What the radio content bosses learned in 2020

Former Editor & Content Director

If nothing else, 2020 has presented us the opportunity to whip out cliches and platitudes – whether it’s everything happens for a reason, expect the unexpected, making the most out of a bad situation, and “it is what it is”.

But beyond the trite talking points about the year that was, is there anything we can actually take away from 2020 and implement in the new year to make the radio and audio space stronger, more resilient and more adaptable?

Here, the content directors of the country’s four main commercial radio networks reveal what they learned this year, and how it might help the industry reset in 2021.

Dave Cameron, chief content officer, Southern Cross Austereo (SCA): 

What was the biggest lesson you learned about radio in 2020? 

“I guess how much we can be affected when people’s routines and behaviours dramatically shift.

“We are a stable part, radio’s a stable part of people’s life and their daily habits until their habits are upended, and we’ve seen really some results which I just couldn’t have written in a Hollywood script this year.

“So I guess it just shows that radio has a really strong place in people’s lives, until their lives are turned upside down, and then radio gets shaken a bit sideways.

“I guess the other learning is, for me, we talk about [how] we all come out of this more resilient, but I think resilience has a capacity, and I think we’re teetering on a really fine line between people’s resilience and feeling a bit unbroken and exhausted right now. And it’s only so much you can squeeze out of people until people just feel exhausted.

“I think this year’s just been exhausting for everyone, and I feel really hopeful that everyone’s now going on a break just to try and get some level of sanity and life back into their lives again, and come back again next year and fight the good fight. I worry about how devastating this year’s been on people.”

Duncan Campbell, chief content officer, Australian Radio Network (ARN):

What was the biggest lesson you learned about radio in 2020? 

“Don’t knee jerk to what is considered popular opinion at the time. Wait ’til the facts are there, and then make a decision.

“And also maintain a consistent level of output. And while that output might have to evolve to what the current climate is, it still need to be a high standard and consistent so audiences respond to the familiarity that they’re used to from the station.”

Paul Jackson, chief programming and marketing officer, NOVA Entertainment:

What was the biggest lesson you learned about radio in 2020? 

“I guess in life people always say ‘expect the unexpected’. That’s pretty obvious, isn’t it, in so many ways? I think we need to do that in radio over the years in any case, and then all these other things have happened in life.

“I think the lesson, it’s always about the people. It’s about the people we work with and our staff around us, our listeners and actually just about putting people first, and slowing down a little bit maybe and caring for each other. I think the biggest lesson is in that.

“I really do appreciate this year, actually, our presenters are going through the same thing that everybody else is, but they’ve got to get in every morning, put a smile on their faces, inform, entertain, connect with their audiences, even sometimes when they probably don’t feel like it and it’s pretty hard for them.

“So, I really commend all of our Breakfast shows which have all gone up in audience [this survey], on the work that they’ve done this year as well.

“So I think there’s a real kind of lesson in that, it’s fabulous that if you’re a listener to the radio station and what it can give you, when maybe you’re having a bad day or you’ve been in lockdown for a number of months, or if you are on your way to work your life is tough and all of that – when you can put the radio on, and someone’s there that can make you smile when you’re not really in the mood to smile, you don’t really want to – and radio can change that for you.

“And I think we’ve all become acutely aware again this year of the importance of the connection that radio gives you, the immediacy and that ability to inform.

“So I think over and above with all of that, it comes back to the people that we work with, the people that are around us in our lives, and then the people that listen to us that we do it all for every day, really.”

Greg Byrnes, head of content, Nine Radio:

What was the biggest lesson you learned about radio in 2020? 

“I suppose it’s just reinforced that people turn to us for trusted news and opinion, and they expect it. And we have to deliver it, regardless of the obstacles that are put up, whether that be announcers having to broadcast remotely, or producers having to receive permits to get into work, we just have to do it and get on with it.

“I mean all the announcers have done that, certainly on the east coast. Neil Breen’s been in Brisbane all year without family, Ray’s  [Hadley] been broadcasting from home since March, as has Neil [Mitchell].

“But in Melbourne the fact that staff are going through roadblocks and having to get permits just to get into work, and none of them have complained about it, and they’ve just gone in and done it.

“And I think it’s what we expect people to do, but we can’t take that for granted, just because that’s what they do. I just think we need to be aware of that, that the role that the back-end plays. Obviously there’s a lot of focus on the on-air, but the off-air, particularly during thus year, has just proved so important and vital.”


For all the slips, spills and spin from the Survey 8results, listen to the Radio Today Tonight podcast.

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