Australian radio’s christmas-time sabotage

Is this the only country in the world which gets away with completely disrupting radio listeners for six weeks?

By James Cridland
Posted 19 December 2017, 12.20am est
James Cridland

Ah, Christmas time is here again.

Christmas is mostly baffling to me.

Part of that bafflement comes from the weather. The Christmas songs on the radio are full of snow and cold; yet I’m sitting in 32-degree Brisbane heat at the moment in shorts and a t-shirt, wondering whether I ought to bite the bullet and turn the air conditioning on. The solar panels on the roof have generated 24kW of power already, and it’s only half two. I think I’m melting.

The other bafflement comes from listening to the radio here in Australia.

In the UK, there are only two weeks when radio isn’t being measured. This year it’s 18 December to 31st December. Every other week of the year you’re “in survey”.

However, Australia’s different. Ratings finished on December 9th, and they won’t start again until January 21st. So, everyone takes the time off. As a result, during these six long weeks, my radio is full of voices I don’t recognise.

The local public radio station I listen to doesn’t have a single voice on it at the right time. While breakfast is being done by someone who normally does afternoons, the rest of the day is full of names I’ve never heard of before, reading call-in numbers I don’t recognise, calling the station a generic name, being beamed in from studios many thousands of kilometers away. It is a completely different radio station.

The commercial stations are still playing the same music they normally play, but different voices are playing it: and the well-known and high-budget breakfast and afternoon drive shows have all disappeared. There’s a suspicious growth of networked output here, too.

Many of my familiar voices won’t be coming back, either, even when we get to mid January. December is the end of contract time; so great swathes of radio output will change anyway. I might recognise the breakfast voice on my local public station when he returns, accompanied by someone else for the first time; but the rest of the day has been totally shuffled around. The commercials, too - by and large - have changes, too. New sounds on afternoon drive, and breakfast show lineups have also been tweaked: as they were last year, too, and the year before that.

It’s bewildering.

“This must kill the audience figures,” a British radio person said to me. It doesn’t appear to - with “86% of listeners listening just as much or more in the summer”, according to the research. 28% of young people say they listen to more radio in summer.

I remember being told, time and time again, that consistency is the most important thing for a medium which is driven, mainly, by habit. It’s a big risk to upset someone’s day by changing things. Yet here we are with six weeks of random, unfamiliar, non-local voices.

I also remember being told that on holidays you attract many different listeners, trying different stations and dayparts than they would normally. This is the time to shine by showing how good you sound across the rest of the day. It’s (mostly) not the time to do “special” programming, like all-80s weekends, because you want to show what your station is famous for. Yet the very things that make radio famous in Australia seems ro be missing.

No other country appears to invest in radio talent the same way that Australia does. People like Kyle and Jackie O, Hamish and Andy (back next year as podcasters), Alan Jones, Steve Austin, Ray Hadley or Hughesey and Kate - all, each in their own way, captivating and astonishingly good radio.

But no other country appears to deliberately sabotage its radio industry for six whole weeks every year. And, seemingly, get away with it.


But with that - best wishes of the season to you. I’ll speak again in early January, after my own ratings holiday (although my weekly newsletter and daily podcast news continue as normal, because we’re all still working. Aren’t we?)

James Cridland — James runs, and is a radio futurologist: a consultant, writer and public speaker who concentrates on the effect that new platforms and technology are having on the radio business. He also publishes a free daily newsletter about podcasting, Podnews, and a weekly radio trends newsletter.