Since Greg Byrnes joined Nine Radio (Macquarie Media at the time) in November of 2019 the company’s head of content has had an eventful tenure. This has included the change to Nine Radio, the creation of a music-only formats with 2UE, Magic, 4BH and 6GT DAB+, and the launch of new breakfast shows at 2GB, 4BC, 3AW, and 6PR. And don’t forget the global pandemic either.
Mediaweek spoke with Byrnes about his return to talk radio and what to expect from the radio brands in 2021.
Byrnes said from day one that Nine Radio managing director Tom Malone had a clear idea where they wanted to take the company’s radio stations.
“Tom from the outset laid out a fairly clear path on what we were trying to do, which was taking talk radio into its next phase and attracting a new audience. And if you look at the radio figures then you can see that has occurred.”
Across the board, Nine Radio’s numbers were up in 2020 and Covid has played a part in the brand’s success. Byrnes said that with Covid, like with bushfires and elections, there is a need for trusted news and Nine’s local approach helped fill that need.
“The 24/7 nature of news and commentary nowadays means people are always on. The beauty of talk is that we are always on and we are always live.
“When something like Covid happens people swarm to trusted commentary and trusted discussion and want to be up to date, and that that is what we deliver.
“Covid has given us a wider audience, but what is encouraging is that they like what they have heard, and they have stuck around.”
Byrnes said now the goal is to build on the stations’ recent success by making sure they keep the traffic through operational excellence both commercially and editorially.
“Last year was about changing our line-ups and you always need to be very careful when you make a change. And now it is a matter of consolidating those changes this year and striving to be the best every day.”
When Byrnes said that 2020 was about change, he wasn’t kidding, with the stations making a wide range of programming decisions including a new breakfast team at every station and also new drive shows in Sydney and Brisbane. Byrnes has said that while it is early days in Perth, he has been happy with Sydney and Brisbane, and considers the results in Melbourne to be extraordinary.
“We need to be the flag bearers for our cities in each market.
“In Neil Breen (Brisbane) and Gareth Parker (Perth), they both have young families and have grown up in and love their cities. They are both connected and know what is going on.
“You also have the same thing with Ben Fordham in Sydney, and on the more mature side with Ross Stevenson and Russel Howcroft who both love their city.
A big part of Nine radio’s strategy since Byrnes joined was a focus on going local, but he is not opposed to networking in slots outside of breakfast and drive.
“In talk radio, the audience sees through it if you’re not genuine. We are not against networking, but it has to be for the right reasons and in the right dayparts. “
“Networking on particular programs like Ray Hadley and Neil Mitchell can work but breakfast and drive set you up for and close the day. To do that effectively it’s not just about what is going on in the world, but also up the street.”
When asked about following up a strong 2020, Byrnes said that 2021 is about consolidating the stations’ success with its new line-ups and continuing to improve.
“What happened last year is last year, and no one is sitting tight suggesting that we are fine – we are thinking about how do we take it to the next level?”
“There is going to be no let-up this year in the news cycle, so we need to keep delivering the best content on a day-to-day basis. We also need to make sure we deliver for clients which is crucial in commercial radio.”
Nine’s Music Stations
After spending over six years at 2UE as both the news director and program director, Byrnes was glad to be involved in reviving the brand. Byrnes said that while the talk brands are the main focus, the music stations play an important role and he is looking forward to the stations’ countdown of the greatest 500 songs of all time.
“It will be a listener vote and it always creates a great deal of discussion and concern, and gets a lot of noses out of joint.”