Mysterious changes have been proposed to the programming, and the first I heard of them was an impassioned two minute spray at the start of The Religion Report, wherein listeners were advised it was about to be shelved (along with other programs) and be replaced by 'interdisciplinary programming', whatever that might mean. You won't hear that bit of direct honest and emotional broadcasting anymore - as with any self-respecting Stalinist ghetto, it was immediately stricken from the record. The thought police are coming to get you.
There's a couple of management issues here - first the proposed changes had proceeded by stealth, but clearly management had failed to bring along some staff, and of course nobody, outside a token survey directed mainly at on line use, had bothered to consider the listeners. They'd take what they were given. And nobody had bothered to work out what was being proposed to replace the axed shows. So the news, what there was of it, was about negativity and unhappiness.
Funnily enough, the head of radio at the ABC was a nice, caring and committed broadcaster when she started out on radio 5UV these many years ago, though even then with short, spiky salt and pepper hair that evoked, or reflected, a certain firmness on many aspects of life. You'd have thought by now she'd have understood, that while the audience for Radio National is small, its listeners are engaged and involved. They want an intelligent exchange, not the treatment dished out by talk back on AM.
Right now they're conducting a survey, but it's not actually pitched to the listeners, but to the ABC trying to work out how they can force-feed more content via the Intertubes. The bias and the irrelevance of much of the questioning (and the studious avoidance of any useful way to provide qualitative comment) ensures they will go on doing what they want, and claim the initiative is a response to public feedback (well up until the point their hatchet schemes became public before the survey was complete).
It seems odd for a comprehensive atheist like myself to be arguing in favor of The Religion Report, but there you go - it was always well researched and well presented, and it gave wonderful insights into the world of the Jensenites and Pellists, two minor heresies that have temporary control of Sydney's soul. Ditto The Media Report was always worth a listen, even if it did tend to be a tad superficial and uncritical, never quite matching the incisiveness of Media Watch (but of course that had a television budget).
Quality radio programs - which require research time, and some care in production and an ambition to cover the turf - are relatively dear, though up against what the government pisses against the wall on feature films no one wants to see, the term 'high cost' is extremely relative.
So there's a cost benefit to the current slash and burn, but there's also a delusion about the role of the internet in quality broadcasting of a domestic kind. Right now if I wanted to, I could tune in to over 2,500 stations streaming from the US on the internet, and god knows how many more from Britain, Ireland, and so on and on. But I sometimes prefer local broadcasting, if it's intelligent and capable, because it tells me about things happening in my neck of the woods amongst the movers and shakers.
I suspect what will happen now will be that the station will introduce more talk back and chat - cheap to deliver, and resulting in instant turn off by me. Right now, straight after the various reports in the morning - the intelligent radio half hour - comes Life Matters, and instantly I'm off to listen to something else somewhere else. I don't care if the content's streamed on the net, or podcast, or delivered by carrier pigeon, if the content is boring I'll find some better content - and right now Radio National is up against PBS and the BBC and any number of ports in between. Going cheap or going online doesn't cut it. Heck, maybe I'll just listen to the BBC on News radio, since it's usually better than the cheap-assed, non-parliamentary stuff they funnel into the hapless, poor cousin, third call sign (they also run NPR material, but again, why not just go to the source?)
Compared to some of the current RN chat shows, the Country Hour is more entertaining and engaging, and re-connects me to rural interests and concerns in a way that Macka, whom I'd cheerfully spray with buckshot, never manages.
In the afternoons, it's a similarly mixed bag, with emphasis drifting over to cheap music, a bit of book reading, and the likes of recycled Adams and Duffy, who just deliver talk, theoretically balanced in terms of political leanings, and practically balanced in that they offer all the interest of listening to a bag of concrete harden in the moist air.
Here's a few things they could have done - retired Fran Kelly for a year. Morning radio and the essential AM suddenly became more listenable simply because we didn't have to put up with her in between stuff - especially her faulty interview techniques and her clumsy cutting off of people so she can make some phony deadline or the news. Maybe they can find another documentary series for her.
Similarly in the afternoon, it's time to retire Phillip Adams, who usually wants to talk about Adams even when he's talking to really interesting people like Oliver Sacks. I know there's ego in broadcasting, but when it gets to blimp size and obscures the guests, it's time to stop. Enough already with the chemical free beef and the dangers of coal-mining and the ancient antiquities and the charms of the Muswellbrook studios. Bring back Mt Helen radio I say and give him a gig playing Shania Twain.
And then there's the Michael Duffy hour (along with his fellow insipid host), which offers silly period music interludes, and soft soap questioning of serial right wing loons which can only be matched by Rachael Kohn's ability to keep a straight voice while listening to the nuttiest of religious ratbags give us the good oil on all kinds of auras, aromas and karmas.
Duffy and his co-compere never engage in controversy or debate - they only nod sagely when some right wing loon explains how left wingers have had their brains invaded by aliens, and that's why they want to take over the world (or any other right wing or libertarian or anti-flouride or anti-anything paranoid fantasy you can imagine). It's entertaining for five minutes out of the hour, in the same way that listening to socialists is amusing until you realise they actually believe what they say.
I imagine someone deep in the bowels of the ABC thinks the changes are all about being more relevant and attracting a youthful audience instead of the old farts who sometimes take the station away from an asterix in the ratings charts. But of course it's not an age or a sex divide that counts here, it's actually intelligence and an interest in intelligent subjects, like science or music or architecture (or gasp, yes even religion and media). You can be a Radio National listener at twenty or eighty. The real and only test is whether you've ever listened to Shakespeare in a BBC recording, off air or off disc.
Duffy couldn't manage a Religion Report or a Media Report, but as token right wing window dressing for the house lefties, he gets to stay, the other shows get the flick, and I get to open up my radio options. Yep, it's time to take up listening music again, from the world wide resources of the Intertubes. Come on down New Orleans public radio, though maybe I'll weaken on a Saturday morning, if only to listen to Andrew Ford at a handy time.
Duffy of course has a nice routine going whereby the work he does for Radio National usually ends up as one of the themes in his Herald column - his column about the big sort in America was matched by an interview with author Bill Bishop on air. Funnily enough, the book's title - The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart - aptly describes the clustering mind set of the like minds who foregather on Duffyradio to rail against the rest of the world.
Which is a handy introduction to this week's Duffy column in the Herald. Say it ain't so, Duffster ... not another tedious column about politicians in New South Wales, and this time with a populist tone which reflects the amazing 130 comments the Duffster got in his blog about the way people in NSW hate their politicians.
From the bleeding obvious to the obviously bleeding. To cut to the chase, the Duffster wants politicians who leave their posts early - like the current flock of rats abandoning the good ship NSW Labor - to be punished. No pensions, no golden parachutes, no office, no driver, no pay outs, no nothing, nada, zip. Or better still, make them pay for the cost of a by election if they stand down early, with a kind of reverse HECs scheme applied to their pensions.
Clearly Duffy's fulminations touched a nerve, and clearly his railing excites the popular imagination, but of course any of these steps would have to be implemented by politicians - and waiting in the wings to take over from Labor is a Liberal party that has in the past featured rorters with an even more impressive track record, often driven to the brown paper bag by a sense of their own living needs and the low pay on offer. Come on down Sir Robin Askin. By the way, when you drive your leader to a suicide attempt over relatively minor matters, and then he drops out, does the cost of the by election land at the feet of the depressive sook who tried to kill himself or the bastards who provoked it?
I'd like to be the Jesuit drawing up the many reasons you could legitimately resign early - once you introduced any mental illness clause the whole parliament could be out the doors - versus the illegitimate excuses that would ensure you stayed handcuffed to your seat for the full term.
The ideas are so painfully childish, and so unlikely to be implemented - since it would mean politicians knee-capping their own possible futures - that they barely warrant a discussion - and all the more funny when you think that the previous day on radio Duffy and his co-host spent time discussing why any kind of cap or limit on executive payments and benefits was a complete and inefficient waste of time. Nodding in time like a couple of yo yos to the plaintive calls to let the rich executives run wild, run free.
You would have thought a desire to keep politicians in the same mind set as successful executives in this wonderful capitalist system that we have would be uppermost in Duffy's mind, but no, he's concerned at the fate of independent contractors (you know, like that dipstick Joe the Plumber who didn't happen to be a plumber). Nor does it worry him that democracy comes at a price, and that we should be prepared to pay for the pleasure of losing one rat, even if it means voting in another, the minute a politician has been required to fall on their sword. It's the least we can do.
Even the American system doesn't achieve this level of vengeful hostility to its former politicians, and the childish tone, even if populist, the 'there that'll teach 'em', suggests exactly why this state gets the politicians it deserves - because it has the columnists it deserves, incapable of setting a level of sophisticated debate. (The Duffster even manages to evoke 'Sara Palin' as speaking of sacred political duty, which gives a new meaning to the Troopergate affair. He sure knows his tokenistic red flags, you betcha).
Meantime, we pay a fortune to big business executives to run the economy into the ground, while the state is run by people being paid relative peanuts - no wonder we get monkeys of dubious skill and talent running the state.
Finally, the Duffster ends with notice on Sunday of a rally against the state's planning laws, especially with regard to over-development and the trampling of heritage values. This piece of Nimby cronyism will only concern those people who live in the leafy north shore, where of course all they really want to do is preserve their own exclusive turf and views. This happens to accord with heritage values.
Of course in the west, if we go back to real heritage values, we'd chop down all the trees just for starters - an idea Duffy would warmly support. Take a look at period photos of western streets - note well how it was deemed irrelevant that workers get to look at a bit of greenery, and wonder how suddenly gum trees in the street came to represent heritage values to people with no awareness of history. Heritage values also seem to exclude the 'mediterranean' 'wogcrete' values migrants brought to Anglo-celtic buildings over the last sixty years. Personally I sigh with relief to see a Spanish arch, a dash of pebblecrete, an abundance of concrete, an absence of grass and Victa lawnmowers, the odd olive tree and a couple of decent grape vines. Now there's heritage values at work.
Meantime a pox on the northerners and their lickspittle columnist lackeys because they don't want to share some of the strain Sydney is facing as it stretches to accommodate all the people who want to live here. Yep, they've got their two to five million dollar quarter acre homes with trees and a view, and that's heritage enough for them. When Duffy says we've got a bunyip democracy, he should have said that his aim is to return the state to a squattocratic burgermeister democracy where the rich can live in sheltered peace, and the rest can ... get fucked.
Hopefully no one from the west will attend this wretched, self-seeking, self-serving rally.
So to this week's score:
For saying bunyip democracy when he meant rich people democracy: 0
For continuing to exist on the gulag of ABC radio while good shows whither around him: 0
For petulant and childish solutions of the most impractical and populist kind: 11
For proposing columnists and radio broadcasters pay back their fees each time they write a dud column or deliver a dud radio program: 0
For ongoing use of the cliche 'surrender monkeys' and allowing a mis-quoted Sarah Palin to be spelled 'Sara Palin': 10
Yes, the title of this week's column is "Hit these surrender monkeys where it hurts - in their pockets", and that's more than enough about that. The online Herald thought so little of it they didn't even give it a place on the front page, you actually had to know that Duffy existed and click through to his name. As usual, we don't link, it only encourages him. If Duffy keeps going like this, he'll become unreadable just as RN becomes unlistenable. Thank god for Shakespeare.