ABC Local radio – a greatly under-utilised resource?
by Stephen Whiteside
I was very excited when my collection of rhyming verse/bush poetry for children, The Billy That Died With Its Boots On and Other Australian Verse was published by Walker Books in May last year. Walker did a beautiful job of putting the book together, and I felt confident that it would do well.
However, I was a little disappointed with what I felt was a lack of publicity. I made my own efforts, and did manage to secure an interview on ABC Local radio in Melbourne (774) on a Monday afternoon during the school holidays, but that was about it.
Then, when the book won a Golden Gumleaf for Book of the Year at the Australian Bush Laureate Awards during the Tamworth Country Music Festival in January this year, I realised I had the ‘hook’ I needed. It was particularly gratifying – and of interest to the media – that a book for children had won an award that is ostensibly an award for books for adults.
I decided to target ABC Local radio once again and, again, my home town, Melbourne came through. I secured an interview with Libby Gorr on a Sunday morning. However, I had no success with the other capital cities.
It then occurred to me that my natural constituency, given that the book was ‘bush verse’, was probably rural and regional Australia. With this in mind, I began to approach some of the smaller ABC Local radio stations. I quickly struck gold.
As a general rule, responses fell into one of three categories.
- The presenter loved bush poetry, and pounced on the opportunity to interview. (This happened a couple of times.)
- The station had no interest in the book unless I was visiting their town, which I wasn’t. (This also happened quite a few times.)
- The station was interested in the book, but needed some local connection with the book to justify an interview. This also happened on quite a number of occasions, and was where the challenge began.
I secured a state-wide interview in Ballarat by explaining the history of my various ancestors in rural Victoria. I secured an interview in south west Queensland by discussing the influence of Banjo Paterson on my work. (Paterson wrote Waltzing Matilda in this part of Australia.) I secured a couple of interviews in South Australia by discussing the influence of CJ Dennis on my work. (Dennis was born in South Australia, and lived there as a child and young adult.) I have secured an interview in Albany, Western Australia, by explaining that there are poems about whales in the book. (We will do the interview as soon as the whales arrive!) I have also secured an interview in Tamworth, because that is where I won the award.
I should add that all of these interviews (13 now in total) have been conducted without my leaving Melbourne. A few have been live, but most were pre-recorded. Most have been conducted on my mobile phone. I attended the ABC Soutbank Studios for the interview with Libby Gorr.
Of particular interest was the Ballarat interview, where I was placed in a ‘Tardis’ in Southbank. These are highly sophisticated studios that allow the interviewee to sound as though they are in the same studio as the interviewer, even though they may be many miles away.
My favourite interviews have been with the smallest stations in far off corners of this huge continent. The interviewers tend to be more passionate, the interviews longer, and the questions more interesting.
Do any of these interviews sell books? I don’t know, and I probably never will. I cannot see how they could do any harm, however, and they are great fun. Of course, the number of people listening to these programmes is likely to be less than with the large metropolitan stations, but there is nothing to be done about that.
My own feeling is that these smaller rural and regional ABC Local radio stations are a highly valuable and probably greatly under-utilised resource for authors trying to sell their books.