Well, that was quick. Tom “Heidi” Switzer has done his final broadcast of Sunday Extra, the 7-10am slot on Radio National he took over from Jonathan Green in November last year. In terms of production values, the decision was bewildering: Green (disclosure: my former and current editor, everywhere) had used his substantial editorial talents to build a show of many parts, with light sections and serious ones, the incomparable First Dog’s Guide to Modern Life, and discussion panels that drew from the left and right. The show was appropriate for Sunday morning, when some people were listening after their 6am tai chi session and others were hiding under the covers through a hangover, and it was designed by an editor accustomed to building an audience. This skill, honed in commercial publications and in the internally competitive ABC, is unknown in the drip-fed think tanks and loss-leader publications of the right. At the time of Switzer’s accession, I wrote:
“His Sunday morning slot will be either an attempt by him to play light, Brezhnev-as-DJ, or a grim ploughing through. Either way, a mistake for him, a panicked move by management.”
It was a bit of both, dire radio, like a podcast of a Brookings Institute seminar while you ointment your hemorrhoids. Less than a year in, with the once high-profile show fading to invisibility, Switzer is gone, to be replaced by — and the rightoids will love this — experienced and more rounded broadcaster Fauziah Ibrahim.
Switzer never should have been there, and working out how he was put in the gig is pure Ultimo kremlinology. The move obviously satisfied the baying demands of the right for more balance — as if Green were putting a lefty slant on introducing a James Taylor track — while killing the show. Did they hope Switzer would come good? Or were they expecting him to fail, thus further embarrassing the right with another failed version of the “next Phillip Adams” — contenders so far having been Imre Salusinszky, Tim Blair and Michael Duffy. That’s a cute double play if so; to have a right-wing warrior — an intelligent commentator and good writer — fail so badly at a broader remit that objections to whoever replaces him can be muted at best. If Ibrahim manages to rebuild the show, Switzer and the right-wing push will be further embarrassed, because it will show that, guess what, broadcasting is a profession, with skills learnt over years.
Whatever happens it’s a shame Green’s Sunday Extra was demolished, before he was ready to move on. But that shows you the mirror world we’re in: it’s the left who are the conservatives, wanting traditions — like public broadcasting, and its particular styles — to be built on, preserved, curated. It’s the right who have the politics-first souls of Stalinists, willing to smash anything to make a cheap political gain. They have gained nothing but reversal, and we lost a program loved by many. The loss is somewhat assuaged if it demonstrates to a wider population how the right think: that in their obsessive hatred for the ABC, they would happily destroy everything anybody loves — and the entire population loves something on the ABC — to ram home their point. They make a wilderness, and they call it “freedom”. Meanwhile Switzer will continue to present RN’s Between The Lines — and doubtless sign on to other academic/think tank etc gigs. Anything but test one’s skills in advocating for the free market, on the free market.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article’s standfirst incorrectly suggested Tom Switzer had been sacked from ABC Radio National. This is not the case. Switzer left Sunday Extra voluntarily. Crikey regrets the error and apologises unreservedly to him for the mistake.