ARN CEO Tony Kendall’s journey from publishing to radio

Tony Kendall talks about taking over the reins of the Australian Radio Network from his background in publishing

Having worked as a sales executive in publishing for the past few years, taking over the reins of the Australian Radio Network was a whole new ball game for new CEO Tony Kendall.

He succeeded Ciaran Davis, who was promoted as the CEO of ARN’s parent company APN News and Media in mid-2015, following the departure of Michael Miller to News Corp.

“I’d done a lot of research beforehand on the brand and the medium in general. There is always a trepidation starting any new job, but the business here has been very, very well run,” Kendall told Mediaweek six months on from starting his new job. “That made it very easy to come in and know everything is going to go very nicely while I get my radio legs on.

“Coming into a new medium there’s a lot to learn. At the same time, the advertising and other agencies that I’ve built relationships with in organisations I have worked at before are also advertisers for radio, so I have been able to bring those relationships across.”

Kendall joined APN’s fastest-growing media asset from Bauer Media, where he was the director of sales for over two years.

“My experience at Bauer recently, helping launch its digital network, gives me the opportunity to bring a more digital lens to the wonderful radio business we’ve got here,” Kendall said.

In prepping for the role, Kendall spent a lot of time on researching the state of radio in Australia, ARN’s background, the relationship with iHeartRadio, and the radio landscape in the overseas markets, to see if anything can be implemented in the local scene.

On the agenda for Kendall in 2016 are getting Melbourne right and digital integrations for advertisers.

“Getting Melbourne right is a big opportunity for us,” Kendall claimed.

“We’ve got to keep our Melbourne proposition right, so we’ve invested in a lot of talent down in Melbourne.”

The two newly launched breakfast shows on the ARN network in Melbourne, Jo and Lehmo on GOLD 104.3 and KIIS 101.1’s Matt and Meshel, “sound fantastic” so far, Kendall admitted, but said, “It’s very early days.”

“There is a lot of talk in the market place. We all wait with anticipation for the first radio ratings. [But] it’ll be two or three ratings books before we see a significant growth that we are expecting in that market,” Kendall stated.

ARN launched a national outdoor marketing campaign for its key shows in all markets on 18 January.

With only one more year to go on Kyle and Jackie O’s contract with ARN, there were several reports from News Corp claiming that Southern Cross Austereo was looking to lure them back to the network with a $20 million pay cheque. SCA was quick to deny the rumours. The KIIS 106.5 brekky duo put the rumours to rest during their show on 1 February. Jackie O stated that no one from SCA had been in touch.

Kyle & Jackie O

Kyle & Jackie O

Kendall remained tight-lipped on the reports, but said he would like to extend the company’s working relationship with the talents behind Sydney’s #1 breakfast show.

“I am not going to comment on contract negotiations. It’s sufficed to say Kyle and Jackie O are the best talent in the country and we have a great working relationship with them and that’s something we want to continue,” Kendall said.

Speaking about the plans for iHeartRadio Australia in 2016, Kendall revealed, “We have plans for 14 iHeartRadio events this year.”

The first of the live events scheduled for iHeartRadio Australia is on 5 February with American singer Adam Lambert in Melbourne.

Asked if he is looking to follow in the steps of iHeartRadio Music Festival in the US, Kendall was quick to say: “Our plan is to roll out a lot of more of those [live events] across the year, from smaller intimate events to larger scale events, but nothing on the scale of the iHeart Music Festival at this stage.”

Advertisers want to be able to interact directly with the audience and that’s what the iHeartRadio Australia’s live events deliver, Kendall claimed.

“Advertisers want to have that tangible experience and opportunity to have a real interaction with their audiences. These events and concerts give us a wonderful opportunity to do that, as well as create commercial partnerships for the brand too.”

On the competition in the live events space, Kendall said: “We are competing in the same space, there is no question [about that]. Our opportunity is to use the global iHeartRadio reach to make our events significantly better.

“This is something that most advertisers want from their radio media collaborations. The differentiation is not massive but the opportunity for us is establishing iHeartRadio Australia as a brand that both advertisers and talents want to align with, along with the Red Room and the Rooftop, which are both strong brands as well.”

Being in the digital age, media companies are contending with user-generated content for the audience’s attention, and ARN is no different.

“USG content has a place no question, but the best content still comes from the best talent,” Kendall argued. “The social shareability in Jonesy and Amanda, Kyle and Jackie O, Jodie and Soda, Hughesy and Kate dwarfs pretty much any user-generated content out there. We looked at great user-generated content people liked, like The Thinkergirls, and got them on air.”

Sharing his business mantra for the job, Kendall said: “You get the best talent, produce the best content, the audience will follow the great content, and then you can commercialise that audience.

“Radio is a very, very resilient business and while other traditional media is fragmenting, radio remains in place where you get a very strong reach and engagement – the two things advertisers demand,” Kendall said.

“The two core pieces for radio are obviously breakfast and drive…It’s about the relationship they [the audience] have with the talent. The best talent is a talent that is relatable, so people feel like they are listening to a friend on the station in the morning with some music mixed in between that. I don’t think that’s changed. In fact, I think that’s even more relevant today.”

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