Although, I’m 18 months into my New Zealand radio journey; I’m still learning and getting to understand the many differences and similarities from my experiences of commercial radio in Australia.
One major similarity between the two countries – is the large amount of big-stakeholder radio ownership. ie: Southern Cross Austereo in Australia and the duopoly of MediaWorks and NZME in New Zealand – all with very sizeable radio holdings in Metro and Regional locations. Add to the mix the state run radio ABC (Australia) and RNZ (NZ) and then the smaller independents – BrianFM, 1XX, BOP and CFM to name just a few. My particular case study today is CFM – owned & run by John & Lynda Grant – Radio Coromandel Limited.
This little radio station commenced broadcasting in November 2018 and is based on the Coromandel Peninsula on the eastern coast of the North Island of New Zealand. Around 2.5 hours from Auckland, with a population around, 30 000 people (during peak Summer this expands to around 130 000). Geographically this peninsula is a challenge for solid FM radio coverage – it’s only possible with a number of broadcast sites using synchronous technology – which equals a lot of capital expenditure.
For CFM, the first twelve months were a challenge of getting to know who they are, who are the audience and who are the advertisers. Then, right when this starts to fall into place – along comes Covid.
The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has had a major economic impact worldwide and the impact on small independent radio operators has been significant. We’ve heard of a consistent 30+ percent drop in advertising revenue. In both Australia and New Zealand, we’ve seen major redundancies and staff layoffs in not just the media industry; but to be specific, within SCA & MediaWorks/NZME. If the big guys are struggling, how are the little independents going to cope?
Government assistance ‘may’ be a short term option, if you’re lucky. (The guidelines don’t help everyone, sadly). But seriously, staff costs are the biggest impact for every business. As already noted, even the big players needed to ask their ‘key staff’ to take an unpaid break or a reduction in pay for a time. Again, how does the independent cope with the pressures of covid?
The reality is your income drops by 30% (70% at it’s peak time in May) and you actually have greater demands to do more. More local content, more financial help for advertisers, more health and safety costs, more live content – all adding to more costs with less revenue.John Grant – Radio Coromandel Limited
The duopoly are a machine and their response was reduce costs (layoffs) and pitch to government for help. Things we couldn’t easily replicate. We needed more content (people) and had no resource or legitimacy to pitch for help from government. We qualified for the wage subsidy (some help) but the duopoly received significant help way beyond this, which they used to not only keep solvent but to go on attack and make advertising offers small independents like ourselves couldn’t match..
What is hyperlocal?
online news or content services pertaining to a town, village, single postcode or other small, geographically defined community
Hyperlocal content has two major dimensions: geography and time.
what is important to our local broadcast community?
With impending COVID-19 Alert Level 4 – Lockdown in New Zealand; CFM owners realised hyperlocalism was the best option for any chance of survival. Be the local information source, be the friend on the radio, talk local constantly. This not only satisfied the community need, but did something competitors could not so easily follow.
At a time when advertisers are feeling the pinch too, does CFM pause expansion efforts, with transmitter sites in various stages and extra studios to cover other major centres on the peninsula? No! Full steam ahead and let’s get someone in that studio with a solid local bent. Intro local identity – Rex – former TV & radio personality, former Local Councillor – simply a great radio communicator. (This assists with the community connection to the West Coast of the peninsula and Hauraki Plains – where the signal is very strong.)
Another opportunity arose when a Summer-Intern staff member who had moved on to international opportunities, was drawn home due to pandemic. This brought the scenario, where local international traveler returns and is in government imposed isolation in the station broadcast caravan. (Yet more staff on – none off.)
During the month long lockdown, individual staff worked in the two primary studios, the caravan in quarantine and from their homes. The drive show coming from a busy family lounge room – was strangely very relatable and real radio.
The extra staff, a broadening of live broadcast hours and the whole Lockdown scenario, was the gateway to some excellent local radio content. Many more locals being interviewed; community groups, civil defence, businesses, politicians, healthcare professionals – all having a say about Lockdown and how the community are coping. Reposting a majority of this material on the radio station website/blog was an excellent opportunity to broaden the reach of this localism. The community response to all of this helped with the realisation of how powerful and relevant radio had become (again). Lockdown was taken seriously by the general public and radio really was the only friend to some. No social distancing applied to radio.
(All of this hyperlocalism, has brought a significant increase in live hours – and any VoiceTracked hours must be just as localised.)
Whilst the rest of the world wrestles with the pandemic, in New Zealand restrictions have eased, but caution is still needed as further waves hit Australia just across the Tasman. With some normality returning for the Coromandel communities though, rebuilding and re-establishing business is the focus. How does CFM then keep the momentum rolling and try to rebuild revenue? …Hyperlocal. Keep talking to locals, be part of local business recovery as much as possible, be involved in community recovery, actively look for opportunities to be live and local on air!
Recent major weather events across the north Island, offered the opportunity to keep the hyperlocal talk rolling. There is firm evidence from the Facebook numbers and groups, that the community wanted and needed to know everything about weather and road conditions. All staff on call – with as much live up-to-date content as possible. Again, evidence of the success of this approach is in some social media engagement numbers. Some may describe this as radio returning to its roots.
Like I’ve said, this story is not over; this hyperlocal – independent – small market commercial radio outfit – is in deep and swimming hard against the tide – it’s tough – but they do have the courage persist and their passion for local radio is strong.
If you have any thoughts on how small independent operators like CFM can continue the fight and re-establish, or if you have any thoughts on hyperlocalism – I certainly welcome any comments below.
So, here it is, a potential second wave. The implications of this are far reaching. As discussed already, businesses are just starting to recover from the initial lockdown and readjusting to the new normal.
What will this mean to those reliant on internal tourism?
Will the Beach Hop be able to go ahead.
How can you plan an event with so many unknowns.
What’s the future of Joes Farm & the Whitianga Summer concert?
How will local businesses operate if overseas and internal tourists are restricted?
The coming weeks will be very telling.