Mediaweek last spoke with Pacific Star Network’s general manager of broadcasting Cathy Thomas mid-2016 shortly after she joined the broadcaster. Thomas spoke about revamping part of the offering at the company’s AM sports station SEN 1116. What she wasn’t able to reveal at the time was she and the content team were working to build a new breakfast show.
The station revealed the new breakfast team in December last year.
That breakfast show debuted at the end of January and created much noise in the Melbourne market surrounding the return to media of former Nine Footy Show co-host and original SEN breakfast team member Garry Lyon and the strong supporting team Thomas had hired around him.
Speaking to Mediaweek during the show’s second week on air Thomas, a former Southern Cross Austereo Melbourne general manager, revealed building that team took some time. “It was possibly one of my longer negotiations,” she said. Taking the time was the number of people involved. There are three key team members – Garry Lyon, Hamish McLachlan and Tim Watson – plus regular guest reporter Sam McClure plus special guest contributors each day of the week.
“What I wanted to do with the new team was to be true to what SEN stands for – the home of sport and AFL. I felt we needed to get the talent that reflected that with profile and credibility.” Thomas was quick to add that the breakfast teams prior to the new one had done some great work, but the difference now was perhaps the combination of talent that SEN has attracted.
“Garry, Tim and Hamish are three very experienced broadcasters and all three are very credible in the sport and media industry. When you add Sam McClure to the mix, one of the best up-and-coming news breakers, it brings a younger element to the program.”
As well as Lyon, Watson had previously been part of breakfast, returning to SEN last year for the final hour of the show. In the new program, Watson is on air from 7am each day.
Thomas wouldn’t be drawn on how much the new team cost to put together, but she did acknowledge it was a sizeable investment. “We want to grow the business and grow our profile and not just in Melbourne. About 30% of our online listening and social media engagement comes from outside of Victoria. There is an opportunity, because of the calibre of the team and the show, plus the refreshed lineup across the day and live AFL coverage on weekends, for us to also grow those online numbers.”
Helping Thomas assemble a formidable talent team was AFL player-turned-manager Craig Kelly, the founder of Elite Sports Properties and now CEO of TLA Australia after TLA bought Kelly’s business. TLA Australia represents not only Lyon and Hamish McLachlan, but also some of their Melbourne breakfast radio competitors including Jonathan Brown (Nova 100) and Luke Darcy (Triple M).
Thomas’s former SCA colleague Craig Bruce continues to assist the station as a content consultant.
Having Lyon’s manager working on attracting talent was pivotal in getting him on air at the AM station, but Thomas noted also the station appealed to him. “Garry saw it as a great opportunity and it was really important to him the sort of people he was going to be working with. It became clear in initial discussions that we were all on the same path and it allowed him to return to media to do something he loved with people he knows very well and is very comfortable with.”
Lyon has also worked with Craig Bruce in the past during Lyon’s time with Triple M and he knows Pacific Star board member and Collingwood CEO Gary Pert.
When the breakfast team was announced in December, Lyon said: “Being part of the very first breakfast show on SEN was great and it is a privilege to be back on the 1116 airwaves again.
“SEN is the home of sport and sport is the fabric of Melbourne. We know sport moves and motivates our audience and we want to provide a platform for them to be informed and entertained and to participate in our shared passion.”
Lyon will also be working on SEN’s Friday night AFL match coverage, working alongside former Triple M colleague Danny Frawley. (See inset for more)
Thomas added that the whole team is excited by the fact they are working in a sports-only environment. “The audience that listens to us are sports fans. Our point of difference is that we are only sport and AFL.”
“You need to wait as long as survey three or survey four to see a trend”
That station position was key to SEN targeting the key talent on its breakfast show hitlist. “We got who we wanted,” said Thomas.
Hamish McLachlan is a great pickup with the Seven presenter and former Triple M contributor bringing his sports broadcasting brand to the station. “Hamish is a brilliant talent and the combination of having him with Tim and Garry really works. They all have different skills and expertise and complement each other really well.”
On the first day of the show, McLachlan came to the SEN breakfast studio only five hours after interviewing Australian Open winner Roger Federer in a post-match interview.
Lyon’s other media duties over the years have included columns for The Age and co-hosting roles on Nine’s The AFL Footy Show and Footy Classified.
The station didn’t waste any time taking the new breakfast show to market where Thomas said they had great initial feedback. “Clients want to be aligned with strong brands and strong talent and we have had a really positive message from the market – both clients and agencies.”
Melbourne Airport has signed a long-term five-month deal to be the first major sponsor of the breakfast show.
Although SEN has always attracted strong interest from direct clients, Thomas said there are more briefs now arriving from agencies.
In the first three days of the show’s launch the station had over 50,000 breakfast show podcast downloads, which blew away the previous best numbers at the station.
The show launched a week after the first GfK radio ratings survey started, but it was able to capitalise on the noise from the classic Australian Open final on day one when it also promoted the Tuesday one-on-one Mike Sheahan interview with Garry Lyon which talked about the reasons for his time away from the media.
The early indicators are that the ratings should eventually grow for the station in breakfast. SEN ended 2016 with 3.8%, trailing all other Melbourne commercial breakfast shows except Magic 1278.
“We will have to wait until March 14 for the ratings,” said Thomas. But she urged caution against expecting too big a movement early on. “Stations don’t get sudden spikes. We always have said in the past you need to wait as long as survey three or survey four to see a trend.”
The start of the AFL season should also give the show some momentum, although Thomas noted the recent start of the AFLW could help. The station covered the new league extensively, broadcast the first game and launched a dedicated Hour Of Power program hosted by Bianca Chatfield with Sam Lane and Kate Sheahan (daughter of Mike) contributing.
The SEN breakfast show studios were filled with news crews on the first day and then there was much coverage of the Sheahan-Lyon interview on day two. Thomas acknowledged the challenge for the producers now is to keep that momentum going after the initial interest.
Other programming changes at the station include the move of Francis Leach from breakfast to afternoon while the drive show, The Run Home, features Mark Allen and David Schwarz (aka Marco and The Ox) together again in the slot.
Top photo: SEN breakfast [L-R] Anthony Hudson, Tim Watson, Hamish McLachlan, Garry Lyon and Sam McClure. Sitting at the front is Mike Sheahan holding a photo of absent contributor and Western Bulldogs captain Bob Murphy.