Mass culture has produced no form more lifeless than radio journalism. If you’re yet to read this stuff, please, don’t start now. That modest rise in Radio Shitstack’s 18-24 demographic is only of interest to shareholders, and that monumental rise in some twit’s salary can be only of interest to masochists. Reports of broadcast radio so rarely mention broadcast. The business of this writing is almost always business, so is likely no business of yours.
You may wonder that statements without general appeal can continue to be made in general publications. I have wondered my way to this theory: radio journalism is a legal form of abuse. Entertainment editors can no longer easily garotte young reporters, so they suffocate them with the ratings beat instead.
A poll this week gave us “FM Radio’s Top 20 comedians”.
The radio trade paper is a more specialised form of punishment. Publications like Jocks’ Journal, a photocopied collation of old jokes and new appointments when I first read it as a young broadcaster in the 1990s, addressed a worker niche. What this print mag and the first local online trade AMT, now RadioInfo, did not and could not address were the creative possibilities for the medium.
We should note here I was a bit of a wanker. In fact, I am a bit of a wanker and have long been unable to perform any sort of labour without the sense that it could be truly made my own. I have found this tendency to be as unwelcome in the call-centre as it is in broadcast media. The worker is so often required to follow a boss’s script.
Radio trade papers, which are often produced by former radio bosses, explicate this script. A worker learns to understand industry terms like “positioning” or “cume” or, “you know, it’s not sexual harassment if we’re both in a pub when it happens”. Very useful if you’re the sort who longs to remain employed. Useless if you’re the sort who has trouble ever returning to the box you were asked to think outside of at a weekend staff retreat.
Radio trade mags are intended not to elevate the work of broadcast but to efficiently diminish the broadcast worker. Radio trade mags distance the worker from the possibility of creative labour.
If we do not count “Where the fuck is my name?”, my first response to this list was crudely feminist. Just one lady and nineteen chaps is unconscionable sexism etc.
So, what these business documents can never provide is a true account of broadcast itself. If it’s all market share, messaging and ways to please some Adult Contemporary gobshite boss from the lower north shore, there can be no legitimate criticism of what comes out of the radio. They can describe this as a commodity only. They cannot tell us if it is good or bad. They only know if it has been profitable.
But, the managers, or aspiring managers, who produce and consume a publication called Radio Today decided to give cultural criticism a go. A poll published this week gave us “FM Radio’s Top 20 comedians”.
If we do not count “Where the fuck is my name?”, my first response to this list was crudely feminist. Just one lady and nineteen chaps is unconscionable sexism etc., I thought, before searching again for my name.
I then read that “The list has been compiled by reader votes.”
Hm. Unless we take “reader” to mean one expensive white bro from the lower north shore, this claim is rather odd. Joke-cracking women are no longer in short supply in FM radio and it is seems unlikely that “reader” could overlook moneymaking names that include Denise Scott, Kate Langbroek, Jo Stanley, Wendy Harmer, Chrissie Swan, Yumi Stynes or Amanda Keller. That anyone at all could ever overlook the name of Fifi Box is just impossible. I have never heard the lady but remain confident that she is funny. You just can’t live life as a Box and then come to think inside it.
Perhaps you and I shall never learn the true reason for the absence of women from a list in a journal few will ever read.
Naturally, I have shared these thoughts with the publication and demanded a full account of their data collection methods. Naturally, I was in a mood when I sent this request and may have included some colourful written memories about a radio manager we’ll call Craig. Craig reeked of high-end drug vomit every Monday. Craig went to a charming private school. Craig reconstituted his fragile masculinity every morning by electing to despise all women. He defined himself by what he was not. And what he was not was functional, yours etc.
Perhaps you and I shall never learn the true reason for the absence of women from a list in a journal few will ever read. Of course, we could simply say “sexism” and leave it at that, but this is an inadequate answer. We could also say that racism is responsible for an over-representation by honkies. Both these things are true, of course, but neither is truly explanatory.
Some readers have asked the editor to explain the lady shortage. He answers,
“It’s a great question. And one we debated internally while reviewing the reader-voted results. Australian radio certainly isn’t short of magnificent female comedic talent. So standby, Radio Today will publish The 15 Funniest Women in FM Radio next week, with a new poll to open this week.”
These words do not attempt to convey an explanation. They help explain the tendencies of managers nonetheless.
To be among the 15 Funniest Women is not to be among the 20 Funniest Comedians.
If our editor genuinely deemed the question of absent women to be great, or even worthy, he would have answered it. He would have told us a little about the culpable “reader”—I still suspect it’s Craig—and would not have told us that the “female” would be honoured next week in her own assuaging category. To be among the 15 Funniest Women is not to be among the 20 Funniest Comedians. To be among those who cannot sniff this as marginalising condescension is to be just the sort of manager that can make any creative endeavour a truly miserable business.
Radio is a miserable business. Managers that cling to baseless orthodoxies of any sort—sexism, racism, the belief that audiences can be mathematically described—do not foster creativity or cheer. They constantly seek profit and they assiduously avoid all risk. To radio management, any joke is a risk. Any joyous act of human productivity is a threat to profit, until it has sold an ad for insurance at drive time.
That anyone can make a joke within this miserable business is a miracle. That few have ever written about the joke-killing medium is really no surprise.