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Miffed Radio National staff must learn to do more with less

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.

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  • 1
    pmcheever@gmail.com
    Posted Wednesday, 16 November 2011 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    Not so much a comment on the changes themselves but simply to note
    the two attributes of the ABC that make me a listener. These
    are that, most often, real conversations occur and that
    intellectual integrity underpins program content.
    Changes that reinforce these attributes are to be encouraged, those
    that stray, are to be discouraged. Only if changes are first judged to
    be positive or neutral to these atributes, can then other decision
    rules be applied.
    Paul C

  • 2
    Posted Wednesday, 16 November 2011 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    I have been a stalwart listener to Radio National since long before it was Radio National, but agree that it’s good to freshen up the program and format a bit. I gather it is currently very expensive and has a tiny audience, so its costs have to be cut to be more similar to the other stations.

  • 3
    David More
    Posted Wednesday, 16 November 2011 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    I am a bit sad Encounter has moved from a time that was easy to catch (7.am Sunday) to one which will mean I will no longer hear it! Some of their shows were some of the most thoughtful on the network in my view.

    Podcast here I come.

    David.

  • 4
    alexgoffey
    Posted Wednesday, 16 November 2011 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

    I’m really sad they’re ditching the 9pm repeat of Life Matters. Richard Aedy brightens my nights no end, and there’s no way I’ll be able to listen to the 9am slot…

  • 5
    Hugh (Charlie) McColl
    Posted Wednesday, 16 November 2011 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

    The trouble with outsiders like us looking at the ‘cost’ of radio broadcasting is that we have no idea. Gavin Moodie can see a reason to cut costs “… to be more similar to the other stations”, but I don’t want Radio National to be similar to anything. I mean, what do you compare it with, Gavin?

  • 6
    Posted Wednesday, 16 November 2011 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

    I don’t want Radio National to be more similar to any other station - far from it. But when its cost per broadcast hour is so much higher than the other stations and it has a tiny audience so its cost per broadcast hour per audience member is very high it is vulnerable to being closed down, as was rumoured a decade or so ago. I think Radio National’s continuation long term with reduced costs would be better than it maintaining its expensive programming but for the short term.

  • 7
    SD
    Posted Wednesday, 16 November 2011 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

    I am appalled by the changes for next years broadcast schedule for Radio National which seem to be aiming at further dumbing down this last bastion of quality, grown up radio. I am devastated in particular by the loss of Ramona Koval, one of the best media performers in this country. For years she has introduced me to new writers and stimulated my reading with her bright,incisive interviews. I am gobsmacked by the appointment of the lightweight Waleed Aly to present a 2 hour current affairs program while PM, one of the jewels in RN’s crown is cut in half. The cut backs to specialist programming - one of the proudest achievements of RN, is incomprehensible. Many hamfisted attempts have been made over the years to destroy RN for political reasons. It would seem that this death is to be achieved not through the hammer blow but by a thousand cuts. Vale ABC.

  • 8
    Frank Birchall
    Posted Wednesday, 16 November 2011 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

    Don’t tell me Alan Saunders will no longer be presenting By Design — I greatly admire his obvious in-depth admire his in-depth knowledge of the show, excellent diction and good
    manners in interviewing his guests. I can’t see any reason why his program as
    currently presented would not attract a younger audience. I assume he will
    still be presenting The Philosopher’s Zone.

  • 9
    Peter
    Posted Wednesday, 16 November 2011 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

    RN should be expensive. Strong original content costs.
    I guess it depends on what you want from your radio. I suspect Alan Jones
    would earn a large proportion of RN’s budget. But while I would take RN to
    my desert island to keep me sane, I would push Alan’s program overboard on
    the way to it.
    Congratulations to the team who have driven these decisions.
    I think it’s very exiting and long overdue. The comments
    by Romana Koval in your link are typical of people who think they own a
    program on the national broadcaster. Sad. Maybe even Alan Jones doesn’t
    think that. I have mentioned him twice now…I am off to wash my hands.

  • 10
    AR
    Posted Wednesday, 16 November 2011 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

    I don’t understand the virtual abolition of the repeats (apart from the budget help that gives). As some above pointed out, they will simply lose their shows since not everyone can listen through the day - some people, somewhere, apparently have jobs which preclude radio…
    BBC R4 repeats almost all its packaged shows when the employed have a chance of hearing them and RN doing so is only logical.

  • 11
    Bob the builder
    Posted Wednesday, 16 November 2011 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

    If I wanted Radio National to be like other stations, I’d … listen to other stations. Apart from not airing the airhead Richard Aedy’s repeats of an evening, these changes seem depressingly like dumbing-down to me. Might be alright to urbanites with lots of other options, but for us in remote areas, Radio National is a really important source of ideas, discussion and debate.

  • 12
    Posted Wednesday, 16 November 2011 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

    There’s no need to take up air time with repeats any more since it is now so easy to down load programs to one’s preferred device. For example, one may down load programs to an iPod and listen to them at one’s convenience.

  • 13
    zut alors
    Posted Saturday, 19 November 2011 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

    What’s the ABC got against repeats on radio? They are hellbent on repeats on television.

    On ABC24 the content is regurgitated relentlessly despite the fact that many overseas reports on fresh subjects never reach our screens. The news editors choose preferred stories ‘of interest’, turn them into a job lot and air them on what appears to be an unimaginative robotic loop…for hours…and hours…and hours…

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