West End local Vikki Uhlamann recently travelled around Australia with her brave little dog, Rusty. As she travelled, Vikki, a Friends of the ABC member, dropped in on regional ABC radio stations for a chat, and she thinks, accidentally created a new form of tourism.

You may remember that, before the last election, I wrote about the signs on my front fence in Rogers Street promoting Friends of the ABC. At that time, the ABC was dealing with a hostile government. It had lost enormous funding and, concomitantly, staff since 2014.

However, the Albanese government has since addressed some of its challenges. For example, they have removed the freeze on funding indexation and provided five-year funding certainty, which removes it from being used as a political football in our three-year election cycles. They have also restored the voice of Australia in the Pacific, the removal of which in 2016, unfortunately, provided an entrée for other countries with more military ambitions to replace our relationships.

With all this in mind, I recently travelled around Australia, and along the way, I interviewed Chiefs of Staff in regional ABC bureaux to see how they were doing. I then shared their stories with members of Friends and now with you.

Firstly, the social media deal, i.e. with Google and Facebook for using ABC content, has been good for small regional offices. Generally, offices that might have had six staff now have ten and are located in small nearby townships, not all in the one office. However, many of these are temporary positions, so it will be interesting to see how long they last.

Secondly, black spots and news deserts remain. Transmission towers, including those run by councils, mining companies and First Nations communities, don’t reach everywhere. And across Australia, transmission towers are reaching some end-of-life challenges. Transmission sucks up around 1/3 of the ABC budget; will they receive additional funding for the repairs needed? And what happened to Labor’s 2019 promise to restore the ABC’s shortwave in remote areas?

I also talked to some local First Nations radio stations and was pleased to learn that some ABC studios gift their old technology to them when upgrading.Emergency broadcasting has become so critical in Australia with increasing extreme weather events. I saw many signs nationwide saying, “Tune into your local ABC radio frequency during an emergency”.

However, you may be surprised that it’s not actually in the ABC’s Charter. It’s a service they run out of their local studios 24/7 when needed, and it should be reflected in their Charter and funding. The new Karratha office on the coast of WA is now cyclone-rated, so staff can safely broadcast even in cyclones like the hugely destructive one we saw recently.

Finally, I may have accidentally created a new form of tourism. Wherever you’re going, consider dropping into the local ABC studio. Staff will be happy to see you and to hear how much their work as our independent public broadcaster is appreciated.


All images by Vikki Ulhmann

Vikki Uhlmann