At the beginning of April 2022, Ford Ennals took up the leadership of Commercial Radio Australia, the trade group representing Australia’s commercial radio broadcasters. He previously oversaw digital television and radio rollouts in the United Kingdom.
As CEO of CRA, he is responsible for managing industry codes and standards, regulatory matters, radio audience measurement surveys, consumer research, revenue reporting and industry innovation, including RadioApp, the Australian Podcast Ranker, smart speaker integration, the strategy for the regional rollout of DAB and the automated buying platform RadioMatrix. He also oversees industry brand marketing campaigns, events, and trainings.
Radio World recently interviewed Ennals via email to learn about his priorities for Australian radio, as well as his thoughts on broadcasting in the country.
Radio World: What are the first priorities you are focusing on as CEO of the CRA?
Ford Ennals: The Australian radio sector is one of the most dynamic and advanced markets in the world. I am looking forward to building on the excellent work CRA has done supporting the commercial radio sector. Our primary focus is supporting our members grow commercial revenue from existing markets, as well as the expanding digital and audio markets.
RW: Can you help our readers understand the Australian radio market? What are the challenges for radio and what are its strengths?
Ennals: Radio listening is very strong in Australia — ahead of the U.S. in terms of listening to radio and listening to audio online. It is also proving resilient in the face of digital competition from global music streaming and digital platforms. This is due to the power of Australian radio personalities and the importance of local and live content in the vast distances that separate Australian states, cities and towns.
The challenges to Australian radio are similar to all global markets as we see the shift [among consumers] from owned to streamed music and listening on smart speakers where global platforms act as gatekeepers.
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RW: Australia’s an interesting market for digital radio. You have well established DAB services in some metros, but in much of the country, even well-populated places, radio remains solely analog. How do you see things developing?
Ennals: In Australia, digital listening is growing strongly both from DAB and online radio streaming. The level of online streaming in Australia is comparable to the U.K. and is an important priority for broadcasters as it provides enhanced data and opportunities to target listeners more specifically.
DAB broadcasting has achieved critical mass and provides a key enhancement of the radio listener proposition across the Metro markets. DAB is also now available in five regional markets, with Australia’s sixth largest city, the Gold Coast, rolling out in April. We would envisage that we will sustain a multiplatform listening ecology for the foreseeable future.
RW: In the U.K., the BBC and private broadcasters worked together on the rollout of DAB, while in Australia commercial radio seems to be moving faster than the public-service Australian Broadcasting Corp. with DAB+. Is there more the ABC can or should be doing with digital radio?
Ennals: It’s not for CRA to comment on the focus or progress of ABC Radio. Commercial radio and ABC have collaborated on key cross-sector developments, and ABC has been an excellent partner in terms of the development of RadioApp and the new Radio360 measurement methodology. In the U.K., there was similar and healthy cross-industry collaboration, as well as out and out competition for listeners.
RW: What do you see as the potential for alternative digital radio platforms, such as DRM30, for expanding digital radio to more of Australia?
Ennals: The Australian market is well served by digital platforms and technology and we are all working together to optimize implementation in home and in cars. There seems to be a limited opportunity for alternative digital platforms in Australia.
RW: Can you talk about your personal connections to Australia?
Ennals: My mother is Australian and was born and raised in a country town, Armidale, New South Wales, before attending university in Sydney then going to work in Geneva for the United Nations. As a child, I did spend some time at school in Armidale and still fondly think of those days running free in the bush and watching sheep being sheared. It’s great to be back in Australia — it’s a stunningly beautiful country, and I have been made very welcome here.