Source and entire article from The Age

NAKED newlyweds, office pony rides and ferocious dogs — it is all in a day's work for Melbourne's world of FM breakfast radio.

Desperate to start the year with a ratings win, radio stations are locked in a battle of stunts and humiliating competitions.

Winners and losers will be revealed on Tuesday when the first radio ratings figures are released. With three new breakfast shows starting this year — and thousands of dollars already spent on billboard and television advertising — the stakes are high.

One FM jock was so keen to promote his station that he may have broken commercial radio's code of practice. Out to show that Triple M plays music no other station plays, afternoon jock Mike "Fitzy" Fitzpatrick called Vega's switchboard to ask the receptionist about the station's music choices. The conversation was taped and heavily edited before being replayed on air without consent — a cardinal sin in broadcasting. Bosses from each station have exchanged words and Fitzpatrick, a former Cage member, has faced his own music.

In the stunt stakes, first prize goes to Fox FM for its extravagant "nude" wedding last Friday. (Flesh-toned g-strings protected what was left of the couple's modesty.) Dozens of couples competed for the chance to get almost naked and win a $10,000 engagement ring, a reception and a Fiji honeymoon. Breakfast hosts Matt Tilley and Jo Stanley squeezed weeks of material out of the stunt, culminating in a syrupy live-to-air ceremony that must have sent at least some commuters reaching for their hankies. (Tears also flowed when Fox's Sydney sister station 2Day FM did the same stunt last year.)

Nova FM wins an honourable mention for daring listeners into ridiculous stunts for the chance to win $1000 (thanks to a cosy cross-promotion with Channel 10's So You Think You Can Dance). So far, listeners have faced challenges ranging from dog attacks to dim sim pig-outs.

The stuntometer has also recorded big readings at the city's established and top-rating FM stations, Fox and Nova. They must be worried about the new shows on Triple M, Mix and Vega.

So far, the best stunt Pete Helliar and Myf Warhurst of Triple M can manage is sending the latter on a Shetland pony ride around Austereo's St Kilda Road studios. Warhurst has also been bucked off a mechanical bull in the car park as training for racehorse ride around Flemington. Wonder if the new breakfast stars had to clean up the pony poo on the studio carpet?

Mix and Vega seem to be avoiding flagrant stunts, opting for a more down-to-earth approach. These stations are also pitching at an older audience (with Mix aiming at female listeners), placing them in competition with Melbourne's most popular station 3AW and runner up 774 ABC, both on the AM dial.

Industry insiders say this ratings period is almost impossible to predict because normally loyal listeners will be surfing the dial testing out new shows.

Some expect a return to form from Gold FM's Peter "Grubby" Stubbs and Diane "Dee Dee" Dunleavy after a lacklustre 2007. They say Gold will win back lost listeners because the breakfast show has barely altered amid much change elsewhere.

Others say Nova's Dave Hughes and Kate Langbroek will shine in this ratings period after a close tussle for top spot with Fox FM in 2007. The show has achieved strong success in the fickle 18-to-25 age bracket — a feat in itself since the stars of the show are a 42-year-old mother-of-three and a 37-year-old newlywed.

Hughes and Langbroek are also heading for the record books for longevity, clocking up more than seven years together. Of the current crop of FM jocks only Gold FM's Stubbs and Dunleavy have been on air longer as a breakfast team. No wonder they can sound like married couples.

Triple M's much-hyped breakfast show will be interesting to watch, with Helliar and Warhurst bringing high profiles to a relatively low-rating station. Their first few weeks on air have failed to inspire, but industry insiders say the pair's strong marketing push may have an effect on survey results.

The ratings are calculated by Nielsen Media Research using 2200 "diaries" sent to random households across the city. Listeners fill in the books over a five-week period — many hastily completed at the end (leading to theories that highly-visible billboard and television campaigns lead to higher ratings).

This problem would be solved by electronic monitoring of listening habits using a system similar to the TV box, but this method remains a pipe dream.

Earlier this month, Nielsen's much-maligned diary system won another Commercial Radio Australia contract to supply radio ratings from 2009 to 2011, with an option to extend for another two years. The only hint of new technology will be the inclusion of internet radio streaming and mobile phones in the diary listings. Participants will also be able to fill in the diary online from 2009. Another major change will see an end to "household flooding", where one diary is given to each person in a household. From next year, only one person will get a book in each home.

Electronic measurement is a thorn in the side of the Nielsen ratings system, but Commercial Radio Australia refuses to move ahead saying the technology is not good enough — and could triple the costs. Trials of a mobile phone device are under way in Australia, but the latest deal with Nielsen effectively locks out electronic radio ratings measurement until 2012.

"The industry is aware of the criticisms levelled at the diary system," CRA boss Joan Warner says. "The changes included as part of this tender are aimed to improve outcomes for the broader radio and advertising sectors and hopefully will address many concerns."