Ryan O'Connor File picture: Tracey Adams
Cape Town - “Crisis? There’s no crisis.” Those were the words of Primedia chief executive Omar Essack in the wake of yet another on-air line-up change - the third in seven months.

This includes moving award-winning breakfast show host and fan favourite Ryan O’Connor, who will now get to sleep a little later in the morning. He moves to the 10am to 1pm spot from July 3 after serving up breakfast on KFM for a decade. O’Connor makes way for popular Joburg radio presenter and comedian Darren “Whackhead” Simpson.

Primedia - the parent company of KFM, 947, Cape Talk and 702 - is also said to be facing a staff crisis as a result of mass resignations.

But Essack said the goal was to grow KFM. “There is a commitment to provide what audiences expect from the brand,” Essack told Weekend Argus.

However, there has been no growth in listenership for the popular Western Cape radio station in recent years. In fact, listenership at what is now the No 2 radio station in the Cape has been on a steady decline.

The most recent RAMS (Radio Audience Measurement Survey) figures has KFM’s daily listenership at 672 000 as of December 2016. Heart FM leads the way with 787 000 listeners, while Goodhope FM has a listenership of 551 000.

“We know that KFM has a fantastically responsive audience. We need to grow KFM to the next level, we need to get back to being more than we are at the moment,” Essack said.

Other major changes in the offing include Carl Wastie moving to the 4pm to 7pm drive show, replacing Rob Vember, and Sechaba G taking over Wastie’s current 1pm-4pm slot. Wastie will also host a regional chart show on Saturdays.

Darren "Whackhead" Simpson    File picture: Cara Viereckl

Vember, who has hosted the afternoon drive since 2014, as well as the popular Coca-Cola Top40SA on Saturdays, is on his way out the door.

Simpson, a well-known radio presenter and comedian, will be relocating from Johannesburg to Cape Town next month to assume his new position at KFM. He’ll continue to host the Xpress Drive on Johannesburg’s 947 every afternoon from the Cape Town Primedia studios.

“This is a dream come true for me and my family. To do the breakfast show on KFM in Africa’s most beautiful city is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I am incredibly excited,” Simpson said in a statement.

Meanwhile, a number of former and current Primedia employees, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there had been mass resignations at Primedia recently. Some employees alleged the crisis within the SABC was nowhere close to the drama unfolding within Primedia Broadcasting, and especially at KFM.

“Listenership figures have dropped and there’s instability. KFM has seen the biggest drop in listenership among all the other radio stations in the group,” one source claimed.

Other insiders said since the arrival of Essack, a former Kagiso Media deputy chief executive, as Primedia Broadcasting chief executive in January, staff felt “demoralised”.

Not so, says Essack. “I can only tell you that the amount of communication I have with staff, through emails and multiple town halls is unprecedented. I am constantly engaging with staff, taking feedback from staff. The large majority of staff have never seen this kind of engagement. Stakeholder number one is staff.”

But in recent months, a number of senior staff have exited the group, including several sales managers, the group financial director, the KFM station manager and the 702 station manager, among others. “Staff are unhappy and that’s why so many are leaving,” one employee said.

Another alleged Essack had been making changes not in the best interests of staff and listeners, such as the change in line-up at KFM.

Social media users took to KFM’s Facebook page to express their feelings, with most comments against the planned changes.

Zulfa Najaar asked: “Why?? Ryan is KFM, Is Ct, are * guys for real?”

Esmé Kellerman said: “Ryan is the ONLY reason why is (sic) listen to the breakfast show! Very sad!!!

Kleintjie du Preez said: "So disappointed! Always defended kfm but will also be looking for another station.”

Other fans questioned whether the news was just a prank.

Jamie-Lee Kelly asked: “What if this is the 'fake news' prank they were planning to do? To see how people believe everything they read on social media... just a thought because no, its doesn’t make sense. Darren is a funny guy, he is probably just going along for the ride.”

But change, according to Essack, is needed. “This is a challenging time for media organisations around the world. We are constantly checking the temperature of the audience and understanding what is going to get them excited.”

In December, and with much fanfare, Lee Downs, who hung up his headphones four years ago, was brought out of retirement in a bid to revive Sunday listening. Downs left the station just four months later.

“Ryan has a fantastic connection with listeners. We believe that he’s going to turn this show into ‘can’t-miss- it’ radio and are thrilled to have such a dynamic broadcaster steering us through this new chapter as we shake up daytime radio,” said Trish Taylor, Primedia chief in the Western Cape.

Vember and Da Silva have yet to comment on their removal from the KFM team. However, in a somewhat cryptic tweet on his Twitter page yesterday, O’Connor posted a link to Simple Minds' Don’t You Forget About Me, with some insinuating the veteran radio DJ may not be too happy about the change.

O’Connor’s breakfast co-presenters, surf reporter Deon Bing and traffic presenter Liezel van der Westhuizen, are said to be in negotiations with management about other opportunities at the station.

Weekend Argus