The ABC is set to make sweeping changes to its radio arm, with redundancies expected to be announced today. And that’s unlikely to be the end to the changes; the broadcaster is also considering moving stations off the FM band. Sources within the ABC say Classic FM is especially vulnerable, with expectations it will be moved off the FM band to make way for local radio or digital-only channel Double J.
Crikey has been told this is part of a broader plan to reduce the AM radio transmission at the ABC, due to the operational expense of running it. Currently the ABC’s local channels occupy various parts of the AM and FM bands, depending on geographical location, which the ABC is considering changing to a uniform ABC Local station. An ABC spokesperson says there are “no immediate plans in this area”, suggesting they will not be part of today’s 2017 radio schedule announcement.
Today’s announcement is expected to confirm Crikey’s report yesterday that Aunty will be embarking on redundancies in its radio division. According to The Guardian, the ABC is pursuing eight redundancies, and in programming changes, former Crikey editor Jonathan Green is to lose his Sunday Extra hosting gig on Radio National to former Australian opinion editor Tom Switzer, though Green is not leaving the ABC. First Dog on the Moon is to lose his regular gig on the show and posted on Facebook this morning that that while the show was perhaps worth refreshing after several years with a similar format, “I am annoyed that the IPA are taking over the whole Sunday morning”. Switzer is an adjunct fellow at the right-wing Institute of Public Affairs, and currently hosts Radio National’s Between the Lines.
Other shows to be cancelled, according to the Guardian, are RN Afternoons, The Body Sphere, Soundproof, Daily Planet and The Live Set, along with the previously reported end of Sunday Nights with John Cleary. Phillip Adams has tweeted that one of those leaving is Paul Gough, host of Inside Sleeve on Radio National.
Insiders at Classic FM expect significant budget cuts, along with a shove off the FM band. Asked about that this morning, an ABC spokeswoman said “our long-term transmission planning is something we are looking at alongside any content adjustments we make from year to year”. This follows an email to all of ABC Radio in October saying transmission (the cost of actually beaming out content on radio) was a “major challenge” for the ABC. “Every week we spend a significant amount of money on distributing our content and it does not properly align with our services and our audience demands,” radio boss Michael Mason wrote.
Fears of a significant reduction in operating and program budgets on Classic FM have been building all year. The station already has a cheaper offshoot in Classic 2, which operates without presenters and airs only Australian music — the concern of staff is that the presenter-less model could be introduced on the main channels. Two years ago, Classic FM stopped airing its recorded overnight broadcast, replacing it with the Classic 2 stream. But there appears to have been a change in direction since then — Classic FM manager Richard Buckham told Crikey that this decision was being reversed by the end of this year, with new recordings to be made with presenters.
In September classical music magazine Limelight published a piece that said staff were bracing for “a large number of redundancies at the station” — when Crikey asked about this Buckham said he couldn’t answer yet as planning for 2017 was ongoing. Crikey asked about redundancies at Classic FM this morning but got no answer on that question.