Take a closer listen as radio enters a new Golden Age

ABC RN takes a groundbreaking step with the creation of its new Creative Audio Unit, embracing and further cultivating the global resurgence in radio as a creative medium.
Take a closer listen as radio enters a new Golden Age

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The popular image of the “Golden Age of Radio” conjures images of a 1950s family gathered around a wireless the size of a small fridge listening to a serial or news broadcast.

But with the emergence of digital technologies, radio is on the cusp of a new Golden Age, with audio storytelling and radio art being explored across new forms. 

Two new programs, Radiotonic and Soundproof, were aired for the first time on ABC RN on Sunday, 1 June. Both were created by RN’s Creative Audio Unit (CAU) as part of a holistic approach, which extends RN’s content beyond the music, talk and radio drama traditions of The Listening Room, Into the Music and Airplay.


Radiotonic is a heady mix of fiction, non-fiction, essays and contemporary radio dramas from writers, artists and producers, while Soundproof serves as a platform for radio art, soundscapes, performance and composed audio features.

Both programs are a response not only to the changing way we listen but also to the capacity of listeners to become makers, expanding the aural landscape through creating and sharing.

CAU Executive Producer Julie Shapiro said a new generation was engaged by the possibilities of the medium. ‘Listening has become “cool” for a younger generation than ever before; there are tons of young listeners who also want to make radio.’

Shapiro said there were are both challenges and opportunities in making radio in the new media environment. ‘Listening culture is shifting into this really glorious time, because work can be carefully heard (via podcasts and personal listening devices) and appreciated, repeated, shared. But there is also much more “out there” competing for listeners’ ears. And it’s a time-based medium, so there’s only so much audio even a devoted listener can hear in a day.'

Radiotonic explores new approaches to presenting fiction, non-fiction, dramas, and hybrids of all three. Producer and presenter Jesse Cox said there was a new audience for story. ‘With so much storytelling and radio drama being deliverable to people as podcasts, I think that a lot of people have “found” or rediscovered radio. There’s a real resurgence in the kind of work we’re featuring in each of these new programs.’ 

Addressing the habits of diverse listeners, CAU’s new programs Radiotonic and Soundproof will be available not only in weekly one-hour Sunday timeslots but also in segmented podcasts containing individual stories, radio art and curated conversations.

This is all in service of the CAU’s overall mission: to create a new space for the presentation of creative audio work that crosses genres, media and forms.

A small, creative and internationally connected team heads up the unit. Shapiro, who was co-founder and artistic director of the acclaimed Third Coast Festival in Chicago, said the opportunities offered by the CAU were unique. ‘There aren’t any other organisations to my knowledge, investing right now in this idea that artful radio is worth paying for. Rather, creative output is being cut from radio budgets around the world. CAU has this special, rare opportunity to give producers the opportunity to make work they can’t make for anyone else, and to provide a new kind of listening experience for audiences in Australia and far beyond, via our podcasts.'

She’s planning for Radiotonic and Soundproof to be steady champions for creative radio, accessing an international listening community but also bringing that international talent into the mix in Australia.

‘The listening culture worldwide right now is so rich. Makers across other mediums have begun to incorporate audio into their practices, and at the receiving end, public listening events are increasingly popular, and considered as valid a form of culture as watching films or seeing other live performances.'

Shapiro sees the CAU as returning to the best of the past. ‘With past shows like, The Listening Room, Radio Eye, and the Night Air, supporting intelligent, provocative radio is in the DNA of the ABC – we’re honored to be carrying on the torch.'

'Our goal is for ‘Radiotonic and Soundproof to appeal to listeners’ collective imagination,’ said Shapiro. ‘Audiences are listening on their own terms, with greater focus and attention than ever before. It is an ever-evolving audio landscape, and a very fertile one to be working in right now.’

Radiotonic and Soundproof are the two newest additions to RN’s programming schedule.

ABC RN is the ABC’s national ideas network. Connect with RN.

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Gina Fairley

Friday 13 June, 2014

About the author

Gina Fairley is ArtsHub's National Visual Arts Editor. For a decade she worked as a freelance writer and curator across Southeast Asia and was previously the Regional Contributing Editor for Hong Kong based magazines Asian Art News and World Sculpture News. Prior to writing she worked as an arts manager in America and Australia for 14 years, including the regional gallery, biennale and commercial sectors. She is based in Mittagong, regional NSW.

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