The ABC has announced major cuts to Radio National, as a result of the hundreds of millions of dollars taken away by the government. Please read Phillip Adams’ defence of this important national resource below.
The Weekend Australian Magazine, November 12-13, 2016
Viewpoint: Phillip Adams
Legacy. Code for old-fashioned, redundant, non-digital. Hence Fairfax’s rush to dump legacy – that is, print – newspapers. And the ABC’s increasing impatience with legacy broadcasting. All those expensive transmissions to quaint wirelesses. Get with the program. Listen via podcast, social media or app.
The Vatican has announced it’s going digital. Soon all those legacy churches and cathedrals will be sold off for condos. Get VatApp today. Marry, confess, christen or go to mass online. On your Vphone! Via godcasts! The National Gallery is digitising its art collection. Soon you’ll be able to tour the premises via VR. The actual “legacy” art will be flogged by Sotheby’s. And who needs legacy books in libraries? I also get the distinct impression that my beloved Radio National is in legacy limbo. Soon to be available anywhere, anytime, anyhow – except on the legacy wireless.
I discovered RN 30 years ago, when working at 2UE with Laws, Jones, Zemanek, Hadley, the wrecking balls of “radioactive 2UE”. RN seemed miraculous to this trainee shock jock, with its breadth and depth of specialist programs in science, medicine, religion, arts, law, history, media, politics and long-form investigative journalism. It was 2UE’s antithesis. Where shock-jocks privately ridicule their listeners and grossly oversimplify every issue, here were broadcasters providing complexity and context – and talking to the audience with respect.
That respect was mutual. When John Howard got Bob Mansfield to write the umpteenth report on the sins of the ABC, 11,000 viewers and listeners made submissions. Mansfield was astonished to discover that 7000 came from RN supporters – most making the powerful point that this ABC service was 100 per cent on charter.
When joining RN to host Late Night Live, I discovered my audience demographics were dramatically different to 2UE’s. I had the best educated audience in Australian media: more than 70 per cent had a tertiary education. And they listened with a passion that boards and management found disconcerting. David Hill had warned me he’d love to shut the place down. Later, Brian Johns told me he planned to merge RN with Classic FM. (I pointed out that this would infuriate both audiences.)
For 26 years I’ve watched RN narrowly survive new brooms and grim reaper’s scythes. Though usually involving budget cuts, RN’s ongoing crisis keeps taking new forms. Now the network may be doomed by digital. This despite the fact that business is booming. Old-fashioned “live audiences” have remained solid, despite ever-growing competition, including from the ABC’s News Radio. RN in general (and LNL in particular) does brilliantly in podcasts. Three cheers for apps and social media – but legacy media hasn’t been wiped out. It has a habit of doing a Lazarus – paper books and even some print newspapers are on the rebound.
I live in the bush where people, still awaiting the mythical NBN, listen to the ABC as they worry about bushfires, bounce around in 4WDs and drive their tractors. And I’ve recently talked to large “live” audiences around Australia at ideas festivals, book launches and writers’ weeks. When I ask, “Who listens on the old-fashioned wireless?” 95 per cent of the hands go up. Ditto for print newspapers. Business models that ignore this simple, powerful fact are as wilfully ignorant
as business models that ignore technological change. Legacy media has legions of legacy listeners. If there’s an appropriate aphorism for these turbulent times, it’s “hasten slowly”.