Ace Radio: The AM music-maker toppling well-funded FM giants

Ace Radio’s Mark Taylor on ratings success at 4BH and 2UE, plus managing Melbourne’s Magic and 3MP.

Buried under some of the hype from the FM networks last week was an impressive performance of Ace Radio AM music stations in Sydney and Brisbane.

Mediaweek reported on the Survey 1, 2024 ratings surge at both Sydney’s 2UE and Brisbane’s 4BH. The stations form part of the Ace Radio offering.

The company is privately owned by Rowly and Judy Paterson, who are based in Western Victoria. The head office is in Melbourne and run by chief executive Mark Taylor.

The company has grown to include 21 radio stations, The Weekly Advertiser newspaper, Ace Digital and Ace Direct Sales, and it employs over 200 people across Victoria, New South Wales, and Queensland.

While it has studios in Melbourne and Mornington, the announcers for Magic, 2UE, and 4BH broadcast from home.

Ace Radio

Ace Radio chief executive Mark Taylor

Ace Radio’s metro play

In 2022, Ace started running the frequencies owned by Nine Radio – Magic 1278 in Melbourne, 2UE in Sydney, and 4BH in Brisbane.

Mark Taylor told Mediaweek: “We lease three stations from Nine Entertainment. We consider them ours now. ACMA consider us in control. The stations form part of what we call the Magic Network.

Internally at the broadcaster, it’s labelled Ace Metro. For advertisers and listeners though, the expanded east coast reach of the stations is the Magic Network.

As Ace starts its third year running the metro stations, Taylor said the new additions haven’t had a major impact on the business, yet.

We have a good performer in 4BH in Brisbane, and steady performance in Sydney at 2UE. To be honest, Magic in Melbourne has been a bit of a struggle. We have two AM stations in Melbourne [3MP and Magic 1278] and we have to make sure format-wise they are very different. Yet they still both need to appeal to a 55+ audience.”

Bob Gallagher brisbane radio ratings

BBQ Bob Gallagher making breakfast magic at 4BH

Making Melbourne Magic, 3MPs’ chequered past

Taylor recalled how in its early days, prior to Ace ownership, 3MP had a focus on engaging an audience in Frankston and the Morning Peninsula. These days, it’s an area of 300,000+.

“Someone then got a hold of the station and tried to turn it into a talk station and then turned it into this and turned it into that. The idea when we bought 3MP was to return the station to the Peninsula.

“If you listen to 3MP for a couple of hours on any day you will soon realise where it’s targeted. Every ad break is local to Rosebud, Frankston, et cetera. We have offices and studios down there in Mornington.”

While Taylor speaks about the 3MP Peninsula focus, he also notes it’s a “Melbourne-wide station” that reaches right across Australia’s biggest radio market.

As to Magic, Taylor explained: “Magic has a total Melbourne focus and is a Classic Hits station. It’s older than [ARN’s] Gold and WSFM that have moved a little bit younger over the years. Magic is there for the baby boomers who love their 60s, 70s and 80s.

“Occasionally in some of the themed programs there might be something from the 90s and the listeners will soon ask us what’s happening,” he laughed.

As to the audience as identified in GfK Survey 1, 2024, 3MP’s average audience age is 50, said Taylor. “It was 49 in Survey 8, 2023. Magic’s average audience age this year was 56. 3MP is a little younger and skews more female. Magic skews more male.

2UE trevor sinclair radio ratings

Trevor Sinclair driving rising breakfast ratings at 2UE

Brisbane and Sydney shine

Taylor: “The two stations we are really excited about are 4BH and 2UE.” The Brisbane station outrated ARN’s KIIS 97.3 in Survey 1. The former Sydney home of Laws, Jones, and Hadley is shaking off several recent failed formats as share lifted dramatically to outrate SCA’s 2Day and Triple M.

“I hope it wasn’t a one-off result,” said Taylor. “All indications are that 2UE will hold at that point. We had some tactics in place to increase time spent listening.

It’s important to note that both 4BH and 2UE are #1 time spent listening stations in Brisbane and Sydney – all formats, music and talk. In Melbourne, 3AW is #1 time spent listening, but Magic is the #1 time spent listening music station. Even higher than Gold.

“Maybe 2UE has found its niche in Sydney for people who might otherwise listen to smoothfm, but who find it maybe too new and trendy. They prefer a solid base of 60s, 70s and 80s music.”

Regional radio shake-up

The carve up of the SCA regional stations between ARN and Anchorage should not have a major impact on the Ace regional business.

“Most of our regional markets are solus,” explained Taylor. “We do cross over with SCA in Albury. Also with SCA and [regional radio operator] Kevin Blyton in Gippsland. But it’s only for about 30% of our coverage area in that market.

What happens with SCA and ARN stations outside metro markets is not going to really impact our regionals too much.

“What it might impact is who our rep company is. At the moment we are being repped by SCA. Does the takeover mean we go back to ARN? If so, we have been there before. We have found them to be both pretty good.”

See also: SCA and Ace Radio announce national sales representation and program supply partnership

Radio ad dollars

“Agency revenue is down at the moment, as it is for everybody,” explained Taylor. He noted the majority of Ace ad dollars come from direct sales.

“Direct remains a really important part of our business. In regional it’s as much as 80% of the business, and similar in metro too. When you rely on direct you are really in charge of your own destiny.”

Older audiences turning to apps

“Our audience listening trends are similar to Nine Radio,” said Taylor about how audiences are tuning in.

Historically a mix of AM and FM in regional markets, Taylor said most of the listening now comes via the FM signal however it’s delivered.

“We promote DAB+ and streaming [listening options] heavily. That pays off for us when we see figures indicating heavy usage of our apps and strong DAB+ listening.” The Ace stations constantly plug app downloads and reinforce the AM stations are stereo on DAB+ receivers.

“Smart speakers are having a major impact as these stations have heavy at-home listening. For 2UE 75% of people listen at home.”

For the immediate future, Ace Radio is working on its remaining FM regional conversions.

Regarding metro markets, Taylor admitted: “Two of our metro stations are performing well financially, we need the other two to improve.”

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