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TV & Radio

Nov 16, 2011

Miffed Radio National staff must learn to do more with less

Some disgruntled Radio National staff are concerned a controversial schedule realignment for 2012 announced yesterday will see protected specialist programs understaffed.

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Disgruntled Radio National staff are concerned a controversial schedule realignment for 2012 announced yesterday will see protected specialist programs understaffed.

But others are resigned to a different-sounding network with more live programming, less repeats and fewer resources for pre-packaged shows. “Maybe that’s an economic reality that brings Radio National into the 21st century,” one manager told Crikey. Another staffer said those working on specialist programs have had it too good for too long and must adapt to the changes.

Most of the amendments to the 2012 schedule (click for a PDF) had already been announced — and reported by Crikey — but some staff remain unsettled and at least three now face redundancy. Some producers will be stretched across multiple programs, it’s understood, and new programs won’t have as many resources as existing ones.

Staff have already been left reeling by some of the changes, with popular presenter Ramona Koval publicly criticising the decision to axe her daily Book Show and replace it with a generic arts omnibus. She quit the network a fortnight ago, with Bush Telegraph‘s Michael Cathcart to present the new 10am Books and Arts program.

One production staffer reported “very low morale” despite extensive consultation on the changes. “People now feel like they’ve been duped,” they said, complaining new programs have been “rushed in”.

“Are they programs Radio National should be doing?” And on staffing levels: “Suspicious minds would say it’s part of a broader plan to bring down staff numbers.

“Most people in Radio National think this is about the dumbing down of Radio National over time.”

Not according to Michael Mason, Radio National manager and the driver of the changes. He wrote in an email to staff yesterday:

“This line-up stays true to our core purpose of nurturing genuine and real intellectual ideas and debate in this country. It retains what is best about the network — our commitment to specialist programming, thoughtful analysis of current events and ideas, arts and cultural programming and the extraordinary level of intelligence and passion that our staff bring to program making.

“It will also help us to sound more live when the listeners look to us to sound live, and invigorate our sound and identity. It keeps us fresh, agile and connected with our current and potential audiences.”

The new schedule includes a two-hour live current affairs block from 6pm, to be produced out of Melbourne and hosted by academic and ABC regular Waleed Aly — “a great addition to the network,” Mason said — from Monday to Thursday and Chaser member Julian Morrow on Friday.

The Fran Kelly-helmed agenda-setter Breakfast extends half an hour to 9am — executive producer Tim Latham welcomes the change and says it will be covered by existing resources — while the 8.30am block of specialist programs moves to 5.30pm after a truncated edition of PM. The 5.30 line-up includes the return of programs examining religion and ethics (Wednesday) and the media (Friday).

A live hour of music is introduced at 3pm, hosted by former Triple J presenter turned ABC Sydney evenings host Robbie Buck. That leaves another hole on 702 after Deborah Cameron was shifted out of the key mornings slot. A spokesperson for the network expects announcements on replacements within a couple of weeks.

“Hosted daily afternoons will change the way built programs within those slots are presented,” Mason said in the staff note, “and that will be talked through with individual program teams.”

The introduction of potentially cheaper live programming — weekend shows like Background Briefing and Correspondents Report will be rolled into hosted programs — has angered traditionalists at the network who jealously guard their resources to make highly-produced weekly shows on specialised topics. But others Crikey spoke to — and as one noted of the divisions, “there are many Radio Nationals” — say the network is often left flat-footed by the news cycle and needs to be more responsive.

Mason began consulting staff earlier this year and held workshops with key producers before finalising the schedule. And while there is clearly upset from some, one staffer noted: “Mason has been very good at driving this from within.”

The man himself told Crikey he’s confident resourcing levels can cope with the additional programming. “We’re not about short-changing anything,” he said.Koval aside, all presenters have been retained and most staff have been reallocated. Some will work on commissioned series throughout the year, and a new Saturday program on food is yet to be finalised.

Along with Buck, ex-Triple Jer Fenella Kernebone joins to host By Design as part of a distinctly younger line-up (one of the aims of the refresh was to capture a younger audience). Writer and journalist Andrew West will present the Religion and Ethics Report, while Richard Aedy moves from Life Matters to host both the Media Report and the Local Radio simulcast Sunday Profile (current host Julia Baird is expected to concentrate on writing next year). Natasha Mitchell of All In The Mind will host Life Matters.

To compensate for cutting PM in half, Mark Colvin will present extended interviews on Friday nights in the 10pm Phillip Adams slot (Adams only broadcasts Monday-Thursday). Adding to arts programming, Jason Di Rosso and Cassie McCullagh will present new pop culture program The Shortlist. And Amanda Smith will lead new show The Body Sphere, which “discusses, critiques and celebrates the human body”, alternating with All In The Mind from May.

Peter Mares will host the Sunday Extra block of programs after his policy discussion show The National Interest was axed. A new host for Bush Telegraph will be sought, along with a team for the food show.

Mason says the schedule — to start from January 23 — includes more first-run specialist programs and increases arts programming.

Jason Whittaker Whittaker —

Jason Whittaker Whittaker

The Mandarin managing editor and former Crikey editor

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