Pale roses and principles - ABC AM's 50th anniversary | radioinfo

Pale roses and principles - ABC AM's 50th anniversary

Tuesday 05 September, 2017
ABC current affairs stalwart John Highfield

John Highfield looks back on 50 years of AM for radioinfo.

When Selwyn (Dan) Speight quit Fairfax Newspapers in the late 1960s as a senior editorial executive, declared persona non-grata because for standing on the principle that journalists under his supervision were right to take industrial action over grievances with management, he finished an illustrious print career but began a radio revolution which he could scarcely have envisaged would be celebrated 50 years on.

Coming to the ABC with an extraordinary personal eccentricity but an unassailable journalistic reputation, Dan Speight established a team of young reporters ( deemed Specialist Trainees and Talks Assistants in old ABC parlance)  to challenge the long-established conservative broadcasting values of the News Department and the management ring-fence against allowing journalists on the air.

Backed by the leftist boss of the Radio Talks Department and the high-up Controller of Programs, the budget was found for a new ABC cost centre – News Talks, later to re-name as Radio Current Affairs. Its purpose – a 30-minute program to be broadcast across Australia on the City and Regional Networks immediately after the flagship 7.45 am Radio News – a fixture since the 1940s, but sans reporter voices.

When I received an invitation to join the AM team, bringing commercial radio live broadcast experience from a 6-year stint as a cadet and graded reporter in Australia’s first Radio ENG reporting team at 2SM, my introduction to the concept of Reithian public service broadcasting was a revelation. Reel-to-reel tape recorders, razor blades and EMI cutting blocks and AM “Pale Roses” – the carefully typed studio intro scripts on special 5-copy A4 sandwiches with pink tinted copy on top for the AM Compere – Robert Peach.

What a founding team of young turks – Richard Carlton, Paul Murphy, Alan Hogan. All became renowned broadcasting legends. Dan Speight had the assistance of a long-time ABC warhorse as Executive Producer – Russell Warner, a martinet with a fierce demeanour who demanded extraordinary standards, but the absolute defender for the integrity of his reporting team, and AM content. Most early mornings he spent hunched over a Tandberg editing recorder cutting every breath pause or um…or ahh out of interviews which we “pixies” had carelessly ignored.

In 1969 – two years after AM began its broadcasting ascent to essential listening around the nation – on the principle that broadcast journalist/reporters doing their own stories was a move the ABC could ignore no longer - I was selected to be the first journalistic presenter when PM joined AM in the Radio Current Affairs line-up.

Three years later, as a Talks Officer appointee to the European ABC Bureau, I was in Munich when the horrific terrorist attack at the Olympic Games took place. History records that Russ Handley, the Director of Radio News, intervened during the early morning hours in the ABC Newsroom to instruct his editors that I was to be taken on trust with live, unscripted reports on the unfolding drama into their bulletins. The world of broadcast journalism had changed forever.  

Selwyn (Dan) Speight’s magnificent foresight, creativity, principles and journalistic contribution lives past his time - through the AFTRS/ABC SELWYN SPEIGHT DIVERSITY RADIO SCHOLARSHIP FOR GRADUATE DIPLOMA 

See previous coverage of ABC Radio's AM program here or use the tags below.


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