How the coronavirus pandemic has changed Aussie Breakfast radio
From remote working to budget cuts, the coronavirus pandemic has had a major impact on radio, and the wider media industry at large.
So it’s a good thing that radio has spent years adapting to changing listener habits and competition for ears with new technology.
Social distancing and lockdowns across Australia have ultimately changed the way radio shows are produced, and Telum Media’s virtual conference The Battle For Breakfast took in the perspectives of show producers from different stations around the country.
Siobhan McDonnell, Breakfast EP for B105’s Stav, Abby & Matt, RN Breakfast EP Julia Holman, and 2GB Breakfast EP Zac McLean shared their recent experiences on how their shows have been forced to change and adapt since COVID-19.
Remote working impacts show dynamic
Having three different presenters working from three different locations instead of the studio was a significant adjustment, explained B105 executive producer McDonnell.
“That was a very big change for us… I was in the studio but trying to manage three presenters in three places,” she said.
“It was really different because our show is based around our listeners and their personalities. The beauty and joy of the show is [also] the dynamic [of the presenters].
“The team as a whole has been working together for five years… so to then split them up and have them in separate rooms and adjust to remove broadcasting was a challenge. It became the norm really quickly.”
COVID-19 content and COVID fatigue
When it comes to COVID-related content, ABC’s Holman and 2GB’s McLean explained that their listeners wanted all-COVID content, all the time, at least to begin with.
“In terms of the content, for a couple of months it was three hours of coronavirus, different interview and angles and experts,” McLean said.
“The listeners wanted nothing else. There was no appetite for any other story and we just delivered that story. We figured out quickly which experts were great on radio.”
Holman agreed that early days it was about “wall-to-wall” coverage of the pandemic.
But things have started to change a bit over the past few weeks, as AM listeners began to get a bit of fatigue over the topic.
“Recently you find a bit of fatigue in the audience. Obviously there are a lot more issues in NSW where it has calmed down a little bit,” McLean explained.
“It’s probably about half-half now, content-wise.”
B105 on the other hand made the early decision that their content wouldn’t be too driven by the pandemic. “We decided we aren’t a primary news source [for our listeners],” McDonnell said.
“We decided not to alter our content too much because we wanted to be the reprieve and [bring] familiarity for our listeners in a world that was going crazy.”
RN Breakfast is facing another challenge now, being a national show broadcasting to people locked down in Victoria as well as states with almost no virus transmission.
“Even today was 50% COVID-related. We are very aware of COVID fatigue,” Holman said.
The challenge was then telling stories “when the situation is serious for one group… how do you manage that tone?”
Even now, “Coronavirus still taints every story no matter how far we try to get away from it,” she said.
Flying blind without radio ratings
With no ratings since March, Zac McLean revealed it has been an ideal way for the Ben Fordham 2GB Breakfast show to find its feet and get familiar with listeners.
“We’ve started a new breakfast show so we haven’t had that immediate judgement of the ratings,” he said.
“[It’s] one less thing to worry about and have time to let the audience know us.”
Over at the Stav, Abby & Matt Breakfast show, it’s been business as usual. McDonnell said they haven’t changed much due to being out of survey.
“There was complete transparency with our listeners during this period. We opened up a phone line and asked our audience “are you still there?” she said.
“Like most commercial stations we lost a bit of budget over this time and were open with our listeners about that.
“Listeners don’t know when you’re in survey or not. So for us… as long as that light was going on at 6am we were doing our job to the best of our ability, as if we were fighting for #1.”
What has changed at B105 is to try and push content over more formats, with listeners less likely to tune in while driving to work
“It’s about adapting… we started live streaming our show on Facebook during COVID,” McDonnell said.
“Radio is more important than ever. But in 2020, your brand is [also] very important.”
McLean is confident that COVID hasn’t changed 2GB listener habits too much, because most listeners are at home rather than in the car.
“Home is where most of our listeners are, so people not driving to work anymore doesn’t change things too much for 2GB. But we are doing more multi-platform stuff.”