I was in a contemplative mood as I sat sipping my afternoon cuppa

Frank Avis by | November 23, 2023 | 2020s

Told ya! That the Sydney radio ratings were heading for a "last man standing" finale in '23: "it's every man for himself" with one survey left before the summer break. (Did you notice I managed to sneak in a couple of my favourite clichés while you weren't looking?) 2GB is hanging on at number one with a good rise keeping it clear of challenger, the number one FM operator, KIIS FM. But Kyle and Jackie O retain a hold on the critical breakfast arena on 16.3% to Ben Fordham's 16.2%... Cliffhanger! Mind you, the prevailing industry wisdom says that NewsTalk 2GB should have had a massive survey given the incredible drama going on at the time – the failure of the Yes vote on "the Voice" and the mayhem in the Middle East. There simply had to be a strong movement to the number one radio news broadcaster. Which raises all sorts of eyebrows in the trade, given that Melbourne's 3AW suffered shock losses right across the board, including breakfast and morning. This is really puzzling.

I was in a contemplative mood as I sat sipping my afternoon cuppa, surrounded by Darleen's majestic orchids, when I suddenly remembered one of the greats, Arch McKirdy – "smooth, mellow mesmerising" – probably the most celebrated late night performer in post-war radio. Arch was 89 when he died in 2013. He had the biggest national audience of the early 70's as he invited thousands of Australians to "relax with me". So many of us took him up on the offer. Back in the day when I was presenting the radio news lectures at AFTRS, our Manager Lois Baird would start suggesting some industry names who could come in as mentors. It was our plan to end each course with a high-profile performer who would sit down and just talk to the students. The kids loved it. They asked all their questions, laughed a lot about our bizarre industry and just soaked up the atmosphere. One day Lois suggested Arch McKirdy. "Could we get him?" I asked, "Would he be available? I'll make a call," said Lois, who knew everybody and so Arch McKirdy was our special guest that term. It's a lovely story his career, with Arch kicking off at 3TR Sale and 3SH Swan Hill before joining the Army Entertainment Unit in the Pacific in WW2. He went back to 3TR after that and then on to 2UW – with his late night jazz shows – then 2GB into the 60's. Arch made a shock shift to the ABC in 1964 for a celebrated, decade-long stint with the national broadcaster before going into management and working as a mentor at the ABC and SBS. His philosophy was straight-forward: "speak to your audience as if you're talking to a personal friend". No wonder I love this guy.

Arch McKirdy

It's only fair that, having spent considerable time campaigning for government to cut the number of trucks on our highways and suburban roads by 25% over the next ten years, only fair that I now shift my criticism to another nightmare: the dreaded four-wheel-drive/SUV. Anyone who has had to reverse out of a parking bay with 4WDs on either side will automatically know what I'm talking about. You want to drive these things out in the country, on rural tracks or whatever, fair enough, but please get them out of our suburbs. You're virtually driving a small armoured car or a mini tank. Just keep an eye on your local news for the next 3 months... Tell me how many accidents you see involving trucks and 4WDs. You will be stunned. These things are not necessary in our suburbs. What you're looking at here is what is virtually a social statement. And for that you can blame some TV cameraman in the UK back in the early 70's. Somewhere along the line, somebody got footage of an upper-class lady driving her majestic Range Rover through the streets of London heading off to the family castle in the Cotswalds. Unfortunately this found its way into mainstream TV in the United States, particularly in Los Angeles where the "beautiful people" (90% women) couldn't wait to get their hands on an imported Range Rover and steer it down Rodeo Drive with their pet Russian Wolfhound sitting in the passenger seat, head out of the window. It took just a few months and the trend was off and running. Every major manufacturer leapt on board and these SUVs were everywhere. Women across the US, Europe and Australia were in the driver's seat of their $65,000 wagon, picking up the kids from school. Albo... Albo... Do something really positive, will you mate? Ban these bloody monsters from our city streets.

Now, if you find yourself having a heated argument with the Greens or Teals about the amount of money we're spending to upgrade our Navy, you might find the following quote from the Chief of the Royal Australian Navy to be helpful, "We're a three-ocean island trading nation. We owe our economic prosperity to the sea... We import 80% of our liquid fuel. We have an absolute economic dependence upon the sea... Navy exists to defend the Nation." (Vice Admiral Mark Hammond, 2023)

Much thanks to the family for a surprise birthday present, The Tantanoola Tiger, Patrick J Gallagher's compilation of newspaper accounts of strange "big cat" sightings in Australia, dating back to the 1800's. The most celebrated of them all, first reported in the Adelaide Advertiser in 1893, was a large, tiger-like animal seen prowling around Tanantoola on the SA-Victorian border. Farmers report sheep being killed and partly eaten in the area. The Border Watch at Mt Gambier carries the story of a major search for the beast, without success. A farmer on the border then reported seeing a tiger making off into the scrub carrying a large sheep. Suddenly the hills were alive with tiger talk, with the exotic animal sighted near Hamilton, in Victoria's western district, then around Horsham, and even further East. One report has a tiger threatening farmers near Orange in NSW. We knew of the home grown monsters, the Bunyip and the Yowie (see Young and Yowies) but where did these pesky big cats come from? Finally, the South Australian Chronicle of August 24, 1895 confirms the news the colony has been waiting for with the headline The Tantanoola Tiger – Shot at Last. As it turns out it's not a tiger after all... Rather a large Syrian Wolf. So, nothing to worry about here everybody... We don't have any tigers roaming through the scrub... Just large, aggressive Syrian Wolves. And this is meant to be comforting?

You know where I'm positioned on mobile phones and social media and their impact on society, especially the young. I hope Dennis Fitzgerald from Box Hill, Sydney will allow me to quote his Letter to the Editor in The Australian recently, "Turn off social media and turn on to real life. Go outside and smell the roses or go for a walk."

Ah, our Prime Minister Albo has just been to China, on a delicate mission, treading on political eggshells and hopefully restoring some of our exports – beef, wine, seafood – and even winning the release of the odd political prisoner. All of these things require Anthony to have behaved himself over there and you can forget any meaningful decisions unless China is allowed to "save face". This is one of the most important things in Chinese culture. You must never "lose face"... This is the ultimate indignity. It's hard to say exactly how Albo did over there because all of the public pronouncements by Beijing are in a subtle code. You need a specialist code-breaker back in Canberra to figure out whether we won or lost. President Xi commended our PM for "embarking on the right path... In a more mature way... To keep moving forward the comprehensive strategic partnership between the two countries". Seems completely bland, right? Ah, such innocence! What staying on "the right path" means is no more public stuff criticising Beijing for building military bases on those disputed little Islands in the South China Sea and heaven help you, Anthony, if you stray from the pre-ordained path and actually suggest the World Health Organisation should conduct an enquiry into the origin of the COVID virus outbreak at Wuhan! Tread carefully Anthony... Tread carefully.

"But see a new morn arises, and flashes a crimson and purple light, in long streamers, aloft to the zenith: and we are sailing slowly along under high-piled forest capes, more strange, more majestic, and more infinitely melancholy than anything we have seen in our strangest dreams. What is this awful, dim mysterious land, so solemn and so desolate? This is Australia."

– Henry Kingsley. 1830-1876

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This is the history of radio newsman Frank Avis who worked in the Australian electronic media from 1954 to 1996.


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