The ABC is launching a new country-wide rural affairs program three years after axing Radio National's Bush Telegraph.
The new radio show is expected to hit the airwaves on January 22. Like its national predecessor, it will provide in-depth news and analysis of issues important to rural and regional Australians.
The show is tentatively titled The Dirt and is set to be hosted by Perth-based broadcaster Sinead Mangan. It will be broadcast on all regional ABC radio stations from 6.05pm to 6.30pm Monday through to Friday, before being replayed on Radio National and Radio Australia.
Bush Telegraph was given the chop under the leadership of previous managing director Mark Scott. Current director Michelle Guthrie said she wanted to renew the broadcaster's focus on rural and regional Australia, recently announcing a swathe of new jobs outside the capital cities.
But the new program has left some within the ABC scratching their heads and wondering why Bush Telegraph was axed in the first place.
The national broadcaster received numerous calls and emails after the axing was announced, with one columnist for The Weekly Timesarguing it was like the ABC had just bombed "the bridge crossing the rural-city divide".
"I don't think this new format will be set up to achieve the same sorts of things or have the same sorts of discussions as Bush Telegraph," one ABC employee said.
Another regional ABC employee questioned why the program was going to be called The Dirt, arguing the title had negative connotations and potentially stereotyped country life.
"They may as well call it the pumpkin half-hour," the employee mused.
The program's name, however, has not been set in stone and the ABC has called for feedback, as well as story ideas. An ABC spokeswoman said the 25-minute show will provide people in rural and regional communities a "strong voice in national conversations".
"Bush Telegraph played an important role in explaining rural issues to largely metropolitan audiences on Radio National, however all programs on ABC networks are subject to review and change," she said.
"The new current affairs program will attract higher audiences and will be directed at regional audiences, reflecting their issues and concerns via the regional radio network. These stories will also be told to national and international audiences.
"The new team will have access to stories from the whole regional reporting team - news and features reporters, as well as rural reporters - commissioning content not just for the radio program but online [and] mobile too."