New snap and crackle in breakfast radio

Santa has already sent my Christmas present, and I confess to taking a sneak peep. I can’t wait to fully unwrap the 2022 Breakfast Battle Royal.

Before we have vacuumed the sand out of the car and packed away the folding chairs, New Zealand broadcasters will be hard at work finessing the line-ups they offer in the most hotly contested and crowded part of the market.

It is the space where not only do the two broadcast television networks fight each other for audience but must also compete with radio stations that are determined to hook morning listeners before they start their commute to work. And, somewhere in that mix, newspaper publishers and news sites also are vying for eyeballs.

The early morning market has been a reasonably settled environment, with each programme winning or losing listeners but maintaining essentially the same offering year on year.

That began to change in August when Duncan Garner, long-time host of TV3’s AM Show announced he was leaving the network with immediate effect. Enter MediaWorks’ drivetime host Ryan Bridge, who had been fill-in host on the show.

However, that was only the beginning. Relatively new owner Discovery had plans for the early morning programme and no sooner had it confirmed Bridge as the permanent host than it revealed that the remaining parts of the original trio would also depart of the end of the year. The AM Show will begin the year without what I’ve always regarded as two of its strongest assets – sportscaster Mark Richardson and newsreader Amanda Gillies. In their place will be a quartet: Bridge, Melissa Chan-Green, Bernadine Oliver-Kirby and William Waiirua. And there will be an earlier start, with Oliver-Kirby kicking things off at 5.30 a.m.

Discovery claims that the AM Show has been outpacing One’s Breakfast but the numbers trundled out have been one-sided, and I’m picking it cannot be by much of a margin. If it was streaking ahead, why would Discovery be effectively starting the new year with what looks like a new show? They would do what every broadcaster does with a winning show. They would stick with the tried and true.

I have to say they will need to do something special to draw me back. I have found Ryan Bridge’s approach is sometimes immature and his propensity for talking over those attempting to answer his questions is annoying.

By the same token, I find One’s Breakfast to be earnest, a little too politically correct, its multiple hosts a bit too jolly-hockey-sticks friendly, and the whole damned set is suffused with an ever-moving pink background.

You’ll be gathering by now that I am a little hard to please before my third cup of coffee.

I’ll pop back from time to time to see how each of them is faring but my morning focus in the new year will be firmly on radio because I think here is where the real Battle Royal will take place.

All ears will be on MediaWorks’ new talk offering Today FM, which will replace the underperforming and, some would say, ill-considered Magic Talk which languished on the AM band after freeing up FM frequencies for Magic Music.

MediaWorks has recruited a stellar line-up for the new network, including Duncan Garner, Rachel Smalley, Polly Gillespie, Lloyd Burr (TV3’s former European correspondent) and Mark Richardson. But the hire on which it has placed its highest bets is TV3 political editor Tova O’Brien.

O’Brien, who will be joined by former NewstalkZB staffer Mark Dye, will anchor the breakfast slot which, at long last, is being broken away from the AM Show simulcast that had almost forgotten it was also being broadcast on radio (see what I mean).

Her time in the Parliamentary Press Gallery has done three things: It has honed her journalistic skills, built up invaluable contacts, and made her a household name. She is a no-nonsense journalist who can hold her own with any interview subject and she has a sharp mind.

O’Brien can be the interviewing equal of Mike Hosking, and she will need to be. Hosking holds the breakfast slot in an iron grip, with a cumulative audience of 491,300 in the last survey of the year. I hesitate to even mention the Magic Talk audience because I see Today’s breakfast show as a start-up and not something that will build on the AM Show simulcast. However, for what it’s worth, it was pulling an audience of 77,600.

Hosking and Newstalk have probably been much more concerned about RNZ’s Morning Report to give Magic Talk more than a passing glance. The latest survey has seen a resurgence in the state broadcaster’s breakfast fortunes. After falling perilously close to 400,000 listeners in the third survey of the year, Morning Report bounced back to 426,7000 in the fourth.

I know the industry tutt-tutters warn against comparing the commercial and non-commercial surveys, but audience is audience: taking from one benefits another whether there is advertising involved or not.

If Tova (the show will bear her name) lives up to its potential, it could challenge either of the breakfast big-hitters.

Morning Report has been described as ‘woke’ by people who listen to the Mike Hosking Show but it certainly errs on the side of moral rectitude. Certainly, there is an upright seriousness to its tone which, with the unrelenting diet of bad news wrought by the Covid pandemic, can darken the morning mood. Even the instruction to hosts Susie Ferguson and Corin Dann to engage in a little light-hearted banter struggles to brighten things up. Should Tova offer an offering of solid journalism that is leavened a little, it may attract audience away from RNZ.

And, in spite of what might look like NewstalkZB’s divine right to rule the morning airways (going right back to Phil Shone and Merv Smith on 1ZB), Hosking is not invulnerable. First, there hasn’t been a genuinely strong three-way split in breakfast talk radio. It has been a two-way division between ZB and RNZ with others as also-rans. The dynamics of the overall audience could be substantially disrupted by a strong newcomer.

And Mike Hosking’s unrelenting criticism of the government may have its natural limits. As the unelected Leader of the Opposition, he will continue to attract die-hard opponents of the Government but a section of his audience tolerates his partisanship because it dislikes RNZ and listening to television on Magic Talk. Covid has played into his hand by generating legions of malcontents for whom his constant criticism is a clarion call. However, the pandemic will not last forever and the re-supply of booze and entertainment may warm away their winter of discontent.

MediaWorks has everything to win with Tova and the rest of its line up on Today FM. And it has a card that it has yet to play. Paul Henry is re-joining the organisation and his role has yet to be fully explained in the company’s artful drip-feeding of announcements about Today FM.

However, the company will need to hit the ground running in early 2022. Neither NewstalkZB nor RNZ will be behaving like sitting ducks. We can expect moves on their part of refresh and enhance their offering in the morning and across the day. Nor should we expect TVNZ’s Breakfast to wait complacently for the new AM Show to air on TV3.

Santa’s present should be a more vibrant line up from which to choose while you eat your muesli and I drink that third cup of coffee.

Farewell to an editor

The funeral of former New Zealand Herald editor Peter Scherer, who died on 17 October aged 84, was delayed by the Auckland Covid lockdown. It will be held this Sunday at 2 pm at the Auckland Memorial Park in Silverdale (https://aucklandmemorialpark.co.nz).

A fitting obituary by John Roughan was published in the Herald at the time of Peter’s death: https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/obituary-herald-editor-peter-scherer-a-gentleman-and-a-journalist-of-principle/467KYYP25WQAJ6XBQ7MK2KHW5Q/

One thought on “New snap and crackle in breakfast radio

  1. Fully agree that Mark and Amanda were the AM Show’s drawcard. Ryan Bridge is an ok interviewer but needed someone like Ingrid Hipkiss as co-host to keep him on track. With the addition of a weather presenter it is surely just going to be Breakfast 2.0 which is a shame. But Mediaworks must be very pleased, the Today FM line up would be no where near as solid without Garner & Richardson. What I heard of Lloyd on Magic talk I think they’d be better offering him a different position at the station… political editor perhaps?

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