By Kruti Joshi
Twenty years ago, a 16-year-old girl would go to the 2DayFM station in Sydney every day dressed in her school uniform. The girl who was madly in love radio eventually scored her first job at the station doing reception work and answering the studio phone calls.
In her own words she has lived the life of a gypsy, by travelling to the UK and the US as she climbed up the corporate ladder. The girl, now a woman, was named as the content director of the Hit Network late last year. Gemma Fordham is looking over the products and activities of the very station where she would come in her school uniform as a little girl.
“From a very young age, I was obviously annoying people. So all of that annoying eventually paid off,” Fordham told Mediaweek, laughing.
Fordham has been an EP for much of her career. She was the EP of the Kyle and Jackie O show on 2DayFM and before that the The Morning Crew – both shows that held on to the top spot for a long time.
Fordham rejoined Southern Cross Austereo from New Zealand’s NZME in December 2015.
“I am certainly making it about the year of breakfast for all of our stations with Sydney being a priority,” Fordham said.
“Everyone knows that if your breakfast show performs, generally the rest of your station follows. Certainly that helps with the drive show too in making sure it can achieve the best numbers that it can.”
When SCA announced Rove and Sam as its third breakfast team in two years at the end of last year, the media was quick to remark on how long they’d get to prove themselves.
“In terms of how long we give Rove and Sam, that’s not even a question for me. As long as I see gradual improvement, I am happy. I know with this show that’s what we will receive.
“There is no certainty that if by this date they haven’t achieved this number – I don’t work like that and I don’t put those types of pressures on the shows. They are going to perform very well as the year goes on,” Fordham declared.
“We are onto a winning formula now. I don’t want to change anything.
“Too many changes can often be the downfall.
“People are quick to change things with shows. They are like, ‘Oh, that segment is not so great.’ Well, if you did the segment once and it’s not great, it does not mean that it can’t be great. It means that you need to give it another try or tweak it slightly to be fantastic.
“We’ve got all the right material there and all the great pillars are there for the show now. They are off and running, and I’ll leave them to it.”
When Hamish and Andy returned to radio and SCA on 6 July 2015, a week earlier than publicised, the duo posted a growth for all Hit Network stations in drive in the fifth survey for 2015. However, by the last survey 2015, the drive shares declined in two of the five metro markets – Sydney and Perth.
“They haven’t hit their full stride yet and that comes down to the rest of the station,” Fordham said. “We have to make sure that for each market, the breakfast and work day are performing, in order to ensure drive does.
“To have them back on the airwaves again is really great – they can offer something that no other show can even go near.
“I know some of the plans for the year ahead, and I know the guys are going to do really well. We will be doing everything we can to give them a good lead-in by propping up the breakfast shows.”
In terms of outdoor events, Australia is a battlefield with three radio juggernauts, Nova, ARN and SCA, each putting on a different show. So, where does SCA’s World Famous Rooftop event stand among its competition from Nova Entertainment’s Red Room and ARN’s iHeartRadio Live?
“It is very important part of the brand. We’ve just worked on a whole new strategy around that,” Fordham revealed being careful not to share too much.
“What we are going to do with it this year is going to be remarkably different to, say, Red Room or what has previously been done,” she said. “I will just say watch this space with that one.
“Experience is critical now in order to create listeners that are true fans of the brand,” Fordham continued. “You can’t just rely on what you are doing on air. We all know how important it is to perform in the social and digital space as well. Equally, it’s important to provide something that’s amazing and experience-based too.”
After her time in New Zealand, Fordham came to the realisation that the Australian radio industry has forgotten to have fun, Fordham said.
“My time there really reinforced that Australia has become a little bit formulaic,” she suggested. “[My time in NZ reminded] me of how much we used to muck around and how much we just need to try things.
“I want to encourage people, as an industry not just this network, that we need to start trying things, and we need to really break the mould. Otherwise, we are never going to make progression in this industry and that is critical,” she summed up.