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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Bmag Aug 20th 2013 - Kids v children

Years and years ago, long before my radio show ever won the ratings, ABC colleague and mentor – now Channel Nine newsreader – Andrew Lofthouse whispered in my ear that the only way to be successful was to be yourself. This came at a time when I had taken over the ABC breakfast show from Peter Dick – we’re talking 1997 or thereabouts – and it’s fair to say I was feeling the pressure to replicate the style of my predecessor. Since then, I’ve relaxed and become more confident in my ability to bring to the table what I believe makes for essential morning radio listening – new, useful, interesting, and local information with a laugh or two and some great tunes.

In 2013, there’s no doubt in my mind that what you hear on my breakfast radio show is 100 per cent me. Or is it only 98 per cent? Because, truth be told, there are two things I say differently on air and off air.

The first one exploded when I raised it on Facebook recently. You can read some of the responses below and it is this: though I will use the word if we’re chatting casually in the street, I still avoid saying ‘kids’ when I’m on the radio (except the odd, unscripted moment where it can and does slip out). The reason being, we used to get a complaint every time: "Kids are baby goats!" In recent times, I haven't heard anyone saying that (about goats) and I've noticed both the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader use the word ‘kids’. Is it time I relaxed my stance and gave myself permission to say ‘kids’ on air?

Here are some of the Facebook replies, which have left me thinking, on balance, it is probably better to continue using the more formal (and respectful) term, but what do you think? In favour of ‘kids’ is Tony Bellette: “PC nonsense has to disappear. When I was a young bloke, announcers were trained to sound British and it was great to hear the Australian sounding voices on radio when they were given permission to be themselves.”

Chris Williams agrees: “I have always used ‘kids’ as a term of endearment even in my teaching career. No one ever complained to me!” Writes Stephen Mackie: “To complain about it is ridiculous. That falls into the `sort of nonsense up with which I will not put’ category.” From Gold Coast singer Vivica: “Just be yourself and say what you want. People will not stop listening because of one word millions of people use.” And from Dan Beeston: “If you're letting the sort of person who's that pedantic about language govern your show you're pandering to the wrong audience.”

But, I don’t see this as pedantry. For me, it’s about using respectful language. Having said that, ‘kids’ is more affectionate. See how I swing from one side to the other? Ann Lacey remembers: “My grandmother would say that about kids and goats. I have worked in the child care profession for over 36 years and I just can't say kids. I always say children. If you do say it I hope it’s only rarely.” Says Andrew Mason: “Some of us have to maintain standards Spencer!”

And Sheila Wilson asks: “Why can't we call children CHILDREN? I know... because everything has to be shortened to suit our laziness. Good on you Spencer. Children are children.” Leanne McKnoulty reminds us what’s really important here: “I'm always perplexed by this conundrum. My conclusion - what matters most is our attitude toward each young person not the label.” Finally, from former Triple M breakfast host Sammy Power: “There are a lot of worse words you could say!”

I mentioned there were two things I say differently on air and off. The other one isn’t just me. It’s an old radio convention still applied by the ABC (and some other stations, I’m sure) and that is to give the time as “16 minutes to four” instead of 3.44. At home, I say 1.25 or 2.55. On air, that becomes 25-past-one or five-to-three. Send me an email. I’d love your feedback on ‘kids’ versus children and how you would like radio announcers to tell the time.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Bmag Aug 6th - Troggg

Politicians will talk up, or talk down, the economy, depending on what suits them. But they (and I) hardly need to tell you that plenty of people are doing it tough at the moment and jobs are hard to come by. Just ask Brett Hansen. The 34- year-old from The Gap has worked a myriad of occupations, from janitor and dish-washer to marketresearcher and admin assistant. But for the past eighteen months, there’s been nothing. So Brett has created a job by taking matters into this own hands – literally.

Turning to his childhood love of the Muppets, he’s designed and created a fluffy blue monster called Troggg– “the middle g is silent” – and launched himself on the Brisbane entertainment scene! Troggg is unashamedly Muppet-like with his squishy round red nose, ping-pong-ball eyes and black bushy mono-brow blending seamlessly into a bright orange mop of hair. Protruding incisors confirm monster status!

“I had him built professionally by an ex-Jim Henson Muppet builder,” Brett tells me. “I wanted one where I could operate his hand. You can’t buy those sorts of puppets so I figured I might as well go all out and have one of my own designed that I could use as the star of all my shows.”

Entertaining is clearly in Brett’s blood. When his hands are not inside puppets, he plays keyboards in a couple of bands (Headkase, Sound Distiller) and with theatre group, ImproMafia. But it’s puppetry that Brett has studied all his life. “[As a child] I would be glued to the screen whenever the Muppets were on. I would sit there with puppets on my hands and mimic the lip-synch and the movements and the way they walk.

“They were always doing all sorts of weird and wonderful things to make them seem real, right down to Jim Henson in a cage under water puppeteering Kermit when he’s singing Rainbow Connection. Filming them outdoors – no one had ever done that before until Henson.”

Brett’s become known around Brisbane for his love of puppets: “I’ve been doing a bit of consultancy, which was my official title in Avenue-Q (the musical) last year, but I’ve been working with some QUT students who are doing a web series about an angry rooster so I’ve been helping them with the movement of the puppets.” And that technique isn’t as easy as you might think. Brett explains: “Eye focus is a big thing but lipsynch is the trick. Also the head moving forward when you emphasise a word. And making sure the puppet remains alive at all times. A lot of people flop the puppet to the side if it’s not talking but just keep it up and nodding and alert and looking around.”

Troggg’s first big break came last month when he was invited to co-host The Late Nite Show on 31 Digital. I was in the 31 studio that night. It felt truly special. Like watching Kermit’s first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. I looked at Brett operating Troggg and couldn’t help but wonder where all this might lead. Brett enjoyed it too, as did Troggg: “I think he felt at home on television, under the lights with his crazy blue fur.”

Of course there’s not much call for puppets on Brisbane television, so Brett is casting a wide net: “I’ve been doing a few kids’ puppet shows, Troggg’s even got an MC gig at a film festival!” He is available for MC gigs at corporate functions, wedding receptions, trivia nights and comedy nights. Given the enormous success of the adultconcept/ themed Avenue Q, perhaps it’s the Muppets’ core fans – the children of the seventies and eighties – that Brett needs to target.

After all, look at the way Peter Combe has reinvented himself. These days, Combe still performs his 1980s toddler hits Toffee Apple and Newspaper Mama, but at nightclubs! The audience is the same, just 25 years older. Brett says he’s open to the idea: “I really enjoyed Avenue-Q. I guess people were reminded of the Muppets and they could relate to the [more adult] subject matter as well. So I can see an adult puppet series happening, either a theatre production that I do with Troggg or a TV series or a film would be nice.” Best of luck to you, Brett, I’m expecting big things from you and Troggg!