After 80 years in its timeslot, the quarter to eight news on ABC metro and regional stations will be axed, as part of the budget cuts announced today by Managing Director David Anderson.
Speaking to ABC Melbourne’s drive presenter Rafael Epstein, the Director of ABC News Gaven Morris explained the decision to cut the bulletin:
“I’d rather not cut it, but we’ve got $41 million of budget cuts in the next 18 months… so we have had to look at all our services and make some pretty difficult decisions.”
Epstein: “So you don’t care about radio news?”
Morris: “It’s also reflective of the way radio audiences have changed the way they listen… that bulletin has lost about 20% of its audience over the last 4 years… more listeners are listening on demand on the ABC Listen app.”
While it may be true that the bulletin has lost audience, nationally that bulletin is still generally the most listened to quarter hour of any shift on ABC local radio.
On ABC Melbourne, the 0745 quarter hour can have as high as 230,000 people listening. On that station the 0800 quarter hour, the first part of AM, has more listeners than 0745, although in most other cities 0745 is the highest quarter hour.
In Sydney the ABC 0745 News has 252,000 listeners, the highest quarter hour for that station. 2GB drops by 14,000 listeners at that time. The chart below shows two talk and two music stations for comparison of quarter hour average audience numbers.
When the bulletin is dropped, listeners will get 15 more minutes of their local breakfast program. They will also lose the long ‘majestic fanfare’ news theme that is only heard in that bulletin. Other ABC Radio news bulletins use a shorter version of that heritage news theme.
Epstein quizzed Morris about the extra work that local breakfast teams would have to do to fill the extra time. “The local information you will get from those programs will be just as important to the listeners… It’s been a really difficult choice Raf, but faced with the cut we have had to make a choice… we will have 70 fewer jobs in News and Current Affairs,” he replied.
Over the past couple of years ABC Radio has gradually shortened the length of its afternoon and evening current affairs programs The World Today and PM, and has also shortened various other news bulletin lengths. “This is such a bitter day… [We had to decide] do we cut output of bulletins or cut resources of journos in the field… We had to think about where will audiences be in the future,” said Morris.
The bulletin has always been placed in a strange timeslot. The reason goes back to the early days of the national broadcaster when it read its news from newspapers, but to get permission to do so they had to made a deal with newspaper proprietors. This deal enshrined the 0745 time for a major bulletin, because it was believed people would have already bought the morning newspapers by then, so it would not adversely affect sales.
Since the 1930s, there are more radio networks and more bulletins. There is also now News Radio, which delivers news updates every 15 minutes, and the ABC App and smart speakers which deliver the latest bulletin on demand at whatever time listeners choose it.
The resources to make that bulletin are generally the news reader and the duty editor, but other resources are not affected. There is often a time conflict within newsrooms to resource the 0745 bulletin for local stations, then turn around another bulletin immediately for 0800 on national stations such as RN and Classic FM.
Speaking to Melbourne morning presenter Virginia Trioli, ABC Managing Director David Anderson said axing the 15-minute 7:45am radio news bulletin would save close to $2 million dollars.
Reacting to the move to scrap the bulletin, programmers at commercial radio stations who spoke to radioinfo were pleased with the decision. Several programmers said they usually placed major competitions or big interviews in that quarter hour to hold the audience against their ABC rivals, because that bulletin attracts listeners away from them. They will now not have to use that tactic.
A former ABC executive gave an insight into the thinking behind the decision, telling radioinfo: “It couldn’t have been a programming decision, you would cut lower rating segments first before cutting a program element that enticed people to switch on… it must have been a political decision to cut something that was high profile and would be noticed by the public and the politicians.”
Nova Entertainment’s news man Glenn Daniel, who has been news editor at several Sydney commercial stations in his career, told radioinfo:
“It’s always disappointing to see jobs go in radio, particularly in news. Journalism is vital to democracy. These are extraordinary times and the economic downturn has already had a major impact on revenue, jobs and programs in commercial media. In a recession, the ABC is not exempt.
“I do question the need to axe the 7:45am radio news which began in 1939. The newsroom is working and there are ample staff and resources to continue the longer bulletin. It could be easily maintained.”
ABCFriends shares the concern of many regional and rural listeners who will lose their 7.45 am news service… not to mention the traditional ABC news fanfare which introduces this service.It is all very well for ABC Management to point to a 20%.reduction in listeners but this is more likely in capital cities where there is more choice.Regional and rural people rely on this news service and ABCFriends will support all efforts to have this city based decision reversed.
CEO of the international body Public Media Alliance, Sally- Ann Wilson, has told radioinfo:
The ABC, including ABC Radio, is recognised worldwide for its incredible response to both the bushfires of 2019 and then shortly after to the COVID-19 pandemic. Australians also appreciate that incredible achievement. But the reality is that ABC has to cut AUS$84 million over the next three years. It’s hard for any organisation to make cuts when there is literally no more fat to cut.
The 7.45 bulletin is iconic but all change is difficult and these cuts will impact all areas of what the ABC does. I have no doubt that they are all being made in a considered way and with a heavy heart.
For PMA this is not a new story, we witness cuts to funding as part of more general pressures on public media globally, but it seems especially hard when the ABC teams have achieved so much in recent months. The truth of the story is that public media is an essential part of any democratic society but to be effective it needs strong and secure funding and support from both the public and politicians.
ABC insiders tell us that ABC Radio’s talkback lines, text and social media messaging services have gone into meltdown on most stations since the news of the 0745 bulletin cut was announced yesterday.