What does the success of Kyle Sandilands say about us?

Article by Antonia Acott /
The New Daily /
March 16, 2014 /
Click here to view original /

The first radio ratings of the year confirmed, if it needed confirming again, one salient fact – Kyle Sandilands is the king of Australian radio.

But how and why does a – what one academic called “sophomoric” – radio host consistently top the ratings in Australia’s biggest market, Sydney? And, arguably more importantly, what does it say about the people who are listening to him?

They see something in him that the rest of us can’t…

Dr Lauren Rosewarne, a senior lecturer in social sciences at the University of Melbourne, says Sandilands’ strength comes from his divisiveness.

“We are doing what he wants [by talking about him]. This is how these divisive characters work … part of their appeal is that people love to either love or hate them,” she says.

Dr Rosewarne, who specialises in pop culture, the media and sexuality, says negative attention feeds people like Sandilands and solidifies his audience.

“The audience sees themselves as somewhat marginalised but also united in that they see something in him that the rest of us can’t,” she says.

“As opposed to some middle of the road radio host, because he’s divisive, because he can get people both firing up to waste words on him being a jerk versus people who are having their right to hear him he stirs up something and that seems to, evidently, give him almost a licence to write cheques.”

So who is listening?

As of last week, Sandilands and his radio partner, Jackie O, were the joint winners of this year’s first radio ratings survey in Sydney. It was the first audit for the duo at their new station, KIIS 1065 FM. They shared the gold medal with their Australian Radio Network stablemates Jonesy and Amanda from Classic Hits 1017 FM.

Kyle & Jackie O’s program is the No.1 show in Sydney for people aged 25-54 years and No.2 in the 10-17 age bracket.

What are they listening to?

Let’s take last week as an example.

On Monday, Sandilands interviewed New Zealand singer Lorde and asked if she was in a lesbian relationship with US singer Taylor Swift. Lorde, clearly annoyed, gave him nothing.

Other hijinks have included Sandilands and his sidekick sending an intern out to collect semen from a horse.

Dr Rosewarne says because he goes as far as he can, people feel like they are in on the prank – and that’s the hook.

“There are going to be people who like him – part of the appeal is that he’s a controversial person. Part of that appeal is that he dares go there. He says the unspeakable and for some audiences there is always going to be an attraction, ” she says.

“That idea of being a listener at the time …. it feels like you are part of something and part of the drama. You, as a loyal listener, are part of that.”

The ratings triumph surprised many given the duo changed networks only a matter of months ago, moving from 2Day FM, where The Kyle and Jackie O Show had been a staple since 2005. The pair jumped ship when 2Day refused to double their salaries – a rise that would have reportedly seen Sandilands earn $4 million a year.

Given 2Day lost six rating points – at an estimated cost of $20 million per point – Southern Cross Media, which owns the station, would be doubly aggrieved.

While many are left shaking their heads, Sandilands does have support from within the industry.

Radio Today editor Mark Hales says Sandilands’ fan base knows exactly what it is buying into when it tunes in.

“The success of Kyle & Jackie O as a brand comes from what they have built over 14 years working together. First on the Hot 30 Countdown and for nine years on Sydney breakfast at 2Day FM, they have a dedicated fanbase that have grown up with them and understand the type of show they deliver,” Mr Hales says.

“Their listeners come for the star power (celebrity), contests, music etc, but part of their brand is also the edge and unpredictability that Kyle can bring to the breakfast show. That danger can be an element that keeps people listening longer, and that is important for radio ratings success.

“For their fan base, they will follow him (and Jackie O) to wherever they can hear them, as proven this week in the first survey result of 2014.”