Bold Moves

Brad March is a former CEO of the Austereo Network.

Tough times call for tough calls to be made.

One of the toughest and boldest moves in radio this year has been DMG’s relaunch of the former Classic Rock stations to become ‘Smooth‘: a soft adult contemporary format.

Its the FOURTH format for the original Vega brands and this time they've got it right. Sometimes you need an evolution of a format and sometimes you need a revolution.

Smooth is a revolution.

Researchers and Strategists have known for a long time that there was a wide ‘gap‘ in the Sydney and Melbourne markets for a Soft A/C format.

Changing format and backing it with the right launch and marketing requires strong leadership and this is what I have seen from DMG this year.

In overseas markets Soft A/C formats are usually right up there with the market leaders. They generate strong ratings with a compelling demographic profile, and they deliver great revenue. There has been no dominant FM stations for at-home listening and this presents a great opportunity for Smooth.

In a discussion I had with Tom Owens, Head of Programming at Clear Channel - the world's biggest radio company, several years ago he said “if you are the only one doing Soft AC in a market it will mean rivers of gold (revenue)“

Of course the challenge for DMG will now be to adjust, execute and fine tune Smooth. The other great challenge will be to give the format enough time to gain traction in the market.

To quote one of the greatest and smartest leaders ever in US radio, Randy Michaels former CEO of Jacor Communications and Clear Channel, “Imagine how much time its going to take then double it“

The widely reported ratings forecast for Smooth within a year is really irrelevant, as DMG have built a brand and format that could be a market leader over the next 2-3 years and will be hard to topple.

It will be interesting to watch 2Day and Fox format adjustments, and even more interesting to watch how ARN deal with Smooth in Sydney and Melbourne. It is surprising ARN hadn't moved to this 'position' in the market some time ago. Up until now all Sydney and Melbourne FM's have pursued 'Pick me up' formats, and nobody wanted to do a 'relaxing' format.

DMG will have to remember that the 'relax' position and the 'mood' is actually more important than the music.

Maybe it is worth Southern Cross Austereo considering a bold move with a new format and brand name for Triple M Sydney if it doesn't start to deliver strong consistent ratings soon.

Although Triple M (as well as WS & Gold) should pick up a few disenfranchised Classic Rock listeners with the Smooth change.

Congratulations DMG on a bold move.

Good luck with Smooth.


Brad March is a former CEO of the Austereo Network.


Published on Wednesday, 30 May 2012 08:00

anonymous(7:51am 30 May 2012)
Brad for an article on boldness your observations are, in my opinion, and with the utmost respect, quite lame. Anyone reading this radio-specific site is well aware dmg needed to do something daring given the previous failures.
What would make required reading, from someone as well-regarded as you, would be a considered review of how quickly smoothfm will succeed given what you’ve heard from launch and sound to date - and what if anything you would have done differently?

That’s why I choose this site; detailed analysis from those in the know.
James Will - Smith(8:54am 30 May 2012)
This site has become the advertising arm for Smooth? How many more articles will there be telling us how great they'll be? We've had four or five saying the same thing already.
Anonymous(9:00am 30 May 2012)
You’re spot-on I think. I’m very interested to see how they’re going to tweak the music once it beds in. I certainly have my thoughts but I think they already very close to nailing it. Also nice to see a positive article on Radio Today!
Lee Cornell(9:10am 30 May 2012)
Hi Brad, Great points; and yes the gap has been there for this brand/format position in Australia for some time. It's an exciting proposition and long overdue. As I noted on Dan Bradley's earlier piece, and you note here; execution and getting the right "relax/mood" is essential. I really hope DMG keep SMOOTH on point and differentiate in this direction from the "usual" AC/Classic Hits mix, and on-air talent. "SMOOTH" in the U.S. is a very successful and different position and feel to these latter formats; and rates accordingly. In San Diego, 98.1 SMOOTH FM is a good example, consistently ranking in the top 8 in a 30 plus stations market. Latest PPM is a 4.3% Share/(6th)and 501,900 Cume/(8th); ahead of AC, Soft Rock, Classic Hits, and Adult Hits brands in market.
Song-hour lists have strong currency, are fairly heavy on female artists, the feel is cool, and the energy level is "relaxed" but compelling and engaging. The bland, tired, or predictable side of what often permeates "Soft AC" ETC is avoided; as are the imaging "land-mines" etc. on the successful U.S. brands.
SMOOTH Sydney/Melbourne have a great opportunity...
Glenn(9:36am 30 May 2012)
Sorry Brad, but I respectfully reject your opinion, this format is one of the 5 DMG had optioned to them prior to obtaining the 95.3 licence, put forward by supposed top radio programmers, yet all used have failed, the 3rd format (what was Sydney's 95.3) since January 2012 didn't fail, it was a holding pattern format & was just thrown aside. How can top radio programmers continually get it wrong? Read the SMH story from 8/3/2004, by Sue Javes in The Guide for the predicted formats.
All you have to do is listen to the listeners, & at the moment they're screaming at DMG. Smooth in musical terms doesn't mean soft, slow or sleepy, check the dictionary for Legato. This format won't run in the cosmopolitain Sydney/Melbourne. Read the comments on their Facebook page, read all the comments on this site, Jocks Journal & other internet web forums (like MediaSpy), the overwhelming majority want the format & playlist of 3-6 weeks ago (prior to Smooth start) back, that's the format that's missing in Sydney, & that format doubled it's ratings figure in just 2 surveys in both overall & the 25-54 demo. with an over 7% average in the latter, & it seemed to still be increasing strongly. This isn't the Classic Rock format either, as that was dumped in December 2011.
High repetition, of not just songs but artists is also a major annoyance for listeners of SmoothFM, the current high repetition & sleepiness, will kill Smooth fast.
SCAustereo & ARN won't have to change anything, Smooth isn't a threat to them.
Anonymous(9:49am 30 May 2012)
Even though I'm not a fan of this music format personally, this could very well work if they stick with it for the long term. Unfortuantely I'm often argued with here for my outside-the-box and lateral opinions, but good luck to DMG. The right music will create a loyal audience which they can then build from, but it has to be spot on this time.
Anonymous(10:17am 30 May 2012)
a couple of observations:
1. mix106.5 still owns the soft a/c 'hill' in sydney. they will no doubt defend. and of course, they still have the love god so mix are still smoother than smooth at night.
2. biggest issue for smooth will be attracting the 'sexy' under 40 demos that agencies seem to love. this format has very limited appeal under 40.
3. 2-day & mix in sydney will defend vigorously - could smooth realistically exceed a 4.5 share? and is that enough?
Anonymous(13:24pm 30 May 2012)
I'm in the news talk side of business and even though this site is dominated by FM I really enjoy reading the articles and particularly Brad's. I think we in talk can learn from the same principles.

My observation on Smooth is it can work, but they in no way have the music mix right at the moment. I was hoping they might actually go for something like Koffee when it debuted, I guess that is too niche.

I was facinated by Brad's comments on Triple M given he ran the network. I don't think they should change their name and relaunch, however I do wish they'd adjust their music.

I'm in my mid 30s and there is NO music station in Sydney for me to listen to. Triple J is now too young, Nova and 2Day based on top 40 disposable rubbish, WS too old. So given growing up Triple M was the coolest station in town with Mulray, they should have a real opportunity to target people like me. Men in their 30s and 40s but at the moment their music is tired, boring and uninspiring. That name still means a lot to blokes from my era, so it shouldn't change, it just needs to modernise.

I work in talk so I listen to talk, but if I didn't I still wouldn't have a music station, surely the once greats Ms should be this station.
Irene (20:21pm 30 May 2012)
Brad, as always, a great read and spot on.
Anonymous(8:03am 31 May 2012)
Finally DMG looks like they have got it right with Smooth according to Brad. Agree with most of his points but Im just not sure why it took so long and so many changes to get to this point.
Suppose you learn from your mistakes. Let Mix and 2day & Fox battle it out, DMG have carved out their own position in Sydney and Melbourne and will reap the rewards. Great quotes from the Clear Channel bosses !
Tara(8:08am 31 May 2012)
From a sales perspective I would much rather have to ' sell '
an adult contemporary format than an all male classic rock format any day. Im sure this is a good move for DMG's sales team. Given women make up to 70 % of purchasing decisions. They could have less ratings with higher revenue with Smooth FM. A good business decision.
tim(10:56am 31 May 2012)
Congrats DMG on a sound move for the future and Brad I would have to agree Classic Rock's had its day. Interesting comment on MMM. Do enough people really want to listen to old Rock songs anymore. Doesn't Gold in Melbourne and WS Sydney play enough old rock ? isn't it 2012 ?
SB(13:10pm 31 May 2012)
Good on Brad telling it like it is as always About time Classic Rock was killed off. And he's right MMM hasn't rated since the Mulray / Denton days Isn't MMM in Melbourne only doing ok because it's Eddie FM ? MIX in Sydney hasnt rated for years and won't with Russo and MIX in Melbourne has never done well except when they went after FOX ages ago
Peter(14:31pm 31 May 2012)
You legend Brad. Couldn't agree more. Look forward to next article
Brad(15:04pm 31 May 2012)
Thanks for all your comments on my recent ' Bold Moves' article. Appreciate the feedback.

It's hard to make make drastic change with ownership and management changes so well done to Lachlan Murdoch and his management team lead by Cathy Oconnor and her team.

Most importantly the DMG radio executives have been given the mandate for change showing flexibility and adaptability and a management team who have organised the resources to accommodate that change. Not an easy task !

Now it's up to backing this decision and ensuring the execution is right. As they say the rest is up to you.

As a former Programmer it's the way to go. I'm sure success will follow.
Jason McLean(15:58pm 31 May 2012)
Good article Brad, I agree Smooth will do well, especially with women in their 30's and 40's.
Gen X Male(16:22pm 31 May 2012)
I agree with Anonymous - males in their mid 30's have NOTHING to listen to on FM. We are the ignored demographic.

The grunge we grew up with is deemed too new to be classic hits. We're too old for 2Day & Nova and Triple M's very odd mixture of boring rock and mindless footy talk is a major turn off. Is it any wonder we all find our way back to Triple J and start experimenting with 702.

When will someone have the guts to try a new format aimed at us?
A(19:17pm 31 May 2012)
Do Triple M think 30+ males want to listen to The Footy Show all day and all week ? How about a decent new rock format for males who don't like pop, techno and old rock.
Rob(20:18pm 31 May 2012)
if Mix already ' own ' the soft, relaxing position how are Smooth going to take that away from them . It will take a long time and a lot of effort & marketing. Though according to Brads comments seems a case of ' build it and they will come '
Anonymous(23:27pm 31 May 2012)
Go Brad, the m's should be the wedge. Where's the wave promised forTriple m. It should be the block so 2 day shouldn't need to do anything.

Plus, on the personality front, smooth is rough. Interesting on the sexy under 40s skew, the imaging sux, woman don't relate to a sexy Fvo, they hate her instantly. Obviously totally designed by men.

You can be smooth without being boring, Brad can you comment on the 'has been' personalities, why they would have ex infomercial heads and morning tv heads? Is this to appeal to females? Just seems distant at the moment, I can't buy in... And the carpenters, great as they may have been ain't helping.

There's no buzz about a new 'thing' in town. Odd.

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