Nova Entertainment’s talk radio veteran – Leon Byner’s two decades at Fiveaa

Leon Byner

Listening to your audience key to a long career in AM talk says morning host

Adelaide talk station Fiveaa was the first capital city station owned by the DMG Radio Group, the company Mediaweek featured last week in our celebration of the birth of Nova FM.

Fiveaa remains part of the company 20 years after the launch of the Nova FM brand, remaining the only AM station in the Nova Entertainment network.

During the past two decades Fiveaa has only had two breakfast teams – and one morning show.

That 9am-midday morning host has been Leon Byner, a successful fixture in the Adelaide market much the same way other commercial talk radio host Ray Hadley is in Sydney and Brisbane at 2GB and 4BC, and Neil Mitchell is in Melbourne at 3AW.

Although there was plenty of activity out of Adelaide’s DMG Radio HQ 20 years ago building the FM network, Byner told Mediaweek: “Although I took notice of what was happening, it was all peripheral to me, I just worried about my job.”

His job was keeping most of the huge breakfast audience the station attracted tuned to the station. Leon Byner started at Fiveaa in 2000, at a time when the station’s ratings climbed significantly. He noted the Adelaide licence was originally an easy listening/beautiful music station 5AA. “It then morphed into a racing station and then it became talk after that. For the time I have been there it has always been a talk station. It is unique in that we are a talk station while the rest of the network is music.”

Because it was the only commercial talk station in the market, Byner noted its closest competitor has been the Adelaide ABC station. “We have generally had more than our fair share of the talk market and we still do. We have now been a very successful station for a long time.

Those breakfast shows during Byner’s time at Fiveaa started with Tony Pilkington and Keith Conlan. The duo was ultimately replaced by David Penberthy and Will Goodings. “The breakfast shift and the morning shift have both been very stable with very few changes. No doubt part of the reason the station has been very successful.” Tony Pilkington now follows Byner in afternoons at Fiveaa.

There has been some recent upheaval at the station with the sacking of longtime Adelaide radio host Jeremy Cordeaux after comments made about Brittany Higgins. Byner’s time on air has not been totally without controversy. In 2004 Byner admitted he broke broadcasting laws by failing to disclose personal deals with several people including the city’s then Lord Mayor and was suspended for a number of weeks.

Finding new talk radio listeners

Having been on air for so long now, Leon Byner said he feels like he has a new generation of listeners coming through. “If you talk about stuff that is relevant to people and you listen to the callers, you will reach a wider demographic. We like to make sure the topics we discuss stay current.

“I am very cognisant about reading the zeitgeist. Talk radio needs to evolve and that is what we have done over recent years. The current menu includes Covid of course, but also political issues and the way women are being treated. Flexibility of subject and accessibility for people to ring in and comment is really important. If you read the room correctly you will get the response. The microphone to me is a mirror and you tend to get back what you give out.”

Byner noted that talk radio had been unique over recent times. “You don’t normally get subjects that last for a year,” he said about Covid-19. “This has had such an impact on people’s health and their ability to travel. The impact on health is more understood now, but it is the impact it has on lives when it comes to doing things outside of the home that continues to be important.

“While we acknowledge that as an important story, there are still many other things people are interested in. We have been very lucky that our state doesn’t have a lot of the disadvantages that Covid has delivered elsewhere. We can say that as a country too.”

While some commercial talk radio is branded as being conservative, Byner said his program doesn’t fit that description. “I don’t think our show is overly conservative. It can depend on the subject, we have a few local issues where many of our calls don’t express conservative views. I like the broad church approach. If somebody has an opinion on an issue they get on the phone and talk about it. Because we do that, and we listen and engage, we tend to get a diversity of subject.”

Finding solutions for his listeners is also a big part of the show. “It’s amazing the number of people who call me and ask ‘Can you help me with this?’ Quite often we can because we know the right people to talk to.”

After two decades plus on air, Leon Byner sounds like he has plenty of energy left to keep going. “I am pretty motivated. I remain interested in what is going on around me. When I am out I want to hear what people are saying and what they think. I often find that gets reflected when people call in. The public has a pretty good feel for what the important topics are at any given time and I tend to follow that.”

See also: Nova FM founder Paul Thompson on 20th anniversary of radio disruptor

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