Is conservative talkback the only kind?

Talk radio people, it seems, have been brought up to believe that right wing shock jocks are the only means of engaging people. Tell people what to think, or say something controversial just to get a rise out of them. Fortunately, most of us are not so stupid as to fall for it.

mainstream Australia doesn’t think like Alan Jones

Once again this week 2GB, the home of right wing shock-jocks, won the radio ratings. A big win for conservatism? Not really. They hold a 13.5% share of the audience. That’s like saying the Greens won the last election. 2GB might be the most listened to radio station in Sydney, but most people don’t listen to them.

Those that do, obviously enjoy the forthright opinions which tend to revolve around boat people, foreigners and Australia’s (apparently) massive debt. Don’t expect to hear any talk of immigration push factors, the benefits of multiculturalism or how austerity measures could burst our (much larger) private debt bubble.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of controversy to get a discussion going. We’ve all done it. We’ve all said something in the pub that we know will provoke a response. It’s the same with shock jocks wanting to get talkback callers. The more outrageous the better.

That’s fine, so long as it kicks off a conversation with a bit of depth. Sadly, it never does. Instead it becomes the repetitive rant of the host, usually peddling shallow opinions based on the flimsiest of evidence. They never dare to delve deep on an issue because there’s always the danger that their opinion will become unsustainable when the spotlight is put on facts – the enemy of the shock jock.

Yet the continual fall from grace of talkback station 2UE has the conservation mob blaming it all on the lefties. Jason Morrison and Paul Murray are the only two right wingers left there. A letter to industry site radioinfo.com.au from an alleged disgruntled employee harks back to the glory days of Alan Jones. The anonymous writer blames the left wing Fairfax papers (the owners) for the station’s demise.

Oh, if only they could shift back to the right the listeners would come flooding back. But would they? You can’t go any further right than Alan Jones without falling off the perch – which many of his listeners are due to do any day now.

And whilst 420,000 Sydneysiders tune in to Alan at some point during the week, the other 89% of the population don’t go anywhere near him. Being more Alan then Alan will only share his flock of disciples amongst the two stations.

For radio planners, that means the rest of the population is up for grabs. And the mainstream of Australia doesn’t think like Alan Jones. Programmers and politicians all seem to be confused on that point. 

And what do those who can’t stand Jones listen to? Well, the ABC702 breakfast reaches more people than he does, but because they don’t listen for as long Jones wins on overall share of total time spent listening. Still, 702’s influence is broader, the audience is younger and, I suspect, the intellect a lot sharper. Imagine if you could get these people listening to ads.

So, if Alan Jones has grabbed the tea-party audience, what’s left for 2UE?

They are not losing audience because they don’t have shock jocks. They do. Jason Morrison is Alan Jones in short pants and he gets a smaller audience than their breakfast crew.

I think the issue is they don’t have the depth. The breakfast show now attracts the same number of listeners as Radio National, despite having the local advantage. 30,000 people turned off the 2UE breakfast show since the last survey and music stations like WSFM and ABC’s News Radio seem to be picking them up.

Again, that surely shows, it’s not a question of how right you can go. It’s how smart can you be. So please, radio programmers, leave Alan out of the equation. Let him talk to his clan. For the rest of us, let’s be entertaining, incisive and witty. I can start on Monday.

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