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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Bmag Feb 21st 2012 - Patterns in dates

How special is the date on the cover of this issue of bmag? Can you see it? 21 February 2012? Anyone see a pattern there? Anyone? Bueller?! I don’t know when it started or why I persist – maybe I need some professional help – but I can’t help seeing and thoroughly enjoying patterns in dates.

For example, 21 February 2012, when written out in numbers, is perfectly symmetrical: 21022012! Probably the reason for my fascination is that, being on radio at breakfast time, I’m one of the first people in Brisbane to see the day’s date written down. And then, like an overenthusiastic “pincher and puncher” on the first day of the month, I get to shout it from the rooftops (or, in my case, radio speakers!)

Sometimes, you have to be creative, arguably contradicting your own rules. For example, 21 March can be symmetrical too, as long as you don’t have the zero before the three and you reduce the year to 12 (21312). Not as impressive as 21022012, I know! In fact, if you remove that zero, the 21st of every month, bar October and December, is symmetrical (or palindromic, to use a word most of us probably learned from Monty Python’s Pet Shop Sketch!)

Then there are the fun sequences, like 10 November 2012, which can be written 10 11 12. To really impress, consider the time at 15 seconds past 14 minutes past one in the afternoon and you have the date/time combination of 10 11 12 13 14 15. Have I hooked you in yet?! It bugs me when I miss one. For example, 1 February this year attracted the nickname Roadies’ Day, in recognition of the traditional sound-check “12 12”! It wasn’t until late afternoon on 1 February that I noticed the pattern, too late for me to use on radio! The next day I more than made up for it, declaring that 2 February (2 2) was both Ballerina Day (tutu) and Richie Benaud Day (a cricket fan will enjoy explaining that one to you).

So as not to miss any more, I’ve started looking ahead. Here’s what I’ve spotted so far. I’d love you to email me more that you can see coming up at

4 May is Star Wars Day – “May the fourth be with you” (a play on the line from the movie’s “May the force be with you”).

22 July is Pi Day – Pi (the relationship between the radius and circumference of a circle) is often approximated to 22/7. In the United States, where the month is written before the date, Pi Day can instead be marked on March 14 – 3.14 (plus a bazillion more digits, but who’s counting?) being a very rough approximation of 22/7 (which in itself is an approximation of Pi). Have I just crossed an invisible geek line? No? That’s good. Oh, a most visible geek line? I see.

The most exciting and obvious date this year is 12 December, or 12 12 12. It’s the twelfth year in a row we’ve enjoyed a triple date like that, starting with 1 January 2001. We won’t get another triple until 2101! If you’ve been following along, you’ll already be thinking about what happens at 12 seconds past 12 minutes past 12 that day! That’s right – 12 12 12 12 12 12! If you miss all the 12s, there’s some consolation in 20 December being 20 12 2012. Be still my mathematical heart!

Radio for children

My column on the lack of children’s radio drew a huge response, including from Deborah Lever, who says “The lack of kids radio has frustrated me for some time. Though these days finding good funky music with no ‘toilet words’ is a bit of challenge.”

Marion Mora remembers listening to The Argonauts’ Club in the 1940s: “As a child on a farm, I enjoyed every second of every program. The Argonauts gave me a window into so many worlds and had a huge impact on my life.”

Linda Tait says “age appropriate” radio for children “would definitely be something I would encourage my kids to participate in.”

And Allain Edwards shared the good news that children’s music and stories are broadcast on fully-automated narrowcast radio stations in a small number of regional towns and cities, the closest to Brisbane being Toowoomba’s 99.1 FM. Thanks Allain – let’s hope there’s more good news on the children’s radio front.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Bmag February 7th 2012 - Radio for children

A random late-night tweet by ABC current affairs presenter Mark Colvin has had me revisiting the reason I first wanted to get into radio – talkback for children! Mark wrote: “It was one of the sadder moments with ABC when Radio National fired Peter Combe. Since then, no children’s programs on radio in Australia”.

Peter Combe’s show was called Tickle Pot. It ran for 10 minutes every afternoon from 1988-1991 and in many ways was Play School on radio. I used to record Tickle Pot and make mix-tapes for my younger brother. Peter Combe himself has said “why the ABC stopped producing it is one of life’s great mysteries!” You can now purchase old episodes of Tickle Pot on CD but it’s not the same as sharing the joy of radio with your children or grandchildren.

I was recently sent an ABC Radio program guide from 1967. Every afternoon at 5pm was the one-hour Argonauts’ Club. From 7 November 1967: “There’s a song and a riddle with Mac, Jimmy, Penny and Sue. The Appelles read letters and we continue our serials.” So why isn’t there children’s radio in 2012? When they get home from school, children turn to TV, the internet or pop music radio stations (with content that’s not always familyfriendly). There is a Tuesday afternoon “by students, for students” show on 4ZZZ called Paper Aeroplanes, but its target audience is upper high school and university, rather than young children.

Children’s radio is something I’ve been thinking about for a long time. I walked into community station 4RPH 22 years ago offering to present a children’s talkback show. I was studying journalism at the time. My idea was to give school students the chance to talk about everything from homework to bullying. They would feel safe and anonymous discussing whatever was on their mind. As it turned out, 4RPH didn’t have talkback facilities so the idea was filed away. I ended up presenting a number of programs for 4RPH – from the arts to politics – but one of my favourites was The Jungle, where my now wife Nikki (we met at 4RPH) and I would read children’s stories and play songs. See, I wasn’t going to let the children’s radio idea slip away completely!

 The ABC has just ramped up its Grandstand channel on digital radio – as of last Friday, 3 February, Francis Leach is hosting a live sports breakfast show four mornings a week – so I can’t think of a better time to suggest an ABC digital radio channel for children! Just look at how much music has been released on the ABC for Kids label, from the Wiggles and Play School to The Fairies and Giggle and Hoot. There would be no shortage of contemporary Australian content. At night, for older children, you could have book readings and plays (for example, the Dr Who episodes created especially for the audiobook market). Later still, and into the early morning, soothing voices could discuss topics of interest to nursing mums interspersed with those brilliant Sean O’Boyle lullaby CDs (with titles that include Counting Sheep and Songs for Quiet Time). And maybe, just maybe, somewhere in the schedule, there could be a live talkback show for children around Australia to get things off their chest!

On the subject of radio, there have been a couple of key developments. Firstly, Toyota has announced it will install DAB+ digital radios as standard from this year. This is a game-changer in Australia. Other manufacturers are expected to follow suit.

Secondly, the proliferation of smart phones combined with more affordable data plans, means more people are listening to radio via the internet on their phones. Most of my away-from-home radio listening is via a phone app and I’ve become aware of many more ABC listeners tuning in this way. Many radio stations have their own apps but if you like to flick around the stations (I’ll be honest – I do) you could try one like TuneIn Radio which is free for the basic version and available on iOS and Android devices.

Of course, you are paying for data when you listen to radio this way but you might find it’s cheaper than you think. I pay $20 for 2GB a month and that gives me several hours’ radio listening a day.