Clever consolidation or brand masturbation? Austereo fails with Triple M re-badge.

I was raised in Griffith where, before you ask, marijuana doesn’t grow on the side of the road and the only organised crime I ever saw was the year the North Sydney Bears came to town for a pre-season game and got rolled by a Group 20 invitational team.

Built from the ground up in 1916, Griffith is a pup compared to most country towns and the guaranteed supply of water courtesy of the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Scheme has essentially made the region drought-proof over that time which means someone around town always has coin. If rice prices are soft, grapes are good and if they’re off then citrus prices are OK. Recently cotton and hydroponics (tomatoes and lettuce mainly, will you stop thinking about marijuana) have been added to the cycle of abundance.

Back then it was a town of less than 20,000 and it punched well above its weight. We had a bowling alley, cinema, indoor pool and at least three Chinese restaurants that I remember. I’m sure there were much worse places to grow up.

One of my strongest memories as a youngster was listening to Radio 2RG 963. Like most Gen X’ers, our local station was one of only a few windows to the world. My kids don’t believe me when I tell them I grew up with two TV stations (one being Aunty), one AM radio station and cassettes and vinyl bought from the Griffith Record Centre at the top end of Banna Avenue. I’m convinced the day I got a Sony Walkman for Christmas ‘84 was a far bigger deal than the day my kids got their first ipod. We were comparatively starved of stimulation.

During the day, 2RG was talk back and easy listening (think Electric Light Orchestra) but after 7pm each night we got a decent mix of Aussie rock and international superstars albeit delivered in a very matter-of-fact manner (one night the DJ called INXS, The Inks) but wonderful to me regardless.

On a clear night when a northerly was blowing you could pick up a decent signal from Sydney which was something else altogether. It was like a portal into the future – slick station promo’s, traffic reports, a music bed leading into the news … even the advertisements were cool. Rock of the 80’s, 2SM was pretty much my favourite thing in the world.

Anyway, I moved away in the late 80’s and my family left town not that long after so now I go back only a few times a year for work (one of my clients owns a diverse Griffith based business that includes PV solar installation, an electronics retail store and electrical trade services) and to see old friends. It always brings back a lot of great memories although on my most recent trip I was confronted with something that really affected me.

When I turn off the Newell Highway at Ardlethan I always tune the radio to 2RG to get a feel for what’s happening in the district. Within seconds I heard the announcer refer to the station as Triple M. What? I quickly checked the display. Yep 963 AM. And then he said it again … Triple M. Surely there must be a mistake? An FM call sign on the AM band 500 kilometres from both Sydney and Melbourne. For a moment I was completely thrown and then it dawned on me: Southern Cross Austereo owns and operates both ‘brands’ … 2RG had been Sydneyfied!

2RG Griffith was now ‘Triple M’ as was 2WG Wagga and 3BO Bendigo and 2GZ Orange and 4GR Toowoomba and 25 other stations in regional Australia that many of us have known for years.

And Austereo’s regional FM stations hadn’t escaped this blanket re-brand either. StarFM Griffith was now ‘Hit FM’ as was The River in Albury, Sun FM in Shepparton and a stack of other established, local FM stations.

Over the next few days I kept the radio locked on 2RG to see what this all meant. And it meant absolutely nothing. The day’s funeral announcements were still read live to air in prime time at 8.45am (yes, you read that correctly). The stock reports, sport cancellations, local news bulletins and distinctive, locally produced adverts were all still there. It was the very same station with local content generated mostly by local people with local idiosyncrasies.

And the most striking thing to me is that the station I was listening to had absolutely nothing whatsoever in common with the Triple M brand that I know. I shudder to think what Doug Mulray would think of all this and I know Wazza the Rock Dog would be turning in his grave.

Triple M is 30 years of urban Australian commentary. It’s early Andrew Denton and vintage Jimmy Barnes and Rocktober and quirky sports broadcasting. It’s the Horden, Festival Hall and The Espy rolled into one. As far as radio goes, it’s been a little edgy and sometimes controversial and, in more recent years, been pigeon-holed into a bit of a bloke-fest. None of this says Griffith, Mudgee or Dubbo to me.

According to Southern Cross Austereo, the main reason for the change is to make its regional network more appealing to major advertisers through streamlined national promotions. I get that but I also think country folk are smart enough to know that these syndicated programs are completely disconnected from their town – Hamish & Andy is Melbourne-centric and largely pre-recorded and Ray Hadley (born and raised in Paddington) doesn’t really give a toss about anything west of Penrith.

A statement from the parent company announcing the changes last December banged on about common goals and efficiencies and a stack of other motherhood stuff but finished with: “the localism in the regional stations will stay the same regardless of the re-brand.”

So, the obvious question is … what’s the point?

You could argue that the Triple M brand has stood the test of time and that it can mean different things to
different people so what’s the harm, however to me, it’s confusing and lazy.

It lumps every town in with the other and dilutes 80 years of broadcasting history in these regional centres just so every station can share the same livery. What it saves on the cost of signwriting and stationery it loses on credibility.

In this era where personalised content, one-to-one marketing and building deep connections with your customers is so important, this goes against the grain. It assumes people (and advertisers) are sheep.

If you’re listening out there in Coffs Harbour or Newcastle or anywhere else that’s had their local radio station stripped of its identity, I’d love to hear your opinion on this.

2017-05-04T05:44:44+00:00 May 2nd, 2017|Categories: Customer Experience|Tags: , , , |1 Comment