As the ABC celebrated 100 years on air, the pips were silenced, not with a beep but a whimper

By Peter Saxon

The first licensed station to go to air in Australia and reach its 100th birthday originally had the call sign 2SB. It later became 2BL and is now known as ABC Radio Sydney. The celebrations last Thursday, November 23, 2023 went from early morning to late into the night.

Of course, your humble correspondent, who rarely rises before the crack of noon, sent others more able to cope with the early hours than he. Their handiwork can be read here and here. You can listen to the whole morning’s show presented by Sarah Macdonald here. Sarah also features on my home video of the pips execution below.

No, I am far more suited to evening events where there’s a wider variety of refreshments than orange juice and coffee.

Apparently, King Charles III was unable to attend. One might be tempted to surmise he was somewhat distracted watching the latest episodes of The Crown. Nonetheless, His Majesty did find the time to scribble out a customary Royal note of congratulations afforded all Commonwealth subjects on becoming centenarians, including Australia’s dear old Aunty.

However, this particular “dear old Aunty” has no intention of falling off the perch any time soon according to the speakers that addressed the crowd. Among them were Ben Latimer (main pic) who has taken up the role of national content director for the ABC Radio capital city brand after many years at Nova.

Also on the podium was the founder of this masthead, Steve Ahern who is managing the Sydney station as well as acting in that role for the others in the major market network. In a bit of a surprise to the crowd gathered in the art gallery section of the State Library, the CEO of Commercial Radio and Audio, Ford Ennals was also invited to speak. Both he and Ahern spoke of the great collaboration between the public and commercial broadcasting sectors on matters that affect both, such as new technologies and emerging platforms as well as audience measurement.

In the end, they vowed to remain close. frenemies. Strong competition, after all, drives better content and innovation.

Mr Ennals, of course, cut his teeth working with both the BBC and the commercial sector to introduce digital radio into his native UK. Chatting with him after the ceremonies I asked him to draw a comparison between working with the BBC and the ABC. He told me that the BBC was more dominant in the market and could afford to attract the biggest stars.

A bittersweet moment came later in the evening when the pips were officially made redundant. No, not The Pips of Gladys Knight fame, but the Pips that lead up to the news on the hour. Yes, those high-pitched electronic chimes that are oddly reassuring as they countdown to the hour and the news theme, are now considered superfluous to Auntie’s needs.

Scattered among the crowd were some dozen “ABC Superfans” who, eschewing the million-dollar prize giveaways offered by some of the public broadcaster’s commercial counterparts, instead won their way through to a cocktail party where one of them was selected to pull the plug on the pips – so to speak – never to be heard again.

BTW: Don’t you just hate it when you’re standing with phone camera to eye, obviously filming an event when some inconsiderate ‘person’ saunters in front of you and blocks your shot?

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