. Look at ARNs rebrand of Mix to KIIS for example.

16 May 2017 - 5:50 pm


Kyle S
16 May 2017 - 6:26 pm

Reg – is this the same type of market research that SCA did to see whether Kyle and Jackie O were an integral part of 2DayFM’s success? Is this the same SCA that flippantly let Kyle walk to ARN?

16 May 2017 - 9:35 pm

Has this cat seen the survey results?

16 May 2017 - 10:29 pm

@Kyle S – you just made my point. The content got a whole lot better at ARN when Kyle and Jackie O arrived. The station name change had very little to do with the success KIIS. And I doubt SCA made that decision flippantly either.

17 May 2017 - 2:57 pm

Despite what some commenters think (or spin), the rebrand to Triple M has gone down like a lead balloon in regional areas. I think you need to come from a regional area to understand.

But never mind the regional areas – the Triple M brand has been completely trashed in metro areas too! The station is now a TALK and SPORT station and bears no resemblance to a quality rock music-focused station.

It’s bogan and just unlistenable.

At least in this modern age there are options. I stream Absolute Radio from the UK or The Sound from NZ. These are actual music focused rock stations.

Triple M to me is just a sad old talkback station now – it’s a joke!

Dr Dan
17 May 2017 - 11:56 pm

BC – you must live in Metro and Regional areas to have such valuable insight. Like all radio stations, MMM adjusts to give people the content they are seeking, sports talk is a part of the MMM DNA – Rock, Sport, Comedy. Has been for 25 years or so. The station performs well in the demo it is targeting and achieves good ratings and offers advertisers a unique environment among the many ‘me too’ stations out there. That’s the role of a commercial radio station and the reality it operates in.

25 May 2017 - 10:25 am

Dr Dan. So I live in Brisbane but grew up in a regional area, have family there, and visit frequently. Is that enough insight for you? You can talk all you like about Triple M “DNA”, but there is a big chunk of your audience that is completely disenfranchised by all the bogan talk, sport and “comedy”. Rock stations overseas play rock music. And thankfully I can stream them rather than be force fed what Triple M wants me to listen to. You can spin all you like about ‘target demos’, but Triple M’s ratings over the weekend are appalling in places like Sydney – so people aren’t buying it.

5 Nov 2017 - 7:49 am

As Rush Hour host on Hobarts Triple M
I’m incredibly proud to present this brand
This article was a fantastic read and made some great points
The Hobart Triple M recently gained the biggest increase in listeners across the board in all time zones
We’re up against a strong Heritage station and it takes time to belt into that .. “Why do you listen to them ….. well I always have “
But the M’s in Hobart have been accepted and embraced
Are we doing it right ? .. I believe we’re not doing it wrong .. put it that way
We’re local .. we’re accepted And the city loves the brand

10 Nov 2017 - 5:04 am

Why is Triple M’s most successful station not called Triple M nor has the same music format?

I speak of Mix 94.5 Perth.

Unlike its eastern states metro stablemates, 94.5 sits atop the Perth radio ratings and has, bar a couple of isolated surveys, for 20 years.

Years agom SCA (as Hoyts then Austereo) introduced the Triple M brand into Perth via its disastrous purchase of 96FM . The move was a monumental failure taking the station from market leader to number 7.

Austereo subsequently purchased Hit 92.9 (then PMFM) and Mix 94.5 (then 94.5 KYFM) rating one and two in the market from WA businessman Jack Bendat for a jaw dropping $100 million, about $167 million today.

Following the acquisition, so called wise men from the east began involving themselves in the operation of 92.9, effectively leaving 94.5 to radio guru Gary Roberts.

In very short time 92.9 slid to number two whilst 94.5 rose to number one. Gary Roberts is a skilled operator who understood how to keep the lizards as they were not so affectionately known away from the day to day operation of Mix.

Roberts also understands the Perth market which, contrary to views expressed by some, is markedly different to the eastern states.

It never occurred to the lizards why Mix 94.5 rose to the top whilst 92.9 continued its southward slide.

At several points attempts were made to change Mix 94.5, always the oddball in the Austereo/SCA stable. Every time ratings began to slide with movement in format resulting in a swift reversal and restoration of ratings.

Should SCA be stupid enough to attempt foisting Triple M in Perth again on 94.5, the result will be the same as in the 90’s. One may also enquire how, as many argue, homogeneous change is sound business when Mix 94.5 clearly demonstrates the opposite?

Mix 94.5’s success guaranteed rebranding would not happen in Perth.

Am I the only one seeing the irony in Triple M’s most successful station, and only metro number 1, with a different music format not calling itself Triple M?


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