Comment from Peter Saxon
In between the constant stream of tweeting the winners at Saturday night’s ACRAs, my wife Pauline, who remained home in Sydney dog sitting (two poodles and a cavoodle – thanks for asking) managed to get a text in edgeways to find out how it was going. I replied: same as last year and the year before.
It wasn’t meant as a criticism. Perhaps, to be more kind, I could have said it was as efficiently run as I’d ever seen it.
Having been to more than 30 of these annual back slappers from when it was the Paters and through the Rawards years, I’ve seen various attempts over the years to find just the right formula that would please everyone. There was a period when they tried handing the awards out in a theatre environment before moving on to dinner. This left the audience without a drink for longer than the recommended guidlines for radio people. They then allowed you to take one drink into the auditorium which only served to whet the appetite. When the ceremonies had finally come to a close, the ensuing stampede out the door to where the alcohol flowed freely constituted a work safety hazard, so that format was abandoned too.
Then, over many years, they brought out some big-name international celebrity as a key note speaker for the conference preceding the ACRAs. To earn their quite considerable keep, they were made to hand out a few awards the next night. For the most part they looked like bunnies in headlights, thinking about sacking their agent for stitching them up for this gig while mispronouncing names and trying to act as if they have the faintest clue as to where they are and what they’re doing.
Some, like John Cleese, Michael Parkinson and Harry Shearer (Simpsons voices) were at least entertaining, although not particularly insightful about the business of radio. But most had little connection to radio other than recalling that their great aunt used to listen to it all the time. Star of Frazier, Kelsey Grammar, could claim only that he played a psychiatrist on television who had a talk show on a fictional radio station in Seattle.
Finally, even that format was killed off after Sharon Osbourne, who has no business addressing an envelope let alone a room full of radio executives, stole an hour and half of our lives we’ll never get back. Still it could have been worse. Mike Tyson, any of the Kardashians and the Hoff come to mind.
Since then and for several years now, I reckon the ACRAs have been about as good as they can get, given the inevitable compromises they’ve had to make.
The food is as about good as it can get for a mass production feast for around 1,200 people. Still, there are niggles. Although my ravioli entrée tasted as if prepared in the Pratt family’s Visy kitchen, both the Lamb and the Beef main course was surprisingly succulent. Nonetheless, some at our table complained that there was no customary seafood or chicken alternative to the red meat.
On the other hand, there were no complaints about the 2012 Devil’s Lair Chardonnay which was a cut above the Chateaux de Plonk which normally accompanies the menu.
Modern sound, video and lighting technology has, in recent years, done the event enormous favours in terms of production values. Saturday’s show was slick and very fast paced. Too fast for some. And the Chaser duo Chris Taylor and Andrew Hansen, after four straight years hosting, have actually improved year on year, warming to their subject with a deeper understanding of the industry they so adroitly lampoon.
Yet, there is still a lingering debate as to the number of awards handed out, especially for new and emerging skills that may not be there next year. I recall there were several years in which they awarded an ACRA to the most popular station manager. In a strange twist of fate, it turned out to be the kiss of death. Recipients of this great honour were almost certain to be shown the door by their employer within a year. This seemingly jinxed award was soon jettisoned as staff caught on and started nominating managers they didn’t like.
There are also many who feel that there’s not enough time devoted to speeches for the main categories. Apart from the Hall of Fame recipient and Best Talk Presenter and FM team, no one gets to utter a word, which seems strange for an industry built on talking heads.
There are two things I have to say on the matter. Firstly that radioinfo, I am proud to say, has over many years picked up the slack by recording an “acceptance speech” from each winner as they come off stage and within moments posts the audio on our website and socials.
Secondly, if it’s a question of having less awards, less young people from the regions recognised for their efforts in favour of allowing more of the big metro market stars to make speeches, I’m firmly on the side of nurturing the next wave of talent and those who work hard in every facet of the industry.
Which brings us to the after party. This year, as in recent years, I’ve managed to sneak in to the ARN after party. Perhaps it’s because their security is so slack they don’t even notice an intruder. By comparison, Mossad couldn’t infiltrate the Nova Entertainment after party. There’s an urban myth going around that even Fitzy & Wippa were turned away one year because they had last year’s wrist band on and security, who were SBS listeners, racially profiled them as trouble makers. Good call, frankly, but embarrassing, nonetheless.
The ARN party, held at the upmarket Treasury Hotel as opposed to the downmarket Treasury Casino was in full swing by the time Wendy Whalley, Steve Ahern and I snuck through the servants’ entrance where we were handed a tray of drinks each and told to circulate among the revellers.
All kidding aside, ARN had plenty to celebrate, including the prestigious Best Metro FM Team taken out by WSFM’s Jonesy and Amanda. It was, as it always has been when their names have been drawn from the ACRAs hat, a popular choice. Why? Because they’re really nice people, down to earth, and supportive of those in the formative years of their radio careers.
Every year that I’ve attended these ARN soirées, Jonesy and Amanda have been there whether they’ve won an ACRA or not. They talk to everyone from the CEO to the junior production guy. They make themselves accessible. Other stars that I’ve noticed to be regulars at the ACRAs in support of their team include Fitzy & Wippa, Ray Hadley, Ben Fordham and Steve Blanda.
Sadly, there are many others who don’t show up unless they know that they’ve won a gong. And, sometimes even when they do, they don’t bother to go to attend their network’s after party. They have better things to do. Yes, I get that the big stars work very hard and personal time with friends and family is at a premium.
But I’m sorry: If you started off in radio the same as any other young hopeful earning less than a shelf-stacker at Woollies and have been fortunate enough to have had mentors along the way who helped get you to where you are now, would it kill you to spend one night of the year with the up and comers of your network, let them take some selfies with you as you give them the encouragement they crave from someone they aspire to become?