Surprise! Content bosses reveal the biggest radio shocks of 2020

Former Editor & Content Director

It’s been a year of surprises – some things we should have seen coming, others no one saw coming, and then plot twists and turns that felt like the writers behind 2020 were running out of ideas and just throwing anything at the wall.

And that’s just in radio!

Here, the content directors of the country’s four main commercial radio networks reveal what shocked them most about the year that was, pandemic aside.

Talent shake-ups, consumer habits, decisions at rival networks and the role of radio are all on the table.

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

What surprised him most about 2020 in radio? 

“We just did a quick snapshot on what it looked like between Survey 1 and Survey 8. What it looked like at the start of COVID, and fingers crossed something looking like the end of COVID at the moment, and to be honest, radio as an industry has done so well in terms of being buoyant and we’ve gained listeners between Survey 1 and Survey 8 as an industry.

“Now there’s been a bit of shaking around of people moving in the mornings and workdays growing outside of Breakfast, but it’s shown me how important and strong and buoyant radio is. And when they can’t get us live and on linear form, they’ll go and get us on catch-up on-demand. So it shows that strength of companionship as well.

“People still love radio products, even if they’re not hearing it live, they’ll go and get it on catch-up.”

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

What surprised him most about 2020 in radio? 

“I think COVID has accelerated it, it’s been an accelerant really in terms of pushing people into listening to podcasting etc., streaming etc., things like that. It’s been a good, in some ways it’s been a positive thing for radio. We’ve seen that radio is once again very resilient and withstands the effects of a pandemic if you like.

“Whereas a lot might have thought it might begin the demise of radio, I think it’s come out stronger than ever. I think that’s because the networks have all had a fairly consistent approach to maintaining a high level of content and standards of output throughout the whole year, and audiences took a lot of comfort in that. Even though there was movement away from FM, particularly in Melbourne with the sharp effect of COVID down there, you can’t ignore COVID, that’s the thing. You have to factor that in, because that shift to AW, which we saw in Melbourne, many people thought that was going to be a signal a shift in listening patterns to AM talk. That’s not going to be the case, by the way. And we’re already seeing the signs of AW softening. That will take a while to return to normal. It will take probably another full 12 months, but we’ll eventually see the listening patterns return back to what was the old norm.

“And on that point as well, I don’t believe there is going to be a ‘new norm’. I think everyone got really excited about a change. There’ll be some residual effect on working from home, but I think humans as a species take a lot of comfort in what was considered ‘normal’, and there was certainty around that normality and there was a lot of comfort around that normality. And people want that back, I think, after this disruptive year.

“And so I don’t think there will be a new norm. We’ve seen traffic levels in Sydney returning back to almost pre-COVID levels already. So, it’s going to be an exciting 2021, but it will be a slow return to normal over the next 12 months.”

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

What surprised him most about 2020 in radio? 

“In radio terms, just to keep it lighthearted, it’s the amount of change on radio. I can’t believe it [and] I’ve been working in this business a number of years. Stations keep changing their names, they’re getting new presenters. I can’t keep up. So I don’t know how the audiences are keeping up.

“I find it all that a bit unusual, but there you go.

“But in our own company, Marty [Sheargold] chose to leave [Drive] earlier this year, and that’s fine, and you move on. And we all have our time or our moment of doing something, and people do want a change in life.

“Other people might be surprised at how well Joel Creasey’s done, because enough of them have told me they were surprised we put him in the show in the first place, but you can se again from today’s numbers just how well they’re going.

“And Ben & Liam, they hit the ground running. Or with smooth, we cut through. We had impact very quickly on smooth. So it can be done. So I’m not surprised that that’s the case, but I think a lot of people around us are.

“My biggest surprise in radio is just ‘Guys, take a breath, you don’t need to keep changing everything’. You let stuff breathe, there’s more chance of it working.”

Greg Byrnes, head of content, Nine Radio:

What surprised him most about 2020 in radio? 

“I think it’s reset why radio was first established, or those golden days of radio, where people are taking part, they’re getting laughs, they’re just after some good-old companionship. Live, local, what’s happening in my city now? Interaction…

“We’ve served it up, but the audience has come and they’ve stuck around. And I think it’s the dawning of a new age, corny as that may sound, for talk radio in particular. Because people want to be engaged, they want to know what’s going on. And they realise that we’re here – we always have been – and we always will be.”


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

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Recent comments (4)
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11 Dec 2020 - 12:54 pm

Paul Jackson thinks Joel Creasey had worked on Nova Drive – who is he kidding?

Kate, Tim and Joel have dropped to third place in Sydney and their figures are woeful in Melbourne.

11 Dec 2020 - 1:33 pm

Joel Creasey – no comment

11 Dec 2020 - 5:16 pm

Wonderful and deep analysis from the comments section as always.

Roger That
13 Dec 2020 - 11:20 am

It would be good if talk radio actually put some listeners to air for a change John Stanley very rarely does


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