FM Radio in 2016: Duncan Campbell on ARN

Australia’s FM network content directors review 2016 and reveal (some) of their battle plans for 2017

Duncan Campbell

In terms of Christmas presents, ARN got two beauties in Sydney where WSFM finished a troubled year on a high and KIIS took back #1 FM ranking from smoothfm.

Campbell noted the presents arrived after a lot of hard work.

“We had a challenging first half of the year with some poor results in surveys three and four particularly. We then moved into recovery mode and put in place some plans for stations like WSFM, 97.3 and Perth.

“What we have seen in survey eight is those plans producing some really good results. The highlight is perhaps WSFM. We counter-programmed against smooth. I have always said that smoothfm’s performance was over-inflated and we saw them start to come off last survey. It was only a little, but we saw an indicator in that result. This survey there was virtually a full point decline. We will see that continue, not necessarily with a big drop, but they will fall back to their natural place.” Campbell wasn’t specific where that might be – think #3 FM or lower.

“WSFM will get back to be #2 FM, which gives us the duopoly we want in Sydney, which is our goal.”

Campbell pointed out that KIIS 1065 had a massive survey to be #1 FM, #1 breakfast FM and #1 drive overall. “Sydney has been a tremendous result for us this survey.”

Despite predicting a smoothfm ratings tumble, Campbell praised the stations’ overall positioning. “They have done a very good job with the format. They were very clever evolving the music to get closer to WSFM. That forced us to look at WSFM in micro detail and iron out some of the issues we found. From research we undertook we always knew we had the stronger format. When we started to tighten things up and improve the execution and programmed more to the market, audiences picked up and we got momentum back. I believe smoothfm will remain strong, but it is not going to be a #1 FM station. That was something they enjoyed this year and we will fight to make sure they don’t get that back.”

2017 ARN challenges

The ratings have indicated for some time that the broadcaster will have to focus closely on KIIS Melbourne and 96FM Perth.

Melbourne: “That is still a challenge and we recently outlined the 2017 strategy to the senior management and the board.” Without wishing to be too specific, Campbell said the changes won’t be too dramatic in that market.

Perth: “We will be making changes there. That format hasn’t worked and the market is expecting change and that will be addressed in the first quarter of next year.”

Robin Bailey – what happened?

“It was always our intention to re-sign Robin,” Campbell told Mediaweek “We put a lot of value on her. The negotiations didn’t go as we had planned. We wish her all the very best. 97.3’s breakfast show has not been #1 for 10 years. It became #1 as the station did. It is a little like Fox. The brand is big, but you also need a big breakfast show to provide the icing on the cake.

“Losing Robin is not losing the whole breakfast show. In all of the commentary around her departure, what has been overlooked is that we do have another key talent on the show – Terry Hansen. He is a very funny guy and the comedic talent on the show and his contribution is not highlighted enough.”

ARN moved quickly to hire Bianca Dye to work with Hansen and show anchor Bob Gallagher. “If there is a time when you have to change a breakfast show you want to have strong cume and a strong share to introduce the new talent. It is much better to do that than work when you have a station or a program in decline.”

As to how ARN managed to find Bianca Dye quickly, Campbell said: “We always try to have talent identified as fallback positions. In some markets we do and in some markets we don’t. I have always thought Bianca is someone who would have broader appeal. She will be perfect to help us reboot the franchise.”

Campbell said he will be surprised if they lose many 97.3 listeners to Triple M. “We might actually pick up some of the male listeners from Triple M. There are some smarter radio people around than me, but I struggle to figure out how Robin’s content is going to fit in with NRL and cricket.”

When asked if the Bailey contract negotiations send a message to other ARN talent that the broadcaster might not be too keen on any more big talent fees, Campbell replied, “We are not out of money. You have to be realistic in expectations. We will always pay well for good talent, but not above market rate.”

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