Home opinion-and-analysis Fuzzy Logic ABC NewsRadio axes StarStuff program - why?

ABC NewsRadio axes StarStuff program - why?

ABC NewsRadio, Australia’s only 24 hour continuous news service, has axed one of its longest running programs because it wants to divert funding elsewhere. The program? StarStuff, the only space, science, astronomy and cosmology show on Australian radio. What a shame!

ABC NewsRadio is, without doubt, my favourite radio station on Australian radio. With a rolling format of news, weather, finance, sport and special features, and is a great alternative to regular talkback stations.

Originally only broadcasting in capital cities, the network has expanded over the years, with the last 18 months seeing a massive expansion to 31 stations across Australia, with more to come. The network also broadcasts the Australian Federal Parliament when it sits, with the network originally known as PNN: the Parliamentary and News Network.

I remember when online streaming was first introduced to ABC NewsRadio, and on a number of overseas trips my computer has been plugged into a hotel Internet connection, streaming the live broadcast, happily keeping me informed of all happening back home.

Of course it’s not the only radio station I listen to, but it’s been on Australian radio for over a decade, shares its birthday with my own (although not the same year), and I’ve been interviewed on the network countless times over the years as a technology journalist commenting on various tech issues that regularly arise.

One of my favourite programs on ABC NewsRadio has been StarStuff. On air for more than eight years, with over 400 episodes under its belt, it's hosted by Stuart Gary, and used to run for an hour at 11pm every Sunday night, with a repeat the following Saturday.

I have to disclose that, over the years, I’ve been a guest on this program too from time to time, once again talking relevant technology topics, and I know from discussions with Stuart over the years that in its late night Sunday timeslot, the program was the highest rating show on the ABC NewsRadio network.

Inexplicably, around a couple of years ago, the show was cut in half to only 30 minutes, and oddly shoved to a Sunday midday timeslot, when a lot of people are out and about enjoying their weekend. Why shift the show from it's top rating timeslot to one twelve hours earlier?

Of course podcasting came along and enabled you to listen to the program whenever you wanted to, and this, as far as I am aware, has been enormously popular, just as it has been for ABC radio programming in general.

Although I was personally unhappy with the show being cut in half and moved to a completely different timeslot, listening to StarStuff being broadcast at midday on Sunday is something I regularly do, even if out and about, because my Nokia N95 lets me tune into the Real Player stream of ABC NewsRadio, and like most people I've got a radio at home and in the car.

Over the past several months the show has been preceded by the excellent Insiders radio rebroadcast at 11am, which is the ABC’s top notch political show broadcast at 9am on ABC TV 1.

Before Insiders is rebroadcast on radio at 11am, the excellent ‘Weekend Halftime’ is on at 10am, a great sports show hosted by Debbie Spillane and Scott Wales.

Insiders is followed a quick wrap of news and weather at midday, with StarStuff starting a few minutes after 12pm. It's then followed by the equally compelling listening of “The Road to the White House” at 12.30pm, examining the 2008 US Presidential elections, hosted by the talented John Barron.

Whether I’m at home, or out and about, I love listening to these particular programs on a Sunday, as they are fantastic original content with great production values, informative, educational and entertaining.

But now the ABC has decided to axe StarStuff altogether for "funding reasons". Can it be saved?

Please read on to page 2.

I’ve no idea how much it actually costs the ABC to pay Stuart Gary to create the show in amongst his other production and on-air duties at ABC NewsRadio.

But given the show consists of the best space, science, astronomy and cosmology news of the previous week from partner stations like the BBC, CNN and others, along with interviews with some of Australia’s top scientists and astronomers, its production cost would seem, to me at least, to be infinitesimal compared with virtually every other show the ABC still actually creates in house with presenters, producers and more.

Stuart Gary creates the show himself, selecting the best news from ABC radio partners worldwide, and conducting the interviews with Australia's top space and science talent, explaining complex topics in an easy way that anyone can understand.

Perhaps the cost is higher than I am imagining, but what we’re left with is a hole that will likely be filled by more re-broacasting of the BBC, instead of what was Australia’s only show about science, space and more.

The past few months, nay the past several years, have brought us all of NASA’s activities, with Mars landings, shuttle launches, Soyuz landings and more. We’ve heard about black holes, string theory, quasars, the theory of everything, comets, supernovae and the list goes on. 

It’s been a truly fascinating program that is unequalled across Australian radio, and now, it’s going.

I must say that I am tremendously disappointed in the ABC’s decision, and I urge it to reconsider.

I can only wonder what the funding the show received will be channelled into instead, but unfortunately I don’t know.

I honestly feel like writing to the ABC, and to the Department of Communications to protest at the axing of a fantastic show, and of course I am already protesting by writing this article. Writing a letter to the Editor of your major newspaper is probably a very good idea, too.

If you’d like to hear the show, this Sunday at midday AEST is your last opportunity to hear it being broadcast live. You can find a frequency or online streaming details here.

You can also tune into past episodes via podcast here. It’s possible to contact ABC NewsRadio using this form, but if this show is to be saved or returned in the future, I doubt whether contacting NewsRadio itself will help, for the decisions are likely coming from above.

Appealing to ABC Management and specifically the Director of Radio and Regional Content, Sue Howard, or the ABC Board will likely be the best way if you'd like to let the ABC know you want this program to be saved, while another alternative is to contact your Federal Member of Parliament.

I wish I knew if such actions would have any effect, but if you're unhappy about Australia losing its only space, science, cosmology and astronomy radio show, show your support and contact who you can.

I certainly will be, and definitely not because I've been an occasional guest, but because it's a show worth saving, worth producing and worth broadcasting. 

Australia is supposed to be the "clever country", but cutting shows like this especially when it is now being broadcast to 31 stations across Australia and available to anyone to listen to worldwide via podcast just seems to be the wrong decision, especially in the 21st century when space and science are more important to us all here on Planet Earth than ever before.

Please, ABC: reconsider your decision and let StarStuff live!


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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.