That’s my gut reaction to the recent rebranding of Adelaide’s first commercial FM radio station, SAFM, to HIT107. To me, it sounds like a classic case of new packaging, same product, and if the station is to regain the ratings it’s lost over the years, the changes may need to go beyond a new logo and a new breakfast show.
Unfortunately, I doubt that any other radical changes are on the cards, with the same limited playlists, dominated by the latest American and British Auto-Tuned commercial pop sensations and X Factor contestants, being likely to remain intact. And if what I’ve heard as part of the on-air station launch package is anything to go by, the future of the entire Southern Cross Austereo Today Network really might be riding on this, as the HIT branding is expected to come into effect in all of the major markets over time, with Sydney’s struggling 2DayFM believed to be next in line.
As expected, this leads me to have many more thoughts about the future of commercial radio in Australia in general. If the ongoing changes in the Australian commercial television landscape were to serve as a template, then we may also be heading toward having three major nationwide radio operators on a digital only broadcasting platform (i.e., DAB+) in the next 10 to 15 years. To make that happen, though, many duopolies in regional areas may need to be broken up and certain markets may need to be aggregated in the short term, and that’s just for starters. Also, between 6 and 8 hours of nationally networked programming per day may be needed to reduce costs, and those stations which pride themselves on being “live and local 24/7″ might not welcome that at all.
But as with any short term pain, long term gain may come out of such moves. The prospect of having three commercial radio operators – no more, and no less – in every Australian radio market could actually lead to more variety, and listeners have been craving that for years, especially when the NOVA, KIIS/MIX and Today networks are sounding too much like each other these days. And in light of larger Australian cities having as many as 12 commercial stations, allowing each operator to own up to 4 stations in those markets could provide a great opportunity to reduce playlist duplication between sister stations owned by the same company, and maybe even dabble in new formats.