Radio numbers man John McCool on how Nova built a new network


Tales from the radio launch: Celebrating 20 years of Nova FM

In August 1998 John McCool joined Daily Mail & General Trust (DMGT) in the UK on their DMG Radio division, two years before the company acquired its first Nova licence. “At that stage we had around 10 stations around London, a station in Hungary, one in Sweden and our Australian regional network with Fiveaa,” McCool told Mediaweek.

After working closely with the Australian team from London, he jumped at the opportunity to work here for a year. “I had never been to Australia and I thought it would be great experience and I’d get to see the country.” Twenty years later and he’s still here.

McCool was one of the finance team spending close to $400m the new FM licences that became the Nova network. “I was originally part of the team back in London building the initial business model for Sydney and Melbourne. We were going up against real heritage stations in those markets. All credit to Paul Thompson who was a real visionary and was able to launch something completely different.

“In addition to the massive challenge to break into the two major markets initially, we had to face-off against strong competition to have the winning bids for the other licences and then the second round of licences for Sydney and Melbourne.”


Nova Entertainment’s John McCool

These days McCool is Melbourne-based where he is Nova Entertainment’s commercial manager. This week Mediaweek is celebrating the launch of the first DMG Nova station 20 year ago on April 1.

The DMG Radio rollout of the Nova brand:
Nova 96.9 Sydney – 1 April 2001
Nova 100 Melbourne – 3 December 2001
Nova 937 Perth – 5 December 2002
Nova 919 Adelaide – August 2004
Nova 106.9 Brisbane – 4 April 2005

At the time the Sydney and Melbourne licences were purchased in 2000, McCool said they didn’t know if there would be second licences in those markets, although they were hoping there would be.

McCool was acutely aware how important the initial revenue would be and watched as the low ad model was rolled out. “The executive team at the time had so much faith in the strategy. Paul Thompson and Keith Thomas had organised research into it which showed how strong the greater engagement and retention was from being first and last in break.”

Although Paul Thompson told Mediaweek it may have cost them some revenue initially, McCool said never more than two ads in a row did help ad buyers take notice of the new brand immediately.

As the Nova stations launched around Australia, McCool noted how the existing broadcasters wanted to maintain their audience share. “They all wanted to protect their patch and not let us in. As any company would, they were very keen to defend their position. It was quite a battle and we didn’t always get it right.

“When we launched Vega it didn’t quite hit the mark. We eventually got it right though and we couldn’t have dreamt the two smoothfm stations would be so successful. In hindsight it was obviously the right move to make.”

One of McCool’s earliest memories of his time in Australia was watching the climb in the ratings at Fiveaa. “I was working in Adelaide and for some time the station had been #4 or #5 in the ratings. On 11 September 2001 it went #2 for the first time.” McCool noted it was easy to remember the date as later that day 9/11 happened just as they were arriving home after celebrating the ratings turnaround.

Another memorable event was the day of the Adelaide FM licence auction. “Paul Thompson was cautious of what the price might be given it was his home market. Paul didn’t want to confirm DMG would even bid and he didn’t attend the auction. We did however have someone there who bid for us. I was the only one actually from DMG at the auction and I was on a phone at the back of room relaying bidding details to Paul and Kingsley Hall back in the DMG boardroom. I was able to give them the good news they had won the Adelaide licence and I heard the screams of joy from the team in the boardroom when they got the news.”

Working as an accountant, McCool considers himself fortunate to be working on what he calls a dynamic and vibrant company. “To be able to work with people with different skillsets and backgrounds is very fortunate. It’s a great place to work with everyone working for the same goal to make the brands as successful as possible. There’s a really good culture here.

“With Covid over the past 12 months it’s a testament to the team how well they have coped over that time. What we have learned from that is to have more flexible working arrangements, something we are setting up now for the future.”

See also:

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

Celebrating 20 years of Nova FM: Tim Blackwell remembers his radio start

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