ARN’s new radio strategy: If it ain’t broke, let's fix it | radioinfo

ARN’s new radio strategy: If it ain’t broke, let's fix it

Sunday 17 December, 2017
Duncan Campbell and Rob Atkinson

Peter Saxon finds out if there is any method to the madness

When I sat down with ARN CEO, Rob Atkinson and National Content Director Duncan Campbell my first thought was to ask: Are you people nuts?

As of last survey and pretty much all year, ARN has been the leading radio entity over the five metro markets. Yet in the past couple of months the network has made more changes than nappies on a set of triplets. As Campbell himself confides, “Its probably the most change a radio organisation has made in one year.”

While I still thought these people were nuts, I respectfully asked a more nuanced question: If it ain’t broke, why fix it?

Without hesitation, Atkinson replied, “You don’t put a new roof on a house when it’s pouring down with rain. You do it when the sun’s shining.” 

Campbell adds, “It’s always better to introduce something that’s new on air to big cumes when you’re really strong. I think the worst time to change is when a station is at the bottom and is struggling.”

Clearly frustrated with critics who have no idea of the context and the process behind the planning that began almost 18 months ago, Campbell is adament, “There’s some real thought gone into this strategy backed up by research. This has been a massive undertaking to make all the changes that we’ve made.”

 Surely the Breakfast Show should drive the station not the other way around. Rob Atkinson.

Not all of the changes were planned - radioinfo broke the news on Friday that ARN had been keen to renew the contracts of the KIIS national drive team, Hughesy & Kate but when negotiations broke down they took their act to SCA’s Hit network.

But for many pundits it seemed a curious decision to dump the GOLD Breakfast team Jo and Lehmo when the station was enjoying the best purple patch it had had in years.

Campbell felt the station could do better still saying, “Certainly, GOLD, in terms of Breakfast had a good survey but it was still two points behind the station average.”

Atkinson adds, “Surely the Breakfast Show should drive the station not the other way around.”

Campbell refused to even hint at the new GOLD Breakfast team other than to say, “They’re going to have more energy about them next year in terms of their presentation. And they’ll have a more contemporary feel to them.”

On top of that, there was the forced retirement of ARN stalwarts Ron E. Sparks and Charlie Fox. Still, management insists, not much will change at the Pure Gold network in 2018. “I think people are reading too much into it, says Campbell, “It’s not setting up for a major change, its just allowing us to reposition a little bit and refine the offering. There’ll be no networking of shows. There’ll be local content directors.”

The biggest change and perhaps the biggest gamble, is over at the KIIS network where they've decided to replace the Melbourne Breakfast show and the national drive shift with complete unknowns. Kiwi stars Jase & PJ (Jason Hawkins and Polly Harding, left) are taking over Breakfast in Melbourne where they are total strangers while Will & Woody,(Will McMahon and Woody Whitelaw) who are barely known outside of Perth, have been slotted in to the national Drive show to replace Hughesy and Kate.

It was Duncan Campbell himself who told me four years ago on signing Kyle & Jackie O that as a CD you can either “buy” a show or “build” a show. The opportunity to “buy” a proven success in Kyle and Jack was too good to pass up and that gamble has paid off in spades for ARN.

The alternative is to find two or more well known celebrities, put them into a studio together and hope that they gel and magic ensues. This conventional strategy, over the years, has delivered mixed results for stations that have used it.

Now ARN has decided to turn that convention on its head.

Without that chemistry you’re really battling uphill because the audience picks up on it very quickly, Duncan Campbell.

“We’ve shifted our strategy from going for high profile people and putting them together and hoping they work to hiring teams that have been established in smaller or regional markets but have chemistry in spades and have hunger and generate relatable content,” says Campbell. "The only downside is that they’re not known. So, we have to then market them to create a level of familiarity.

“You can’t buy the chemistry. That was the huge problem we had in Melbourne. It’s the problem they’re having at Hit 104. Jonesy & Amanda have it. Fitzy & Wippa have it. Kyle & Jackie O - Hamish & Andy, obviously have it. Without that chemistry you’re really battling uphill because the audience picks up on it very quickly. You’ve got to have that ingredient upfront otherwise you’re struggling from day one.

On the younger, under 40s FM stations there’s not been an injection of fresh talent for a long time. Duncan Campbell

“(With Jase & PJ, Will & Woody) We’re not “building” these shows. They came to us already built. That’s the big difference. With the previous show (Matt Tilley and Meshel Laurie) where we put those two people together, we had to build that show. Our involvement in that show - helping to generate content, to package it - was quite extensive. This time - it’s not as if we’ve taken an armchair, sat back and smoked a cigar - our involvement has been very different,” says Campbell.

“We have that good balance now between established powerhouse talent like the two breakfast shows in Sydney and our Adelaide Breakfast show. And now we’re bringing in new emerging talent with a lot of energy and great chemistry,” says Atkinson.

Campbell says, “If you look out onto the horizon of talent in the major markets there are established teams who’ve been there a long time. On the younger, under 40s FM stations there’s not been an injection of fresh talent for a long time.”

Jase & PJ have been living in Melbourne for about a month now getting to know the locals and posting their exploits on social media. The most important question now is what footy team/s they'll follow. Management are keeping tight lipped on that score too, except to guarantee it won't be Collingwood.


Peter Saxon

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