Content Kings: Get to know Nine Radio’s Greg Byrnes
The last few months have seen some of the most significant changes to Australia’s leading talkback network.
Macquarie Media has rebranded as Nine Radio, and now the network which includes top-rating stations 2GB Sydney and 3AW Melbourne is firmly nestled as part of Nine’s growing portfolio of media assets.
Last November, Tom Malone announced the appointment of Greg Byrnes as the new head of content for Nine Radio, one of several shakeups to the network’s on and off-air staff.
Over the coming weeks, Radio Today is chatting to the content directors from Australia’s radio networks, kicking things off by tapping the mind of Byrnes, three months into his new gig:
What’s the biggest challenge to commercial radio as we enter the new decade?
Commercial radio needs to remain at the forefront of cultural change and community attitudes. The industry’s more ‘contemporary’ competitors can’t deliver the trust and companionship that radio can. In a challenging market place we must say loudly and proudly that as the original social network radio delivers accessibility, connection and cut through like no other platform.
Top three career achievements to date?
a) After several years in community radio and having been finally being accepted into AFTRS, my greatest achievement was convincing Kevin Blyton to employ me as the local news journo at Snowy Mountains 2XL (At the time I had little interest in news but Kevin wasn’t to know that).
b) Working alongside some of the biggest names and brightest stars in Australian radio and television.
c) Being warmly welcomed back into radio after 10 years in TV news.
Tell us about your content philosophy – what makes strong content?
NewsTalk content is championed by strong opinion, and not many have managed to do it successfully. Opinion is not easy. Condemnation is swift if presenters drift from the political cycle or misinterpret community attitudes. They must be relevant, believable, engaged and compassionate. Talk content requires clear lines of communication with presenters, production teams and senior management.
The news component must be fast, reliable and balanced. News copy should always be fresh and concise, presenters authoritative and reporters focussed on telling the story. The other key ingredient is talkback. Callers care, invest time, and are loyal. The open line is their opportunity to influence policymakers and share their own opinions. A good phone operator is key.
When it comes to talent, what’s more important: profile or on-air performance?
A high profile doesn’t guarantee ratings success. As opinion-makers NewsTalk presenters tend to enjoy healthy public profiles but the radio audience is quick to tune out if the ‘big star’ presenter is seemingly taking them for granted and not putting in the work.
Who are your programming role models?
John Brennan and Graham Mott for different reasons and at different stages of my career. Brenno for his influence as a leader, walking the floor each morning engaging with all staff whether the breakfast host or the newsroom junior (me) He would ring at all times of the day and night with story suggestions and feedback on presentation. He launched the careers of some of the biggest names in the industry but has influenced hundreds more through his knowledge and decency.
Like Brenno, Graham Mott had a successful career in music before switching to talk and is a wonderful exponent of radio research and program production. He demonstrated the importance of having the ‘tough’ conversation with talent if warranted, and always put the station first. And must mention Peter ‘Dirty’ Durkaz from 2XL days. My first PD and a stickler for getting local pronunciations right before your first day on air. He ran a tight ship was always quick to jump if an announcer veered from his cherished music logs.
Favourite overseas station(s) and why?
Have always enjoyed switching over to BBC World for a change of pace and to marvel at the resources they have in far-flung places. We’re now in a similar position at Nine Radio, with our talk programs and newsrooms able to utilise the TV and print journos we have on assignment around the globe. I’ve late I’ve also enjoyed Howard Stern’s collection of You-Tube interviews and in-studio performances with major music acts.
Favourite all-time radio show?
Tough question given there are a number of great shows on talk and music networks right now. But I can fondly recall my dad complaining about that silly “Sammy Sparrow’ but still listening in every morning to Gary O’Callahan on 2UE, Ian Macrea and the Hon Nick Jones on 2SM opened my eyes to the theatre of it all (jumbo under the bridge) Frank Hyde at the footy, Tracee Hutchison on Double Jay, Uncle Doug and The Boy Genius on Triple M.
But the best fun for me was Stan Zemanek’s night program on 2UE. They’d start calling half an hour before he was on air and Stan would lead with the chin. It was opinion, albeit a little thin at times, callers, blowups, pranks, a quiz and a heap of laughs. He didn’t take himself too seriously, except come contract time. He was very good to me and I was very pleased I could help send him off appropriately during his final weeks on-air.
Importance of Digital Radio Growth?
The key remains getting DAB into more cars. Nine Radio has just relaunched the heritage stations of 2UE, Magic 1278 and 4BH. Music on AM will always be tough but the stations are sounding great on DAB .. Magic is also available in Perth on DAB+. It’s not just a tool for FM extension. Macquarie Media made extensive use of the digital format to ‘value add’ talk programs and segments from around the network.
What are the best books you’d highly recommend to anyone aspiring for a career in Radio?
There’s a number of respected industry publications but aspiring programmers should go one step further and consider enrolling in the Radio Programming Course offered by the AFTRS. It’s a graduate certificate that requires commitment but I found it most useful and almost 20 years later still scan the reading material.
What are we doing to develop new talent?
We’re always on the lookout for new talent. As noted earlier a high profile doesn’t guarantee success in a talk format but an inquisitive mind and healthy opinion gets you started. Tom Malone, our MD, has a great understanding of the format so we always tend to be throwing names at each other and getting people in for a chat. But the recent bushfire crisis showed that across the network our first reserves, on and off-air, are more than capable of handling breaking news and passionate debate.
So in regards to the next generation, I think we’re well placed. I’ve also found that committed presenters and teams are always open to feedback, and often craving it, whether it be an aircheck or conversation in the corridor. We all want to improve.