Why sack Derryn Hinch, Melbourne’s king of drive-time? For being too successful?

At a time when Fairfax Radio, like its parent Fairfax Media, needs every dollar of revenue, every reader and listener that it can get its hands on and hold, the management of 3AW, Fairfax’s AM talk station in Melbourne, has taken the novel approach of not renewing Derryn Hinch’s contract. 3AW management must think the decision will somehow improve the ratings and audience size for the station’s pre-evening slot.

So why sack him? It can’t be for bagging management over the employment of banned company director Steve Vizard. After all, 3AW general manager Shane Healy said last week he had no problem with his high-profile presenters publicly lashing out at management. The Herald Sun quoted him as saying: ‘”We employ them to have opinions and urge them to have opinions,” Mr Healy said. “Do I agree with Neil and Derryn in this case? No. Do I respect their opinions? Yes.”

No breach of Hinch’s contract was identified by management, so it must be for the ratings. Unfortunately for management that’s not an argument. Up to the end of survey No. 5 in Melbourne, Hinch was having a very good year, lifting both the share and audience numbers for the valuable radio slot and dominating the AM talk side of Drive.

Ratings figures from AC Neilson show Hinch boosted his share from the 10.9 that he got in the final survey of 2011 to a high of 13 in survey No. 4. That survey saw Hinch move past Fox FM (12.1 share) into the top slot in Drive. Survey No. 5 saw a small fall back to 12.6 but he was still the king of talk and Drive, with Fox FM edging up to 12.2.

Hinch also built the audience nicely in 2012. The cumulative figure (more valued in radio than the daily figures because it gives a more accurate figure over each week) for Hinch’s Drive slot finished 2011 on 340,000 people. It fell to 290,000 in the first survey of 2012, then built steadily. Survey No. 5, when his share dipped, saw his cumulative audience leap to 372,000 (the year’s high) from 340,000, or 80,000 more than in survey No. 1. He ranked lower in audience terms than in share, sitting around No. 5 and 6 in the slot.

The current ratings survey (No. 6 for the year) is almost over (the results are out on September 12), so the impact of Hinch’s departure won’t be known until survey No. 7 which will report in late October.

3AW is the most valuable asset in Fairfax’s faltering radio network. 4BC in Brisbane and 2UE in Sydney are ratings losers, especially the latter.