The day the music almost died at the ACRAs

Peter Saxon’s verdict on the big event

Stranded at Melbourne airport on Sunday with what seemed to be half the radio industry, – all flights were grounded due to high winds – I had time to reflect on how many of these annual events I’d been to. 

It turns out, whether the ACRAs or its previous iteration, RAWARDs, I’ve been going to these things for 28 years. Prior to that it was just a conference without awards. Add another five of those and my personal tally comes to 33. 

That may not make me an expert but at least I’ve earned a certificate for reliable attendance.

One thing I do know is that the ACRAs is the toughest room on the planet to please.

Over the years it has had many formats. In the early days we sat in an auditorium for the awards with dinner served afterwards. That drew complaints from people who got too hungry and thirsty by the time the show finished.

Then we went to a dinner with awards format, much like the current one but many found them too noisy and with too much distraction from the show. So it was back to the split between award presentation and dinner – except that we were offered one drink each to take with us into the auditorium. 

Nice try but one drink was never going to be enough for a two hour ceremony. For a gathering of Rabbis maybe but not for radio people. 

The reason Rabbis came into my head is that when it comes to the ACRAs radio people remind me of an old Jewish joke: A waiter checks in with a table of old Jews and asks, “is anything alright here?”

So, it was back to the dinner and show. Dammit, if the Logies can do it, so can we.

Now, after 28 years, either the ACRAs have become as good as they’re going to get or people have given up complaining. Since I can’t imagine a scenario where radio folk would hold back a complaint, I’m going to stick my neck out and suggest that overall, the format has evolved to about as good as it can be to this point in 2016.

I didn’t say it was perfect. It wasn’t and I expect it never will be. But the food gets better each year, the quality of wine too. And the sound which was once the achilles heel of radio events was more than adequate.

The Chaser’s Chris Taylor and Andrew Hansen were hilarious as hosts with some light ribbing that never got nasty.

An opening quip about the weird year that was: “Tara Brown could be more offensive than Kyle Sandilands.”

Their comment on 2UE’s new Lifestyle format was, “2UE has gone from News, Sport and Ads to Ads, Ads and Ads.”

One big difference this year was the musical acts – or lack thereof. A hallmark of ACRAs past has been the vocal talent that has graced its stage. From John Farnham to Tina Arena, Jimmy Barnes, Justice Crew, Delta Goodrem, Keith Urban and Kate Ceberano to name a very few. 

In past years there would be four or five performers to break up the flow of award presentations. This year Nat Conway sang one song to a backing track to open the show and a very energetic song and dance crew, whose name escapes me, closed the show. And that was about it. Could this be a sign that the long and loving relationship between radio and records may be on the rocks?

And what was it with the background shots? The big screens behind the stage and around the room showed various streetscapes used as backdrops for the awards as they were being presented.

Above: Ellie Golding and 2Day’s Angus O’Loughlin Photo: Andrew Jarvie Life Portraits Photography

The shots started with the obvious but relevant like Flinders Street Station. Shots of Sydney Harbour and Bondi Beach were also given a guernsey. But then they moved to Paris, London, New York. Why? Nobody, including the Chaser Boys had any idea. Still, that’s just a tiny niggle.

Shame about the lack of top class music, though. On the upside, the whole thing was over by 10pm leaving people to look for further entertainment at an industry after party or a venue that suits their tastes.

See you next year – which, I’m told, won’t be in Sydney even though the new exhibition and conference centre will be compeleted by then. Apparently, CRA’s two day radiofest is small beer for Sydney’s new megastructure that they see more suited to events that start with about 2,500 delegates.

 Peter Saxon

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