Spreading the news

We’re in a unique position in Australia.  Despite the merging of newsrooms, the outsourcing of news services and the sacking of journalists, listeners have still got it good when it comes to ‘news’.

Compared to other countries, regular news updates is a bit of an oddity, especially on a FM radio station, where social media is both a source of news and a source of competition.

In many ways, Canada is quite similar to Australia in outlook; and its not surprising that many ex-pats are now plying their trade there.

Ronnie Stanton is one of those who’ve made Canada their home. A former Program Director of K-Rock Geelong and Music Director of Nova 100 Melbourne, Ronnie made the move in 2008 to launch Virgin Radio Vancouver.

He joined Corus Entertainment in 2013, where he now oversees 39 stations in the Corus stable. On a day-to-day basis, he programs Vancouver FM’s Rock 101 and ‘The World Famous C-Fox’, a rock variety station, a bit like Triple M.

The variety of stations under the Corus Entertainment umbrella places him in a unique position to compare the two industries.  While Australian radio has a “tradition” of providing news across the day on both am and fm, it’s not such a high priority in Canada.

“We don’t have as much news on our stations as you do in Oz. We run news hourly in the morning show only and we limit to 3 stories per news” says Ronnie.

He’s quick to point out that the news of the day isn’t being ignored, but reflected in a different way, much like the successful breakfast shows here in Australia.

“Great morning shows are talking about the Big 5 topics of the day anyway.  Great announcers are reflecting the things that matter in the market and the stuff that makes today, today”.

“The hard hitting news doesn’t fit the formats we run, and we know the audience knows where to go to get that stuff anyway”.

Being a self-professed ‘defender of news’, I asked Ronnie about the rationale behind running a low inventory news service.  It turns out it’s listener driven.

“Some of that I think is that our ratings system is very different here” says Ronnie.

“The diary (or e-diary) methodology is used in smaller markets in Canada, but the big cities are all measured using PPM.  PPM has its flaws like any methodology, but one of things that is awesome about it is it measures ACTUAL listening rather than perceived listening”

“It shows Top 40 radio is much more listened to by males than we see in a diary, we see the tune out factor of commercial breaks, and we see that certain things listeners believe they want to hear lots of (like News and Traffic) are not always the things they stick around for.  If PPM ever comes to Australia, I believe the news product will change there too”.

While FM radio in Canada has tailored its news product to reflect PPM results, it’s not devoid of the ‘serious news’ that we get from Fairfax-Macquarie or the ABC.

Says Ronnie; “On the flip side, a super successful format in North America that we don’t have in Oz is the News Wheel. There is an AM station in most major markets delivering only news 24/7 in bite sized pieces, delivered in a one hour clock that repeats all day formatively. Traffic on the 1s, sports at 15 and 45, Money news at 50 etc”.

There are lessons to be learned from other markets like Canada.  Some of those lessons have already been adopted.  Today’s news product, especially on the FM dial, is far more listener driven than 10-15 years ago.

Newsrooms have learned the lesson of ‘adapt or die’.  But perhaps there’s something the Canadians can learn from us?

“Canadian radio and Australian radio are very similar – people want to be connected and entertained. We all face the uncertainty of outside competition like Apple Radio but we can prevail with context and HD personalities.  And I think Canada pushes the envelope less in terms of creating truly memorable stuff.  That’s a function of the national funny bone though and Aussies are more brash than the Maple huggers”.

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