Christian O'Connell slams 'lazy', 'immature' Aussie radio

Host of GOLD104.3’s Breakfast program in Melbourne, Christian O’Connell, has warned Australian radio networks, CEOs and content directors that podcasting is coming for them if they don’t get their acts together quickly and remind audiences what is so special about radio.

The UK radio star – who currently sits atop the FM Breakfast market in Victoria’s capital – told Radio Today that while he loves radio, it’s letting itself down with “lazy” content and an “immature” attitude to the war with podcasting.

“I think [podcasting’s] thrown some shade at some radio. Radio, if I’m really honest – and I can say this, I’ve worked on both sides of the world in radio – there is a lot of very lazy, dumbed-down radio that insult their audience. And I think that some people have been going elsewhere to be fed what they want from their audio, from sound – and if that’s podcasting, then obviously it is. And I think that radio, rather than trying to talk [podcasting] down or go ‘Well they only account for x percentage of the marketplace’, should take a good, long look at itself and think ‘Well, are we going to put up a fight here?’ Why does it need to be a fight?,” he said.

“You know, not all podcasts are amazing, but there’s some really well-produced podcasts. And I think what’s happened is radio’s been very snobbish, and I think a bit blinkered about it over the last 10 years, where it’s just refused to accept [podcasting] is getting bigger and bigger and bigger,” he added.

O’Connell was speaking to Radio Today about the launch of his podcast, also produced and distributed by GOLD104.3’s parent company Australian Radio Network (ARN). Stuff of Legends, his new podcast featuring real and raw conversations with high-profile people about the objects which matter most to them, makes sense as a podcast, he said. This doesn’t mean, however, that it needs to cannibalise his radio audience.

“Why can’t we have someone like me? I’m doing this idea with ARN because it makes sense for me to say on the radio show ‘Hey, listen, if you’re looking out for new podcasts, I’m doing this…’ I can promote it on my radio show, a podcast, I can make it join the dots up a bit, and that’s how it should be. It’s like, how can [radio] learn from what podcasting has done, and incorporate it into their digital strategy? Any radio group now that doesn’t have a proper, fully-formed, embracing digital strategy is crazy. It’s only tracking one way. And I think for me personally, it’s exciting,” he said.

This combative attitude to podcasting, and the need to go to war with it, is a hangover from radio days gone by, where stations tried to “smash” each other, instead of collectively promoting the medium, and working towards the greater good, he said.

The fact the industry still behaves like this, highlights its immaturity, he warned.

“Radio can be very immature, it’s like a teenager at times. When I first started in radio, I couldn’t believe there were all these conversations like ‘We’re going to smash them’, and I’d think ‘Who are they talking about?’ And I’d realise they’re talking about the other radio stations, and I’m like ‘But there’s loads of people in this city’ You know, in London there’s 10 million people. There’s enough people to go around for everyone to have their own radio show. Why have we got to ‘smash’ them? And give them nothing? And all these kind of war analogies?”

O’Connell’s plea to the local radio market is to grow up, and remind audiences of what it does so well, particularly throughout the pandemic when it has been so vital.

“I think what radio did show [throughout the pandemic] is it still matters to people, its immediacy, its intimacy. Podcasting it serves [its purpose], it’s got its strengths, and radio, when it’s used in the right way, look what it did give people during the last couple of months. I think that it shows that it’s still alive, still vital if it’s looked after well and managed well as well, and talent is encouraged to connect with their audience as well, and not just interview reality stars and talk about last night’s TV and all of that kind of radio which there’s an awful lot around of up and down the dial.”

More of Radio Today’s chat with O’Connell will be released next week.

For now, you can hear more of the chat, and a dissection of his viewpoints on this week’s Radio Today Tonight podcast below.

The podcast also explores the Hit Network’s music strategy, and Kyle Sandilands’ latest rumble with ARN bosses.

Radio Today Tonight will come to you each Thursday, mixing the biggest news of the week, along with a discussion of all the personalities, politics and pressures involved in the audio industry.

It will be jointly hosted by Radio Today editor Vivienne Kelly and publisher Jake Challenor.

Subscribe to Radio Today Tonight now on Apple, SpotifyGoogle or iHeartRadio.