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.