Aunty: flexible, not flabby
An RN presenter responds to Louise Evans

© Earl McGehee

I read Louise Evans’ Fairfax op-ed piece on Monday morning with a mixture of interest and revulsion. The latter response was partly because I knew that, at that very moment, a large number of my ABC colleagues, some of them friends, were receiving redundancy notices. But I also felt sickened by the tone of the piece, particularly when it came to the cartoonish portrayal of Radio National. It’s easy to mock, easy to mention “yoga classes” and “fresh produce” from Paddy’s Market. I was a little surprised not to read the word “latte” in among the clichés.

For nearly 20 years, I have worked for the ABC two days a week as the presenter of The Music Show on Radio National. Louise Evans was my manager for six months. I was especially pleased Fairfax published a photo of her, because it finally allowed me to put a face to the name. She may have been my boss, but unlike those who came before her and after, she never invited me to meet her.

The picture she draws of my colleagues and me is not one that I recognise, but I have to say Ms Evans is right about one thing. You wouldn’t find some ABC work practices in ‘corporate Australia’. Here’s an example.

One of the most popular interviews on The Music Show in 2014 was with the 84-year-old soprano Marni Nixon. In addition to performing with the likes of Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic, she was also the singing voice of Deborah Kerr in The King and I, of Natalie Wood in West Side Story, and of Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady. Her wide range of activities seemed just right for our Saturday morning show, and I’d wanted to interview her for some time.

Now Marni Nixon lives in Manhattan, and RN was never going to pay for me to go there. But I was due to be in New York for a few days in April on other business, and offered to squeeze in the interview. My producer made contact, and while the dates didn’t quite work, I found that if I delayed my flight home by a day we could meet. Ms Nixon didn’t disappoint. She even gave me an impromptu blast of ‘The Rain in Spain’, though, sadly, after I’d packed away my recorder.

I paid for the extra night in the hotel myself. I paid all my travel costs, including the taxis to and from her home on the Upper West Side. I paid for my meals. And I recorded the interview on a day that I was not working for the ABC – at least not being paid to work. I also researched the interview in my own time. When I got home I actually enquired about claiming the taxi fares, but after it was explained to me how much form filling would be involved, I decided to cut my losses.

I recently told this to a friend of mine in ‘corporate Australia’ and he informed me I was mad. But what I have just described is not especially unusual. I have done this sort of thing plenty of times before – nearly all the overseas interviews you may have heard on The Music Show have been recorded at my own expense. If you ask my colleagues – Geraldine Doogue, Robyn Williams, Natasha Mitchell, Norman Swan, Phillip Adams – they will all be able to tell you similar stories and regale you with details of flea-pit hotels or nights spent on friends’ sofa beds so as to save the ABC money. The fact is that Radio National is to some extent subsidised by its employees, and we do it because we believe in the place and want our listeners to hear the best minds discussing the most interesting ideas. That’s why we work there.

If our work can be arranged around a yoga class, what is wrong with that? Sometimes, I confess, I have popped out to buy ‘fresh produce’. More often, though, I can be found working through lunch, eating a sandwich at my desk. Radio National is a flexible workplace. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons its broadcasters are so loyal. Some of those loyal broadcasters have just lost their jobs and, unlike Louise Evans, I cannot see the positive side of that.

Andrew Ford

Andrew Ford is an award-winning composer, writer and broadcaster. His books include The Sound of Pictures: Listening to the Movies from Hitchcock to High Fidelity, In Defence of Classical Music and Earth Dances.

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