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Monday, April 25, 2011

Bmag April 26th 2011 - Discovering Brisbane's past

The Howsons are off to Washington soon and my wife Nikki has been reading just about everything ever published on visiting the US capital. Recently Nikki was reeling off all the museums in DC.

There’s the Spy Museum, the Air and Space Museum, the Museum of African Art, the Jewish Museum, the Museum of Natural History, the Museum of Women in the Arts, the Museum of Crime and Punishment...and the list goes on. Heck, apparently the gift shop alone at the American Building Museum is one not to miss.

But all this talk of museums in Washington reminded me of all the ones we have right here in Brisbane. No doubt you know the Queensland Museum and the Museum of Brisbane (currently at 157 Ann Street) but what about some of the others?

For example, you don’t have to go to Melbourne to ride a tram. On a Sunday afternoon, take the family to the Brisbane Tramway Museum at Ferny Grove. The Workshops Rail Museum at Ipswich runs semi-regular steam train trips from Brisbane.

Underneath the Goodwill Bridge is the Maritime Museum with its centrepiece, the Queensland-built frigate Diamantina, on which Japanese garrisons on Nauru Island and Ocean Island signed surrender documents at the end of World War Two. The Maritime Museum’s latest acquisition is Jessica Watson’s round-the-world yacht Pink Lady. Become a member ($40 for a family) and you get exclusive access to one of the best vantage points for Riverfire.

The Queensland Telecommunications Museum at Clayfield introduces you to the world of pre-electric and electronic forms of communication. If you can successfully send your full name in Morse Code to one of the museum’s qualified telegraphists, you can purchase (for a dollar!) a certificate celebrating your achievement. One of Brisbane’s newest museums is the MacArthur Museum on Queen Street, from where General Douglas MacArthur commanded Allied Forces between 1942 and 1944. Sit at the same table where MacArthur developed strategies when thousands of American troops were based here, filling our shops, cafes and pubs and entertaining our women!

At the Queensland Military Memorial Museum in Fortitude Valley, there are pre-federation Queensland military uniforms, medals, weapons, trench art and other memorabilia. The Queensland Police Museum at Police Headquarters shows you the history of policing from 1864. You can test your detective skills using clues from a simulated murder scene. The Queensland Racing Museum at Eagle Farm is one of only eight in the world dedicated to thoroughbred racing. The Museum of Lands, Mapping and Surveying houses the artefacts used to determine the state border.

QUT Gardens Point has an Art Museum. And at the University of Queensland, St Lucia campus, there are no fewer than six separate museums, including the Anthropology Museum, the Antiquities Celebrating the past Museum, the Museum of Medical History and the Physics Museum.

For a day-trip, there’s the Redcliffe Museum, the Queensland Ambulance Museum at Wynnum, the Redland Museum in Cleveland, the North Stradbroke Island Historical Museum, the Samford Museum and the Yugambeh Language and Heritage Museum in Beenleigh. And I haven’t even started on the historic buildings like Newstead House, the Commissariat Store and Miegunyah.

It is sometimes said that we don’t appreciate our heritage in Brisbane and it’s true we’ve lost plenty of beautiful old buildings along the way. But, at the same time, we have no shortage of places celebrating our past. And I reckon I might have just about matched the number of museums on Nikki’s Washington to-do list!

In the last issue of bmag I explained the benefits of converting to digital radio. Here are some of the comments from people who have tuned in. Jono Perry described the column as “absolutely fantastic” and added, “I have three digital radios and couldn’t live without them.” Ken Jones wrote: “I have put up with the tragic AM band but now help has arrived. To me, it is not quite FM but it leaves AM for dead.” And Katie Clift tweeted me: “There’s an SBS Eurovision channel?! All my Christmases have come at once!”

Monday, April 11, 2011

Bmag April 12th 2011 - Digital Radio

You may have read that 612 ABC Brisbane did very well in the first radio ratings survey of 2011. Whilst B105 is the top-rating station overall, I’m extremely proud that for the past 12 months, 612 Breakfast has consistently been the most popular morning radio show in Brisbane. However, there is a second set of listening figures released at the end of last month which I am just as excited about.

Less than two years after its launch, digital radio now has more than 700,000 listeners around the country. Not bad for new technology that’s taken a while to come down in price and that noone has been told much about.

Eventually it’s expected AM and FM will be switched off and you will need to make the move over to digital (or DAB+ to give it its proper name). And if that all sounds familiar, you’re right. It’s just like the switch to digital TV. Remember when ABC TV was just one channel? Now we have ABC1, ABC2, ABC3 and ABC24. Digital radio provides this same choice.

612 ABC Brisbane has had as many as four different shows on air at once, using analogue and digital services. For example, every Friday night during footy season, ABC digital radio listeners can choose between AFL, NRL or a sport-free evening show. Earlier this year, the ABC mounted temporary channels called Queensland Floods, Cyclone Yasi and Christchurch Earthquake, each carrying live rolling news. The recent Cricket World Cup was broadcast live on digital radio. And on 25 April, there will be an ANZAC Day channel broadcasting archival material as well as ANZAC Day services from around Australia and abroad.

It’s not just the ABC getting into multi-channel digital radio. Every month, 4KQ’s second channel plays a feature artist non-stop. These have included U2, Queen and The Beatles. There are new music stations, like Radar and Nova Nation. Barry is a 24-hour comedy station. Popular community stations 96-Five and 4ZZZ each have a second channel on digital radio. And SBS soon will switch on a Eurovision Song Contest channel, playing hits and misses from the past 50 years.

There are some sticking points with digital radio, not least of which has been the cost of the receivers. However, you can now buy a decent digital radio for between $50 and $100. The coverage area needs improving. I have picked up digital radio as far north as Bald Hills, west to Ipswich and south to Waterford. But if you’re on the Gold or Sunshine Coasts, don’t even bother. There’s also a school of thought that says internet listening – including via phone apps – will make digital radio redundant. I’d argue that whilst online listening is popular, it also incurs a download cost. By contrast, digital radio is free-to-air and who doesn’t like something that’s free?

As you can tell, I am passionate about radio. It’s the instant medium you can take with you anywhere and have on in the background no-matter what you’re doing. But, competing as it is against online news and personal MP3 music collections, radio has to reinvent itself and keep pace. That’s why I’m so excited about those digital radio listening and sales figures.

Most exciting of all is the recent news that some car manufacturers will soon start installing digital radios as standard. Once your new car introduces your ears to digital radio, you will understand what I’ve been going on about for these past two years!

Four reasons to get excited about digital radio:

1. Superior sound quality. FM listeners won’t notice much difference but you should hear your favourite AM radio station in digital stereo.

2. Digital radios have a screen on which your radio station can post news, weather or the name of a song.

3. Some digital radios have the ability to pause and rewind. This is similar to the PVR you might have for your TV.

4. Finally, and this is the clincher, radio stations can have more than one program on air at once.