693 reasons why MTR was always up against it

Melbourne Talk Radio, or MTR 1377, is no longer.

The fact that the station hasn’t worked is hardly a surprise when you consider that in the Melbourne radio market, history repeats itself.

Firstly, let’s recognise that as the station closes, people lost their jobs and any reflection about the station isn’t about their work or their abilities.

This post is about about, well, beating 3AW by trying to sound like 3AW. As history has proven, many have tried – and in my radio listening life (30 plus years) all have failed.

A cursory list provides some reflection:

3AK / CBC: In the mid 1980s John Blackman went from 3AW to a new 3AK that was reinvigorated as CBC. I recall the TV ad – ‘come up to 3AK – everyone else has’ – the ‘come up’ meaning that the station was at the top end of the AM dial (1503); 3AW at that time was 1278AM. Much of the programming was from Sydney. Talk on 3AK was still about a decade ago on 3AK; the station is now SEN.

3EE / The Breeze: A new commercial station post 3XY in the early 1990s with a mix of magazine, news, and easy music. Craig Willis was on breakfast – but despite what was potentially a good idea, it failed to take listeners from 3AW, and in its place came music station Magic, which is now owned by Fairfax Media, which also owns 3AW. As it turned out, AW and Magic swapped places on the dial, with 3AW moving frequencies from 1278 to 693 – where, prior, 3EE had been.

Vega: A station whose idea was perhaps ahead of its time, Vega was a mix of talk and music. It didn’t help that some of the programming was shared from Sydney, and the format was eventually changed, then dropped altogether. What was Vega in Melbourne is now a classic rock station.

MTR: Off the bat, I’ll be honest and say I rarely checked Steve Price’s breakfast show, but I did listen a bit to Steve Vizard. I liked Vizard on Tonight Live and I think he’s a good broadcaster. But, yet again, networked programming, direct competition with 3AW and the old 3MP (Mornington Peninsula) signal didn’t help.

3AW recently celebrated 80 years on air. It’s the only radio station on air in Melbourne whose call sign hasn’t changed (which says much about the brand’s longevity and listener loyalty), and while it’s in a tussle with 774 ABC, there is now no direct commercial talk alternative in Melbourne.

Why?

In some cases above (e.g. 3AK’s various incarnations and MTR), the competitor tried to take what 3AW was doing and make it work. It didn’t. AM listeners (and I’m one of them) are really, really, particular; and it would mean a big name walking to a new you-beaut station to take some of these listeners. MTR tried to woo Neil Mitchell. AK tried to woo Jon Faine from the ABC. He stayed. Another reason that I think is critical when it comes to understanding the listening psychology of Melbourne AM listeners is networked programming from Sydney. Memo commercial talk radio station programmers: It. Does. Not. Work. Sports-focussed SEN chugs away with its blokey demographic, and barely a word from outside Victoria. Programming on 774 other than some current affairs from 5.30am – 10.00pm weekdays is Melbourne-based. Late evenings and overnights are networked nationally from Sydney and have been for many years.

3AW? Not a minute of networked programming from anywhere.

Instead of trying to ‘be’ 3AW, perhaps an idea for MTR would’ve been to have taken what works for 3AW and make it pacier, more newsie / happening now, avoid the Sydney programming completely, and aim to get audience from SEN, 3AW and 774 to come across. Frequent news hits, lots of social media interaction, develop a stable of people. Get them out, get them seen.

Trying to take on 3AW by trying to be like 3AW was never going to work, because, as history has shown, it rarely has.

I’m all for good radio. I’m all for good, competitive, thought-provoking radio, which you want to listen to. It’s why I listen to 3AW, 774 and SEN in just about equal parts.

If there’s a constant lesson in this it’s simple one: For many Melbourne radio listeners, the ‘radio world’ ends at the Murray River. Sadly for MTR, history simply repeated itself.

 

 

Disclaimer: I did work experience at 3AW in 1990 and with ABC radio news in 1991.  

  • Emily

    I quite liked Steve Vizard on MTR. I agree with you – Melbourne audiences don’t like or want Sydney programming. The radio talkback programming from Sydney has such a different feel. I feel for the MTR staff. In an ever-shrinking media industry, it’s a bummer to lose jobs.

  • I actually preferred to listen to Talk 1116 3AK instead of 3AW which was almost a decade ago now pre-SEN. Problem was the station’s programmers must have had Attention Deficit Disorder and kept changing the line-up every 5 minutes. It had potential to take on 3AW but being run by a bunch of radio newbies who had no idea and kept a revolving door of presenters… it didn’t stand a chance. It was churning through presenters (and some very good ones) at a rapid rate.

    And for MTR to have attempted to sign up 3AW names like Mitchell would not have helped, either. Sydney listeners follow people like Alan Jones to whatever station they happen to be on, but Melbourne listeners are not so loyal… just ask people like John Blackman and Derryn Hinch. Both have had multiple stints at 3AK and 3AW. They rated well at AW but could not raise any interest at 3AK.

    But I’ve read good things about Vizard on MTR, though I never listened, but I don’t think he’d be a ‘3AW’ person as indeed it appeared that he didn’t quite fit the ‘tabloid’ style of MTR. A bit too conversational from what I gather. Perhaps he’d be better suited over at 774?

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment, Andrew! Yes, the Talk 1116 doors revolved a bit and people like stations, and not, as you say, necessarily follow the personalities. Re Vizard, his 10am – early afternoon shift was very conversational and you could imagine him doing weekday afternoons on 774 type slot or even, if he was tight, Conversation Hour, if, potentially, Jon Faine, retires.