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The Radio Revolution

Sean Wright

Radio Revolution and Radio Revolutionaries

It seems like ‘a week ago last Tuesday’ that the doomsayers of the technorati predicted the death of radio. It seemed a foregone conclusion that they’d be right.

What has unfolded in those few years since the high-watermark of FM domination and AM talkback has been not the end of radio, but a new beginning of new content, served-up in different ways. What has been killed is the ephemeral nature of radio. Part of this reason is a new way to make radio accessible to people everywhere. 

Accessibility has always been the key to radio. The ability to listen to radio in the car is an example of this: built-in, baked-in, wherever you are, you are usually within distance of some type of broadcast. It is, ubiquitous: simply there, able to tuned-in should you need a soundtrack to your drive.  

Rewind back to 2007 and the smartphone revolution of the iPhone: pundits quickly said the lack of radio functionality either would (a) kill the usefulness of product or (b) mean radio would be defunct. As much as digital radio workarounds could be made, it didn’t factor in the need to pick-up the usual signals for regular accessibility. And, thankfully, on both fronts they were wrong. 

The app economy has created a swathe of ways you can listen. You can stream live content from almost anywhere. Say you want some ska music? Tune in to Trinidad over the internet; Some bluegrass? you can hear Arkansas loud-and-clear. Now the broadcast distance of the radio-waves are limitless.

One of the keys to accessibility of this “radio revolution” has been the maturing of podcasting since 2004. Content has emerged from beyond the usual channels and content curators (including people operating out of their own garages—think Marc Maron’s WTF show). This has allowed the folly and shortcomings of traditional radio programming that betrayed listeners to be supplemented, offering an alternative and springboard for new and emerging public radio content. 

Is podcasting the same as radio? I’ll leave that question to the picky people who want to delineate nuances between navel oranges and their navels. What I will say is that it makes it simple to listen ‘when you want’ to ‘what you want’. The question is not about allegiance to a station, but to content and trusted deliverers of that content. Notable podcaster and traditional broadcaster BBC Radio4 may already have a starting point, but their programs are challenged by anyone with a laptop and a microphone. Ted Forbes, Roman Mars and Ira Glass have all seen the opportunity this revolution brings: play to your strengths, keep things simple and accessible and an audience will grow. 

They have learned much from the stalwarts of public radio: you can be true to your roots and give-away content for free; you will be able to find an audience who is willing, through subscription, crowd-funding or sponsorship to support you and your endeavours. 

So, dear listeners, tune-in and put your feet up in your car: the driveway moments* that only great radio content can bring are now provided through some additional channels, and we are all the better for it.

Put your Money where your Ear is!

That brings me to my own station and it’s radio revolution: 2XX FM Canberra was Australia’s first public radio station and is still the best: delivering local content that, on many shows shows up the government and commercial broadcasters for what they are: simply bloody hopeless!

2XX is conducting it’s Radiothon (November 10 to 23) and are asking you to put your money ‘where your ear is’. Station Manager Declan has some exciting plans (possibly incorporating podcasting) amongst other things and we need money to move it forward: so mosey on over to 2xxfm.org.au and see how you can lend a dime to support 2XX and the continuing mission to deliver great content as part of the radio revolution!

*For the uninitiated, a ‘driveway moment’ is where you pull into to your driveway with your radio or a song on, and you don’t turn off your radio and get out. You stay in to listen to the end of the program (or segment) because it is to good to miss.

I Blame Gough...

Sean Wright

I failed a university subject because of Gough Whitlam. Well sort-of… it is ‘one-of-those-stories’, I guess. 

National Archives of Australia  Title: Personalities - Mr Gough Whitlam's trip to China, 1973 Date: 1973 Barcode: 11348380 Series number: A6180  Control symbol: 14/11/73/262

National Archives of Australia 

Title: Personalities - Mr Gough Whitlam's trip to China, 1973

Date: 1973

Barcode: 11348380

Series number: A6180 

Control symbol: 14/11/73/262


Having already been fascinated with the Dismissal while at school, studying Australian Politics at University brought a new found love for the Whitlam years.

But, alas, it was not Australian Politics I failed: it was an odious subject on ‘real property’ from another area of study. The lecturer of this subject could have bored for Australia, such was his propensity of self-indulgent dithering on peculiar peccadilloes that he would remonstrate. After week three, the numbers in the class dwindled to a handful. Some of us students forged an alliance in the Law Library to overcome the mountain that lay before us.

Australian politics provided some respite from the tedious transactional nature of the other subject. And it was in Hansard in the library that I would dive each day, reading from the original speeches in Parliament from the time. A speech from one day would lead you to think: I wonder what Malcolm Fraser or Paul Keating’s Maiden speeches were before the house. Even the warm ‘geniality’ of Lionel Murphy made the Senate—the other place—seem half-attractive and engaging. 

After a while, I had read through pages of debates and dozed through countless afternoons with the voices of the players in my head. It was if I could hear the voices like a broadcast on the radio of the chamber live: even to the point where you could hear the splashes of the glass of water Whitlam threw across the despatch box at Garfield Barwick. It was an incidence that would come back to haunt him as I would piece together the chain of causality between the executive, parliament and judiciary that led to the fateful coup d’état.  

I still think that Fred Daly’s account From Curtin to Kerr is one of the best to capture the period. Daly’s penchant for the intricacies of the parliament (he was an effective Leader of the House). While commentaries like Alan Reid’s The Whitlam Venture capture an aloof analysis, Daly managed to weave the narrative found in the Hansard with his own wit and charm. If you want to read Whitlam, but find the Hansard too daunting, pick up the classic Fred Daly account.

It was Gough who opened the door to education for so many, even if it wasn’t always taken as seriously as it should be.

On Joining a Social Network

Sean Wright

I've just joined a new social network. Let me just say: Allo to Ello. You can find me there under the usual moniker. 

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A few moons ago, I bid adieu to another social networking platform. Part of the reason was the stance that that network had taken towards matters I hold dear: privacy being front-and-centre of those. Part of the reason being the drain that so many of the connections had on that most precious of resources, namely, my time. 

For a while—and to get my fix of social networking, something that has become more and more widespread in the intervening time since my departure—I toyed with joining Google Plus to connect more widely with some people. I decided against it, as it became more and more apparent that some of the reasons I had disliked Facebook had infected that network as well.

In the intervening times, there have been blogs, Instagram and ten-thousand tweets (I swear I just blinked and I hit that figure) amongst some of the mainstays, such as Flickr, which resolutely refuse to die. 

And now: I say Allo to Ello. It is an interesting experiment, a manifesto that seeks to differentiate on ideological grounds from the competition. I, for one, welcome it: the panache that the Google catch cry "Do no evil" has been betrayed. It's not that I necessarily think Ello is the "one ring to rule them all"; quite the opposite in fact: I don't expect it to stay true to its' manifesto, declarations or hostage-taking. More clearly, it is part of a greater realisation that privacy is not incompatible with the idea of sharing, networking or gossiping.  We have always had the choice to drown in the noise and participate in circuses and circles of our choice. Now we have a growing momentum that people are prepared to try new things and vote with their feet in terms of how they live their online lives. 

With so many people apathetically to having their own distinct webspace, social networks and microblogs offer the chance to participate beyond the boundaries of say, e-mail, or the big providers. This sentiment shows that as much as monetising and the corporatising of platforms, there are innovative disruptions just over the horizon that may yet compete for our valuable time. And to my mind, that is a very good thing—I say Hello to the death to complacency. 

Leonard Cohens' 'Popular problems'

Sean Wright

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The problem with reviews of Leonard Cohen albums is the tendency of reviewers to try and use unnecessary hyperbole: if it's good, say it is good and move on. The majority of critics do not have the writing skill to inject praise in a way that doesn't seem too forced, too clever. Invective and destruction however, is a different story (think every second Pitchfork review). 

Besides this, I feel compelled to add myself to the no-doubt chorus of praise for the new Leonard Cohen album. My only caveat is that it is short, too short to fill the necessary longing of the listener to hear the art of Cohen.

'Sublime' and 'Genius' will be two of the words tof praise hat reviewers will lavish on this album. And, admittedly, they fit the lyrics and music like a thief in the night. In the recent documentary '20000 Days on Earth', Nick Cave talks about how songwriting is about counterpoint: a lesson he probably learnt from listening to Cohen's early albums (think Avalanche). And it is the sublime accompanying of the music to the precise lyrics of Cohen that form the work — akin to a bronze cast and the bronze. There is a proximity that fuels the songs; they go further than if they had been amped up for the listener. This, perhaps, is the guidance that Sharon Robinson has brought to the table with her ongoing collaboration with Leonard Cohen. 

No better does this hit you is than the first track: slow. Cohen's perfect album 'Ten New Songs' fostered this approach (Note: I'd defend this opinion out in the street). Long gone is the speed-driven ecstasy that was 'I'm your man', and the confused message in the bottle that was 'Dear Heather'. Cohen has hit his straps, and those straps are befitting the weary, aged warrior poet. The scars are celebrated: the voice beyond the ridicule that was poured on it in the past. 

And on the subject of lyrical genius, Cohen is content to let the precision take place front-and-centre. New ground may not be broken, but the mischievous poet of the days of  'Let us compare Mythologies' is ready to give himself up for our voyeur-like gaze. We are richer for it, and we will long for more: one more album, one more book. Leonard is Eighty, and if this is the last piece of work—and I sincerely hope not—it would be befitting as a key work of the journey of a blues artist, going down slow with synth, jawbone and banjo in his back-pocket. 

Do yourself a favour and buy the record when you're next at you're favourite store. 

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Apple & the Watch

Sean Wright

Remember the announcement of the watch. The watch is the takeaway and game changer, more-so than the fluctuating size and functionality of iDevices...It is the the argument that “wearables”—that God awful phrase bandied about—can cut through to the masses and embed technology in a way more closely than before. More personal than before, always on your person.

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