With the latest TNS radio ratings out this week, I've been tasked with leaving my comfort zone and listening to stations that most people in Auckland listen to, but which I usually don't.
On Monday I spent the morning with Mike Hosking on Newstalk ZB, the number one breakfast show on the station, that according to the latest survey, has a cumulative audience* of 169,000 Aucklanders. It was a relatively easy transition from my usual morning mix of Radio Live and RNZ National.
Harder was subjecting myself to the two next most popular stations on the Auckland dial, The Edge, who pull in 162,000 and The Breeze, who attract some 137,000 JAFA earholes each week. Given the entire population of Dunedin is 126,000, these are pretty big numbers.
Further down the rankings George FM sits on something close to the annual road toll of China, about 70,000, while Hauraki would completely fill up Eden Park with it's 48,000.
While nearly all our radio has been swallowed up by the hungry duopoly of Mediaworks (The Edge, The Breeze, The Rock) and TRN, (ZB, ZM, Classic Hits) a few owner-operators survive.
Have you heard of Radio Tarana? They are 16th on the AK radio charts and have, according to the latest survey, 28,000 weekly listeners, which is too say, the entire population of Timaru - in the unlikely event that you could get the whole city to listen to New Zealand's number 1 Hindi Radio Station (1386AM).
Owners of Jap import cars will be more familiar with these minnows, like the ever trusty BBC World (810AM) who have some 20,000 followers.
For The Edge (94.2FM), the breakfast lineup of Jay Jay, Mike & Dom has proven to be a winning formula. It's loud and brash but somehow tame and comforting at the same time. The trick seems to be about creating content that would appall the particularly stupid, but nothing so wild as to scare off the advertisers.
If there's a drinking game or a sock to place on a penis, Dom Harvey is your man. He's the joker in the pack. (Although this week Dom was away at the London Marathon, with Jason Kerrison taking his place.) Mike Puru plays the voice of reason while Jay Jay Feeney plays the slightly crazed aunty who runs the show. Most importantly, they play well together. Naturally it's all from the breakfast show playbook: they laugh a lot, they relate a lot, they run with themes. "What's the perk you get from your partner?" asks Jay Jay. Phone-in suggestions from listeners follow. "Free condoms", says one, "Free razors, my partner works at Schick". Then someone literally hit pay dirt: "I get free dirt."
The music tested me a little, the lesser works of Jay Z, and a bunch of things that haven't penetrated my demographic bubble. Sample lyric: "I don't do yoga, never tried pilates, not many people want me at their parties". On second thoughts, that sums me up perfectly.
It's not hard to understand the popularity of the show, it's engaging stuff, and it sounds like they're really working it. The arrival of new competitors on ZM, in the form of former station mates, Fletch and Vaughn, will make for an interesting tussle, but the newcomers have their work cut out.
According to the Mediaworks website, the average listener to The Edge is a female 24-year-old retail assistant. For The Breeze, they have a picture of a 45-year-old, mother/office administrator. Mai FM is a 20-year-old female student. Radio Live, a 47-year-old self employed lady. I'm guessing this means that women buy stuff. Not surprisingly, none of the stations seemed keen to be associated with bald men, gang members, the unemployed or real estate agents.
Disturbingly, I found I actually liked some of the music on The Breeze (93.4FM) - where the mission statement could be based on lyrics from Radiohead, "no alarms and no surprises."
I went in expecting to be appalled, and was initially met with songs that backed up my fears. Sure enough, there was Michael Bublé and Rick Astley, but later when I tuned in I got Dalvanius and The Patea Maori Group and Chris Isaak. And as anyone with Coast, The Sound or Classic Hits on their radio presets will attest, the comfort of good easy listening is not to be sniffed at.
If The Edge felt too young for me, The Breeze made me feel young. The Two Robbies Breakfast Show features likeable radio veterans Robbie Rakete (aka The Brown Wiggle ) and Robert Scott, with Anna Thomas on shotgun. It's a friendly place. And just in case you are feeling at all suicidal, a jingle with the tag line "You sure got a friend in the Breeze" plays, reassuringly. Essentially it's the same formula for an older audience. Apart from the music, the differences between the two stations could probably be summed up by material on their prospective websites. In one Dom Harvey is pictured with a sock on his cock, while on the other, daredevil Robert Scott walks into a coffee shop, without (gasp) a shirt.
Over on Radio Tarana - where they keep their clothes on - someone was talking in mixture of Hindi and English. I could only make out about 5 percent of the conversation. Something had happened in 1973, some joker had become jobless, he had a nice voice, but again, I'm not the demographic. Their website says they actually have some 80,000 listeners a week, way more than the 28,000 listed by the TNS** radio survey, so let's assume some language barrier bias in the data collection, and attribute them not Timaru, but a listenership the size of Palmerston North. As they say in Hindi, that's pretty damn badaa.***
*Cumulative Audience: Also known as 'reach' and relates to the total number of different people who tuned into during a week.
The Edge Network has a cumulative national figure of 454,000 second only to RNZ National, who, at last reckoning, had 493,000.
**TNS New Zealand, are suppliers of the official Radio Audience Measurement Research to the New Zealand Radio Industry.
*** Badaa is Hindi for big.
CORRECTION. In the last column. I wrongly assumed that the 'other' category included RNZ, but this is not the case, meaning that the 233,700 who make up 'other' in the Auckland market are listeners of commercial stations that don't subscribe to the survey. TNS don't release data on these stations but they would certainly include the likes of 95bFM, Humm, Radio Waiheke, and all those Chinese and Christian stations.
According to RNZ's own research, which you can read here, the nationwide cumulative audience for RNZ National is 493,000, by comparison the nationwide figure for The Edge is 454,000.