Thursday, October 27, 2005


None of us are safe from the vigilant eye of the traffic police. At work in the church office on Thursday, one of our leading lights was bemoaning being hit with a $190 fine on the way to work that morning.

Driving past that unattended construction site with the 60kph sign probably wouldn't have mattered except for the unmarked police car that was right behind him. Travelling at 20 kph or more over the speed limit, that's a $190 fine and four demerit points (I think you're only allowed twelve before you lose your licence!).

This was the catalyst for a long series of discussions on traffic offences and speeding fines from all and sundry.

Well, all except me. It would have sounded too goody-two-shoes to admit that the only tickets I've ever had to pay were for forgetting to put money in the parking meter.

The truth is I was too involved in the ongoing battle with the church e-mail system. All sorts of schemes for installing updates and repairing programmes came to naught in the end. A couple of times I thought I'd made some headway, only to have my hopes dashed.

And it didn't help that the system almost choked on a message from some well-meaning contact that enclosed almost 3 MB of photographs taken at a charity function. Ouch! Some netiquette please, sir!

After finishing at the office, my sister suggested we call in for a meal at what used to be the Brisbane Hotel.

Now known as Ye Olde Commodore Inn, it has a spacious dining room, modern but decorated with memorabilia and relics of the old days. The best thing about it is that there is no television and no monitors flashing up the latest numbers drawn in Publotto or whatever it's called nowadays.

The meal was nothing special, but quite adequate. Julie stopped the manager and put the question to him point blank: "Do you ever serve Lamb's Fry here?" The manager cocked his head at the barman and said "If it was up to him we'd have it every day, but.... no, afraid not."

Julie sighed. Ever since the Tasmanian Inn changed hands and went upmarket, she's been looking for somewhere that serves her favourite food. No luck so far.

Julie examines some forget-me-nots in her front garden while her cat Luna plunges off on a private expedition of discovery, objective who-knows-where.

You always know when we're reaching the end of the school year. Normally the school down the street doesn't impact on my life at all, but every so often comes that institution known as Sports Day and the headmaster dusts off his public-address system.

This low-tech but effective sound system (I think it's what the English call a Tannoy) blasts the words of the announcer across the suburb, albeit in somewhat garbled form.

"The next event STATIC STATIC one hundred meters STATIC contestants please STATIC...."

I don't know if being able to hear each word distinctly would be better or worse.

As it is, it gradually turns into a sort of blurred background noise after a couple of hours. But I won't be sorry when the last event of the day is run.

Interested to hear that longstanding 60 Minutes reporter Charles Wooley is quitting TV to host a new national talkback radio show being launched by Macquarie Regional Radioworks.

The new program called "Across Australia" will be broadcast from 9am until noon from Wooley's home base here in Hobart from January next year.

Tim Hughes, executive chairman of Macquarie Media Group, which owns Macquarie Regional Radioworks, said he'd thought for some time there was a market for a national regional radio morning program. "The difficulty has been finding the right presenter."

Wooley, who specialised in quirky Australian stories on 60 Minutes, is an experienced journalist who has travelled the world, but also had a genuine interest in and affection for life in rural and regional Australia.

In a statement Wooley said: "I have always enjoyed covering stories in regional and rural Australia - there is no better medium than radio to continue that work.

"I look forward to sharing the airwaves with the great characters of this country, turning the spotlight on the issues that matter and covering the big events for the people that are the backbone of Australia." Hughes said he was confident Wooley would develop a "very strong rapport" with our large audience across Australia.

Macquarie Regional Radioworks, the largest owner of commercial radio stations in Australia, is the main operational business of the Macquarie Media Group.

It's a brave move - what Sir Humphrey would call "a courgeous decision" - by MRR to remove radio legend John Laws from its country stations and replace him with a television identity who has never presented his own radio show. Experienced radio hands say presenting a live radio program three hours a day, five days a week is a lot different from putting together a 15-minute television story every few weeks.

The man taking on the challenge is the first to agree. "You could say it's a massive leap," he says. "You could also say it's an incredibly stupid thing to do. Brave, foolhardy but, hopefully, fun." Not that Wooley, famous as a spinner of bush yarns, is often short of a word. His Scottish parents used to call him "a bit of a blather".

From January, Wooley - who lives in Hobart - will be heard on 39 MRR stations, including 19 that had taken the Laws morning program. Hobart is still a long way from Roma and Mount Gambier, but on paper it makes more sense for those communities to hear a specialist regional program.

The problem is that people in places such as Wagga Wagga and Port Macquarie have grown up listening to the Laws program over the past 20 years. Station managers are not looking forward to fielding listener complaints as Wooley finds his feet. "I don't know what they hope to achieve by sending it out of Hobart," Laws says. "I really don't understand it. I'm just very sad for the listeners."

With 85 stations in 44 markets, MRR is Australia's largest owner of commercial radio stations.
Laws's influence, however, is fading. Ten years ago he was No. 1 in the 2UE morning slot, networked to about 80 stations and claiming an audience of 2 million. He is now third in the Sydney market, reduced to 43 stations from next January, with the audience closer to 1 million.

Bendigo will be a test. For some reason, the Laws program is heard on two stations there, so from next year Bendigo residents will be able to pick up both programs and send a clear message about which presenter they prefer.

I look forward to hearing the programme. Back in the days when Charles was working for the ABC in Hobart, he interviewed me for a segment about science-fiction fan clubs. From there he went on to fame and fortune -- I particularly enjoyed his quirky reports for Sunday morning television during the 1980s.

There are a couple of advertisements in the trade press for journalists and researchers to work on the programme. If I was a decade younger, I might have been tempted to try out for it myself.

Speaking of radio, I've been impressed by the number of old radio shows available for free download at OTR fan. Most of the emphasis is on crime and mystery drama, but there are a few other types of show.

The quality seems OK and it doesn't take that long to download a 30-minute episode.


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