• Music stations will run on auto-pilot: No breakfast shows, no announcers any time
There has almost been a decision-a-day at Nine Radio since Nine CEO Hugh Marks appointed Tom Malone to run the seven AM stations across four metro markets in 2019.
Malone had no preconceptions coming into the role about the changes that he might have to make.
Malone said Marks asked him to have a look at all parts of the business and work out the best path forward for radio. “We have subsequently made changes we think will be best for our audience in 2020,” Malone told Mediaweek on the day he axed what was left of Macquarie Sports Radio, turning the frequencies back into music brands.
Macquarie Sports Radio
“We had a good look at what the alternatives could be. One of them was continuing as a sports format or even possibly a news format. The best complement to our news/talk network is a music network. Just look at how successful Magic and 4BH were only four or five years ago running a music format. It soon became pretty obvious that was the best solution for those stations and then add 2UE to those stations.
“By targeting that demographic with music from the 70s, 80s and 90s we feel there is a gap in the market for that music. It also complements, not cannibalises, what we are doing on the news/talk network.”
Breakfast at 2UE, Magic and 4BH
Not only will there be no local breakfast shows at any of the rebadged AM music stations – there will be no announcers at all – in breakfast, drive or any other daypart.
“There will be local news, sports, traffic and weather in each market. What going music only enables us to do is to run 13 to 14 songs an hour.
“As we go through the year we will look at introducing announcers.”
Malone said having an announcer-free radio network was more about strategy than costs. “We want to do it properly. We don’t want to rush into anything. We will launch a music format, get it up and running successfully. We will monitor the performance then look at introducing presenters.”
There will be at least one employee looking at 2UE/Magic/4BH content – former SCA executive Matt White (Grill Team EP and head of Triple M NRL) who most recently has been running Macquarie Sports Radio.
When Malone asked White for his thoughts about a music format, he replied: “I could do that for you as well.”
Malone is believed to have found internally running the music stations was best after speculation Nine considered outsourcing the music to another network.
Nine News radio integration progress
“People are already hearing a close relationship between our TV and radio news business. Where it makes sense, the newsrooms work closely together. It has to be audience led – the audience has to come first. That has been a clear direction from Hugh Marks all the time.
“It’s been terrific hearing TV news reporters filing radio news stories. There have been examples almost daily of strengthening the radio new bulletins with TV news reporters in the field filing for radio.
“That both enhances the radio content and there are some promotional benefits from a TV point of view.”
3AW and breakfast plans: Ross Stevenson’s next co-host
Malone confirmed the importance of having Stephen Beers back at the Melbourne station. “It is very important to have Stephen back at 3AW. He is an important stakeholder in that market for 3AW. Radio is all about being local and he holds all the relationships for Nine Radio in Melbourne.”
As to what might happen at 3AW when John Burns retires mid-year, Malone said: “We are still reviewing some of the options for then. We are in discussions with Ross Stevenson about that. He’s been #1 in Melbourne for close to 30 years with both Dean Banks and then John Burns. We will work with Ross as to who will be the next on-air partner for him.”
Malone said there was no existing plan about a younger broadcaster or a woman to fill the role. “We have to hire the best broadcaster and the best fit for Ross. It is a unique show and we need to complement Ross with the right person. That will be the first decision, not age or gender.”
6PR: What’s ahead for Baz?
Nine Radio doesn’t need a Nine personality hosting Perth breakfast, said Malone. “We need the best broadcaster for the audience. The coming together of radio and television is not about trying to get lots of Nine TV people on radio. Hugh Marks is very clear it has to be audience led and what’s best for the audience and the market.
“Basil Zempilas is a terrific radio broadcaster and someone we want to have a long relationship with. We want him to host breakfast for many years to come because he is fantastic at it.
“The fact he is on TV for Channel 7 is not a big concern for us. We think he is great on 6PR and long may that continue.”
As to Zempilas potentially successfully running for Lord Mayor of Perth, Malone added: “We will cross that bridge when we come to it. We’d have to look at how involved the hours were and if he could do both without serious conflicts.”
2GB: Is there still an ad boycott?
“We have worked pretty hard across the summer refreshing not only our on-air line-up, but also behind the scenes. We have strengthened our editorial policy to make sure it complies and adheres to the broadcast services act and the code.
“We have had ongoing discussions with all of our broadcasters, not just in Sydney, to make sure they are aware of our expectations. We are now in a spot where we are pretty confident we have a great brand safe environment for advertisers.
“We know they like advertising on talkback radio because it is so effective because of the engaged radio audience.
“We are in a good spot with regards to revenue to make sure that advertisers can feel assured we are a good place for them to be.”
Alan Jones is back on air on Tuesday January 28 and Malone said he and head of content Greg Byrnes have spent time with Jones as part of a 2GB group and as individuals. “We speak very regularly, like we do with all our broadcasters.”
Ray Hadley looked likely to replace Jones at 2GB breakfast at one stage last year. “I have spent quite a bit of time with Ray and he is very happy on the morning show,” said Malone. The two have known each other for over 20 years when Malone was also at 2UE and the radio chief said he has a great relationship with his morning host.
Malone said there was very little opportunity for networking content across the news/talk stations. “We want to be as local as we can.”
Any decision to offer local programming nationally will come via podcasting. Malone offered: “One of the plans for FY21 will be building out our digital and podcast strategy.”
Biggest challenges for 2020
Malone: “Our biggest challenge will be to promote our individual brands in each market. We want to get all the new shows successfully launched and then launch the music format successfully.
“The plan then is keeping costs under control, and really focus on the revenue.”