Dear Radio: Breakfast on the go — analysing the lineup changes
by Paulo Dias (@therealptp) Nothing shakes up a radio station more than a lineup change and, when that lineup change includes breakfast shows, you’re looking at one of the riskiest and most-reluctant moves a station manager may make.
Changing breakfast landscape
The breakfast landscape, certainly in a Gauteng context, has undergone, or is due to undergo, major changes in 2017 and it’s no doubt that these changes are going to affect where stations such as 947, METRO FM, 702 and Jacaranda 94.FM end up.
First, however, why is a breakfast show host so important? I’m willing to bet you know who the host on your preferred station’s breakfast show is but, unless you’re a super-listener, you would battle to name who fills the noon–3pm slot. Just like grabbing your phone as you wake up, your morning cup of coffee, packing lunchboxes and dodging traffic cones at school drop-off, spending a few minutes in the company of your station’s breakfast team is a daily ritual.
According to BRC RAMS, we’re listening to an average of 30 minutes of radio every weekday morning — which is a lot of time to spend in the company of anyone, let alone a radio personality. So it’s safe to say we have a connection to breakfast-show hosts unlike any we have with personalities in other media.
For a radio station, appointing and then moving or losing a breakfast-show host causes chaos through the business.
For commercial stations, the first to blink are clients and sponsors. The majority of stations’ revenue sits in their breakfast shows, with lengthy sponsorship deals signed based on the stability of breakfast presenters and their audiences. And that’s the next party who gets uneasy — the listener. No matter who is coming in, there’ll be a backlash simply because it’s not the other person.
Memories are very short in radio. Listeners tend to forget how upset they were when their current favourite came in and how long they took to warm to him or her, simply because — she or he wasn’t the previous host.
So how do you narrow the risk of not being like the old one?
Appoint a new gal — or in 947’s case — the rising star of South African media, Anele Mdoda.
She was pre-ordained as a breakfast-show host the second she turned on her mic in whatever overnight slot she found herself in when she first arrived at 947. A few gap years away at “5”’ helped her master her craft and, ever since she returned to 947, the question has been “when will she get breakfast?”, rather than “will she get breakfast?”
That’s not meant as any disrespect to Darren “Whackhead” Simpson, who took on the most-difficult mantle in SA radio at the time, and probably at any time in recent radio history, replacing Jeremy Mansfield. The move was risky — taking a sidekick, with no sustained history of carrying a show by himself to replace a juggernaut of unprecedented commercial and programing success. To his credit, Simpson won out in the end with similar success and, while his advertisers and listeners were not Mansfield’s advertisers and listeners, he’ll take a loyal fanbase to his new drive slot with him and may be proud of the job he’s done.
My prediction on this one is that Mdoda is going to herald a golden age for 947, as there is no-one more tuned in to capture the mood of young and vibrant listeners in Joburg as we head towards the end of the decade.
I’m not sure about normal human reaction to it, but the now-sentient internet certainly had a field day when, after 22 years, Glen Lewis announced his move from METRO FM to Touch HD. The move had been rumoured for a while and is one that gives growing credibility to online SA stations and shows how serious Tbo Touch is about leading the revolution.
It left Metro with a big decision to make; hosts of a national breakfast shows need to be in total command of their craft, their audience and, as with any good club DJ, be able to switch the mood on and off from high to higher every single morning. It’s a really tricky job running a national breakfast show, due to the range of scenarios being lived through and variety of people you’re talking to.
The appointment was crucial: the wrong one would cement the uncertainty around METRO’s audience and add to the controversy and drama that pops up around their name every now and again. So moving DJ Fresh across from 5FM is the logical choice. The big man has been ready for the move for years, and he’ll get even better and gain an even bigger audience — the shrewd, positive business move needed to hold off the threat that a 947-Mdoda-lead poses and, for now, this keeps METRO at no. 1.
Moving over to talk radio, listening to 702 right now is to experience a whole new station. Gone are the Parkhurst callers bemoaning the influx of ants in their flower beds; we’re now treated to vibrant, inclusive millennial viewpoints, with new presenters offering real light and shade on any topic.
Effortlessly taken over
This has been led by Xolani Gwala, who has effortlessly taken over the reins from John Robbie and hasn’t had one tricky patch since he’s been on 702 breakfast full-time. Audiences have responded to him and the way he grills under-delivering public servants should warm even Robbie’s heart.
That the move has gone so smoothly shows that, when a station makes the right move at the right time, everyone knows it and it just works on air.
Finding the right person at the right time has proven to be an issue on Jacaranda. Rian van Heerden announced in July last year he’d be hanging up the headphones, only to reverse the decision recently and stay on for another three months. I think it’s a good move. With so much uncertainty and flux due to hit its competitors, a bit of stability will put it in a good position in the minds of advertisers and straggling audiences.
In radio, breakfast is big business and, in more-saturated and -competitive markets than ours, a wrong move with your breakfast show may sink your whole station. While most of our stations could probably survive the hit, there just aren’t more people listening to radio — the audience is what it is — so they’re all fighting for the same ears and trying to convince them over to their side.
Paulo Dias (@therealptp) is the head of creative integration at Ultimate Media. He works closely with the programming teams at leading radio stations to help implement commercial messaging into their existing formats. He contributes the regular column, “Dear Radio”, looking at the changing radio landscape in South Africa, to MarkLives.com