Editorial – RT43

Cultural vandalism at the ABC

In the Sydney Morning Herald’s The Guide, May 28-June3, ABC Classic FM’s new programming manager, John Crawford, “outlined his plans for the network, which include dropping…Soundstage and reworking The Listening Room.” This leaves radio drama with the half hour Airplay, Sunday afternoons at 3pm, and a new 1 hour 8pm slot, Saturday Night Drama, both on Radio National. Saturday Night Drama is broadcasting British imports for the moment, presumably because the 30% budget cut won’t allow for much new Australian product in the short term. In the long term 60 minute Australian works will be commissioned, but nothing longer.

Crawford has effectively banished radio drama to mono transmission, to diminished duration, to a lower budget and to a Saturday night homebody audience —“he would like to broaden the station’s demographic from 55-plus to attract the 40-to-50 market”, says The Guide, “as well as those he calls the ‘grey nomads’—the retirees traversing Australia in their camper vans.” What ambition!

Soundstage and The Listening Room are consistent award winners with international reputations. That one has been destroyed and the other is to be “workshopped” (in the context that word has never sounded so chilling) smacks of cultural vandalism. Crawford is damaging audio artforms that have a rich history and which have employed and nurtured an enormous variety of writers, actors, directors, composers, sound designers and musicians.

Ironically, Crawford has not been hostile to the new. He has consistently supported contemporary Australian music for over a decade, even when Classic FM inclined in recent years to easy listening. You would think that he would be supportive of 2 programs that offer composers other ways of working and take up little of his air space.
In a new century where there’s a substantial interplay between art forms (of which The Listening Room has been prophetic as well as exemplary) it seems odd that innovation counts for so little. And as the possibilities for radio performance writing expand, that radio drama should be deprived of quality transmission with aural breadth and depth.

Why so draconian? In reference to Soundstage, The Guide invokes ‘costly.’ Crawford cites listener requests for less “spoken word.” Two hours of drama is two hours too many in a 168 hour week? Of course, writers and other artists will continue to find work on Radio-eye and, Crawford’s workshop pending, The Listening Room. Nonetheless, a significant artistic terrain has been laid waste.

Perhaps because audio art seems fundamentally ephemeral, we tend not to regard its demise with the same alarm we might experience over the destruction of a painting or a Buddhist statue, or a favorite building, or the environment. You can’t see the damage. You can’t tour the ruins. There are no CDs. There’s just silence.

RealTime issue #43 June-July 2001 pg. 3

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1 June 2001