COMMENT:

The decision by MediaWorks to unravel the RadioLive brand came as a shock to both the public and the staff affected at the company.

Many of those who walked into the MediaWorks meeting room today would've left with the dull thud signalling that they may have to wipe the digital dust off their outdated CVs.

Read more: MediaWorks expected to reveal radical changes to RadioLive

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In what could be seen as positive given the tough circumstances, news of the changes only trickled through today, suggesting the leaks of the porous Mark Weldon era seem to have been plugged and sensitive information doesn't stream out quite as freely as it once did. Loyalty in media is, however, fickle and the treatment of staff in coming weeks may well put pressure on plugs keeping information in.

While the announcement today was sudden, the demise of RadioLive has been anything but.

The brand has long struggled in the ratings, attracting only a fraction of the audiences commanded by either Newstalk ZB or Radio New Zealand.

While its major commercial competitor Newstalk ZB has grown year on year from 510,000 to 513,000 weekly listeners in the most recent ratings, RadioLive has dropped from 240,000 to 221,000.

MediaWorks has made numerous attempts to pull talkback listeners across that commercial divide, but it has become increasingly apparent that station loyalty is difficult to break – particularly when it comes to listening to the uninterrupted dulcet tones of a broadcaster over extended periods.

One of the problems with RadioLive is that it's caught between two co-existing Kiwi zeitgeists of right and left, never fully committing to either side and paying the price by languishing in what was essentially a media limbo.

Listeners towards the right and in the centre have always relied on Newstalk ZB for the fix, while those on the left have found a home in RNZ National. RadioLive hasn't really offered anything to either side that they couldn't already get from the immovable incumbents.

And if there's one thing that Facebook age has taught us, it's that consumers like to have their own views served back to them on repeat. Echo chambers and confirmation bias are far older than your racist aunt's posts on social media.

Media strategist Kevin Blight told the Herald today that the move by MediaWorks seems "defensive".

"They're trying to do two things: save money and retain their audience," Blight said.

By conflating two brands into a hybrid, MediaWorks will be hoping to capitalise on the strengths of both brands.

This is why the AM and Drive shows will remain intact, while the middle section of the day will be filled with the entertainment that has long typified Magic.

This makes sense looking at the recent radio figures. RadioLive's audience dropped markedly after 9am before lifting again in the afternoon. Magic did the opposite, starting the day slower and enjoying its strongest periods between 9am and 4pm. In theory, the combination of those two could deliver a strong station.

Well, that's easier said than done, says Blight.

He argues that MediaWorks may face a challenge in keeping listeners tuned in when the content becomes lighter and then bringing them back when the afternoon news hits.

"If they can't do that, they'll end up losing listeners," he says.

MediaWorks has already shown its willingness to blend entertainment and news with The Project. The question now is whether the radio audience has the appetite for another curious concoction.

- Disclosure: Newstalk ZB and the New Zealand Herald are owned by NZME.