Mediaweek spoke to Daniel Underhill, 96FM’s content director and market leader about the changes at the station, survey one, and what makes the Perth market stand out.
There was a behind-the-scenes shakeup at 96FM in November last year after GM Gary Roberts called time on his radio career.
“It was quite an emotional thing for Gary to be leaving 96FM last year, having been such a big part of the station’s history,” says Underhill. “But we have a new management team, we have a new management model, and we’re committed to keeping things on track and as successful as the station has been.”
This year, one of the biggest disruptors to business as usual for Underhill and the team has been the impact of Covid-19 after Western Australia re-opened its border.
“We had a few practice runs at this in 2020 and 2021. The team has really rallied together well, we have quite a lot of the office working from home and as few people in the building as possible to protect all the staff. For the folks who’ve had to work from home, it’s been a challenge; for the folks who’ve had to mask up and come in, it’s been a challenge – but they’ve all risen to it which is really nice.
Despite the disruptions, 96FM has kicked off the year with a bang as the #1 station in Perth overall – as well as in both the morning and afternoon time slots. Underhill says the game plan from here on out is to do more of what they’ve already been working on: providing audiences with consistency.
“Our approach for the last couple of years has been trying to have the product as consistent as we can. The Perth radio market has had so much change, particularly last year, so really our focus has been trying to keep the music, to keep the content, to keep the lineup as consistent as possible.
“The survey results were absolutely electric, that was such a great shot in the arm for the whole team. But our focus is really more of the same, it’s about consistently day in day out making sure that the station sounds as good as it can every single day.”
It’s been just over a year since Fred Botica announced his retirement after 50 years in radio, and The Bunch with Dean Clairs and Lisa Shaw was born. Survey one saw a jump of 2.5 points for a share of 11.4% for the breakfast show – closing in on their highest share of 11.7%, and landing at #2 breakfast overall.
“It’s really the chemistry between the two of them,” says Underhill. “These two guys have known each other since the early 80s, they have worked together at various different radio stations across the journey in different roles. But it wasn’t until Clairsy joined us here that they actually formed an on air partnership together for the first time.
“From that first moment you could hear the friendship and the banter between them, it’s just electric. You’ve got two great radio professionals, they’ve both been in the market for so long, Perth know exactly who they are, and they get on like a house on fire. We’re very lucky to have both of them in breakfast.”
Perth is a highly competitive radio market that has seen the four major FM stations each lead the market at various points in time. According to Underhill, it’s also a market where the listeners are very faithful to their favourites.
“Perth is a market where people like what they like. Once they decide they like something, generally, they’re set. It takes quite a lot for them to change their mind or to change their preference.
“You have these fiercely loyal audiences, and you have four FM stations competing to try and convince them to sample their product instead. So it’s a very unique market in that sense. There’s a lot of heritage, there’s a lot of history, and there’s a lot of passion that people have for their favourite radio station, whether it’s 96FM or another one.
“That combined with the fact that Perth is so far away from the rest of the country really breeds loyalty to those to those brands amongst the population.”