From the desk of Roland Rocchiccioli – 28 November

November 28, 2021 BY

Airtime: When Roland’s mother came to live with him in Victoria, she brought the Bakelite wireless from Roland’s childhood, and it still works! Photo: SUPPLIED

It used to be said that ‘manners maketh man’ – and women, in this egalitarian age. Somehow, somewhere, along the line, good manners have been shanghaied by disrespect.

I ONLY even wanted to do two things with my life: to be a teacher and to be on the wireless. I am fortunate in that I have achieved both, in one fashion and another.

Broadcasting is a most fascinating career. In times past, before the advent of television, it played a more pivotal role in the life of the nation. Everyone listened to the Bakelite radio which, invariably, sat on top of the kitchenette. Families gathered around to listen to favourite programs. An online search of radio guides will surprise at the variety. During World War Two it played a vital role in the defeat of Nazism.

Again, before television, actors survived from appearing in radio plays and long-running serials. I regret I never met Gwen Meredith who wrote Blue Hills, which ran on the ABC – weekdays – for 27 years, from 1949 to 1976, and for a total of 5795 episodes. Shamefully, only 100 episodes survive.

Radio announcers were renowned for their mellifluous and were well trained. In the 1960s, the Australian Broadcasting Commission trained cadet announcers and it was a particularly rigorous course. Many were called and few succeeded. You spent days in a classroom learning the intricacies of the process. A mispronunciation was deemed a hanging offence.

Broadcasting has changed much since then. Today, more often than not, access to the airwaves comes with celebrity, or achievement in an unrelated field of endeavour. The need to prosecute an argument, or to articulate with clarity a notion, is no longer an imperative. Often one hears content providers – as opposed to announcers – with a reading age of about a twelve-year-old. The need to be informed is less important; grammar and clarity are considered irrelevant, and opinions are proffered with scant regard for balance or integrity. Often the diatribe is a stream of consciousness lacking linguistic shape and form.

The impact of television has been profound. It has infiltrated every aspect of society. When first it arrived, many announcers referred to it as radio with pictures! There was more truth in that throw-away line than was realised. Television has reduced our need to concentrate. The pictures tell the story – show and tell – and the accompanying narrative is secondary. Despite the intimacy of radio, it is, to a greater or lesser extent, the poor country cousin.

Radio requires listener concentration, a capacity which has, for obvious reasons, been severely impaired by television. Consequently, it has been argued that we hear only one word in three when listening to the radio. Self-evidently, that leads to a certain misunderstanding, which, in turn, leads to behavioural problems, particularly relating to manners. It certainly explains the excess of Chinese whispers.

To agree, or not to agree, is the prerogative of the listener. For the broadcaster, an intelligent, constructive response is helpful, and welcome and helps provide a balance in the work. Conversely, some suggestions are so profoundly stupid they are not worth consideration.

What is not helpful, or acceptable, is phoning the radio station and abusing the reception staff whose job it is to answer the telephone. For the most part they are forced to listen in silence. Abusive behaviour changes the colour of someone’s day. Antisocial behaviour is most distressing, and shows a decided lack of sensibility.

Unfortunately, in my case, I am not there to answer the call – although I wish I were. I find it deeply offensive that some cranky, old fart who finds my comments unpalatable calls the station and abuses the staff. Mostly, and predictably, these telephone warriors – or should I say gutless wonders – never provide a name or telephone number.

It would be perfunctory of me to say manners are a thing of the past. I met 15-year-old Tyson, a St Patrick’s boy, and his mother, Tanya, in the street. We talked. He had impeccable manners, and I told him.

There should be more of it!

Roland can be heard with Brett Macdonald each Monday at 10.45am on radio 3BA and contacted via [email protected].