Duncan Cambell: The Rise of ARN – Part 1
The ratings year is just about done and dusted, just one more for 2014.
As Brad March covered off last week, on the programming front it has clearly been the year of ARN and its Head of Programming Duncan Campbell.
It has been an exceptional year – “The Rise of ARN” that has left competitors in their wake.
In part one in our chat with Duncan, we’ll go beyond the standard survey hype.
For ARN it goes beyond re-launching or re-branding stations – it’s been a cultural shift.
We will go behind the launch of KIIS and find out who chose the name to start with. And are Kyle and Jackie O really that hard to manage, despite all the rumours?
We will kick off with Duncan Campbell back in 2010.
Blair Sullivan: How long have been with ARN now?
Duncan Campbell: I started in August 2010.
Blair Sullivan: How long were you in the UK for?
Duncan Campbell: I was there for 10 years prior to that. It must have been 2010 when I left the UK.
Blair Sullivan: Ten years, hey that’s a long run… What drew you to come home ? The opportunity.. the challenge?
Duncan Campbell: Look there aren’t many Group Programming positions available. So when an opportunity came up to take on that role within ARN, it was something that I had always wanted to do. And it was a great opportunity to return home in a role where I could make some real impact. That was the primary driver behind it.
Blair Sullivan: Now after ten years in the UK, what’s one of the main differences between the UK market and Australia? Is there anything that stands out?
Duncan Campbell: There are two key things really. The BBC is such a big influence in radio, and television for that matter in the UK. Radio 1, which is the equivalent of triple J is run on a 40 million pound budget. They can employ the best talent, they can do events that are extraordinary. The BBC tends to dwarf commercial radio a little bit. That was one of the key differences.
The other is it is just not as competitive over there. It is competitive, but in Australia as has been proven over the last several years, it is still as competitive as ever out here. We tend to be a bit more aggressive as well.
BS: When did Ciaran Davis, Geraint Davies, you and the other execs start mapping out the shift for the group?
DC: Well Ciaran was here I think in January in 2010. And “Gee” as we call him, was the next appointment. Pretty much as I arrived post August the plan was to put in place, a series of market studies, which we did.
And to make sure that the formats we had in place were as strategically alligned as they could be.
The first formats to feel the benefit of that were obviously 97.3 in Brisbane, which started to move forward ratings wise. 102.3 was already pretty strong and it began to strengthen and also the Classic Hits stations began to gradually improve.
Once those market studies were completed we began to work on the detail of each of the radio stations.
BS: It seems to go beyond re-launching or re-branding stations – it also seems a complete cultural shift within ARN?
DC: There has been a huge cultural shift. The near enough is good enough approach which was prevalent prior to my arriving was certainly wiped away very quickly.
We began to monitor stations more regularly and focusing on the detail. Expectations of performance were ramped up fairly quickly to be honest.
That’s a very big part of my philosophy in terms of programming.
I think you have got to be across all the detail and we expect our local Content Directors to do the same and ensure the strategy is executed as effectively as it possibly can be.
BS: We then roll into the creation of Kiis Sydney – securing Kyle and Jackie O was the first piece of the puzzle – how far back did you start making plans for re-branding Mix in Sydney? Does it go back to 2010 or a little bit later than that?
DC: Oh no no, that didn’t happen until August last year.
To be honest, the Kyle and Jackie opportunity presented itself late last year and it was Kyle’s idea to re-brand as KIIS.
He was very adamant that if he was to come across he wasn't going to work for MIX. And we said "What would you like the station to be called?" He said "I would love it to be called KIIS."
BS: Seriously? Didn’t know that one.
DC: There you go, a little bit of a story.
Ciaran and I were both in the room at the same time with him as we left, Ciaran asked me did I have a problem with KIIS? I said no I didn’t have a problem with KIIS at all.
It’s one of the most popular radio brands in the world – I had no issue with it at all. We realised we would re-brand the station and at that point KIIS was as good as anything else, so we went with that.
BS: Being at the time a Clear Channel owned brand possibly helped?
DC: It really wasn’t a factor to be honest. It wasn’t a factor. It was Kyle’s enthusiasm for it, that was a big part of it. We had no problems internally with it. It was I guess, the beginning of a partnership with him. Keeping him enthusiastic and part of what we were doing. KIIS it was.
BS: So what did you start with first? The Brand look and feel, the Strategy or a bit of both at the same time – they all dovetail into each other.
DC: The time line was so tight, because we were talking about August in 2013 and we had to launch in January. We pretty much had to fold 6 months work into 6 weeks.
So everything was happening at once.
So there was the look and feel of the station, sort of being driven by myself and Derek Bargwanna. Particularly Derek at the time. Obviously Anthony, the marketing and I were working on the look and feel. So there was a lot going on.
I would like to say that it was planned, we worked through stages, stage 1, stage 2 but all stages were layered in together to produce the end result on the 18th of January.
BS: Did you get a break over Christmas at the time?
DC: We had a break, we did a lot of work prior to Christmas.
It was an extraordinary, exciting time. The adrenalin was running – we realised the opportunity we had. There was no issue of "This is a lot of hard work." This is what radio is all about.
It was incredibly exciting. Kyle and Jaq were excited. Internally there was a lot excitement, there was the buzz of what this could potentially be. And I guess from a radio industry point of view people were wondering can ARN actually pull this off?
We were determined to make sure we could. As I said on the day of the launch, this couldn’t have gone any better. It was a great launch day. Full credit to the entire team, it was a team effort. Incredibly exciting, incredibly exhausting, but one of those once in a lifetime opportunities.
BS: We can’t go past talking about Kyle and Jackie O for a bit, Lots of press and some attacks on Kyle in particular this year – how do you and the programming team manage that?
DC: You mean managing Kyle and Jackie O?
DC: Well, I mean I had all the issues and stories that people had told me about their time at 2day FM.
We set this relationship up very much a partnership with these guys. And we have been very inclusive with everything we do with them.
And we share with them a lot of information that perhaps traditionally they wouldn't have been privy too, and we do that in confidence. And they appreciate that.
The relationship we have with them is very strong. And they are very supportive of us, because we do ask them to do a fair bit, and in return we are supportive of them as well.
I’ve always believed you need to be close with your talent and share as much as you can, and so for them it’s been a very different experience, from what I understand.
They weren’t included a lot (at SCA) and they had become very much an island within the radio station, which had become an island within the network.
And we have a very different approach at ARN.
BS: The Biggest achievement with Kyle and Jackie O?
DC: The first survey this year. It was the culmination of everything that had gone on before in a very short space of time. Everyone was very nervous on the day, no one really thought or knew what was going to happen.
We hadn’t expected it to be as clear a number one as it was on the day. That first survey this year was a tremendous day.
BS: Best thing about Kyle?
DC: He’s a radio person, he loves radio. He is very excited about the business. He still comes up with lots of ideas. He's a passionate radio person.
On the Air he is what he is. He says what everyone is thinking and people warm to that.
BS: Best thing about Jackie O?
DC: She is just a total professional. She is a really big driver of that show behind the scenes. Again a radio person.
You know what’s interesting about both Kyle and Jackie O, they don’t do a lot outside radio.
They are very much radio people and I think that is one of the real keys to their success.
Jackie keeps the show moving on the air. She is very intuitive about where the show is going and whether the breaks are going a little too long or moved off the point to some degree.
So she sort of self produces and off the air is a real driver of making sure that the content that is created is the best it can be and very much still on brand for the show.
In part 2 of the RIse of ARN with Duncan Campbell, the next evolution of the KIIS network. The signing of more high profile talent and a whole lot more.