Nine’s new radio boss, Tom Malone, starts today with a game plan

Publisher & Editor
Nine Entertainment Radio

Tom Malone is ready to get his feet under the desk.

There’s no denying Malone’s passion for radio or business chops, but the incoming managing director of Nine Entertainment’s newly-controlled radio assets is facing his toughest test.

“I think it’s a great challenge that lies ahead,” Malone tells Radio Today. “We’ve got to focus on our product, keep costs under control and drive a topline revenue number.”

The first hurdle for Malone, however, is to steady a ship that’s been battling the elements.

“It’s steady as she goes for the moment,” says Malone, when questioned about further programming shakeups and cost-cutting.

“We’ve got the #1 broadcasters in their slots, in their city, right around the country – some of them for 20 years – the content is outstanding.

“I’ve got to get in there and have a good look at the business and see what’s working and what needs improving. And the challenge, like any media business, is to produce great content and do it more efficiently.”

As part of those efficiencies, Malone wouldn’t rule out the relocation of radio teams to Nine headquarters in some markets, with Brisbane looking most likely to be first up.

“Bringing the staff together from a physical point of view makes sense,” he points out. “We want the radio division to feel a part of a big company.”

Nine chief executive Hugh Marks first approached Malone two weeks ago, to sound him out for one of the most influential gigs in commercial radio, following the forced departure of Adam Lang.

“I’d like to think Hugh has shown confidence in me because I understand the medium, I spent seven years [at 2UE] in both a news and producer capacity.

“I spoke to Hugh at the beginning of last week, and then we talked about it for a few days, and that was pretty much it.”

Former Macquarie Media CEO, Adam Lang

After almost four years as sports captain at Nine, Malone arrives well prepared. He knows how to play the game, coach the team and is well versed in the pressure cooker environment created by ratings and shock jocks.

Until last Friday, he was head of Nine’s sports division and is a former executive producer of its flagship shows, 60 Minutes and The Today Show.

He also spent two years as a federal political correspondent at 2UE, and a further two innings as the executive producer of Mike Carlton’s Breakfast show before joining the television broadcaster in 2006.

The former 2UE cadet journalist has worked with a number of people that remain within the Macquarie Media compound in Pyrmont, where he arrived this morning for his first day on the job.

It also helps that he knows his way around a Profit & Loss statement. After a dismal first quarter, radio has some catching up to do. Commercial ad revenue was down 10.2% in metro markets during the September quarter.

“The broader ad market was going through a similar thing at the same time, so yes, revenue is a concern,” he says. “Our challenge is to work with advertisers and show them how powerful radio and mass media is.

Malone is “confident to have those conversations with advertisers”, albeit some of those talks may be tough, as he prepares to woo back brands that left in the wake of another Alane Jones scandal.

“We’ve got to make sure we keep our costs under control and that we can drive a revenue result.

“You can make it complicated or you can make it simple, and I like to follow the simple approach and focus on those three things and drive an outcome for the business.

2GB & 4BC Breakfast host, Alan Jones

When asked by Radio Today what employees should expect from his leadership style, compared to that of Lang’s, Malone says he plans to create a more “collaborative” environment.

“What I’ve always tried to do at Nine is run a very open and collaborative leadership style with The Today Show, 60 Minutes and sport,” he says. “I hope to continue that in radio.

“I like to work hard and have fun along the way, and radio is certainly a business where you can do that because it’s so dynamic. That’s certainly an ethos I’d like to bring to the radio business.”

If true, that will be music to the ears of many staffers following a turbulent 18 months leading up to Nine’s takeover of the biggest AM radio network in Australia.

And as for the future of Macquarie Sports Radio, which hangs in the balance after axing its talk programming last week, Malone says it’s still “too early to tell”.

What Malone did appear to reveal is that Nine isn’t married to a sports format in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and on DAB+ in Perth.

“I’ve got to get in there, have a good look around, work out what would complement our other stations, and go from there.”

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