Conversations @ Giant Dwarf

Had a fabulous night at the Richard Fidler “Conversations” event at Sydney’s Giant Dwarf Theatre.

Here are some photographs from the evening.

Giant Dwarf Radio Play

“This could be really good or really lame”, I said to my friend Michaela the other week when I invited her to join me for the “Radio Play” at Giant Dwarf Theatre. I’d read about the event a few weeks ago on Eventbrite, and I heard Tom Ballard who wrote/directed the event on 702 ABC Sydney this morning.

“You know, we’re the only people old enough to actually remember radio plays”, I said to her as we met at the theatre. The crowd was very twenty-something, though we did spot a bloke who was actually older than us. “He’s here with his daughter”, Michaela noted.

The whole idea around tonight was to do a night of “modern radio theatre”, and I suspect it was a passion project, more than something which was seen as commercially viable. That said, there was a reasonably good crowd at the Giant Dwarf tonight.

As “modern radio theatre”, the concepts behind the sketches was also very modern: a sketch involving an orgy on the Lower North Shore, a piss-take on “Serial” (the new podcast from “This American Life”) which was really, really funny and, to be honest, a third sketch which I don’t actually remember a couple of hours later (obviously because we’re so old).

We sat right up the front and chose a seat which WE THOUGHT would avoid some degree of audience interaction. How wrong we were. “I hate audience interaction. Don’t go there”, Michaela told the host/writer/creator, Tom Ballard when he singled her out for some audience interaction. I’ve previously seen him doing standup and thought he was pretty average, pretty lame, to be honest. In contrast, we both agreed tonight was surprisingly good. In parts, it was probably a little over-written. But overall, it was a really great night of theatre, written and performed with passion. And it was great to see a bit of live radio theatre. Apparently, it will eventually turn up somewhere as a podcast. I’ll edit this item and post a link if/when it turns up, because it’s worth a listen.

Busy Week – Many Choices

It never rains. It pours. There are many weeks (and weekends) where I find myself sitting at home staring at the ceiling, or sitting on the couch scrolling through the television channels hoping desperately there’ll be something to watch. Dullsville

This week and next don’t fall into that category. Work is super-busy right now. On top of that, I have a number of after-hours work-related social occasions. On top of that, there’s a trip to Western Australian for work (with a bit of pleasure tagged on at the end). I’m looking for ideas on the weekend in Perth, by the way, which I haven’t already done, having spent a year of my life living there. I’m catching up with friends, but there are still some gaps in my schedule, especially on the Sunday.

And of course, I also have a “real life” which includes a birthday lunch on this weekend, my own birthday in November, and a bunch of unrelated social catch-ups.

The combination of all of these things means I’ve actually had to say “no” to a number of events.

Tonight, I had the choice of attending Art After Hours at the Art Gallery of NSW, or a recording of Now Hear This at the Art House Hotel. In the end, I chose Now Hear This, a story-telling night that eventually finds its way on to ABC Local Radio and Radio National.

I’ve attended a few of these previously, and I have to say tonight’s was the best. The room was crowded, the stories were great, and there was a lovely vibe. I even received a heart-felt thankyou from the host, Melanie Tait, for some of contribution I’ve been able to make. I even contributed what I thought was the most interesting user-contribution of the night to the theme of unexpected surprises. A lovely night, and an excellent choice.

I’m sure that in two weeks time I’ll be sitting on the couch twiddling my thumbs. :)

Twenty Five Years

5 MV
5 MV

The official employment offer letter states it was twenty five years today that I was offered a job at the ABC.

I’d previously been employed at the community radio station at Bourke in Western NSW. I’d applied for a few ABC jobs during the previous six months. When the call came through from Don Bensted offering me the position, I actually had to ask him “for which job”. In reality, it didn’t matter much to me, as I’d long wanted to work for ABC Radio.

I have a vague memory of finishing work in Bourke on a Wednesday or a Thursday, driving overnight via Broken Hill, and of arriving in Renmark on a Thursday or Friday afternoon. I’m pretty sure I went to air the following Monday, though it’s possible I had a few days to settle in.

5 MV
5 MV

Twenty five years later and I’m still working for the ABC. Along the way, I’ve been the Morning Presenter in Wagga Wagga, the Statewide Afternoon and Drive presenter in NSW, and have acted in other jobs in Darwin, Perth, Canberra and Lismore.

Ten years ago I made the switch from on-air presenter to Manager which wasn’t as traumatic as I thought it might be ego-wise. In a lovely piece of symmetry, I’m currently back in Regional Radio, working as the National Manager of our regional stations.

I’ve had many great opportunities over the last twenty five years, and I continue to love working for a really terrific organisation. Win.

Why I have no interest in the new Smart Watches

The other day I was chatting with a colleague who is much younger than me, and the issue of the new generation of watches came up. I told them I hadn’t worn a watch in about twenty years, and I couldn’t imagine a scenario where I’d want to buy one of the new ones.

I had a terrible history of losing watches. I’m one of those people who comes in the door at night, takes off my clothes on the way to my bathroom, and drops my keys, glasses, phone and wallet, somewhere on the way. I used to do this my watch also, and that’s why I would often lose them at locations like behind the couch, on top of the fridge etc.

I’ve also never really been one for purchasing jewellery. I’ve never worn a ring, for example. To me, watches are a little like jewellery.

Having worked in radio for a long-time I’ve developed a fairly good sense of time. When you spend hours and hours “timing out to the news” and recording items of a specific length (for example, most promos/ads on the radio are thirty seconds in duration), you develop a fairly good sense of time. I know it’s a generalisation, but when we have meetings at work, the people from radio invariably turn up exactly on time (sometimes to the minute and second) whereas those in other parts of the workplace are often a little bit late. In my own personal life, it’s also meant that I’ve developed a good sense of what the time is (based on daylight), and how long something might go for.

But most of all, the reason I don’t wear a watch is because of the “bulk eraser”. The bulk eraser was a device that was commonly used to erase the material on magnetic tape. Put simply, you took your magentic tape (cassette, open-reel, cartridge) and placed it on top of the piece of equipment that “erased” the contents. You had to do it fairly thoroughly or else you could end up with remnant pieces of audio.

You also had to be sure to remove your analogue watch, as that could be rendered unworkable. Many times, I (and others) would walk away, having left their watch on a nearby shelf. After a while, I decided the option of removing my watch was far too problematic, so I would often just hold the hand with a watch on it away at a “safe distance”. Eventually, I stopped wearing a watch.

Like chinagraph pencils and cutting blocks, the “bulk eraser” is a thing of the past in most radio stations. When I had the idea of writing this blog post I wandered up and down the corridors of the ABC in Ultimo to see if a “bulk eraser” might have been found in one of the sealed boxes of “old equipment” on display. In the end, I couldn’t find one, and so I put an appeal to some of my interstate colleagues. With many thanks to colleagues in Melbourne and Newcastle, I can now share with my younger colleague (and you) what a “bulk eraser” once looked like.

Roll of Honour

Earlier today I was really proud to speak at the launch of the “Soundscape” project at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. Briefly, I was on stage with the Prime Minister, the Minister for Veterans Affairs, the Director of the AWM, a representative from Google (they’re building an app), and with a young student who participated in the project.

In short, primary school age students from all over the country have come into ABC Local Radio studios to record the names of those who appear on the WW1 Roll Of Honour. The soundscape will play at the AWM over the next four years. It’s also been turned into a radio broadcast which runs on digital radio, streaming and mobile all this week. Details are here

Hope you like the photographs and here’s what I had to say about the ABC’s involvement…

I would like to say how very proud the team from ABC Local Radio has been to work on this project

What seemed like a very simple idea when it was first proposed, has gone on to become really important, and very, very touching. One of our Regional Managers, Gaye Pattison from ABC Goulburn Murray in Wodonga, told me, and I quote, “This has been one of the sweetest and most sincere projects I’ve been involved with. Loved it from start to finish”. Another senior network manager told me in an email today, and I quote, “I’m a bit of a weeper at the best of times and this has completely done me in”.

For ABC Local Radio, this has involved staff in thirty-five regional stations. Our regional stations have only a small staff. Generally half a dozen. The manager of the station also usually presents the Breakfast Show, and then when he or she is finished doing that, they come off air and do everything else to lead their team. For them, this Soundscape Project has often involved a lot of extra work. But for many of them, it was a matter of personal passion. Andrew Dunkley, our Manager and Breakfast presenter at ABC Western Plains in Dubbo has recently published a book about his grandfather’s experiences in World War 1. Reter Riley, our Manager and Breakfast presenter at 97.3 ABC Illawarra in Wollongong spent 10 years of his life in the navy, and comes from a family of people who’ve dedicated their lives to war service over a number of generations.

As the school children came in to our stations they had great stories to tell. Nicole Bond, who leads our team at ABC Western Queensland recorded the stories of children in her vast patch who drove up to 400 kilometres to come into our radio station. There was a great response all over the country, including for our team at ABC South Coast in Albany, Western Australia. Later this year, that team lead by Andrew Collins, will also contribute to a national live broadcast on ABC Local Radio of activities around the anniversary of the first troops leaving for Europe from there.

The team from ABC Local Radio in Western Australia have also been approached by the memorial there to do something similar with names of people in that state. And right now, on our pop up radio station, ABC Extra, we’re running part of the soundscape for the entire week. So if you have a digital radio, or if you have a mobile phone, or you can listen online, if you tune to “Roll Of Honour on ABC Extra” you’ll hear the soundscape anywhere in Australia, or indeed anywhere in the world until midnight Friday. Visit

It was a wonderful project to be involved in, especially to hear about how the students practiced and researched the names they recited. I was particularly touched by the comments of one of the children who came into our studios at Longreach. When he asked what he had learned from the project, he simply replied “That they were all real people. They weren’t just made up names”.

Future of Public Service Media – Sydney Ideas

“There’s no universal model of public service media, in terms of content, principles or funding” was the concensus of the academics who spoke at a Sydney Ideas forum, which I attended tonight. “Sydney Ideas”, by the way, is a series of regular public forums which I sometimes go along to. Despite our “BBC model” of public service media we have in Australia, the academics spoke of the diversity of public service media.

In the US, for example, they have public service media which is largely funded by the private sector. One of the characteristics of US public service media is “they spend a lot of time begging you for money”, was how Professor Andrew Calabrese described the situation. One of the consequences of the funding model, he argued, was the public radio network was stronger than the public television network. He argued the development of the online visual story-telling by US public radio might eventually see public radio overtake public television in that space.

Dr Benedetta Brevini spoke about the differing models of public service media funding in Europe, highlighting that some countries are supported by government revenue, others by a licence fee, others by commercials, and others still by a combination of all of those sources. Despite this variety, she argued, public service media had been under attack since at both an individual country level, and at a European-wide level since, about 2003, which she linked with the downturn of the European economy. Despite the policy changes, she argued, there was little evidence to support the idea that if you take public funding away, the commercial sector improves. Indeed, she further argued there’s evidence in the UK, a strong presence by the BBC in the online space, further added to the financial viability of the commercial sector. She further went on to argue, there’s a common interest for public sector media with other public focussed organisations, including museums and art galleries.

Closer to home, Dr John Keane located the development of the “BBC model/Reithian model” of public broadcasting (the same model we have in Australia pretty much) within the context of 1920s/1930 nation building. He further talked fairly disparagingly about the “moralism” of the “BBC model” as something which should be “good for you”. In the same way the arrival of radio and television in the 1920s/1930s was a key driver for this particular model, he argued current changes to technology is changing the model of public service media in ways it’s perhaps too early to adequately articulate. He did, however, note a new model of public media emerging in a number of despotic regimes where the idea of “public service” doesn’t exist, where it’s all about “public control with a touch of Hollywood” (or words to that effect). Despite the strong variation in funding models, programming models and so on, Keane went on to argue, generally speaking “public service media” stands “as an alternative to government and private sector influence”.

One of the key issues public service media has failed to do adequately in Australia, argued Dr Fiona Martin, was go through a process of evaluation. As well as the raw numbers of viewership, funding, and models of efficiency, she argued public service media companies like the ABC and SBS needed to further quantify the impact of their programming. She mentioned, for example, a study by SBS of their program, “Go Back To Where You Came From” which was able to begin to understand the impact of the program on migrant communities themselves. As a consequence of mostly focussing on domestic arguments about public sector funding, she argued organisations like the ABC, the BBC and the CBC were missing out on opportunities to co-operate on making programs and in better international-focussed journalism.

Fiona also spoke about what she thought were fallacious arguments that reducing the size of the public sector would assist the private sector, and that new technologies (the internet) would assist the “broken market” model of public sector funding. She argued the arrival of advertising competition (through publications like Daily Mail, The Guardian and so on in Australia) has lessened the journalistic activity of local publications. Further, the market was “still broke”, she argued, because you “couldn’t crowd-fund a program like The Gods Of Wheat Street”.

A further really interesting question raised by Fiona was the idea of whether “public service media” needs to be seen more broadly than media which was funded by the public, citing the example of “The Guardian”.

Although by the end (8.00pm) I was a little peckish, it was a really interesting way to spend a couple of hours on a Wednesday night, and maintained my interest throughout. It was also really nice to catch up (very briefly) with Fiona which whom I shared a house more than twenty-five years ago when we were both aspiring ABC broadcasters.


Professor Andrew Calabrese is a faculty member of the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Colorado Boulder. His research centres mainly on the relationship between communication media and citizenship with an emphasis on theoretical and practical issues of media and globalization. He edits a book series called Critical Media Studies for the publisher Rowman & Littlefield and serves on editorial boards of several research journals. He is a board member of the European Institute for Communication and Culture.

John Keane is Professor of Politics at the University of Sydney and at the Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin (WZB). He is the Director of the Sydney Democracy Network (SDN). Renowned globally for his creative thinking about democracy, John Keane was educated at the Universities of Adelaide and Toronto and King’s College, University of Cambridge. Among his best-known books are The Media and Democracy (translated into more than 25 languages); the biography Tom Paine: A Political Life (2009); and the recently published Democracy and Media Decadence (2013). HisLife and Death of Democracy was short-listed for the 2010 Non-Fiction Prime Minister’s Literary Award. It is the first full-scale history of democracy for over a century.

Dr Benedetta Brevini is Lecturer in Communication and Media at the University of Sydney and Visiting Fellow of Centre for Law Justice and Journalism at City University She is author of Public Service Broadcasting Online: A Comparative European Policy Study of PSB 2.0 (2013) and co-editor of the volume Beyond WikiLeaks: Implications for the Future of Communications, Journalism & Society (2013). Her work has appeared in international publications such as the European Journal of Communication, Interaction: Studies in Communication and Culture, Westminster Papers in Communication and Culture, Political Communication Polcom. She is a member of the coordinating committee of the UK based Media Reform Coalition whose role is to coordinate the most effective contribution by civil society groups, academics and media campaigners to debates over media regulation, ownership and democracy.

Dr Fiona Martin is a Discovery Early Career Research Award fellow and Senior Lecturer in Convergent and Online Media at the University of Sydney. Her research investigates the uses, politics and regulation of online media (internet, web, mobile devices and IPTV) and their implications for media industry change. She has a particular interest in the evolution of public service media and is co-author and editor of The Value of Public Service Media: RIPE@2013 (2013), a contributor to Ethics for Digital Journalists (2014) and to Histories of Public Service Broadcasting Online (2012). Her current ARC funded projects are Mediating The Conversation analysing the politics and cultures of public commenting on news and opinion websites internationally, and Moving Media, investigating mobile Internet and mobile media policy for digital citizenship. Fiona is a former community and ABC radio broadcaster, a cross-media journalist and journalism educator. She tweets @media_republik and @mobileinternetz.