It was a joining of the heavyweights!
In the left corner, the commercial radio industry with the owners and chiefs of all of Australia’s radio networks, cap city, regional and country.
In the right corner and playing host at their place up on the hill in Canberra, members and senators from our federal parliament.
Commercial Radio Australia (CRA) descended on Parliament House earlier this week for a catch up with politicians from all sides of the political spectrum
.The CRA Cocktail Party is an annual event to “celebrate local commercial radio.”
While the function certainly flew the flag, just as importantly it gave the people who run the commercial radio industry a rare chance to get some serious face time with those in power.
Top of the list was Communications Minister Mitch Fifield who largely holds the future direction of the industry in hands with media ownership laws the big issue facing the industry in 2016.
Fifield appeared to be a very likeable character. In fact he surprised and entertained attendees during his speech with a story about how he was convinced he wanted a career in radio after doing work experience at 2UE back in the early eighties.
“When I was finishing uni, that was the first thing that I was looking at. And my old man was a bank manager in North Sydney. He happened to have the account for 2UE at the time. The Lamb family owned 2UE so I went down to 2UE to see John Conde, and he had me spend some time with the general manager of the station, Rod Spargo,” Mr Fifield said.
“I was absolutely enthralled, sitting in the newsroom, watching the guys there playing basketball, throwing paper aeroplanes, all within seconds of having to go to air to actually deliver their bulletin. So I thought, this is where I want to be,” he said.
Then at the end of his stint he sat down with John Conde who gave him some unwanted career advice.
“Young man don’t go into radio, do something useful with your life.”
“I was absolutely crestfallen,” Mr Fifield said.
Minister Fifield also used the occasion to announce he had just written to the Australian Communications Media Authority (ACMA) instructing them to get on with allowing AM FM conversions to take place.
“This is something that commercial radio has spoken to me a lot about and my predecessor as well who put some things in motion. But I am very pleased to be able to tell you that today, I wrote to ACMA, to ask that they formally commence the process to see that happen,” he said.
“Now obviously there are certain caveats and we need to be careful that there aren’t unintended effects in particular markets.”
The Minister also referred to ongoing debate about the future of charging radio station operators licence fees.
“The fact that I am well, well, well aware of the commercial radio views on the subject of license fees. So as we’ve said, that’s something that we’re examining in the context of the budget,” Minister Fifield said.
The Minister was joined at the function by a who’s who of parliament including Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss, Treasurer Scott Morrison, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, Phillip Ruddock, Anthony Albanese, Bob Katter, Penny Wong and Duncan Kerr to name a few.
Mr Shorten also addressed the room. He told how his wife, an ex radio journalist, tells him to make sure he always pays attention to radio.
Top rating 2GB morning announcer Ray Hadley emceed the event and told many stories about his 35 years in the industry.
Mr Hadley shared his deep passion for the commercial radio industry, comparing the community focused role stations play in regional and country areas across Australia to other media platforms.
He told guests that despite the advent of social media, radio was here to stay.
In 2015, 10.3 million Australians tuned into commercial radio each week in our capital cities. That’s an increase from 10.1 million listeners in 2014 and 9.7 million in 2013.
He talked about how he chose to drive to the event straight after coming off-air and tuning into 2GN at Goulburn on the way through to hear the local news which he used to make his point to the room.
Mr Hadley also threw out a remark about ‘a bible’ when Scott Morrison entered the room, which collectively cracked up in laughter which the Treasurer seemed to take it in good humour. In fact he approached the Macquarie Media star, who’s program he appears on each week to ask him for a selfie (see photo).
He went on to point out that radio is not only about information but also entertainment.
While at the podium he was also heckled from the crowd by Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie who asked him to hurry up so she could get a selfie with him. In true Hadley style he dealt with her in the same succinct way he does with annoying callers who dial 131 873.
“Pipe down, love, you can get your photo with me later,” he said back.
The Senator replied “I am not a love, I’m a Senator”.
The 2GB announcer then invited her up onto the stage and posed for the selfie before continuing on.
He talked about how the days of radio and TV station owners interfering in what content goes to air are long gone.
“Can you imagine someone telling Allan (Jones) to stop talking about coal seam gas,” Mr Hadley said.
“It just doesn’t happen,” he said.
“Back when I first started at 2UE in 1982, I answered a call from the owner Mr Lamb.
Lamb – Who’s this?
Hadley – Ray Hadley sir
Lamb – What do you do there?
Hadley – I call the races on Saturdays and read the sports news on Sunday.
Lamb – OK. Write this down son. Mr and Mrs Lamb has just won the Pennant Championship at the local bowls club this afternoon. Put that in the sports news!
Hadley – I’m sorry sir but I don’t think I can do that.
Lamb – Do you want to still be working there next Saturday?
“I was a pretty stubborn young lad back then and stayed strong. So in the next bulletin at 5 o’clock I didn’t lead with the bowls story. It was the second story,” Mr Hadley said.
While many of the politicians drifted off after the speeches wrapped up, the Communications Minister stayed right until the end to ensure he spoke to every commercial radio network owner and chief in attendance.
It was clear to this correspondent that Joan Warner, her team and the CRA board are very effective at ensuring the industry is well represented in the corridors of power. When it comes to changes to regulations, the government is well and truly well informed. The ball is now clearly in their court.
Darren Cutrupi….Canberra….RadioToday.com.au news
The author worked in commercial radio for 15 years (4LM/HOT FM, 7BU, 2XL, 2HD/NEW FM, 2CC/2CA, 2UE and HIT 104.7/MIX 106.3) and maintains a close connection to the industry in his role as Manager, Emergency Media and Broadcasting Services at the ACT Emergency Services Agency in Canberra.