The dying gasp of Fairfax’s radio adventure (apart from 3AW, which seems to have been an outlier) was exposed in 2015’s second national radio ratings data, released this morning. This morning’s ratings are the last before Macquarie took over and immediately set to work shaking things up.

For years now, ratings reports have charted the decline in the popularity of the main stations in Fairfax Radio, and its management’s inability to stop the rot. 2UE in Sydney has been sliding into irrelevance, 4BC in Brisbane is slowly vanishing from most listeners’ dials, and only 3AW in Melbourne is remaining solid, its powerful performance resisting the group’s Sydney-based management from stuffing it up.

Fairfax’s management ruined its radio play — and the latest ratings, like those for the past few years, make clear why the real radio managers were brought in from Macquarie. Jobs were slashed, costs cut and 4BC, the major drain, turned into a “slave” station to 2GB in Sydney, the main station in Macquarie Radio (which has to sell 2CH in the next six months).

It makes you wonder how Fairfax still managed to remain the dominant shareholder in the merged company after trashing so many stations over the years — the 50 or 60 job losses are directly attributable to the appalling management of Fairfax.

Today’s ratings showed 4BC still floundering down the bottom of Brisbane’s ratings — well behind two ABC stations (the local 612 and Triple J) and music stations such as Nova. There was a silver lining for sacked hosts Patrick Condren and Ian Skippen, who both had strong showings in the most recent ratings period, up 1.1% and 1% respectively on the last survey.

Their strong performances meant the station as a whole added 0.6% to give it a 4.6% share of Brisbane listeners. But it’s too little, too late. 4BC has been largely cleaned out as part of the Macquarie-Fairfax radio merger and is now airing a schedule heaving on content streamed up from 2GB in Sydney.

Industry observers say that the new merged Macquarie Radio entity would be foolish to muck around with Melbourne’s 3AW, and this morning’s release adds strength to that view. That talk station, previously managed by Fairfax Radio, commands a whopping 15.4% of Melbourne radio share.

No other station in any Australian city commands as strong a share of radio listeners — not even ratings high-flyer 2GB. And 3AW added to its audience in this rating’s period when it took listeners from almost every other Melbourne station, adding a 1.8% market share. 3AW gains included 2% for the breakfast slow, hosted by Ross and John, and  0.9% for Neil Mitchell’s Mornings slot.

Afternoons with Denis Walter added a 2.3% market share, Drive with Tom Elliot rose 1.9%, while Evenings slot rose a staggering 4.3%. Fairfax Radio’s other Melbourne station, Magic 1278, was steady on the previous ratings with a 4.4% market share. It’s also been cleaned out as part of the merger — all but one of its on-air presenters have been sacked.

Melbourne FM radio, a key ratings battleground this year, largely lost listeners. That’ll be a particular disappointment to Australian Radio Network, which rebranded its Mix station to KIIS this year in hopes of replicating the spectacular success it had in Sydney after poaching Kyle and Jackie O from 2DayFM last year.

This morning’s ratings are the first ones this year, which took place with the new regular hosts (March’s release partly covered a period when summer hosts helmed the shows). They show a disappointing result for the radio upstart. It lost 1% market share over the day, with the biggest weaknesses being its Breakfast and Mornings sessions, which went backwards 1.1% and 1.4% respectively.

Meanwhile, 2GB, the talkback ratings giant that appears to have been the primary beneficiary of the Macquarie-Fairfax merger, recorded a fall in ratings across many key segments. Alan Jones’ Breakfast slot lost 0.9% market share, while Afternoons with Chris Smith lost 1.4%. Ray Hadley’s Morning’s Program swam against the tide, adding 0.6% market share. The station lost 0.4% of listeners overall,  but these ratings fall slightly off a high base. It’s the most popular station in Sydney, with a 12.6% listener share.

The ABC’s two main talk stations, ABC 702 Sydney and 774 in Melbourne, had weak ratings in the second survey, with 702 suffering the biggest fall of the two, with its share falling 1.7 points, from 10% in the year’s first survey to 8.3%. Leading the fall was Richard Glover’s Drive show, which lost 1.9 points to 8.2% (it was 13.5% last August and riding high), while Breakfast’s Robbie Buck also took a hit, falling 1.3 points to 10.2%. Mornings with Linda Mottram also lost ground, down 2.0, as was evenings with Dom Knight.

In Melbourne, 774 recorded a dip of 0.6 to 10.5% in the latest ratings, with breakfast (Red Symons) losing a large 2.4 points to 14.2%. Mornings with Jon Faine recorded a smaller, 0.2 dip, and Afternoons lost 1.0. but Drive and Evenings both recorded gains of 1.0 and 1.1 respectively — a big contrast to the experience of 702 in Sydney.

Peter Fray

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