Transformation required: The death throes of a once great radio station, Radio National


Attention: Mark Scott

While this post is about what’s happening to radio here in Australia, the issue is one you may have in your country too.

When I’m at home I always have the radio on. I even sleep with the radio under my pillow in case I wake up in the middle of the night. I’m a real radiohead. I love it, and feel like the announcers are my friends and companions.

Maybe I should start using the past tense. I used to love it. One station in particular has mattered to me, the public broadcasting station, Radio National. I’ve learnt so much listening to it over the years, and have been moved many times by its programs.

Recently, however, the government budget for the station was cut, and things have changed.

Several of the best programs have gone. Long hours are now filled with repeats from other hours, or guests are beamed in from the US spouting the latest scientific “data” for some banal detail of everyday life that suddenly needs explaining (America: The Land of Explanation). People with infelicitous voices are plonked down like babysitters in front of the mic.

While it’s regrettable, it’s not surprising.

The station is facing the same choice all media channels are facing, or refusing to face. It can continue to destroy its quality in exchange for continuing as a facsimile of its previous incarnation, or it can transform.

Change will not cut it, never has cut it. Nibbling around the edges, sawing a bit off here, a bit off there, and pretending no-one will notice and that it won’t make a difference.

Transformation is the only option. No, wait, there is another option. It can always die.


What could transformation look like for Radio National? Here’s one possibility off the top of my head. Give unlimited budget to presenters Andrew Ford, Rachel Kohn, Ann Jones, Michael MacKenzie, Waleed Aly (allowing this brilliant thinker and communicator to slip away was criminal), David Rutledge, Amanda Smith, Richard Aedy and Jason Di Rosso to each make three hours of radio per week. Let go the rest of the presenting staff. And then take a stream from NewsRadio or the BBC for the remainder.

Why these presenters? Because each of them has courage. They take risks, they don’t just say the easy thing or the expected thing. They give of themselves.

What about you? How would you divert Radio National from its death throes?


Image: Waleed Aly


2 thoughts on “Transformation required: The death throes of a once great radio station, Radio National

  1. I think the change is already happening. It is much cheaper to build an internet radio station, or to set up a blog. The old medias are fast crumbling all over the world. And the truly creative and entertaining are finding ways to communicate using the new technology. Unfortunately, though, there will be fewer and fewer people who’ll be able to make a living by sharing their works of art, or their sage advice through mass communication. As the world becomes more and more a global village, the garbageman, the plumber, and others who do manual labor will earn more than their white collar contemporaries. In technology, science, and entertainment, there will always be those very few extremely gifted, or those who are able to touch the hearts of millions. But just as those who once shoed horses have had to find other means of earning a living… just as repairman have disappeared as the market place provided replacement parts instead… so many creative and inspiring people will find their professions turned into hobbies. It’s a sad trend. But it seems to me there’s no avoiding this change.


    • Hi Shimon. That’s an interesting point about those doing manual labour earning more than white collar contemporaries. So if one wants to be assured of a lifelong occupation, one had better back the “right” manual labour? Plumbing over horse-shoeing? Your point reminds me of a newspaper article my cousin found in which my great uncle, the last in a long line of piano makers, talks about walking the streets of London at night on his return from WW1 and noticing he couldn’t hear the sound of pianos, then in the process of being replaced by the hire-purchase “wireless”.

      Maybe someone’s working on the plumbing issue as we speak.


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