ABC Radio National will lose seven programs and 11 staff in a cost-cutting overhaul designed to save $1 million from the station’s budget.

As foreshadowed by Crikey yesterday, radio drama program Airplay is getting axed. Other programs to get the chop from the draft 2013 schedule are MovieTime, The Book Reading, Sunday Story, Creative Instinct, Lingua Franca and The Night Air.

In an email to all staff sent on Tuesday afternoon, RN manager Michael Mason said, “Radio plays and book readings have, for many years, faced declining audience numbers, while remaining an expensive activity for the network. We continue to believe very strongly that ratings are not the only measure for RN, but the decline in listenership does indicate a lack of engagement in radio plays amongst our audience.”

Mason told Crikey this afternoon that 11 jobs are expected to be made redundant: five from the drama department, three from features, two from operations and one from administration.

He says the station will continue to promote creative audio storytelling, but in more experimental ways than traditional radio dramas.

The controversial changes to this year’s RN schedule — which included the addition of high-profile hosts such as Waleed Aly, Julian Morrow and former Sydney Morning Herald journalist Andrew West — were funded by a one-off top-up of around $1 million from the ABC Radio division. Radio National, with an annual budget of $17 million, traditionally runs just over or just under its budget.

Mason’s email, detailing the recommendations of the six-month long Production Sustainability Project, also outlines changes to make staffing levels more equitable across different programs. Producers for feature programs such as 360Documentaries and Into the Music will be expected to make more programs and to do so in less time. While acknowledging the targets set for feature producers are “contentious”, Mason said: “We simply cannot continue to produce three documentary programs on the current production schedule as budgetary pressures continue to grow.”

MovieTime host Julie Rigg will retire at the end of this year after 24 years as Radio National’s movie critic.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey