Fireworks and failures: Content bosses reveal hopes and fears heading into 2021

Former Editor & Content Director

On the most basic level, the industry is split into two camps when looking ahead to 2021.

There are those who can’t wait to be done with 2020, its uncertainties, its catastrophes and its absurdities. A New Year awaits. Huzzah!

And then there are those who fear a calendar reset may not be enough. The systemic, policy and economic problems plaguing 2020, leading to much of its aforementioned catastrophes, will still be there when the clock strikes midnight.

So is the new year even a reset for radio? Will the full return of radio ratings make a difference? Can the economy bounce back, bringing some much-needed commercial dollars back to metro radio? And which shows will prosper, and which will flounder, if the cover of COVID disappears?

Here, the content bosses from the major commercial metro networks (excluding SCA which did not offer a spokesperson up for interview) reveal what they’re most looking forward to in 2021, and what could go wrong.

Duncan Campbell, content director, Australian Radio Network (ARN):

What he’s most excited about heading into 2021:

“I think the network is in a really good place. We’ve got good momentum. We’re very consistent. We’ve got some great people behind-the-scences. We’ve got some great people on the air. And my role really is just to make sure that all the pieces fit together and they sing in harmony so to speak without getting too cliche in my analogy.

“And [I’m] also excited about the work we’re doing in terms of carving out a digital future for us in terms of iHeart and podcasting. Corey Layton’s done a lot of work with podcasting, and we’ve got some movement there next year with iHeart and some plans to change our approach with iHeart and try and build audiences there and give us some addressable audiences in terms of data for the agencies.

“So the fact that the network’s in a very good place in terms of consistency, and we’re looking towards the future and that’s exciting for us in terms of possibilities with iHeart and podcasting as well.”

Greatest fear heading into 2021: 

“Greatest fear?

“Well there’s always the risk I think with this business that people lose focus on the things that really drive ratings, and I think, again, that’s part of my role here is to make sure that we don’t lose focus and get distracted by new, shiny toys. We like new, shiny toys, but we can’t get too distracted by them, particularly when 95% of our revenue comes from linear radio, AM/FM networks.

“But, the business is energised by the fact that we’re pursuing a digital future more aggressively than we ever have. And when the plans roll out for iHeart and expanding our podcasting network even further, then that’s exciting as well.

“But you have to balance it all out to make sure that the revenue pipeline isn’t compromised in terms of the AM/FM network.”

Looming issues for ARN:

“Well Brisbane is one. I think that’s a bit of a surprise up there for us, 97.3 has been hit more than we expected. The wave had it pretty much all sort of equal so it was anyone’s race. Really. So we’ve got a bit of work to do there. Not work, but investigation to do there. That result will take a couple of books to wash out, so expectations for Survey 8 won’t be a massive recovery there, but we’ll look towards the early part of 2021 to correct that.

“I think it’s still KIIS 101.1. I think it’s a station which, very few people criticise Jase & PJ and the content they do, and yet it just can’t seem to get the traction we want, and every time we think we’re getting signs that yes we’re going to get some traction here and some momentum, then it doesn’t deliver.

“But Melbourne has been an extraordinary market because of COVID down there and you can see AW’s impact there on the landscape, the radio landscape, even with this Survey and that will carry on into next survey… Given the fact that NSW has come out of it and you’ve seen 2GB settle back into the norms there in Sydney, but Melbourne’s still very much COVID country so to speak, so AW’s still very very prominent there. But once COVID passes in Melbourne and things start to return, AW’s, these figures won’t be sustained.”

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

What he’s most excited about heading into 2021:

“It’s not a real line in the sand moment when you get to next year – it’s just a continuation. The survey periods might stop, and I rather enjoy being in the survey periods, and it’s just the continuation for us.

“We want to continue to do the best we can in each of our markets. So nothing really changes.

“I’m looking forward ultimately to more of Kate, Tim & Joel as he [Joel] settles in. I think they’ve gone really well – so it’s still number one overall in cume and shares, in national drive shows. And I think the fluctuations in different markets are because of what’s happening in each of the markets. There’s a couple of downs, but some ups as well, so we’re really happy with how that’s settled in. I think that’s a fantastic show. So I’m looking forward certainly to more of that, because we haven’t been able to get them in the same room at this stage. So I think the last week of survey when the borders will be open just in time, we’ll get them all together in Sydney for a week. So I think we’ll have them together much more, and I think it’s been a great start, especially for Joel – it’s difficult doing it down the line on your own in Sydney and we’re just building a rapport with that team as well. So I think there’s plenty mote upside to come there.”

Greatest fear heading into 2021: 

“I don’t have any fears, but gosh I mean you just go day-to-day in life, and you never know what’s going to be around the corner, because you couldn’t make up some of the stuff that’s happening in the world now. Obviously, I’d have to say we want everyone to be healthy, happy and well, we want to get past lockdowns, we want to have the virus well and truly contained, so that we’re all living good and normal lives on equal keel.

“That’s really kind of I think what we’d look at. I think there’s things going on around us I think that are much more important at the moment.”

Looming issues for NOVA Entertainment:

“I think the Melbourne card is still a lockdown moment, I guess… So, I think we’ve still got to look at Melbourne with – even though it’s a real number, it’s a moment in time still, as I was saying that before, and I think it still is.

“The numbers on 3AW still fantastically high, and I think we’ll probably have to wait ’til next year, to maybe, people have that Christmas and holiday period and hopefully everything is good and life settles back down. And then we might see some of these CHR stations come further forward. But I think the Nova numbers are encouraging for us as well, because overall again you’e looking at the demos that you have on your front page there, very strong numbers – it leads 18 to 24, and 25 to 39 and so on, and was up nicely 40 to 54. So it sort of says there’s a reengagement of that audience. I think we lost nine or 10 share points in 18 to 24 before to KIIS, and they’re now down 7.5 and we’re up six, so those things are moving around, as they do. So I’m pretty happy with that.

“And, then look Nova in Sydney, it’s the first time in a while we’ve been closer to 900,000 in cume rather than 1 million, and obviously we want to be closer to the million mark as well. So, I hesitate to say ‘disappointed’, but certainly we’d always look to do a little better than that overall on the Sydney station, but I appreciate Sydney is highly competitive, and we may have lost a few listeners to our other channel over on smooth – because some of its numbers, especially in the day time was up [to] 13.5 –  off the scale, and probably blocking off a little bit of Nova listening, never mind WS and 2Day and so on across the marketplace – much like we see GOLD do in Melbourne to be fair, as well.

“So clearly smooth Sydney and GOLD Melbourne are the kind of two hottest stations that there are.”

Greg Byrnes, head of content, Nine Radio:

What he’s most excited about heading into 2021:

“More of the same. Local voices, local content, local news, sport and weather.

“What has also been really encouraging over the last two surveys is the 35 to 64 demo which we’re really targeting commercially, w’eve increased that, we’re number one and then [last week’s] figures show we’ve actually increased that by 0.5. So it’s near-on 12% share of the 35 to 64s.

“So obviously it’s a business and we need to be commercially successful, and I think as we can solidify these ratings results that we’re seeing, that will obviously reflect on the commercial performance of Nine Radio.

“So, looking ahead, I think we’re in for a great 12 months.”

Greatest fear heading into 2021: 

“Greatest fear? Getting a bit deep there…

“I can’t think of any greatest fears, Viv, to be honest. Heading into [Survey 6] given all the changes we’d made, we were always confident, but that was one survey, there as a bit of apprehensions leading into.

“But I think we’ve managed to re-pivot and refocus on the service we provide in talk radio, and I mentioned the companionship and the putting a smile on people’s faces. We hold government to account, we hold policy leaders to account, we have strong opinion, we’re not scared, we have presenters who walk the tightrope of live radio every day, and are effectively walking that tightrope without a safety net because of the opinion that they’re expected to provide. And that’s not easy. So we will continue to do that. And our audience, the numbers show our audience is responding to it.”


For all the slips, spills and spin from the Survey 7 results, listen to the special edition Radio Today Tonight podcast.

You can subscribe to Radio Today Tonight now on Apple, SpotifyGoogle or iHeartRadio.

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Recent comments (10)
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10 Nov 2020 - 12:12 pm

Come on SCA, what are you doing? No media releases after the last survey and it seems they’ve stopped responding to requests for comments/interviews. Is this how they’re running the network too? We want to hear what’s going on. How about a totally honest interview from someone at SCA…?

10 Nov 2020 - 12:52 pm

Dan, Given it’s well known the team at radio today take their SCA conversations straight to competitors, it little wonder. It’s a small industry

    10 Nov 2020 - 1:13 pm

    Hi Jackson,

    Interesting comment there offered with no evidence.

    It’s worth noting SCA also didn’t speak to Mumbrella, AdNews or radioinfo this time around.

    Vivienne – Radio Today

SCA In Trouble
10 Nov 2020 - 1:59 pm

SCA’s silence post-survey is pretty deafening. The rebrand for Hit has failed miserably and they cannot be bothered defending it anymore. DC must be struggling to sleep…

10 Nov 2020 - 2:58 pm

Or…. SCA is head down bum up working on the rest of the year and next year. I understand the radio tragic’s that live in the comments of this website (clinging to relevance and re-living the good old days of radio).

But not talking to an industry site means nothing. Means you are busy. SCA also get plenty of coverage on RadioToday and the like…

10 Nov 2020 - 3:43 pm

No word from Jackson on how Nova is dealing with the digital future and consumer behaviour change as a result of the lockdowns. Just basic names in boxes strategy it seems

10 Nov 2020 - 5:49 pm

OR???? obviously works for SCA. And they clearly have no idea who or who doesn’t work in the media/radio industry. Nice try though. What’s the excuse for the lack of post survey media releases?

11 Nov 2020 - 5:19 am

Duncs still can’t get 973 or KIIS Melbourne right. How many free kicks does this guy get ?

11 Nov 2020 - 5:24 am

Greg Byrnes is deluded, Nine just got lucky with Covid. You won’t see any good numbers under 55 on the old school AM radio. Besides he’s done nothing the changes made were already underway and not his call, give me a break. He’s a journo not a programmer. Nice suit though.
Triple M should evolve the talk breakfast they have going with Eddie, good opportunity for 45-60 year old men with nothing to listen to. Long term they won’t listen to bloody AM.

Andy Grace
11 Nov 2020 - 10:55 am

Oh come on! How many times over the past ten years do I have to repeat the bleedin’ obvious. Under 40 music radio is done. Finished. Kaput. Kyle and Jack have been the one obvious exception. I was wrong to doubt them, but Duncan did an *amazing* job of supporting them, the PR backup has been magnificent and as always I massively overestimate the intelligence of the lowest 12% of the general public.
Kent at Nova 96.9 has been great too, convincing some of young whipper-snappers by using digital content well but the rest? Sheesh.

In Melbs, Jase and PJ is actually a pretty sweet brekky show that would have been a hit a decade ago, but 3DB/3TT/TTFM/Mix101.1/KIIS is just too damned confusing. Gold’s been the rock and it shows. Over 50s! Poor old FOX too – the mighty SuperStation FOX of all Australian brands – the jewel in the crown! Fiona’s still sweet but the footy dude? Is he speaking English? Nova 100? Meh.

Ladies and gentlemen. We are at the end of the year 2020. We have 100 Megabits to our phones if we’re in a bad reception area. And 5-20 Megabits up. Media is TWO WAY! Radio doesn’t cut it anymore with the key advert demos.

FFS … Triple J is #1 18-24 AND 25-39 because it’s more than a radio station, it’s an entire media experience and the opposite of mainstream. The rebels. They do a good job but the absurdity is the anti-mainstream is now the mainstream. I can’t buy a Run-of-Station with them!

3AW is the perfect example of the future (and the short lived 2CH was excellent thanks to Cherie’s programming) by targeting over 50s. OK, over 60s, but even those people are hyper-connected to the Internet. Old habits die hard, hence the numbers listening to talk and oldies, but radio isn’t replacing it’s audience – it’s dying with them. Before that happens we will hear plenty of prepaid funeral and reverse mortgage ads!

FTA TV is just the same. No actually over there it’s even worse.

So – just remind me what medium we’re on right now? Speaking of which, what’s new on NetFlix and YouTube?


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