OPINION: The Sydney Sweeper War
I was driving around with a friend in Sydney the other day, he was flicking through the FM pre-sets in my car looking for a good song. After skipping over some he didn’t like, I noticed that he skipped a station when he heard they were in the middle of a station ID sweeper.
I knew the sweeper, it was only 5 seconds long, yet because of that sweeper the radio station lost us as listeners. I was dumbfounded at the loss of listenership caused by such a quick station ID.
It does make sense that listeners have less patience than they did in the 10 or 20 years ago, due to the large variety of content on offer. Sydney and other capital cities have a greater number of radio stations to compete with – many of which have large amounts of music crossover, particularly in the contemporary hits radio (CHR) realm. If skipping a station ID means keeping a listener, one would assume it’s a good decision for the radio station.
Yet without messaging like station ID’s, theory has it that people may not know what station they are listening to. Station ID’s and sweepers are believed to be ticks in survey books and prevent the marketing director from pulling their hair out at the thought of less branding.
That said, during the past year there has been a significant change in Sydney with how KIIS, Nova and 2Day handle their station ID’s and sweepers. If you listen closely you’ll hear quite distinct and unique strategy exhibited by each of the three stations, as they compete for my friend clicking through the different station pre-sets in the car.
The strategy of ARN with KIIS has meant you’ll occasionally hear a song containing their branding in the lyrics. Most notably if you hear Sia’s ‘Cheap Thrills’ on the station, throughout the song’s chorus, the lyrics “C’mon, c’mon turn the radio on” are replaced with “C’mon, c’mon turn KIIS FM on”. This strategy integrates completely the content people listen for and the station ID, but whether it detracts from the content enough to turn listeners off remains to be seen.
Nova has simply stopped playing sweepers or station ID’s between around half of their songs. In any given music show Nova will often go from one song to another with a tight segue and no station ID or sweeper. For many seasoned broadcasters it would keep them up at night knowing such a thing was happening on their radio station.
Regardless, it needs to be remembered that listeners don’t care about branding – their hearts won’t skip a beat because there wasn’t a sweeper. In the example of my friend in the car, Nova would have been less likely to be skipped over during a station ID. Further, with in-car technology, most listeners already know what station they are listening to because it’s displayed on their dashboard.
The recent changes at 2DayFM have made their recent strategy particularly interesting. Over the past year 2DayFM have predominantly stuck to their high production values and integrated intro’s for their sweepers. Yet last week between 9am and 6pm for seven days straight, we didn’t hear an on-air announcer on 2DayFM, and we also heard a music format change.
Both have been done in Sydney before by radio stations, with WSFM having not had weekend announcers for a number of years now. What was overlooked is that every sweeper or station ID between the songs on 2DayFM lasted no more than 2 seconds, a bold and new strategy for an FM station with such rich heritage.
The landscape of Sydney FM radio has changed both in the roles of music, announcers and breakfast teams, as strategy is adjusted for the 2018 landscape. Lost in the midst of the this is the imaging battle being played across the day on the FM dial to keep the attention of the listener. When losing that battle for a listener is as simple as playing a five-second station ID sweeper, every second counts in 2018 more than ever.
Battles over listeners could be won by the station that lets go of tired old conventions of how station ID’s and sweepers ‘should be done’. The battle for the Sydney listener for 2018, will be fought by stations that creatively re-think concepts like station ID’s, stations that rely on their high production values and stations that decide less is more as it pertains to sweepers and imaging.
The landscape of Sydney radio has changed so profoundly that in my car the winner would have been the station that simply chose to say… nothing.
Dan Jones is a #1 rating capital city broadcaster and psychology graduate. These days you’ll hear him in Sydney and the Illawarra.