Interview - Tim Richie: ABC Radio National

Interview with Tim Richie: ABC Radio National - Presenter, Editor & Producer of Sound Quality - 15th May 2003

What's your background?

I'm 42, married for the last 8 years, two dogs and my first baby is on the way... so that sounds pretty safe and normal, but there's another story. I started at double jay [the AM band, Sydney precursor to Triple J] in 1976 and worked my way through uni doing mid-dawns... then in the 80s - it was a really wild time and I was a bit of a wild lad.... but then I met Rebecca in 1992, and found that there was this other life that was stable [but not boring] and the "going out" music scene had certainly lost it's shine.

How did you get your break?

I was running early for my school bus and didn't like the fill in breakfast announcer at double jay, so I called up to tell him how to do things better, and he said if I knew that much I should come in the next day and do the breakfast program. A Mercedes picked me up the next morning at 5.30.... and 27 years later, here I am.

How many listeners to do you have?

There is a strong feeling that the official ratings do not do justice to ABC Radio, especially Radio National. Having said that, I get 20,000 listeners to the 5 Cap Cities [jargon for Syd, Melb, Bris, Perth, Adel]... the ABC has a formula that adds another 25% for regional listeners [Radio National has more than 260 transmitters across the country] - so that's 25,000, then add the live streaming and audio on demand listeners and the listeners via the ABC's international service, Radio Australia [which takes my program] and your guess is as good as mine. Domestic radio listeners and online listeners is a bit over 30,000... but internationally on Radio Australia... who knows.

What is the music selection process?

I get tons of releases per week from record companies - the Majors and independents in Aust and independents who know what I play from o/s. Then on top of that I get what used to be called demos from acts that make music that has not been released. I don't really see it as "demos" it's all music. So from these 100s of CDs each week I trawl through and gems stick out and I put them in a pile for air. Then there's this weird thing that happens, I basically sit on the floor of my office and the covers remind me of the sounds [I have great retention for sound - and that's both good and bad]... and the program picks itself. It's very organic and I can't really explain, but after all these years of listening to music, it becomes something that just happens... I can't explain it to my satisfaction, so I'm sure readers will think it a bit herbal.

What is the demographic of your audience?

We don't get stats that specific, but from the feedback and type of music that I program, it's people who are interested in finding out what more there is to music beyond the play lists of computer program driven, formatted, researched radio. If you have to have a demographic that isn't "people who love new music", I say thirty plus.

How many people are on your e-mail list?

It goes up by a couple a day [and one or two drop off]... currently [like right this second] there is 1323 who get the weekly play list email.

How has the internet helped and hindered you?

It's made more work even for the relatively simple site for my program... but it has been a fantastic boon for access to artists, research, listeners and has helped the profile of the program.

What motivates you?

The fantastic buzz I get all the time from finding great new music.

Did you have any mentors, and if so, who?

All from the early days of double jay - Russell Guy, Stuart Cranney and Mac Cocker.

Who are your influences?

late 70s early 80s dub, Kraftwerk, Pere Ubu, hip hop, chilli [not a band, but a spice], anarchy and irreverence, manners and charm [spot the contradictions]

What technical equipment do you use?

It's a really simple set up... two CD player, a mic and a digital console [Klotz/Vardis] with a digital recorder/replay machine [Netia].

Who are some of the hot Australian bands / groups to watch this year?

Too hard.... I get 5 CDRs a week from people who have the potential to make a difference to the music scene... listen to my program and you'll know what's on the boil.

What is the biggest compliment you have ever received?

I get them all the time, e-mails from nameless listeners who simply appreciate what I do... that means more to me that people I know telling me what they think I want to hear.

What is the biggest misconception about you?

I know everything there is to know about music.

Do record producers or bands ever try to bribe you?

They did in the 80s, but budgets have shrunk a lot since then.

Describe freedom of the press in the music industry?

Ouch.... probably best typified by the online magazine Cyclic Defrost.

What are your thoughts on digital rights management?

That expression can mean different things to different people, I'll choose an easy one. Embedded in data should be a reference to let people know the source of the work, and that source should be recognised [not necessarily financially].

How is MTV good and bad for the industry?

It was bad as it narrowed the listening experience to those acts with a certain sound and enough $s to make a shmick video, now I think it is less of a problem. It is just another outlet, not as powerful as it was, and probably more interesting now.

What will the ABC funding situation mean to Radio National?

Too soon to tell, but I would like to think that the specialist nature of Radio National would be something that the Australian public and the ABC want to make sure continues, and grows. As the net has taught us - content is king.

When your not doing Sound Quality, what do you do?

At Radio National, I'm in charge of all the technical facilities across the country and the sound engineers that use them. I'm also responsible for the overall sound of the network. I liaise with all other parts of the ABC on technical and transmission issues [lucky I've got Sound Quality or I'd be a tense chap]. Outside of the ABC, my gal is the best thing that has happened to me. I can't spend too much time with her. We cook, walk the dogs and laugh a lot.

What instruments can you play?

I used to play a bass, but that was many years ago. In the 80s I programmed drum machines, but the instruments I can use best are my ears and turntables.

What are your future goals?

To find happiness every day, if I have a day where there is no fun, then I'll make sure that the circumstances that brought that day about don't happen again. Life has to be great, you only get one go [from my point of view] so you have to find joy in the routine, excitement in the minutiae.

What's the funniest or craziest things that ever
happened to you at work?

Hosting a 15 course meal [with different flavours from around the world] during a music shift mid-dawn.

What else would you like to share with our audience?

If you stop enjoying or appreciating new sounds and ideas in music... you'll become your parents. Music and fun makes me grow younger each year.


Website links:

ABC Radio National: Sound Quality

ABC DIG Internet Radio

ABC Radio National