It seemed likely that there would have been a change of format for the AM 1170 broadcast frequency after Pacific Star bought the licence earlier this year. But that hasn’t been confirmed until this morning. “We are moving ahead with a sports led format in Sydney with 1170 SEN, Sydney’s new home of sport,” Crocmedia and Pacific Star CEO Craig Hutchison told Mediaweek.
“We will also be continuing 2CH’s journey as a DAB+ station and a streaming product. We intend to preserve and protect the wonderful engagement that station has built with music audiences in its demographic.”
Crocmedia’s growth as a radio broadcaster has been spectacular. Starting with 1116 SEN and the reverse takeover of Pacific Star in 2018 when the companies merged, the broadcaster will have some 20 stations on air by 2021 including 15 broadcast licences and a number of DAB+ stations. There will soon be SEN stations in Melbourne, Adelaide and Sydney and a network of nine SENTrack racing stations around Australia.
Hutchison said there is no 1170 SEN launch date yet as it will be dependent on a number of factors including the state of Covid-19. One thing seems certain, the station will be on air by the time the NRL Grand Final and State of Origin games are played. “The back end of this year in Sydney is too compelling an opportunity for us. There is rugby league and an Australia – India test series, Big Bash League, A-League, The Everest and The Golden Eagle and the Australian Open golf. An enormous calendar of sport in Sydney from mid-October through to the end of February.”
Hutchison noted that the new station will have rights to “virtually all of those sports”.
Crocmedia will continue to supply Swans and Giants AFL games to 2UE in Sydney via AFL Nation in 2021, despite the presence of the new 1170 SEN. As to how much AFL the SEN Sydney station will carry, Hutchison said: “We haven’t yet got to 2021 and what it will look like. It is an NRL-led market. We want to provide as much choice as we can, our challenge will be to find the right balance.
“We have supplied radio [content] into Sydney for many years and hope to continue to do that. But we also want to have our own identity.”
Connecting with advertisers has been key to the growth of Crocmedia and the SEN brand. It is an area where former journalist Craig Hutchinson now shines. “We are looking forward to be a complimentary part of the Sydney radio offering. We are a place where brands can connect to fans in an engaged manner and be a great solution for advertisers in the Sydney market.”
The Crocmedia Sydney sales operation will be selling the new Sydney partnership opportunities under Sydney head of sales Simon Dennis and national head of sales Patrick Moloughney.
Helping fund the company growth has been an understanding bank. Hutchison: “We have had fantastic support from the Commonwealth Bank who understood the strategic reason to continue our investment journey in Sydney. We are building the business for the long term, not trying to take shortcuts.”
Andrew Voss returns to radio
“We will have a new Sydney breakfast show hosted by Andrew Voss on 1170 SEN and it reconnects him with radio audiences. He has a lot say and he is a real identity we think audiences will connect with. His program will be sports plus, he won’t be afraid to go beyond sport if and when he needs to.”
Hutchison is not yet ready to reveal other shows, but there will be new Sydney-based programs on air from 6am until 6pm. “The only national content will be an hour of Gerard Whateley that will be for Sydney audiences which will air around lunchtime.”
Hutchison spoke to 2CH staff as a statement went out to the ASX about the changes for the Sydney licence. It was never a plan to keep 2CH, admitted Hutchison. “2CH will live on. A lot of people feared that it might not survive. People might not believe us, but we were very open-minded about the future of 2CH when we invested. Sport felt like the biggest fairway to aim at off the tee, but it wasn’t the only one. But we have been so impressed with the engagement it has in the Sydney market. We haven’t yet finished our review of the talent that will be involved with the station.”
Hutchison seems to understand the challenge of trying to find an audience for an AM music station, particularly one that is on DAB+ only. “Creating mass awareness is part of the responsibility we’ve got and we will work hard on it.”
Hutchison: “From this Saturday we will launch the new 1539 SENTrack Sydney. It is our racing/sport hybrid – the new sound of chasing, pacing and racing.
“Also from Saturday listeners will be able to get via DAB+ the 1116 SEN in a slightly repackaged form for those who wish to hear the Melbourne station.”
Crocmedia’s Sydney HQ
2CH currently broadcasts from studios in the same building that houses 2GB as well as the Nova Entertainment brands Nova 969 and smoothfm. Hutchison: “We have our own office where we have been building studios. There are still a few elements to work through, but North Sydney will be our home.”
“There has been significant growth for audiences using the SEN app which is now a national aggregator of content. There is a different user experience in every state. The time spent listening is very significant with the average user listening for 308 minutes a week. Our podcast growth is in part fuelled by the strength of the SEN app.”