One of the oddest under-classes of Melbourne society are the people who write letters to the Age. Not the main body of letter writers who ramble on about how they are ashamed of being Australian because we will not allow half of Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and anywhere in Africa to wander in as so-called refugees (half of India is already here, trying to work out the GPS in their taxis). My underclass inhabit the right hand side of the opinions page in a column where the contributions are phoned in or sent as text messages because most of the authors could not string a complete letter together if their life depended on it. But it is easy for them to get a 10 second burst off their chest. And some of them are good. My favourite is an eccentric named Tony McNally who casts a jaundiced eye over the world like Jonathan Swift while he sharpens pithy aphorisms that he fires off to deflate any modern pretension that he notices. One last month was a gem, suggesting that although the Barnaby Joyce saga was causing a lot of angst and heartbreak, he was sure it would all have a nappy ending.
And those short-letter writers keep at it day after day. Their topic du jour is the loss of Red Symons as the host of the ABC’s morning show on the wireless. Red, the former lead guitarist in the Skyhooks pop group, endeared himself to Melbourne audiences for 15 years with his quirky asides and elegant debunking of anything and anyone in the news. Unfortunately, his quirkiness went too far for the cultural commissars at the ABC when he made some harmless quips in an interview, asking his subject ‘What is it with Asians?’ and ‘Are you yellow?’ The commissars declared this was ‘racism’, although anyone with an ounce of common sense could tell he was not denigrating Asians but poking fun at racists by using reverse racism, in the same way that black Americans use the word ‘nigger’ to such effect. So, after the inevitable forced apology and an accident that kept him away for several weeks, he was sacked in one of those phony ABC restructurings just before Christmas. Since then, the Age brigade has never let up and the short- letters column has kept up a barrage of criticism of his sacking and calls for his return. Melbourne has never seen the like of the outrage from the listenerarti. And they will not let up until the commissars do a Kelly O’Dwyer and say ‘Oops, we made a big mistake.’
The whole disaster has been made worse by Symons being replaced by two complete nonentities, a Pakistani comedian named Sami Shah, and a sidekick from student radio, Jacinta Parsons who can scarcely get a word in sideways while Sami is prattling on. Their down-market jabbering has to be heard to be believed. But this, of course, is the modern go-ahead look of the new ABC that has abandoned all its traditional appeal in the mad chase to clone itself into a third rate commercial outfit. And it sure is succeeding. After all, the commercials go for pairs these days to engage in silly patter and so must the ABC. The result was inevitable: the station’s audience share dropped by 2.9 points, a massive fall in one month for a radio station and one that has put the ABC behind its commercial rivals and decimated its traditional and loyal audience. And little wonder that this has happened when, instead of Symons’ philosophical reflections on life, presented in a droll Melbourne way that obviously had enormous appeal, we now have a contrived and artificial attempt to be hipster progressive.
For once, the luvvies are right for mourning the loss of a bit of the old ABC. But these are the three things I would say to them in a letter to the editor of the Age, if I thought there was the remotest chance he would print it. First, stop being so coy about what you are really trying to say: Sami and Jacinta’s efforts to turn ABC breakfast radio into some sort of comedy hour are a dismal failure. Secondly, racism is overdone. If the commissars showed some discretion and tact and recognised satire and parody instead of jumping at every imagined racist outrage, Symons would still be there and the ABC would still be winning. Thirdly, dear luvvies, you keep harping about independence for the ABC. Well, now you have it. This is independence; independence for the kindergarten lefties who want a plaything of their own, free from control or guidance by a board that clearly has no idea of its responsibilities, a minister who seems indifferent and a PM who appointed a chairman who thinks there is no bias in the ABC and no doubt agrees with him. Some of us wanted to put some discipline into the ABC to preserve its quality and, yes, to keep some control to prevent it becoming a pale shadow of the commercials. You, and the Friends of the ABC, who turned out to be its worst enemies, wanted untrammelled independence. You’ve got it. You are hereby sentenced to listen to Sami Shama (and Jacinta if she can get a word in) for the rest of your life as the price you pay for getting your brand of independence for the ABC.
Meanwhile, I’ve switched to 3AW. Every conservative should listen to its breakfast show, for three reasons. They talk like normal human beings, so you can understand them; they hate political correctness in all its guises; and, with the budget coming on, they are attacking the confidence trick of governments soaking us for three years and then expecting us to be grateful for handouts in the fourth year. Happy budget and happy listening!
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