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Friday, December 21, 2012

Bmag Dec 18th 2012 - Let's talk!

The greatest lesson I have learned in 2012, and one which I now hope to pass on to anyone who will listen, is the importance of talking things out. Radio station 4BC had a great line in its recent TV advertising campaign: “Talk is cheap but it can free your mind. It can start a war. Talk can end a war”. It’s so true. I want to tell you a story that goes back to a bmag column in July. The story ends a week ago, with me and a bloke called Brian having a good old laugh in the coffee shop which is situated directly underneath my radio studio at South Bank.

On 10 July, I suggested a possible compromise and way forward on the issue of same-sex marriage. I wrote: “We need two different types of marriage, to be known as a Church Marriage and a Civil Marriage. A Church Marriage would remain between a man and a woman – unless religious leaders one day decided otherwise. A Civil Marriage would include same-sex couples.” That column generated more feedback than any other I have written, but one email stood out. Among those disagreeing with me was Tony Salacich who wrote: “I’d like to meet and talk for an hour about the issue.” He went on to say: “My attempts at writing to [writers of ] other newspaper articles were either poorly received or misunderstood.” And so I agreed. It was the first time I’d ever sat down with a stranger (albeit a bmag reader who felt he knew me) to discuss a difference of opinions.

And it was great. We talked for just over an hour and I came to understand why Tony, a former high school chaplain, was so protective of the institution of marriage. I’m not going to elaborate here because it involves other people in Tony’s life, but it’s fair to say we both walked away with a greater appreciation of each others’ views.

So inspired was I by Tony’s enthusiasm for sitting down over a cup of coffee that I then invited another bmag reader, who had also disagreed with my same-sex marriage compromise, to do the same. I guess she thought I was being provocative, for she replied: “Thank you Spencer but I think I’ll give it a miss. I’m just hoping that some of what you write is just a job to you and you yourself are a moral and courageous man.”

Fast-forward to earlier this month and a Twitter user by the name of @GuruatLarge decided to let fly at me one night, saying (among other things): “You ruined my radio station with your knob (sic) ego.” Again I channelled bmag reader Tony Salacich with my response: “Come and have a coffee and we can chat about this.” Well blow me down if he didn’t say yes! So just last week, @GuruatLarge (real name Brian King) and I spent a good 45 minutes thrashing out our differences! Except, it wasn’t really like that.

We probably spent 10 minutes discussing Brian’s concerns – worthwhile reminders for me about what listeners want and need from a radio station – and then we just connected as blokes and shot the breeze. Turns out Brian’s a musician whose band has been trialling an unusual new recording technique – he’s going to send me one of his songs to play on 612 ABC Breakfast – and we both have a fascination with a phone app that lets you identify aircraft. We finished with Brian taking a “selfy” photo of the two of us, which he later tweeted with the message: “Had a great time talking radio with @SpencerHowson this morning. Great bloke to talk to.”

 What Tony and Brian both taught me is that we should take the time to talk – and, more importantly, listen. How many times have you complained about something and felt your concerns weren’t even heard? So if, like me, you’re in a position that involves customer contact and the odd complaint, see if you can’t take a moment to understand where they’re coming from. Often that’s all any of us want – to be heard. And so we come to the end of my second year writing for bmag. Thank you for reading and engaging. It’s a real thrill for me to have this exchange of ideas every fortnight. Keep the emails coming. May I wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas and Happy Chanukah.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Bmag Dec 4th 2012 - Christmas music

Warning: the following column may contain traces of Wham! To mark my 20th Christmas on ABC Radio, I’m going to share with you the four key lessons I’ve learned about broadcasting at this time of year. You won’t agree with all four. You may not agree with any of them. But in order to avoid vigorously hand-written letters from well-meaning arguably-traditional listeners, I do my best to comply with the following:

Firstly, don’t talk about Christmas until December. That is, unless you’re joining the chorus of disapproval about the shops putting out their decorations too early. (What I love about the annual “it’s not Christmas yet” Talkback-101 are the people who get riled in October or November because they’ve just noticed the trees and baubles for sale at their local department store. Try August!)

Secondly, never shorten Christmas to Xmas. Not that this is a problem when you’re speaking on the radio, but as soon as you write Xmas on social media, in a Christmas card, on the net or in an email, expect to be criticised. (Similarly, try never to write or say the word “kids” – “Dear Mr Howson, a kid is a baby goat.”)

Thirdly, Christmas is Christmas. Christmas is not “the holiday season”. I know that if I start wishing my radio guests and listeners “happy holidays”, I can expect letters. Throwing in the odd “and Happy Chanukah” seems to go down well – no complaints so far – just as “Happy Eid” at the end of Ramadan never attracts listener complaints. So just say what it is (Christmas, Chanukah) instead of trying to say nothing (Happy Holidays).

But the number one lesson I’ve learned from 20 years of Christmas broadcasting on the ABC, is that a carol can be a song but not all songs are carols. Rudolf, the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Jingle Bells are not carols. They are songs. O Come, All Ye Faithful is a carol. Fair enough, too, I’m not going to disagree. For all that, I do love Christmas.

As one of my Twitter followers @NikitaBombita said the other day: “Christmas really is the most wonderful time of the year. I will forever be a child a Christmas. A child who drinks beer at Christmas.” I think that will be my motto this year! My Christmas playlist Apart from the booze and food, and being with family and friends, and just watching children’s faces, I also derive much joy from playing Christmas songs (both on the radio and at home). So I’ve come up with a list of my all-time favourites.

These are the songs I wait for all year! Expect to hear the following on 612 Breakfast over the next few weeks: Band Aid Do They Know It’s Christmas?, The Muppets It Feels Like Christmas, Michael Crawford O Holy Night, Chris Rea Driving Home for Christmas, Louis Armstrong Is That You Santa Claus?, Tim Minchin Drinking White Wine in the Sun, The Andy McDonell Contraption Xmas in Scarborough (his spelling, not mine!) and Wham Last Christmas! (Hey, at least there’s no Nickelback in that list!)

And finally, here’s something you might not know about Christmas. Brisbane Riverside Lions Club helps Santa write to South East Queensland children. Applications for letters close on 12 December. It costs just $3, with the money going to research for juvenile diabetes and children’s cancer. Find out more at

The numbers game

From the last issue of bmag (20 November), several readers correctly answered the homework question. Andrew Kopittke was the first to point out the signs on Oxley Road (as you approach the Ipswich Motorway) say M2 instead of M7. Andrew emailed: “I used to live just near that sign and saw it lots and never realised it was wrong!”

And Katherine May responded to my pointing out the time/date combination of 8.09 on 10/11/12: “I had to share my awesome set of numbers. My birthday is 10/09/1981. I can add up the date of my birthday to get my age (eg 10+9+12=31). I’ll never have problems figuring out how old I am!” Katherine, and others who share this obsession with number patterns, I hope you have special plans for 12.12 on 12/12/12 next week! We won’t see a perfect set of numbers like that until 1 January 2101!