Easy Music: Ace Radio quietly launches Australia’s newest metro network

Ace Radio

What are the targets Ace Radio’s Rowly Paterson and Mark Taylor have for Nine’s AM music licences?

Two of the biggest radio stories at the start of a new metro survey year are linked to regional radio via Ace Radio and ARN.

Ace Radio, largely a regional radio broadcaster until 7pm last Friday, is moving into metro radio with an east offering with its one cap city station (3MP) now one of four. Late last year Ace Radio revealed a deal with Nine Entertainment to lease its three AM music licences – Magic 1278, 2UE and 4BH.

Meanwhile, ARN offered Grant Broadcast owners, the Cameron family, an offer it couldn’t refuse for most of its regional network.

As Ace Radio flicked the switch on its new leases on Friday night, Mediaweek spoke with the owner of Ace Radio Rowly Paterson and Ace chief executive Mark Taylor.

Paterson told Mediaweek that over the years Ace has resisted the temptation to enter metro markets. It put its toe in the water when it acquired 3MP from Craig Hutchison’s SEN in July 2020.

Ace Radio is family owned by Rowly (above) and Judy Paterson

“After we got 3MP we were subsequently tempted by this opportunity from Nine,” Paterson told Mediaweek. “We had been toying with the idea of leasing the stations along the east coast to be able to offer advertisers a network. Nine were happy to have a conversation with us and talks progressed for over a year.

“We were confident that the model we structured would provide listeners with good entertainment and Ace with a profitable business.”

Nine’s no risk deal with Ace Radio

While Nine will continue running its news/talk formats around Australia, it won’t have to be calculating the revenue implications as the Easy Music stations rise or fall in the ratings. Ace has signed a licencing deal that will see it hand Nine a flat fee for the use of the frequencies.

What Ace does lose is the ability to offer the AM music stations as part of a group buy with the 3AW-2GB news/talk network. “But we will be offering an attractive easy coast network package,” said Paterson.

The Ace Radio executives expect to have a split of 70/30 for local and national revenue. Ace chief executive Mark Taylor explained: “We are talking to the clients who perhaps can’t afford to get on the stations where it might cost around $500 a spot. We will offer affordability on a station with a decent cume audience.”

Although Ace will be busy this year, Paterson said they would investigate other opportunities if they arose. “There is nothing on the horizon now though,” he told Mediaweek.

The Nine/Ace deal was flagged at the same time ARN took over most of the Grant Broadcasting business. As part of that deal Grant’s rep business TRSN will become part of ARN.

Rowley said Ace had been repped by TRSN and that will continue. “With the TRSN people staying with the business that remains a good fit for us and we expect it to be business as usual.

Ace didn’t compete in any markets with the Grant-now-ARN stations.

“We had a focus on Victoria and southern NSW,” said Paterson. He added that ARN didn’t knock on his door as the metro giant looked to diversify into regional radio.

While ARN didn’t ask if Paterson might be a seller, he has had a few potential acquirers over the years kicking the Ace tyres. “We continue to enjoy running Ace and we have a very capable group of executives and staff from top to bottom.”

While it is recruiting for sales reps for the expanded network, Ace already has people working the east coast capitals.

Taylor is appreciative of the job Nine has done on the AM stations, restoring them to music formats after unsuccessful lifestyle and then sports formats were tried.

“We will be continuing that journey that Nine started. We are introducing a full suite of announcers on all the stations and we will be running on-air promotions. There will be initial marketing campaigns including an outdoor campaign in Sydney and we will utilise social media.

“We will be operating them as full-service radio stations. With the greatest respect to Nine, their focus had to be on their juggernauts – 3AW and 2GB. When you have #1 stations in the two biggest markets they demand lots of attention.”

While breakfast is a critical slot, Taylor was keen to point out he expects their biggest audience to be listening after 9am. “In our experience with 3MP, the 55+ music stations seem to be stronger during the day. There is an appetite for news/talk formats in the morning and then some people move to other stations later in the day.”

Getting dollars after 9am is working for Ace. “We are going well in the revenue department, using 3MP as our only metro experience so far. The clients are happy with the results they are getting and we are seeing longer TSL. At times during 2021 we ranked #2 in Melbourne in TSL.”

Taylor is a realist about the potential for the stations. He is not expecting any massive numbers like Cruise 1323 and 4KQ achieve in less competitive markets. “Those markets are unique in that Adelaide and Brisbane don’t have any FM formats like Gold or smoothfm.”

Ace Radio

Ace Radio chief executive and Sunday night host Mark Taylor

Ace Radio ratings targets for new stations

When pushed on ratings expectations, Taylor indicated it would be a good year if 4BH and 2UE get close to a 4% share. “And if I could get 3MP and Magic close to 2% each in Melbourne it would be wonderful.”

Paterson said Ace would continue to monitor costs closely as it enters more metro markets. “We will remain sensible about how we spend, but we are looking to build steady growth.”

Regional market revenues suffered like metro did when Covid first arrived. Paterson: “Things have rebounded nicely in regional markets after that initial 2020 impact and revenues are nearly back to where they were pre-Covid. Metro was a different story as Melbourne was locked down for much of 2021 while regional wasn’t.”

Ace Radio programming plans

For the Nine-owned licences, 2UE and 4BH will join 3MP as part of the Easy Music network. Magic 1278 will stand alone with a Classic Hits format. (Similar branding to what SEN has given 2CH.)

When it comes to programming, Taylor noted each station will run the same Easy Music format and we will be using the same music log across the network. Taylor said Magic will be different as Ace ensures it doesn’t sound like 3MP. “The stations had been going head-to-head so we will steer Magic more to Classic Hits and away from the Easy Music on 3MP.”

Ace Radio’s Jon Vertigan

Easy Music listening

There’s no one for Taylor to blame if the music doesn’t attract a crowd for the Ace stations. The chief executive helps construct the playlist along with Ace Radio veteran Jon Vertigan. “Even Rowly Paterson has been known to get involved,” laughed Taylor.

“Everybody is a programmer,” interjected Paterson with a grin.

Vertigan also co-hosts breakfasts on 3MP. Taylor said he wouldn’t be surprised if Vertigan might also sneak on air with the odd weekend slot at 2UE or 4BH. The chief executive can still be heard on air too with a Sunday night show on 3MP.

Who’s who on new Easy Music network

Breakfast in Sydney and Brisbane will be in good hands with Trevor Sinclair who has recently been working for Ace on 3MP.

Key Easy Music daytime presenters are Emily Canning and Cathy Jupp. “We are trying to utilise Ace Radio network talent,” said Taylor. Dave Ferguson looks after evenings from 7pm.

Breakfast six days a week at Magic 1278 Classic Hits will be hosted by Len Johns.

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