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Radio predictions for 2014

Posted December 23rd, 2013 by debritz

As promised, here's my annual list of predictions for Brisbane radio.

It'll be a closely fought race for top position overall and in breakfast, with some failures along the way. More than one show won't make it to the end of the year in its initial form. It will be a year of further cutbacks, job losses and low tolerance for failure. (And, sadly, not much room for experimentation, meaning homogenisation on the mainstream music airwaves. This has already manifested itself nationally with ARN's hiring of Kyle Sandilands and Jackie Henderson, and the reformatting of Mix in Sydney to tackle 2Day an Nova head-on.).

I say with no pleasure but some confidence that 2014 is the year when reality really will begin to bite in the Australian media. While the free-spending days are long gone, many businesses are still spending beyond their means (or at levels that reflect better days). The advertising pie is being sliced more thinly and, despite efforts by industry bodies to spin it otherwise, traditional broadcast radio has lost, and will continue to lose, audiences to other media. It's not out of the question that one network will fail altogether. Despite the brave (some may say arrogant) face they present to the world, the networks know this, and that's why they are investing in online services and digital offerings that may help plug the gaps in their mainstream programming.

For the record, although I was initially enthusiastic about it, I have long believed that broadcast digital radio is a turkey. Its coverage is woeful -- I have friends living just 20 kilometres from the CBD who can't pick it up, making it unsuitable for commuters (even if there were receivers in their cars) -- and its content offering can't even begin to match what's available on the internet. Once new cars are wi-fi (LTE/4G) enabled, it'll be "Goodnight, nurse" for DAB+ in Australia (although digital will continue to be successful in th shortterm in more compact markets).

These predictions are based on the assumption that the new ratings methodology won't throw in too many surprises (and my inclination is that they won't, otherwise Commercial Radio Australia, whose jobs it is to support the status quo, wouldn't have signed up the new provider).

+ 612ABC's Spencer Howson will remain no.1 in breakfast at least for the first half of the survey, as the others sort themselves out. Across the board, 612's fate is linked to how well or how badly 4BC's complete makeover works. If BC flops, 612 will benefit. At the same time, with consistency on its side, the AM crown is Aunty's to lose.

+ It's going to be tough for 4BC to get where it wants to be. An almost-all-new line-up provides an opportunity to rebuild, but I suspect their retooling creates a void in the market rather than fills one. As much as I dislike it personally, right-wing, lowest-common-denominator talk radio is where it's at in the commercial world. Trying to be the "ABC with ads" may make some sort of sense for 2UE in Sydney (which can't hope to beat 2GB at its own game while Alan Jones and Ray Hadley are in place), but it's going to hard to build an audience with that format in Brisbane. As much as I admire Ian Skippen, I don't think he's the right person for breakfast. The station needs a strong, opinionated voice that will bring the listeners in and keep them glued to the station. I'd put Skip in the afternoon slot, where he could provide the post-lunch change of pace with consummate ease. I think Patrick Condren is the strongest of the new bunch recently signed by 4BC, and he's got a good chance of giving 612's Steve Austin a run for his money in the morning shift. Of course, everything could change if the long-mooted merger between Fairfax and Macquarie actually goes through in 2014.

+ The return of Ed Kavalee to the Brsbane airwaves is welcome news -- particularly since he'll actually be in Brisbane this time. But it raises two questions: Is Triple M the right station for his talent and skill set? Will there be enough chemistry between him and Greg "Marto" and Michelle Anderson? My inclination is to answer no on both counts, but I'm happy to be proven wrong. I'd have built a new show around Ed. He's an underrated talent who needs to work with people who are on the same page. (It's such a shame that Tony Martin is persona non grata at Southern Cross Austereo.)

+ Triple M's sister station B105 has a challenge on its hands. In the grand scheme of things, it's not doing too badly, but it's not the must-listen-to station that it used to be. At the time of writing, Southern Cross Austereo has chosen not to tinker with the breakfast show line-up, as doing so would almost certainly lead to an at-least-temporary ratings slump. However, given it is launching new breakfast shows on its Today stations in Sydney and Melbourne, it must have been tempted to do so as part of a network wide facelift. While it ain't really broken, it does need to be fixed. The real battle is with the music offering. The programming experts can say what they like, but many teenagers and young adults follow the songs rather than the on-air talent.

+ 97.3Fm runs the risk of falling victim to "friendly fire". The launch of Kiis 106.5 in Sydney will mean some further tinkering with the successful Brisbane format to accommodate a Kyle Sandilands and Jackie O "best-of" in the evenings, and Ryan Seacrest in the nights. They risk losing at least some of the female grocery shoppers coveted by advertisers, and that doesn't seem like a particularly wise move to me. Having said that, the breakfast show should remain strong if they don't change the music too much.

+ Nova 106.9 is looking good for a strong year, although changes behind the scenes -- especially the loss of foundation station manager Sean Ryan -- could be felt on air. My advice to the DMG bosses down south is to realise the uniqueness of the Brisbane market and to give the station some credit for succeeding as well as it has. Ash, Kip and Luttsy are likely to remain near or at the top of the commercial tree in breakfast. The loss of Brisbane favourite Meshel Laurie, who has moved from network drive to Melbourne breakfast, may be felt.

+ The fates of 4KQ and Magic 882 (formerly 4BH) are intertwined. If Magic gets a bit too contemporary with its music choices, KQ will reap the benefit. If KQ doesn't mind its knitting, Magic may steal the advantage.

+ The "dark horse" to watch is Triple J, which did very well in the Brisbane market at the time. I believe that the Js are batting above their average because of dissatisfaction with the mainstream FM music stations. As I said at the beginning, this brave new world of commercial radio leaves little room for experimentation. Playlists are conservative, and people who want to find new music are looking to Triple J and the internet.

Scott reveals Aunty's plans

Posted April 19th, 2012 by debritz

ABC managing director Mark Scott, in Brisbane to open the national broadcaster's new Queensland headquarters at South Bank, has revealed some of Aunty's plans for the digital future.

He told 612ABC breakfast announcer Spencer Howson that:

+ A new ABC app for Android phones would be released "within days";

+ An iView app for mobile platforms would be available soon, and that iView would eventually be available in HD, although delivery on the net was expensive for the broadcaster;

+ Aunty is lobbying government to extend digital radio coverage from beyond the major metro areas, although he conceded there was no great financial imperative for this as there was for the digital TV switchover;

You can hear the full interview here.

Arts cuts? I blame me

Posted April 5th, 2012 by debritz

This morning I received a Facebook message from a person of some prominence in the Queensland arts scene. It said:

Happy about your campaigns against arts funding now, Brett?

Yes, apparently this week's decision by Campbell Newman to axe the Queensland Premier's Literary Award as part of a cost-cutting program is all my fault.

Why? Because, among the thousands of newspaper articles I have written in my career, two or three, written a decade ago, questioned not arts funding per se but the fact that some individiuals and groups seemed to be receiving a very large share of the funding pie while others missed out.

What I did then was what a reporter does. I spoke to people who were outraged about the system but I spoke to people who defended it, and I quoted them all.

At no time have I ever personally questioned the need for or desirability of arts funding. What I have done, however, is interview hundreds of Queensland actors, writers, dancers, musicians, directors and other artists, and published their stories in newspapers that have been read by millions of people.

I often had to fight to get prominence for these stories, to give Queensland artists a place alongside famous international music and movie stars.

I have also spent many hours on radio talking about the arts and artists, even though a commercial radio producer told me that productions by the Queensland Theatre Company were "not mainstream enough" for the airwaves.

I find the message I received this morning deeply offensive, not just because of the personal attack on me but because it demonstrates the shallowness of the thought process of somebody who should know better.

The arts establishment in Queensland is often its own worst enemy. To argue for funding on the basis of a sense of entitlement, and to enter into a blame game, will not help advance the cause.

Neither will adminstrative slopiness. When I wrote about arts funding all those years ago, I discovered that Arts Queensland -- the state government department that manages arts grants (although not the now-axed literary award) -- did not keep a tally of the amounts individuals had received in funding over the years, or even a running ledger of recipients from one year to the next.

When I asked for records, instead of a spreadsheet, I got a box full of paper documents that I was expected to collate and then make some sense of. And they arrived just one day before the page deadline, despite the request being made more than a week earlier. Either the bureaucrats were inept or they were "running interference".

The reactions of some in the arts community were laughable. Correspondents to the paper confused a news article written by me about an author with an opinion piece written by a colleague, or with another story by a third journalist about a funded visual artist. Suddlenly, everything was my fault (as apparently it is now).

Somebody I used to respect rang me and told me earnestly that "without government arts funding there would be no Shakespeare or Dickens". Oh, really? And I always thought they were hacks who survived and thrived through the popular success of their works.

Another sent an email intended for a colleague to me instead of him.

Some members of the arts community took a more measured response, however. From memory, the PR person for the federal Arts Council, was very helpful, putting me in touch with people who could articulate their arguments without kneejerk hysteria.

When my feature article was finished, it raised many valid points about how some forms of art are funded and others are not, and how some artists felt "locked out" of a process they believed was controlled by a clique. It also told success stories about people who had received a small amount of funding and then went on to enjoy stellar careers.

So, what do I really think? I've said this before, and I will say it again: the arts does deserve a better deal from the government.

But it also deserves a better deal from its loudest advocates, at least one of whom, apparently, can offer nothing more constructive than firing a shot at the messenger (years after the event).

More power to those people organising the new Queensland Literary Awards without state government assistance. I hope their funding is restored when the books are balanced and that, in the meantime, corporate sponsors will come to the party so the awards thrive and continue to turn out the stars of the future.

More power, too, to those who are prepared to use sensible arguments to help resist further cuts in funding, and to support ongoing reviews of how the available money is spent. I'm with them 100 per cent.

97.3 maintains ratings lead

Posted March 27th, 2012 by debritz

In the race for ratings supremacy, 97.3 FM remained steady on top of the Brisbane radio pile with a 14.1pc share when survey two results were released.

In second place was 612ABC (11.8pc), followed by B105 (10.7), Nova 106.9 (10.4), Triple M (9.4), 4BC (7.4), 4KQ (7.2), Triple J (6.6) and 4BH (6.1).

In the breakfast shift, Spencer Howson retained his lead for 612ABC (14.9pc down slightly from 15.1), and he was followed by Robin, Terry and Bob at 97.3 (12.8), with Labby, Stav and Abby at B105 (10.3) third, and Ash, Kip and Luttsy at Nova 106.9 (10.1) a close fourth.

Following in breakfast were Triple M (9.0), 4BC (7.8), 4KQ (7.5), triple J (5.9) and 4BH (5.5).

The good news for 97.3 continued through most of the day, although Nova edged ahead among music listeners in the evenings.

The ABC also had a big result in the mornings shift, with Steve Austin garnering a 12pc share, possibly helped along by his state election coverage. His successor on the Evenings shift, Rebecca Levingston, has started to claw back some of Austin's old audience following a disappointing result in the first survey. Afternoons' Kelly Higgins-Devine and Drive's Tim Cox also added audience share.

In Sydney, the 2Day breakfast show fell below double figures to a 9.7 share, coming third, as usual, to 2GB's Alan Jones and ABC702's Adam Spencer, as host Kyle Sandilands faces the results of an Australian Communications and Media Authority probe, which ruled against him and 2Day, and fallout from revelations about the online activities of one of his producers.

Sandilands' commercial FM rivals, Fitzy and Wippa at Nova 96.9, were the biggest gainers in the Sydney breakfast shift, but they remain more than 3 percentage points off the pace. Nova also picked up a huge swag of listeners aged 10-17, although not from 2Day.

Sharing the fame

Posted March 9th, 2012 by debritz

It began as a simple question posed on Twitter and Facebook:

Brisbane: Tonight we unveil another statue to a footballer. Have we honoured any great scientists, artists or peacemakers in bronze lately?

Now, I'd like to follow it up. First, by saying that I have no objection at all the rugby league lovers honouring Darren Lockyer for his achievements in the game. Or, for that matter, our publicity-hungry politicians trying to get in on the act. I just wish they'd cheerlead for some other great achievers more often.

What I am saying, though, is that there are plenty of other Queenslanders, living and dead, who deserve public recogniition for their achievements in their fields, and not all of them are getting it.

I know there are many in the fields of science and politics, and the military, but I'm going to restrict this argument to the arts, which is my major field of interest.

A few years ago, I supported a move to get a theatre named after Alan Edwards, the founding artistic director of the Queensland Theatre Company. So far, he has received no public recognition, even though, arguably, without his influence the international careers of hundreds of actors and other professionals, including Geoffrey Rush, Bille Brown and Carol Burns, may not have taken off.

I'm going to present a list now, and this is mainly from the top of my head and a quick internet search, so I'm sure to have missed some very important names. I reserve the right to amend it. I also acknowledge that some of them have already received statues or other recognition, but many of them have not.

I also not that there's an emphasis on people who are or have been widely known outside of Australia, and that I've omitted some younger people, such as authors Nick Earls and John Birmingham, writer-actors Adam Zwar and Jason Gann, and comedian Josh Thomas, who are (in my opinion) likely to go on to greater success.

Actors Geoffrey Rush, Ray Barrett, Diane Cilento, Barry Otto, Bille Brown, Carol Burns and Barry Creyton all have of have had international profiles. Other notables include Sigrid Thornton and Leonard Teale,.

Writers include Thea Astley, David Malouf, Judith Wright, Oodgeroo Noonuccal.

In popular music, there are The Saints, The Go-Betweens, Powderfinger and Savage Garden, and in opera we have Donald Shanks and Lisa Gasteen.

There are many famous Queensland dancers including Garth Welch and Leanne Benjamin.

Delving into the ratings

Posted March 6th, 2012 by debritz

Some figures that fell off the back of a metaphorical truck provide an interesting perspective on the first official radio survey for 2012.

The 15-minute breakdowns reveal that changes to the 612ABC on-air line-up have had an immediate, positive impact on the station's daytime schedule.

Audience share for the local ABC station has increased in every segment across the day, from 5am to 7pm, as compared to the final survey of 2011 -- with only two exceptions, one of them a tie.

The figures are particularly good for top-rating breakfast host Spencer Howson, who added as many as 5.0 percentage points in some 15-minute segments.

In evenings, however, new host Rebecca Levingston has a substantially lower audience than her popular predecessor, Steve Austin, who has moved to mornings.

The stats also indicate that 612ABC dominates the AM dial and continues to be the preferred news-talk choice over commercial rival 4BC for most of the day. In some 15-minute segments, Howson has more than twice the audience of BC's Peter Dick and Mary Collier.

The good news for BC is that the race becomes tighter in the middle of the day, with Greg Cary narrowly beating Austin between 10.15 and 11am. BC also enjoys extremely narrow leads between 2.30pm and 3.45pm, but 612's Tim Cox pulls away from 5pm on. Levingston maintains the lead over 4BC until 8pm, when the commercial station swaps Sports Today for the Walter Williams show.

A word of caution: January-February is an atypical time for 612, largely due to cricket interrupting the normal schedule. On top of that, the ABC always does well when there are big political stories around, and they have not been in short supply this year. The latter factor is of particular benefit to the news and current affairs offerings, and to the mornings shift.

March 1, 2012

Posted March 1st, 2012 by debritz

February 27, 2012

Posted February 28th, 2012 by debritz

February 26, 2012

Posted February 26th, 2012 by debritz

97.3 tops Brisbane radio ratings

Posted February 23rd, 2012 by debritz

97.3FM bolted away from the pack to led the field overall in the first official 2012 Nielsen radio ratings for Brisbane, ahead of 612 ABC, which picked up audience in all daylight shifts and convincingly won breakfast.

The ARN-owned 97.3 scored more than 14pc of the available audience, followed by 612 on almost 11pc, then Nova 106.9 (10.5), B105 (10.2) and Triple M (9.4). Then followed 4BC, 4KQ, Triple J and 4BH.

In the important breakfast market, Spencer Howson at ABC 612 won a whopping 15.1pc audience share, followed by 97.3's Robin Bailey, Terry Hansen and Bob Gallagher on 12.9pc, Nova's new blokey breakfast with Kip Wightman, Ash Bradnam and David "Luttsy" Lutteral on 10pc and B105's Labby, Stav Davidson and Abby Coleman on 9.7. They were followed by Triple M (which lost audience across the day), 4KQ, 4BC, Triple J and 4BH.

The combination of cricket and a new line-up saw 612ABC raise its audience in all shifts except evenings, where there was a small decline. 97.3 had huge gains across the day.

In Sydney, Kyle Sandilands and Jackie O's 2Day show dropped 1.1 points but was still the dominant commercial breakfast performer. It was soundly beaten by 2GB's Alan Jones and 702 ABC's Adam Spencer.

2Day, along with FoxFm in Melbourne, also dramatically lost share in its target 18-24 year old market (down from 20.3pc to 15.4 for 2Day) and in 25-39s. This is not good news for parent company Southern Cross Austereo, which has already taken a huge hit from an advertising boycott spurred by Sandilands' offensive on-air remarks about a female journalist last year.

That share of the young audience has directly transferred to 2Day's arch-rival Nova 969, although the breakfast audience seems to have gone to Triple J.

SC Austereo's Melbourne station FoxFM also had a poor survey. Both it and 2Day lost audience in the Drive shift to Nova's Meshel Laurie, Marty Sheargold and Tim Blackwell, but still managed to stay ahead of the commercial FM pack. In Brisbane, Nova lost Drive audience but still remained ahead of B105 and Triple M. 97.3FM won the Drive shift

Disclosure: Brett Debritz was a guest on two 612ABC panels during the ratings period.

February 16, 2012

Posted February 16th, 2012 by debritz

South Bank.

The blue liquid is dangerous for Barbies.

February 8, 2012

Posted February 9th, 2012 by debritz

January 29, 2012

Posted January 29th, 2012 by debritz

Spencer's at South Bank

Posted January 27th, 2012 by debritz

ABC Radio has its first permanent home in Brisbane in five years. 612ABC's top-rating breakfast host Spencer Howson (pictured, above, on the ABC webcam) was the first voice to be heard from the new South Bank studios this morning, when his guests included Brisbane Lord Mayor Graham Quirk (below).

Along with other ABC employees, 612, Radio National, News Radio and Triple J staff abandoned the broadcaster's long-time Coronation Drive, Toowong site after the discovery of a "cancer cluster". The local radio staff have spent the past five years in temporary premises at Lissner Street in Toowong, while other ABC employees have been working from different sites in Toowong and on Mt Coot-tha.

You can listen to 612, and see images from the webcam, here.

Update: Howson also welcomed to the new studio veteran ABC announcer Russ Tyson (below, right), and his colleagues Phil Smith, Tim Cox and Kelly Higgins-Devine.

End of a (brief) era

Posted January 24th, 2012 by debritz

The webcam at the 612 ABC Brisbane's temporary studio in Lissner Street, Toowong, has captured images of its own demise. This series of snapshots appears to culminate with a worker reaching towards the camera to take it down:

612 ABC staff, who have been at Lissner Street for five years, are moving into the new purpose-built State ABC headquarters in South Bank this week.

First to air from the new permanent studio overlooking the Brisbane River will be breakfast host Spencer Howson on Friday morning. Howson will broadcast from the ABC's Sunshine Coast studios on Wednesday morning, and take Australia Day off.

January 18, 2012

Posted January 18th, 2012 by debritz

Shrine of Remembrance, Anzac Square, Brisbane CBD.

Camilla: Wrong place, wrong time?

Posted January 18th, 2012 by debritz

It's always easy to be wise after the event, and I guess there's been a lot of learned discussion inside and outside Nova 106.9 about the events that led to the sacking of Camilla Severi from the station's breakfast program earlier this week.

One of the reasons given in the past few days is that Nova's audience did not warm to Severi. Interestingly, Nova knew that would be the case back in August after they'd poached her from rival station B105.

How do I know they knew? Because I took a snapshot of the comments stream Nova was publishing on its own website back then (see beow).

I wondered at the time why Nova published all this negativity, and I wondered then -- as I do now -- how come Nova didn't know that Severi was not a good fit for their audience before they poached her. This could have been discovered by doing some simple research among their listeners about attitudes to various on-air personalities.

Those into conspiracy theories might suggest, as somebody did on Twitter, that hiring Severi was not designed to help Nova but to hurt B105. But if that's the case, why was she on air for the second half of last year and why, as late as last week, was she being promoted as being one of Nova's 2012 breakfast team? And who intervened to stop her going to air on Monday?

It's a very unfortunate set of circumstances for Nova, and especially so for Severi, whose only "crime" was that she was, apparently, the wrong person for that particular job all along.

Camilla: What happened?

Posted January 17th, 2012 by debritz

Just eight days ago, I predicted that the Brisbane radio sackings were not over and that another breakfast team would be shown the door.

Yesterday, Camilla Severi did not appear on the re-tooled Nova 106.9 breakfast show, and I was the first to report speculation that she was leaving the station. Today, her departure has been confirmed, and the station was quick to change the branding for the show (see above).

Severi will apparently fill another role with the DMG network, although exactly what that is has not been announced. Her departure, in the first week of the all-important ratings survey period, presumably creates an opening at Nova (it seems unlikley that they would stick with an all-male line-up).

Many pundits will have plenty to say on who will (or should) get that job. Already, 612ABC pot-stirrer Spencer Howson is putting forward the names of Lisa Kingsberry (from ABC Mt Isa), Natalie Bochenski (4BC news), Katie Clift (96.5FM) and Kat Davidson (sometime ABC announcer/producer, standup comic and wife of B105's Stav Davidson, which would make things really interesting.)

I'll throw in the possibility of a return by Meshel Laurie (perhaps on landline from Melbourne, where she hosts the national Nova drive show, maybe on a "guest" basis for, say, the 7-8am morning prime time until a permanent replacement is found), thus completing the return of the successful original Nova 106.9 line-up.

The question at hand now is: What happened that caused this parting of the ways and undid a strategy that began in the middle of last year when Nova lured Severi away from rival B105?

Without knowing the details, I feel sorry for Severi, given that her amazing career trajectory, from Big Brother "turkey-slapping" victim to radio star, to subject of a bidding war between networks, all happened at such a relatively fast pace and a young age. I hope she can and does bounce back from this.

Rival radio industry sources have suggested Severi had some personal "issues", which I'm not going to speculate on. Perhaps more to the point is that the stakes are high, and no station can afford to start the year with anything but their strongest team committed to winning at all costs.

A long day in radio

Posted January 17th, 2012 by debritz

Update Camilla Severi is reportedly leaving the Nova 106.9 breakfast show by "mutual decision" but will remain with the Nova network in a new role to be announced in coming weeks.

The station issued this statement this morning: "Nova 106.9 and Camilla Severi have made the mutual decision to move her out of the breakfast show.". (Courier-Mail report here.)

There were fireworks on the first weekday of the official 2012 radio ratings survey yesterday.

As reported exclusively here, Camilla Severi was a no-show at Brisbane's Nova 106.9 (I'm still trying to get to the bottom of that, there's been no response from Nova either in Brisbane or from HQ).

Meanwhile, Queensland's Deputy Premier Andrew Fraser (@AndrewFraserMP) took to Twitter to lash 612ABC's mornings announcer Steve Austin over what he dubbed "conspiracy theories" aired regarding the State Government's involvement with a sand-mining company. Fraser also quit his spot on 612ABC's weekly political panel.

And Sydney's 2Day FM Kyle and Jackie O breakfast show briefly had a new sponsor, until public pressure forced them to pull out within 24 hours. Early in the day, weight-loss company Jenny Craig was saying it "doesn't judge" people, including the controversy-proned Kyle Sandilands.

However, the company changed its tune after its Facebook page was bombarded with protests about Sandilands, who late last year called a journalist who reported on poor reaction to his TV special a "fat slag".

Complainants also pointed out to Jenny Craig's US-based parent company that Sandilands had previously made a comment linking former JC ambassador Magda Szubanski to a concentration-camp victim.

I knew Australian radio would be interesting this year, but I didn't realise things would get off to such a fiery start.

Run for your wife

Posted January 17th, 2012 by debritz

How blokey does Triple M's relative new Grill Team want to be? Enough to folow the lead of the good folk of Sonkajärvi, Finland, who since 1992 have been conducting annual Wife Carrying Championships.

Brisbane men have been challenged to step up to the plate, with their wives on their backs, at the Queensland Government’s 2012 Australia Day Festival being held at the Parklands, South Bank from 10am on Thursday, January 26.

The winners will get to represent their state at the Finnish festival in July.

The Grill Team's Pete Timbs says: "It’s the only time you will ever want your beloved to not get off your back.”

Get it? Details here.

Where's Camilla?

Posted January 16th, 2012 by debritz

Brisbane's radio rumour mill went into overdrive this morning when, on the first week day of the 2012 rating survey, Nova 106.9 star Camilla Severi was a no-show.

Nova manager Sean Ryan is overseas and the station spokesperson was not available, but a source from another broadcaster said they believed Severi had left.

Nova breakfast co-host Ash Bradnam told me he had heard nothing about Severi leaving the station and simply believed she was ill.

Bradnam welcomed the return to the show of original anchor Kip Wightman, saying working together again was "like putting on an old sock".

Update: As of midday, no content from the Monday breakfast show had been posted on the station's website, although a logo prominently displaying Wightman's name (above) appeared on the breakfast page without an accompanying photograph.

January 13, 2012

Posted January 13th, 2012 by debritz

An ibis in the Brisbane CBD.

My friend Douglas in a contemplative mood.

Brisbane radio in 2012

Posted January 9th, 2012 by debritz

Is Brisbane just a branch office, or is there serious money to be made here with the right kind of investment?

That's a question many businesses have been asking over the years, and the media is no exception. Sadly, we've lost a few players in the market over the past decade or two, especially when it comes to newspapers (down from three Brisbane dailies and two Sunday papers in the mid-1980s to one of each now) and our television stations are producing less and less local content (with, it must be said, some notable exceptions, but it's still a far cry from the 1960s and 70s, when Brisbane TV screened local variety shows, panel games, children's shows and current affairs programs).

So what about radio? Will it remain a bastion of localism, or will networking continue to encroach on precious airtime in the cause of cutting costs? Sadly, the early signs for 2012 are not good for those who like it live and local.

The local graveyard shift is pretty much a thing of the past. Overnight shows are either networked or voice-tracked: i.e. the talking bits are pre-recorded during the day and the program is compiled and broadcast by a computer. Even at 612ABC, the local announcer goes home at 10pm, meaning that, when you add in the networked current-affairs content, more than a third of total weekday airtime is broadcast from interstate. On weekends, only the breakfast show and news come from Brisbane. With one or two exceptions -- notably 4BC -- commercial radio stations in the River City pretty much turn out the lights at 6 or 7pm.

The good news is that, when it is local, it's competitive -- and no more so in 2011, when five stations were battling it out for overall ratings supremacy. It's a far cry from the 1980s when first FM104/ Triple M and then B105 were the bolters, and every other station was an also-ran. Competition is strong, and that can only be good news for listeners.

With all that in mind, here are my predictions for Brisbane radio in 2012, first my six best guesses, then predictions by network:

1. The axings are not over; everybody is on notice.

2. Another breakfast team to be shown the door by the end of the year.

3. Expect some lightning raids from southern bosses implementing strategies that might please the accountants but not benefit Brisbane audiences.

4. The likelihood of at least one station changing hands.

5. Crowding at the top of the ratings ladder will continue, but one station will make a break from the pack by year's end.

6. There will be far too much talk about babies on stations that ought to be pitched elsewhere.


612 ABC breakfast host Spencer Howson to continue to do well in the numbers game. As the commercials try to poach each other's younger audiences, he'll be king of the 50-pluses. Howson will remain No. 1 in breakfast at least until the commercial stations sort themselves out.

All eyes will be on Steve Austin, who has just reclaimed the morning current-affairs slot. Ratings should be healthy, especially in the lead-up to and aftermath of the state election.

Tim Cox, although largely unknown to Brisbane audiences, should be able to maintain, and perhaps build, Aunty's audience in drive, while Kelly Higgins-Devine will bring some new energy to the problematic afternoon shift (common wisdom is that people suffer "talk fatigue" after lunch and either switch off or switch over to music stations). Rebecca Levingston (pictured) is likely to bring a different approach to evenings, but I don't think anybody will expect her to better the huge ratings Austin has built up in the timeslot over many years.

Radio National fans will be very vocal if the line-up changes this year don't pan out well, but Triple J, which has been known to out-rate some of the commercial stations in Brisbane, seems set for another big year. If the programmers get the music mix right, it will continue to be the station of choice for younger listeners who don't like intrusive advertising, being treated as idiots or being taken for granted (yes, I'm looking at you, commercial FM).

Austereo (B105 and Triple M)

Southern Cross-Austereo spends up big to maintain its audience, but it's no longer the sure-fire cashcow it used to be. For the all-important female market, B105 faces strong challenges from Nova 106.9 and 97.3FM (which aims a little older).

The focus will be on whether the addition of Abby Coleman has sufficiently freshened-up the breakfast show or whether further surgery is needed. The one-time new kids on the block, Jason "Labby" Hawkins and Stav Davidson, will have to work hard to keep their show

Triple M pretty much has the blokes to itself, but there aren't as many advertising dollars in that market. As it proved with its axing of The Cage last year, Austereo is no longer shy about making dramatic moves, even mid-race, and maybe one or two more changes are just around the corner.

Australian Radio Network (4KQ and 97.3FM)

In my books, the biggest threat to the resurgent 97.3FM (co-owned by DMG) comes not from the other stations, but from within.

ARN has already shown disturbing signs of tinkering with the local formula that has made 97.3FM more successful than its sister Mix stations in Sydney and Melbourne. The breakfast team of Terry Hansen, Robin Bailey and Bob Gallagher (pictured above) is very competitive.

Memo to HQ: it ain't broke, and heavy handed interference won't fix it, especially if SC Austereo decides to pitch B105 older and go after your audience.

Meanwhile, 4KQ needs to keep an eye on what 4BH does music-wise. There are at least two distinct audiences there, because not everybody over 40 likes the same music. And, despite the focus on youth at the commercial FM market, there's money to be made from people who actually listen to, and act on, advertising.

Fairfax Radio (4BC and 4BH)

The product is pretty good, but the audience isn't there in the numbers Fairfax would like like. Still, 4BC consistently wins awards for advertising sales and is a very sound business (no joke intended). The challenge will be to find a way to break through the single-digit barrier.

As I've said before, there is no reason why commercial talk can't do as well in Brisbane as it does elsewhere. The big question will be whether to stick with the current line-up and try to build, or to try something new and risk alienating new listeners. That decision will most likley be made at HQ, not in Brisbane.

I think we'll see on-air changes, but I'm not convinced it will be for the better -- unless they find the elusive "Brisbane Alan Jones", whoever that may be.

4BH operates efficiently and complements its sister station by playing music for those "oldies" who don't like talk radio. They both face a challenge from 612ABC for audience, but not for advertisers' dollars, so the real "enemy" is 4KQ. (See above.)

DMG (Nova 106.9)

Nova is in a take-no-prisoners battle with 97.3FM and B105 for the younger female audience. There are actually two audiences -- late teens and twenty-somethings, and the late-twenties and thirties -- but the lines seem to have been blurred lately as each station struggles for every listener it can get.

The return of orignal anchor Kip Wightman (pictured above) to the breakfast show may mean some extra oomph, but the music mix -- which has become much more like the Austereo offering in recent years (thus benefitting Triple J, which is the destination of choice for new-music lovers) -- will be critical.

The new national drive show, featuring former Brisbane breakfasters Meshel Laurie, Marty Sheargold and Tim Blackwell, will come under close scrutiny. It's doing OK in Brisbane, but hasn't kicked-in yet in Sydney and Melbourne, and success there is crucial.

Photos: ABC, ARN

PS: My more general Australian radio predictions are here.

January 1, 2012

Posted January 1st, 2012 by debritz

The year started here. This is the less attractive rear view of Brisbane's iconic Breakfast Creek Hotel, plus my lunch. I went there with family members to celebrate my brother-in-law's birthday. Yes, he was born on New Year's Day, and his daughter was born on Boxing Day.

Beggin the Begguine

Posted December 24th, 2011 by debritz

Proofreaders wanted. Beginners welcome.

Wait Wait ... it's Brisbane

Posted December 19th, 2011 by debritz

Brisbane is officially on the radar of one of America's most popular syndicated radio shows and podcasts. The Queensland capital was mentioned in a question on the "Not My Job" section of the National Public Radio news quiz Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me!

After also exhibiting some knowledge of cricket, the contestant, Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron, correctly answered that Brisbane is the home to the world championships in cockroach races.

The question also gave Wait Wait host Peter Sagal the opportunity to make a joke about the drinking habits of the crowd for the event.

No doubt McCarron, Sagal, judge Carl Kasell and the Wait Wait panel would be welcome guests if they decide to pop in for the races at the Story Bridge Hotel, Kangaroo Point, on Australia Day.

Audio of the segment is here.

Regent's state of origin

Posted December 15th, 2011 by debritz

The Showcase cinema at the Brisbane Regent was denied heritage listing because it was deemed to lack "original" features.

However, during the demolition of the cinema to make way for an office tower, it's been revealed that much of the fabric WAS original.

The Brisbane Times has the story here.

Jennifer Flowers wins Glugs' award

Posted December 14th, 2011 by debritz

Popular Brisbane-based actor and director Jennifer Flowers was yesterday named the winner of the annual Chief Glug's Award for excellence in theatre.

Flowers, who will be directing the Queensland Theatre Company's production of Romeo and Juliet next year, has been a fixture on the Brisbane and interstate stage for the past three decades.

The award is presented by the Glugs of Gosh, a group of theatre lovers who have met monthly for the past 21 years.

Flowers is pictured at the Kookaburra Cafe in Paddington with Michael Balk, representing the Queensland Actors' and Entertainer's Benevolent Fund, which received a donation from the Glugs.

Fun and trains

Posted December 14th, 2011 by debritz

The 10.03pm train from Brisbane Central to Ferny Grove was almost five minutes late. It was no big deal, especially since Queensland Rail put on some entertainment.

Passengers were kept scrambling from platform 3 to platform 4 as the audio announcements and the station monitors gave conflicting information about when and where the service would arrive.

Highlights included announcing the train was "now" at platform 3 two-and-a-half minutes before it actually showed up, and many passengers getting on the wrong train because the station signage conflicted with the train's destination board.

I took these photos to keep myself amused. Notice how the platform number and due times change:

Australia's loss, Aunty's win

Posted December 13th, 2011 by debritz

The bosses at 612ABC Brisbane were saved from making a difficult decision yesterday, thanks to the poor performance of the Australian cricket team.

The hapless boys in baggy green were bundled out just as news broke of Premier Anna Bligh's decision to split up the mammoth Queensland Health department following a string of scandals.

The early end of the cricket meant a return to local programming, enabling full coverage of the unfolding political drama (- following a scramble back to the studio by ABC staffers who were soberly celebrating the Christmas season at the Royal Exchange Hotel in Toowong along with Spencer Howson, Kelly Higgins-Devine and a group of their on-air contributors and Twitter friends.

Had the cricket not ended early, though, somebody would have been faced with a very difficult decision as to whether, or to what extent, to pre-empt a cliffhanger sporting event for a big local news story.

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