Our feathered friend is back – fighting for his crown
It’s Latin.  Bird watchers need to know Latin so we can identify a
rara avis when we see one, but for those of you who didn’t attend one
of the posher private schools or don’t follow Archbishop Marcel
Lefebvre, the phrase is part of an exclamatory prayer used at the
installation of the Popes.  

Sic transit gloria mundi,” it goes.  So glory of this world passes away.  As our very own Gloria learned last year.

The Parrot’s own website still tells how
“At the start of 2002, in one of Australian media’s greatest coups, 2GB
secured the services of Australia’s most successful broadcaster – Alan
Jones.  In an undisclosed deal over 7 years, Jones began
broadcasting at 2GB on March 4 at 5.30 am.”  It boasts how “After
just two surveys this year, Jones is already number one in breakfast
radio.

That was then but this is now.  Gloria’s minions really shouldn’t
keep a two-year-old web page up – particularly given that in the last
ratings for last year, our feathered friend got beaten by… the ABC!

Sic transit gloria, indeed.

Everybody has a theory about how this happened.  We think a
significant chunk of the Parrot’s audience simply died off as the
warmer weather came along.  They’re pretty old, after all.

Other people say Sydneysiders preferred waking up to Angela Catterns’
soothing hippychick tones rather than the Parrot’s raucous squawks.

Whatever.  Come Monday, we’ll be dealing with the consequences, as
rather than letting the Parrot fly free until after the Australia Day
long weekend, Singo and his management will have shoved him back in his
cage – because that’s when the new ratings season begins. 
Catterns won’t be back until the end of the month – but Singo and the
suits want their investment paying off.

We gather he isn’t impressed.  Indeed, the Sydney Morning Herald
reported that the decision “wasn’t greeted with unbridled enthusiasm”.

However, look what’s riding on it.  Here’s how the paper summed up the talk wars back at the end of December:

“It appeared to be game, set and match to 2GB at the start of 2003. The
Alan Jones-powered station headed to the top of the Sydney radio
market, with 2UE in ninth position. Jones held a 17 per cent share of
the breakfast audience, compared with his replacement at 2UE, Steve
Price, who held 6 per cent.

“During the next few months, Price clawed his way back, but it wasn’t
enough. His breakfast figures were affecting the rest of 2UE’s
presenters, including John Laws. By August, Laws’ former understudy Ray
Hadley, now at 2GB, appeared to have gained supremacy over Laws in the
morning slot. 2UE had already lost millions of dollars in advertising
since Jones’s switch to 2GB.

“In September, management at 2UE shifted drive-host Mike Carlton into
breakfast. Price was relegated to drive. The next ratings showed a
slight increase for 2UE. Laws signed up for another eight years. But
the boost to 2UE’s morale was short-lived. Boss Tony Bell agreed to a
partial merger with 2GB to save money for both stations. Alan Jones
told his 2GB colleagues that 2UE was flying the white flag. A week
later, Bell called off the deal. Staff at 2UE were euphoric but within
hours the station faced another hurdle – a possible $1 million fine
next year over Laws’ failure to disclose properly his sponsorship
arrangements. By year’s end, 2GB was still in front but Jones’s
breakfast lead had shrunk to a 12.7 per cent share, in second place
behind the ABC’s Angela Catterns.

“Carlton finished on nearly 10 per cent, which gave Laws the boost he
needed to reclaim the morning leadership: not a bad way to round off 50
years in radio.
Only one ratings point now separates the two stations – that’s how
volatile the Sydney market has become and how few certainties there
will be next year.”

Indeed.  The Herald says that Macquarie “forks out a combined $6 million a year to broadcasters Alan Jones and Ray Hadley”.

That’s a lot of seed for the Parrot.  How will Singo find it if the ratings falls further?

We’re about to find out.  One final quote from the Herald, from
the week after that last ratings shock, explains what we can now expect:

“It was clear when Nova entered the market with a new FM licence and
Alan Jones and Ray Hadley went from top talk station 2UE to also-ran
2GB that the longstanding pecking order was about to get a shake-up.
Pre-Nova, 2Day FM and 2UE took turns winning each survey, usually with
an audience share in the mid-teens

“Compare that with last week’s result, where no station managed to
attract 10 per cent of the audience. The top five stations were all
squeezed between 8.8 and 9.8 per cent.

“It’s an open field next year, with 2Day, 2GB, 702 ABC, Nova and 2UE
neck and neck, and Mix and WS not far behind. Outright victory will go
to the station with the strongest breakfast show. Nova’s Merrick and
Rosso will try to correct last week’s unexpected hiccup in their climb
to the top; 2Day will be vulnerable as it beds in a new show with
Judith Lucy, Kaz Cooke and Peter Helliar.

“Jones can rightly argue that he dominated his slot again this year,
except for the last survey. Psychologically, though, it means he starts
next year in second place, knowing 702’s Angela Catterns built her
audience solidly throughout this year and her slender win last week may
be a trend rather than an aberration. He must also feel at least
slightly uneasy that 2UE’s Mike Carlton is also on an upward trend, and
uncomfortably close.

“If Carlton and Catterns can hold the bulk of their current audience
through next year, it will bring Jones back to the field permanently.
2GB needs Jones to deliver big numbers in breakfast to have any chance
of becoming market leader. 2UE, on the other hand, only needs Carlton
to deliver enough of the audience to Laws at 9am to stay within reach
of 2GB.

“Sydney radio captures about 8 per cent of the national advertising
dollar – $191 million last financial year – split between 10 commercial
stations. With another new FM station joining the fray next year, the
pie will shrink further. Adding to the pressure, the ABC has cornered a
large section of the audience, which translates into lost revenue for
the commercial operators. Managers face a delicate juggling act to keep
the bottom line healthy. Talk about survival of the fittest.”

Or, if you like, sic transit gloria.

The Crikey Bird Watching Team can be contacted at [email protected]

Peter Fray

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