Paul Kelly, Archie Roach, Kate Ceberano, Gurrumul and Missy Higgins are among hundreds of Australian musicians to have put their support behind a campaign to save Radio National’s music shows. The campaign is a response to the axing of The Daily Planet, The Inside Sleeve, The Rhythm Divine and The Live Set, and to the removal of Jazztrack from Radio National.
The musicians signed an open letter, sent to the ABC Board and Managing Director Michelle Guthrie on 30 November, stating, “the decision was taken without proper industry and public consultation and must be reconsidered and reversed … It is clear that the cuts contradict the intent and spirit of the ABC Charter, which outlines ‘two of the functions of the Corporation’ as:
“broadcasting programs that contribute a sense of national identity and inform and entertain, and reflect the cultural diversity of, the Australian community;”
“to encourage and promote the musical, dramatic and other performing arts in Australia.”
The letter argues that the shows to be cut “provide specialist, linear broadcasting of diverse music that is not broadcast nationally elsewhere with equivalent depth, breadth and expertise.” This music includes “folk, roots, world, blues, jazz and adult contemporary.”
Furthermore, the letter demonstrates that Double J, the ABC’s contemporary adult music digital radio channel, will fail to “compensate for Radio National’s losses”. Double J is only available online and via digital radio and digital television. Online access costs users, in terms of data, and is problematic for Australians in regional areas, where the Internet is often slow and/or non-existent. Meanwhile, digital radio is available in just five capital cities, leaving many users with digital television as their only option.
The open letter attracted media attention from the Guardian, the SMH, the Saturday Paper, the New Daily, and the Brag, among other publications. On Radio National’s PM, presenter Mark Colvin interviewed Chris Scaddan, ABC Head of Radio. Colvin pointed out that access to radio via digital television is not “much of a help if what you’re used to doing is sitting in your car listening to RN or you’ve got the radio in your shed while you’re doing your work or while you’re doing the washing up. The television tends to be in one place in the house; it’s not a very practical alternative is it?”
In addition, a petition calling on the ABC to reverse the decision has attracted more than 16,000 signatures, and hundreds of prominent supporters have published public statements via social media. Paul Kelly wrote, “The music programs on Radio National, in all their diversity, play a vital role in developing Australian songwriters, composers and musicians. Their proposed savage reduction on a network that serves the whole country is a senseless blow to our culture.”
Author Tim Winton wrote, “At a time when it seems every element of home-grown culture is under siege, it’s bewildering to see Radio National stripping music shows from its programming. To musicians, composers, producers and listeners alike, this retreat feels like a betrayal, a signal that ABC management feels no need to repay the loyalty of its audience. For years Radio National has been a defender of Australian culture and a means by which new writers, players and composers find an audience.”
The campaign gained momentum on Friday 1 December and Saturday 2 December, when musicians and listeners attended “busk protests” in capital cities all over Australia. Singer-songwriter Melanie Horsnell parked her car, painted with the messages “#saveRNmusic” and “I heart Radio National” in the driveway of ABC Ultimo, Sydney.