Coles Radio – more brand stretch, more bad news for digital radio

Getting down down with Coles Radio
If you’re a fan of Coles there is now another way to get down with the brand. The Coles brand stretch continues with the famous red finger now becoming a radio station.

Following Chemist Warehouse’s lead, Coles has now secured digital frequencies in all capital cities to re-broadcast their in-store radio. While this extends the Coles brand reach, there appears to be little consideration for listeners. If this trend towards retail branded radio stations continues, digital radio will ultimately suffer.

In a stealth like move on Christmas Eve, DMG replaced NovaNation on Digital radio with Coles Radio in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. Having already killed NovaNation in Adelaide and Perth, Koffee gave way to Coles Radio in these markets.

With no notice or consideration for the fans of these stations, many were not feeling the festive love. In particular, NovaNation fans immediately took to social media to vent against DMG (owners of Nova, Smooth, NovaNation and Koffee). NovaNation’s website and social media have all been bombarded with complaints. The negative feedback has also extended to Coles their social media channels.

Outrage as NovaNation is replaced by Coles Radio

Like any brand, radio stations need to build trust, respect and loyalty with their audience, their listeners. Clearly, NovaNation fans have lost the trust in DMG and this also now extends to Coles.

I previously criticised Chemist Warehouse and ARN for broadcasting on DAB+ (see previous article) and I have the same concerns for DMG and Coles radio. While re-broadcasting supermarket radio on DAB+ does provide another opportunity to reach the audience, and give DMG some easy money, I don’t think it is a good use of the digital radio spectrum. I also struggle to understand why anyone would want to listen to supermarket radio on his or her digital radio.

With safe, middle of the road music, Coles and Chemist Warehouse are effectively relying on their brand to attract listeners to the station. In their own stores, this makes sense, you have no choice but to listen to it. The stores can use the stations to entertain and control the shopping environment – but why would anyone want to listen to this out of store?

There is significant difference between advertising that supports programming and brands completely controlling the programming content. I think Coles and CW radio cross the line of what should be acceptable in terms of advertising influence on programming.

Gettting down with those dirty red fingers

Supermarkets or chemists also don’t have any real credibility to produce radio content and hence have very little appeal to attract listeners. It is effectively like listening to non-stop advertising for these brands, interrupted by songs. While it may appeal to a few die-hard Coles or CW fans it is not in the broader public interest.

What concerns me more is that the precedence being set by Coles and Chemist Warehouse. This could be the beginning of the end for digital radio in this country. Next we could see Woolworths radio, McDonalds radio and the list goes on. Before you know it, most stations on digital could be re-broadcasts of in-store retail stations.

I appreciate the need for the radio networks to make money. But allowing retail brands to ‘own’ stations completely, is not only lazy, it is a short-term defeatist strategy that will bite them in the end.

With little effort to produce great radio content that is innovative and listener focussed, digital radio will never succeed and will ultimately lose out in the end. Radio must have their audience at heart and programme to attract listeners to tune in and stay tuned.

The industry is already facing growing competition from Internet, mobile radio as well as Pandora and Spotify. The likes of Coles and Chemist Warehouse radio stations and other non-listener focussed programming will make it even harder for digital radio to survive and thrive.

At this stage, the government has only allowed existing broadcasters (on FM & AM) access to DAB+. While the ABC, SBS and some commercial operators are developing innovative digital programming; many seem to be either the Programming Director’s personal indulgence or simply auctioned off to extend in-store radio.

It seems some operators may simply have too much bandwidth. If the existing commercial networks can’t be bothered to develop new and innovative programming for local audiences then perhaps they should give up some of their spectrum allocation and let some new players who have the passion and commitment to have a go.

What do you think of Coles and CW Radio – should they be broadcast on digital radio? What would you like to hear on digital radio? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Michael Hughes
Brand Strategy Director and Partner



  1. Very insightful Michael and no doubt a great perspective from someone who has clearly zero idea about the commercial reality of the media world.

    As insightful as your article about the prospect of smoothfm at launch which is possibly now one of the strongest and most successful new media brand launches in recent times.

    as a brand strategist, your clients must be left wanting

    • Hi James,

      It seems like you are a fan of Coles Radio. Do you work for DMG???

      I totally understand the commercial realities. However, I don’t believe that selling off the digital spectrum to supermarkets and chemists to broadcast in-store radio is in the best interests of the community and the future of digital radio.

      I am not against DMG (you?) making money. However, there seemed to be little or no effort from DMG to promote or sell NovaNation or Koffee – happy to be corrected on this. So, it seems just like a lazy option for DMG to sell the spectrum to Coles.

      As for Smooth, you’re correct that DMG has finally found a format that is working for 91.5 and 95.3 in Melbourne and Sydney. The significant investment in the station seems to have paid off. However, I still think there is more opportunity for the brand and I wish them (you) all the best with it!


  2. I get that everyone is complaining about Coles Radio, but to be honest I think it’s pretty cool (sorry NovaNation fans) , I take it as like Max TV on foxtel on radio, a mix of everything much like Sydney’s old station Mix 106.5 which then got replaced by US Based KIIS 106.5, I listen to Coles Radio in the early mornings and afternoons, Love it

    • Hi Kane,

      Thanks for your thoughts. It’s always good to hear another side of the debate.

      It is interesting perspective that Coles might be filling a void left by the old Mix 1065 in terms of music in Sydney. I’m sure Coles and DMG would be really pleased to hear this.

      BTW – music aside, are you bothered by the heavy handed Coles branding and constant supermarket promotions, or do feel this is a genuine gesture from the Coles brand that adds value to your life?


  3. Is it possible we’re overthinking this? Could it simply be a financial decision rather than a desire to expand their advertising reach through entertainment? Maybe they don’t care if anyone (outside a store) is listening? Maybe licensing and distribution costs are reduced by broadcasting from a central digital station rather than store to store?

    I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.


    • Hi John,

      Thanks for your feedback. From my understanding this is definitely a financial decision on the basis of DMG to get some revenue from their DAB+ spectrum. But I don’t know whether DMG have provided a more cost effective solution than their previous supplier.

      Coles already had instore radio prior to this deal. I suspect DMG’s offer to provide a broadcast option (DAB+) to reach outside the store was a key part of the negotiation and perceived benefit for Coles.

      Also, they would not be relying on using DAB+ to distribute the radio to the stores as this would only serve reach their metro stores (where DAB+ currently covers) and Coles has a significant amount of stores in regional areas outside of DAB+ reach. They would still need an alternative broadcast distribution to such as satellite or an IP network.


  4. Gerry Manderson

    i am more than a little surprised about the music selections being piped through Coles Supermarkets. Assuming this is suppose to be conducive to shopping, and therefore subject to selection using accepted psychological criteria, it seems to fail on all counts. As a long time supermarket shopper, I can confirm that the music selections generally want me and most of my friends, out of the supermarkets, as quickly as possible, and appear to be chosen by teenagers or alternative music tastes. The psychological science of music creating a pleasant shopping experience seems to be lost in the case of Coles.

  5. Geoff Martin

    Interesting story,

    Who would listen to Coles radio when not in the supermarket? I do. It is for people who want to listen to music whilst they are working etc as background and not as entertainment.
    Its programming consists middle of the line music with the the occasional 15 to 30 second add here and there. It plays around 15 songs an hour. Compare it with Commercial radio where the music is very repetitive and has far too much chat and commercials especially during the morning and afternoon drive periods.
    I also listen to other stations

  6. I am not one of the “everyone” that is complaining about Coles Radio. Great music and the ads are really short .Its my favorite station and I listen to it every day. I understand it is the most listened to station now. How wrong can you be?

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