There is a comfortable myth that intellectual Melbourne tells itself. It goes like this. Our city is more literate, more politically aware and more civilised than Sydney, and this is one of the reasons that right-wing talk radio shock-jocks have never really taken off in the southern capital.
With the launch of Steve Price’s Melbourne Talk Radio yesterday, that narrative is about to be tested.
Price has made it clear that the new station will seek the populist, conservative-by-instinct audience that has made a success of key Sydney talk radio shows. But will it work in Melbourne?
Mark Day, the Australian’s media commentator, thinks not. He makes the good point that with a fair slab of content networked from Sydney, there is a sense in which the new station is not really about Melbourne. He predicts it will probably flop.
I am not so sure. Price knows and understands Melbourne, unlike some who have tried this trick before. He has signed up others who understand Melbourne, such as Andrew Bolt and Steve Vizard. Both of these men are seriously smart. Bolt, love him or hate him, is articulate, writes well. He already has a big following. And it should be noted that he rejects the tag “right wing”, preferring to describe himself as conservative.
I don’t pretend to know whether the new station will succeed, but it seems possible to me that it might change the political climate in significant ways – and this in an election year. If it gains audience, then 3AW can be expected to also move further to the right in reaction.
Those tender souls who are inclined to think of 3AW’s Neil Mitchell as already being a shock-jock are wrong. Mitchell has strong opinions, but he is a professional journalist, and most of the time his journalistic instincts triumph over polemic. He is a different order of commentator from, say, Alan Jones. For more on this, read academic Graeme Turner’s analysis.)
Compare and contrast with Sam Newman on the new station, who according to The Age’s report yesterday:
launched into a rant about Muslim women in Bunnings wearing the veil and buying nails that could later end up in nail bombs. Determined to show he was an equal-opportunity bigot, Newman then asked: ”Why do most gay men hiss when they speak?”
Have the state’s politicians and public figures thought this through? Are there media strategists, at this very moment, compiling techniques to use or combat the new presence? I have no idea.
And perhaps, after all, the comfortable myths are true, and this more extreme form of talk radio will not take hold south of the border.