Melbourne returning to music? FM stations start bouncing back in ratings

Melbourne’s radio listeners appear to be returning to music formats after the COVID-19 pandemic last year drove record numbers of listeners to talk stations for the latest news and current affairs.

In GfK’s first radio survey of 2021, a number of music-driven FM stations made modest gains overall while 3AW and ABC Radio Melbourne lost audience share across the key breakfast, morning and drive timeslots.

Melbourne radio hosts Virginia Trioli and Neil Mitchell.

Though the FM stations Gold, Smooth, Fox, KIIS and Nova only had minor increases of between 0.7 and 2 percentage points, the rises indicated a slight turn away from news- and talk-driven radio stations over the summer.

3AW, the home of presenters like Neil Mitchell and Tom Elliott, recorded an overall audience share of 16.3 per cent this survey, down 3.3 points compared to the final survey of 2020. Ross Stevenson and Russel Howcroft’s top-rating breakfast show netted an audience share of 22.2 per cent, down 2.8 points on the last survey. Mitchell’s audience share is now sitting on a 19 per cent share, down 3.1 points, while Elliott’s drive program netted a 13.1 per cent share this survey, down 3.8 points.

However 3AW remains Melbourne’s most popular radio station overall, with Gold coming in second on 11 per cent. Its total share of listeners is higher than this time last year, suggesting it has managed to retain a chunk of listeners who first decided to tune in regularly during the city’s lockdown in 2020. (Nine, 3AW’s owner, is also the owner of this masthead.)

The ABC’s overall audience share is 8.7 per cent, down 2 points, placing it behind Gold and Smooth FM (8.9 per cent). Overall, ABC’s audience share is the same as it was this time last year, when it was also beaten by Gold and Smooth and had Fox and Nova nipping at its heels.

Comedian Sammy J’s breakfast audience share is 10.7 per cent this survey, down 1.9 points. ABC Mornings host Virginia Trioli netted a 9.1 per cent audience share, down 4.4 points, putting her in fourth place behind Smooth, Gold and 3AW. In drive, Rafael Epstein’s audience share is now 7.9 per cent, down 2.7 points.

An ABC spokesman said the results were not the best for talk radio when looking at the past two surveys side-by-side. “[But] ABC Radio Melbourne has maintained its significant reach off the highs of last year and our breakfast program has kept its number two spot,” he said.

3AW station manager Stephen Beers said maintaining the record audience levels experienced during the height of the pandemic was always going to be a “big ask”.

“3AW has maintained its dominance by posting its best survey one result in 14 years,” Beers said. “3AW Breakfast achieved a result of 23.1 per cent, time-adjusted, which is more than double its closest competitor.

“Melbourne continues to choose talk radio for trusted news and opinions and this is reflected in mornings with Neil Mitchell, afternoons with Dee Dee Dunleavy and drive with Tom Elliot all starting 2021 with a stronger result than this time last year.”

Christian O’Connell is Melbourne’s number one FM breakfast host – again. Credit:Eddie Jim

Research company GfK uses set timeslots when measuring its ratings, such as 5.30am to 9am for breakfast. However, stations like 3AW prefer time-adjusted figures because their shows do not always fit neatly into these categories (for example, 3AW’s breakfast program runs from 5.30am to 8.30am).

Elsewhere in GfK’s survey, Gold’s Christian O’Connell held onto his title as Melbourne’s No.1 FM breakfast presenter by a healthy margin. His audience share is now 8.9 per cent, up 1.4 points.

O’Connell has been Melbourne’s top FM breakfast host for six surveys in a row. His closest FM competitors are Fox’s Fifi Box, Brendan Fevola and Nick Cody, and Smooth’s Mike Perso and Jennifer Hansen (both on 7.2 per cent).

“I should be in a pub celebrating, but I’ll be taking my daughter school shoe shopping [today],” O’Connell said. “Welcome to my life.”

Triple M’s new breakfast presenter Marty Sheargold netted an audience share of 6.2 per cent this survey, down from Eddie McGuire’s final result of 6.8 per cent last year. However, this time last year the audience share for Triple M’s breakfast show was 5.8 per cent.

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