Will workdays stay local on Hit, Triple M, KIIS & Pure Gold? [op-ed]
Truly local programming is under threat of near extinction.
As radio bean counters continue to tighten purse strings in a bid to survive the economic impact of shrinking ad budgets the future of local – the backbone of radio – hangs in the balance.
It’s an unsettling state of affairs, really. And not just for those lucky enough to still have a job today. Think about the next generation of jocks waiting in the wings, feeling hopeless and, perhaps, jobless.
Nova’s decision to scrap in-market announcers in Brisbane and Adelaide, and Hit’s move to regional state-based breakfast shows, are just the latest evidence of this growing trend.
Dozens of communities across the United Kingdom lost their local stations in May after Bauer decided to create the “largest commercial radio network in the UK” at the cost of about 160 jobs.
History tells us that on the few occasions when programmers have installed out-of-town hosts on workdays, more often than not they’ve taken a dive in the ratings and backflipped.
With the industry touting huge growth in TSL between 9am and 4pm during the pandemic, one would think that, logically, workdays might survive radio’s bloodied chopping block.
Pictured: Jarrod Walsh posted an emotional vlog this week following his Nova redundancy.
Talking to many seasoned programmers from around the country last week (both past and present), the overwhelming consensus is this: local equals ratings and revenue.
“If you go back into the history of Clear Channel when they decided to syndicate everything, it was a disaster,” one veteran programmer told me on Tuesday.
“If you run a radio station and you don’t understand localism, I think you’ll make terrible mistakes. What Bauer has done in the UK is an example of what not to do.
“It all looked wonderful to the bean counters, but at the end of the day, they failed. The stations that remained truly local, that’s where the money ended up,” they said.
And that might be true, but as another content chief points out, revenue will ultimately decide the fate of localism as radio’s C-level executives grapple with the fact that ad budgets may not return to the same levels after the global health crisis moves from chaos to cleanup.
“If there’s no bounce back then it’s inevitable that further adjustments will be made. Talent will be paid less, there will be less production support and less local content across the day.
“Australian radio is not immune from what every other international radio market has been through. It’s a matter of when – not if,” they told me.
Pictured: smoothfm is the only metro network with jocks covering duel markets on workdays.
After this writer published Nova’s planned changes last Tuesday, the phone rang. Jocks from competing networks were asking if their employers were planning the same. So I asked them.
Radio Today contacted Southern Cross Austereo and Australian Radio Network to see if they would pledge to keep local announcers on workdays. Surely there are better ways to save money?
SCA’s Dave Cameron was first to respond, saying his two FM networks will stay local.
“We remain committed to delivering locally hosted workday shifts in our metro markets across both the Hit and Triple M networks,” Cameron told me.
He also shared some good news following the departure of 19 non-metro breakfast teams.
“In addition, we have also just returned to locally hosted morning shifts in our community markets (regional) across the Hit network,” he said in an email.
Over at rival ARN, Duncan Campbell says workdays are currently moving ahead as usual.
“ARN’s strategy has always been to recruit and retain the best on-air talent and that applies for both our local and national shows,” Campbell told me.
“The genuine connection that our talent have with our listeners mean the integrated campaigns that we run in our local markets for both local and national advertisers are effective and produce the results that advertisers need, particularly in these challenging times.”
Hopefully this commitment offers some reprieve to the 40 something jocks around Australia who arrive each day at the station they work for, in the city they live in, for the love of (local) radio.
The pandemic has propelled radio into the (uncertain) future faster than anyone could have reasonably planned or expected, which means difficult decisions lay ahead for the top brass.
As one blunt programmer told me, “radio won’t ever be the same again, deal with it”.
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