Nine’s head of radio Tom Malone said he had only been talking to Alan Jones about his future with 2GB in the past week as Jones was discussing his work load with his doctors.
As to speculation there has been as many as 500 advertisers continuing to boycott breakfast at 2GB, Malone said: “Revenue in the whole industry has been challenged. Both by COVID-19 and also pre-COVID. The decision we have made is about celebrating Alan and his legacy.”
Malone said he felt Jones’ replacement Ben Fordham will be acceptable to both the 2GB audience and advertisers. “Ben has done a great job in the past 10 years in making the drive slot his own. It’s a hard timeslot to win and he’s been #1 for a lot of that time. He will bring a new energy to the breakfast slot – the audiences will like him and similarly advertisers will as well.”
Speaking to Mediaweek about the challenges of ad boycotts, Nine CEO Hugh Marks said back in February this year :
“The breakfast issues at 2GB have been a real challenge. It hasn’t turned around and this is a revenue business. Audience does lead to revenue – if audience doesn’t revert to revenue you have a problem.
“Revenue at 2GB remains an ongoing issue and remains a reasonably significant issue in the context of the business. Everybody needs to work from Tom Malone and Alan Jones and down to resolve that issue. If we don’t convert Alan’s fantastic audience into revenue then the business has a challenge. There have also been some Sydney-specific sales issues we are in the process of addressing.”
Malone pointed today out that Jones has spent the past six weeks in isolation on his farm and just celebrated his 79th birthday. “Those things have given him pause for thought. He also had some medical appointments and the advice from the doctors is that he shouldn’t keep up his workload.”
His departure comes as Jones is halfway through a two-year contract extension with Nine Entertainment Co.
2GB morning announcer Ray Hadley had long been tipped to get the breakfast job when Jones stood down. “Ray Hadley is our John Laws,” said Malone in reply to a question about whether Hadley was considered for breakfast. “Ray is appointment listening at 9am and he has been there for 20 years. He has a massive audience following in Sydney, Brisbane and 30 regional stations. That is commercially valuable to Nine Radio and we didn’t want to have a change to both breakfast and morning. Ray is very important to us at 9am.”
Hadley also mentioned on air this morning he would have been the wrong appointment for breakfast, telling his listeners he will probably retire in five years at the end of his existing contract at the age of 70.
Malone said 2GB hadn’t considered any other internal or external candidates to replace Jones. “Ben Fordham is the only person to take on this challenge. What he has done in his career for the past 25 years has positioned him perfectly to take on the role as 2GB breakfast host.”
As to the decision to not broadcast Ben Fordham into 4BC, Malone said: “Nine Radio wants to have as much local content as we possibly can. We made that commitment when we took over and we have done some of those changes in Melbourne. Alan is such an established and successful broadcaster it is a lot easier for him to broadcaster into more than one city. To give Ben the greatest opportunity of success he needs to focus on Sydney. The Brisbane audience also deserves its own breakfast show.”
Malone wants the new Brisbane breakfast show ready to launch by June 1. He had previously told Mediaweek that Nine taking control of the Macquarie stations wasn’t about putting more Nine people on the radio. Since then though the radio network has employed Deb Knight for 2GB afternoons, Stevie Jacobs for its music stations and promoted Fordham. “The Nine group is such a big business these days – a Nine person can now be from radio, TV, digital, publishing, Stan or Domain. The roles are never about appointing a Nine person. Look at the decisions we have made and we appoint the best person for the job.”
Malone also wants the best person for the job to replace Fordham at 2GB drive. “We have some great broadcasters at 2GB who can help fill-in while we make that decision.”
Plan for John Burns still to depart 3AW mid-year
It was announced late last year that Nine Radio would be replacing John Burns as the breakfast co-host mid-year. When asked if that was still the plan, Malone replied: “We haven’t changed that plan. We are progressing with those discussions, and we don’t have any update on that at the moment.”
One of the possible contenders to join Ross Stevenson on air when Burns departs is 3AW fill-in breakfast co-host Stephen Quartermain.
Nine Radio’s music network
The company doesn’t have a name for its music network that includes 2UE, Magic 1278, 4BH 882 and 6GT, a DAB+ station in Perth, instead they are trading under each of their local call signs.
“Those local consumer brands are really important in radio. It is going very well, we are getting great audience feedback,” said Malone. Feedback that has yet to be reflected in the ratings after only one survey, ratings which are now paused until the end of September at least in 2020.
“The audience is loving long slabs of music we are playing at the moment. We are starting to introduce some advertisers which has been helped by the arrival of Stevie Jacobs in breakfast.”
Commercial radio outlook
“Our audiences have never been stronger,” Malone said, echoing other leaders of the radio industry in the past few weeks.
“Advertising was tough in April and we are seeing it come back in May, but the market is incredibly short. There are some really positive signs for June and we hope into the new financial year as well. We are seeing a return to spending and we are confident that will only increase into the new financial year.”