Navigating treacherous waters in radio


Have you ever noticed how we often revert to nautical terms when we’re describing a serious situation?

‘Batten down the hatches’ used to be a favourite (if corny) go-to phrase radio journalists would throw into news stories about approaching storms: “The weather bureau is warning us to batten down the hatches, with severe thunderstorms on the way …”

Occasionally, newsreaders would say “There’s an S.O.S call for blood donors,” if stocks were critically low.

But clear the poop decks, because another nautical expression has come into play: Economic headwinds. And it’s being widely used to describe the current media landscape.

Last Friday, Nine boss Mike Sneesby said the company was “was not immune to the economic headwinds impacting many businesses globally,” as he informed staff that as many as 200 jobs would be axed.

As we reach the end of the financial year – and as one of the most challenging periods in media history draws to a close – some Australian media stocks are now half the value they were this time last year.

Many people who work in radio, TV and print media are understandably feeling nervous.

“There’s been a real loss of belief in the sector,” says leading media analyst Tim Burrowes on the latest episode of the Game Changers Radio: Melbourne Radio Wars podcast.

The news of job losses at Nine came just days after Seven West Media announced a major restructure which will see the broadcaster split into three divisions, reportedly making 150 people redundant.

Further afield, there’s been a quiet round of redundancies at Southern Cross Austereo, mostly back-end production roles.

Late last week, our sister publication Radioinfo received word that staff at SCA’s Central Coast operations were being culled, with production and copywriting duties to be spread around other SCA locations in New South Wales.

At the other end of the spectrum, we see eye-watering amounts of cash being splurged on locking high-profile radio personalities into long-term contracts and creating colossal Breakfast marketing campaigns and contests, especially in Melbourne.

It’s certainly not new, and it’s a scenario which reminds me of a scene in the movie Broadcast News, starring Holly Hunter, William Hurt and Jack Nicholson.

Despite having been made almost 40 years ago, the film is eerily reflective of how today’s media hierarchy system still works.

Nicholson plays TV network news anchor Bill Rorich, who visits the newsroom as staff are clearing out their desks, having been made redundant.

Nicholson’s character remarks “This is a brutal layoff.”

The news division president replies “You can make it less brutal by knocking a million or so off your salary.” 

It’s the sort of thing many of us might think, but never say.

Speaking of big money, given the amount that’s been spent lately on marketing, contests and contracts, what is the outlook for Australian radio?

According to Tim Burrowes, it’s pretty clear cut.

“I think we’ll see more national networking.”

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