/ 11 July 2006

Morning Glory

Irfaan Hendricks skrik wakker as the howling voice of Mark Gillman bludgeons him towards consciousness. He can barely make sense of what the guy is saying, but he knows what it means. 6.30am and time to get up. He rolls over a few times, pulls the pillow over his head and groans the groan of the sleep deprived construction worker. Then he mopes his way to the shower. All the while Gillman, Reuben Goldberg and Danger Boy fill the room with news updates, practical jokes and the odd thumping pop tune.

On the other side of the country, Mac Mahlaba is brushing his teeth to the urbane, articulated news reading sounds of John Perlman and Nikiwe Bikitsha on SAfm, as they discuss this morning’s top stories.

Henk Rossouw is avoiding making eye contact with the Zimbabwean offering him an inflatable Power Ranger at his window, as he waits for traffic to clear on the Allandale turn off in Midrand. He is listening attentively to Jeremy Mansfield’s mid-morning traffic joke. He laughs loudly and his truck lurches forward as he drops the clutch by mistake.

In each scenario the morning radio show provides a steady backdrop and soundtrack to our daily urban migrations. Almost becoming part of the fabric of our mornings. In fact, because of the regimented structure of the average, urban, midweek morning – and the incredibly high number of people who switch on their radios, the 6am to 9am morning slot has become one of the most dependably bankable and hotly contested media spaces.

So much so, that Ryan Till, general manager of Primedia Radio opines that as an international trend in commercial radio, the morning drive show nets an estimated 35-40% of any given station’s overall revenue. Mike Wills, the voice of CapeTalk 567’s morning show, agrees. ”Generally speaking the available audience is biggest, and most stations rate highest on the morning drive.”

In many ways an analysis of morning radio listenership tends to offer a microcosm of the overall listenership stats of these stations. Thus the undisputed big dog of morning radio is Metro FM, pulling 423 000 sets of ears on any given morning between 6 and 9am (Rams). Alas Metro FM continues to punch under its weight in terms of ad revenue, pulling in a total of R203 770 298 in 2005 (AIS/Adex) with the majority of their listeners spread between LSM 3 and LSM 7. To get this in perspective 5FM managed to bring in R156 914 101 (AIS/Adex) in the same period with a morning drive listenership of 142,000. The vast majority of those listeners falling into the LSM 6 -10 category with over 35% of them firmly planted, bum in the butter, in LSM 10.

Start to calculate the guesstimate that most radio stations bring in 35-40% of their revenue from their morning drive show and you’ll begin to realise how important the drive time talent is to the station’s fortunes.

”In the early morning you’re in their bedrooms, you’re in their bathrooms, you’re in their kitchens and in their cars on the school run,” says CapeTalk’s Mike Wills. ”Fundamentally people have to be comfortable with you in the morning. You’re sharing a very private space.”

”The talent is hugely important,” says Dennis O’Donnell, SAfm’s acting station manager. ”We punt ourselves as having ‘content’ radio as opposed to ‘wallpaper’. What we’ve got is substance in our programming. There is no doubt that the personality that goes with that is vitally important.”

And amongst the ”talk” stations the battle royale continues. Cape Talk achieved the smallest daily listenership on the morning drive with just 23,000 people switching on. However in Cape Town, that’s pretty much everyone with a white collar job. 702 performs better, attracting 64,000 people to John Robbie’s show. SAfm nudged ahead with 76,000 sets of ears pinned to Perlman and Bikitsha.

In the youth market the morning drive shows are set for a bit of a shake up. YFM has been left smarting after some high profile defections to the SABC. Most notably DJ Fresh gives up his popular morning gig to pursue greener pastures at 5FM. However the industry snitches have confirmed that he won’t be getting the morning slot at 5FM, but will get the afternoon drive show, currently inhabited by Gareth Cliff. That means only one thing— Gareth Cliff will be taking over the morning show. If you believe the rumour.

The stations are pretty much neck and neck in terms of listenership. However, 5FM brings in more bucks and YFM is limited to a Gauteng broadcast footprint.

While 5FM is still perceived as a ”white station”, 5FM’s breakfast show has a demographic that is 60% white and 40% black. YFM’s morning show demographic is 97.8% black (Rams).

”Bringing Fresh on board is going to challenge some of our listeners,” says 5FM’s outgoing station manager John Langford. ‘And we’ve done that on purpose. When we made the changes four years ago, people said we were crazy and that you couldn’t make a truly integrated youth station in South Africa— The idea of bringing Fresh across is to add a new dimension to the station but also to make the station a bit more applicable to broader audiences.”

”Consumers are more open for advertising messages in the morning,” Langford continues. ”And you can understand why. A lot of people base their routine on the breakfast show routine. So people will say, I’ve got to make it out of bed before Reuben reads the news at 7 O’ Clock.”

In the realm of regional adult contemporary music stations, the bun fight continues. KFM’s tried and tested English/Afrikaans adult contemporary programming has seen them fare well. Their morning drive with Nic Marais attracts 207,000 listeners.

East Coast Radio packs a few surprises and is a testament to the power of locally relevant broadcasting. Sorisha Naidoo and Alan Khan’s Big Breakfast, sponsored by Bokomo, nets 291,000 listeners on any given weekday morning in the muggy KwaZulu capital. The station’s fortunes are in sync with their listenership numbers, netting a total of R217,677,692 in 2005 (Ais/Adex).

Unlike 5FM, Highveld are planning to stick to their tried and tested Rude Awakening breakfast mix, spearheaded by Jeremy Mansfield’s wicked sense of humour.

”We tend to focus a lot of energy and attention onto the morning show,” confirms station manager Ravi Naidoo. ”The Rude Awakening has been going since 1997. It’s nine years old. The morning drive is the key show for all stations, so you find, particularly in the Johannesburg region, that it’s a lot more competitive in terms of audience. Both in terms of age and demographic, it is the most competitive radio market in South Africa.”

Duly noted, Highveld 94.7 has the third largest morning listenership in the country, reaching 264,000 sets of ears across Gauteng alone.

”As the years have gone by, we’ve always tried to freshen up the show by bringing in different people and different programming styles,” explains Ravi Naidoo. ”The newest addition being Darren ‘Wackhead’ Simpson. All our research has shown that we need to have a sense of humour. It’s Johannesburg, the big hustle and bustle. People want to laugh and smile. They want something that is interactive and engaging. And that’s the element that Darren has brought with his prank calls.”

And Jozi has certainly responded to that irreverent sense of humour. Highveld 94.7 coined R232,767,699 in 2005 (AIS/Adex). An empire built on prank calls? That’s laughing all the way to the bank.

In conclusion, we can take some insight from outgoing 5FM breakfast show host, Mark Gillman. ”You cannot hold a gun to people’s heads and tell them what they are going to listen to. They will listen to whatever they think is the best entertainment. So the aim is to go for good entertainment. I always say, he who has got the best story, wins the argument.”