The war of the ratings


"The war of the ratings": Macquarie Radio Network VS Southern Cross Broadcasting, and how much difference has Alan Jones made?

Presented on the 4th April 2003 to an audience of media students and 2CH Announcer, Ben Starr

Good morning.

The war of the radio ratings has really been burning up the radio waves, particularly in the Sydney region, over the last 18 months.

Rating wars are not a new phenomenon for radio stations, but heading towards the new financial year, the stakes are at an all-time high.

It's a sink or swim situation, witnessed by Bill Caralis' once dominating 2SM, pulling out of the Sydney radio ratings just a few days ago, citing dissatisfaction with re-appointment of Nielsen Media Research, as the ratings measuring provider chosen from Australian Commercial Radio. With his last rating being 0.8, compared to 2GB's 10.3 and 2UE's 8.9, I'm not surprised.

The success of a radio station is dependent upon many factors. We all know the basics, not least of which are the announcers, the often "larger than life" personalities, the listeners' friend. They are often the difference to whom, and how many tune in. Good announcers' equals good ratings, equals good revenues.

Radio announcers, come "king-pins", and genuine celebrities, often legends in their own breakfast times, and are being used as lethal weapons in this strategic battle for supremacy. This is particularly evident in the brutal 6 AM - 9AM and 9AM - noon slots, that have traditionally been dominated by John "Golden Tonsils" Laws and Alan Belford Jones.

SURVEY: "HANDS UP IF YOU EVERY LISTEN TO THE RADIO IN THE MORNING. OK, HANDS DOWN. THANK YOU".

Recently, 2GB's Ray Hadley has been having a good run, having being passed the ball from Jones, with Hadley giving Laws a run for his money in the ultra-competitive 9am - noon time slot. Laws is set to retire this year, celebrating his 50th year in radio. Laws even sent a fax of congratulations to Hadley on the 25th of February, of this year. Where, you might ask, does this leave the likes of 2UE's Steve Price and Mike Carlton? 2UE's Managing Director, Tony Bell has been relatively quiet lately, however he has got to be pleased with Laws' recent revival, jumping 2 whole points in as many months.

POINT TO THE BOARD

How important can a couple of big name radio personalities be? More than you might think.

Look no further than Alan Jones' defection from 2UE, along with Ray Hadley, to 2GB, last year. Jones signed the contract, put to him by John Singleton on the 7th February 2002, and went live to air on the 4th March.

The switch caused ripples in the industry, with 2GB's investment of $5 million paying almost immediate dividends; with even some of 2UE and Jones' advertisers, also known as sponsors, making the jump, staying loyal to Jones.

Make no mistake, advertisers, money and swaying public opinion is what this game is all about.

Let's have a look at the feature that was done on Jones, entitled "Jonestown", which was screened on the ABC's Four Corners on the 6th May last year.

PLAY THE VIDEO FOR 2 MINUTES (FROM THE BEGINNING, THEN FAST FORWARD TO 23 MIN MARK, THEN 28 MIN MARK)

Jones often goes with a "divide and conquer" strategy, with a good dose of confrontation thrown in there, when he's not saving a "little old lady" from the "bad boys" of business or Australian multi-nationals running a muck. Jones' relentless attacks on a subject, whether individual or company-wide, are legendary.

Ray Hadley has also picked up on this craft, adding it to his arsenal, and some may argue, has refined it to a science. I distinctly remember Hadley getting the MD's of numerous companies to give public apologies on-the-air, on Hadley's very own programme. Brilliant PR for the battler segment, if I ever heard it.

Meanwhile, John Laws often uses the more conversational approach, especially if he has a good piece of talent to work with. Let's take a listen to John Laws - Greg Tingle, 31st July of July, 2002. Yes, this is the one that got myself and Laws in the Media section of "The Australian", and brushed over on the ABC's Media Watch.

PLAY THE PDA LAWS 2 WMA FILE AND POINT TO THE CLIPPING ON THE BOARD

2GB's Brian Wilshire, the "master conspiracy theory man", evening radio announcer, and webmaster of "The Wilshire Zone" website, told Media Man Australia that he thought much of 2GB's success was due to their opposition doing many things wrong. Let's hear an excerpt of that now.

PLAY THE TAPE FOR 1 MIN 30 SECS

One in a while, an older, veteran broadcaster is brought back. Take the example of "The Human Headline" himself, Derryn Hinch. Derryn returned to Southern Cross Broadcastings' 3AW in Melbourne, going live-to-air on 30th January 2003, and has seen a steady climb in ratings ever since, now occupying the #1 position in Melbourne, with an amazing 15.3. "Old dogs" don't always work. Take a listen to Stan Zemanek weeknights at 9 on 2UE. Poor Stan even cops some on-the-air flack from his fellow announcers from time to time. In the same time slot, 2GB's Brian Wilshire will likely have you riveted to your radio for the right reasons.

Are all these "big names" better announcers? Not necessarily so, but their colourful personae, and celebrity status built up over time, due to life circumstances ranging from "cash for comment" to stints in jail, give them status. Who's' to say that the ABC's Angela Catterns or our very own Ben Starr, (that's with 2 R's), (eassssssssy Ben), couldn't be radios' next big thing?

This ratings war has even seen radio announcers moving into print. Have a look at my little collection of inscribed beauties.

SHOW THE AUDIENCE MY BOOKS

Radio talk back stations, 2GB and 2UE have always had both their advocates and detractors.

Take Phillip Adam's (ABC Radio National's host of "Late Night Live"), in his recent exclusive interview with me. I quote, "I wouldn't be terribly heartbroken if the transmission towers of 2GB and 2UE, for example, suddenly melted or toppled over. It would certainly be a very healthy thing for the community".

At this point, you're probably thinking, this Greg Tingle is pretty full of himself. I'm not, and no, "Tingle Talk Back", is not yet reality, despite some preliminary efforts.

So, what's next for 2GB and Alan Jones? You can bet The Federal Minister for Communications, Senator Richard Alston and the Communications Law Centre will continue to tune in whenever "king-pins" like Laws, Jones and friends take to the air.

I would suggest more headlines, controversy, and don't be too surprised if "cash for comment" is revisited.

Whatever your opinion of Alan Jones and John Laws, mine is largely positive, one thing is for certain…they are the kings of Australian radio.

PLAY THE LAWS - TINGLE 10TH APRIL 2003 PUBLIC "THANK YOU"

"Absolutely marvelous", or is that "keep the dream alive"! (said in Jones and Laws style and accent).

*Audience applause and Ben Starr say's in an Alan Jones accent, "absolutely marvelous".


References and Bibliography

Australian Broadcasting Corporation: 4 Corners, 6th May 2002
"Jonestown", Producer: Morag Ramsey, Reporter: Chris Masters
www.abc.net.au/4corners/archives/2002a_Monday6May2002.htm
Rehame: Neil Sewell, Researcher: (supplied Laws - Tingle 31st July 2002, 10th April 2003, and Wilshire - Tingle 25th February 2003 audio recordings)
The Australian: Media Section,
Laws sees kinder Telstra after deal, Geoff Elloitt, 3rd October 2002
http://australianit.news.com.au/articles/0%2C7204%2C5240052^15841^^nbv^%2C00.html
The Australian: Business Section,
Radio daze lingers but TV lifts, Jane Schulze, 6th March 2003
The Sydney Morning Herald: Weekend Edition, News Review, 8th and 9th March 2003
The shrinking world of John Laws, Kirsty Needham
The Sydney Morning Herald: The Guide, 31st March to 6th April, Sales Talk
Macquarie Radio Network, 2GB, Lousie Barrett, Group Marketing Manager and Trevor Long, Reporter and Webmaster www.2gb.com
Southern Cross Broadcasting, 2UE www.2ue.com
John Laws, Announcer: conversations and website www.johnlaws.com.au
Derryn Hinch, Announcer and Journalist: e-mails and website www.hinch.net
Ben Starr: 2CH Announcer: verbal information
Phillip Adams, Announcer and Journalist, ABC "Late Night Live" and Columnist for "The Australian": telephone interview 3rd April 2003
Commercial Radio Australia: Meg Isemonger, Marketing Executive (radio ratings statistics)
Communications Law Centre: Jo Hobson (Chief Librarian) www.comslaw.org.au
Not for Publication, Chris Masters, 2002, ABC Books (chapter entitled "Plutonium One, Two and Three")
That's Life, Derryn Hinch, 1992, Penguin Books Australia
John Laws' Book of Uncommon Sense, John Laws, 1995, Pan Macmillan Australia
Mike Carlton, Off The Air, Kathy Lette, 1997, Pan Macmillan Australia
Inside Story, Ross MacDowell, 2001, Hobson Dell Publishing (Chapter 14, Alan Jones, Broadcaster)
Nielsen Media Research: Stephanie Cox, Media Liaison (radio ratings statistics)
Australian Broadcasting Authority: Meera Dullabh, Research Assistant (assistance with research, website and audio grabs
Max Rowley Media Academy, Director: Max Rowley www.maxrowley.com
Radio Info: www.radioinfo.com.au Steve O'Hearn, Founder of Radio Info and Director of Australian Film and Television Radio School (website and e-mails)
Media Man Australia: www.mediaman.com.au , Director: Greg Tingle
www.google.com * numerous searches performed
www.yahoo.com * numerous searches performed


Handouts for audience:
Radio Info and Nielsen Media Research radio ratings
Numerous newspaper articles pertaining to radio ratings
Media Man Australia business card