“Australians can’t bear it that we pay so little attention to them, and I don’t blame them. This is a country where interesting things happen, and all the time.” – Bill Bryson, In a Sunburned Country
Lately, it feels like everything has been leading me to Australia.
As an expat living in Thailand, every other English-speaker I meet seems to be a) an Australian backpacking through Southeast Asia, or b) an American on a working holiday visa in Australia. My friends in the States are planning a vacation – to Australia. The book club I just joined has me reading a new travel book – about Australia. And my favorite character on the Netflix show I’m currently bingeing on? An Australian comedian.
But surprisingly, the area of my life that’s been the most Australia-focused has been my podcast subscriptions. When I wrote about launching an ‘audio abroad’ series, the responses I got were delightfully diverse and scattered across the globe: Ireland, Italy, Canada, Israel, Vietnam, France, India. But I was surprised to find that the majority of my emails came from Australia.
I heard from producers at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), independent radiomakers, audio conference organizers, and avid podcast fans. They made it clear: there’s a lot going on in the Australian audio scene. The Down Under is the up-and-coming underdog of the audio world; in fact, they may even be ahead of the U.S. in some regards. Here’s how a few people in the Australian radio world described the state of their audio industry right now:
The Australian radio style is sound-rich and diverse
“I think maybe we sit somewhere in between an American and a BBC-style, objective radio voice. I think it’s really hard to comment and put a blanket on an Australian style, because I think it’s so diverse. But the ABC really fosters a very sound-rich approach to storytelling, and deep sound-design approaches to audio, and sound-first approaches to narrative. I think that there’s sometimes frustration with that institution with all these young producers putting themselves in the role of narrator, and the kind of Ira Glass/This American Life style of narrator-led stories.”
Big players: the ABC, Radio National, Triple J, and community radio
“Australia feels like it has much less of a developed radio culture than the U.S. and Britain. We have the ABC, which is totally government funded. Despite this, though, it’s completely independent, and governments have pretty much learned to leave it alone, or face public wrath. The ABC runs Radio National, which is broadcast across the country, but its listenership tends to be on the older side. On the other end of the spectrum is Triple J, the national youth radio station, which does an amazing job making young people across both urban and regional areas feel connected in a listening community. Each state has some totally excellent independent community radio stations – Melbourne’s include Triple R, PBS and Joy FM, which are fiercely supportive of local music, politics, business and arts.”
– Sarah Walker, host, Contact Mic
The U.S may still be the leader in cutting-edge audio stories
“The U.S. industry certainly has influence down under, partly because there are so many great shows we can draw inspiration from. I know so many producers and listeners over here whose feeds are full of U.S. shows. Beyond listening and subscribing and drawing inspiration that way, the culture of skill-sharing through resources like Transom and Third Coast are big for us, because radio-specific training resources aren’t as established or widespread over here but they’re so accessible online. So I guess we pull in all that influence and working with Australian sounds, narratives and aesthetics we remix it into more idiosyncratically Australian sounds.”
– Bec Fary, producer, SleepTalker
But in Australia, women rule the podcast scene
There’s a huge space for funny, smart content that goes deeper than just ‘so, how about bikram yoga,’ and audiences are eating it up… This myth of women’s voices being ‘annoying’ just doesn’t register with podcast audiences. You no longer need to have a beautiful voice to be on radio: you just need to have good content. Wendy Zukerman’s Science Vs show broke ground for an Australian podcast after it was picked up by Gimlet. Did being female make her show better or worse? Neither, it wasn’t a factor, because audiences don’t give a shit if you’re male or female, they just notice good content.”
– Monique Bowley, Director of Podcasts, Mamamia Women’s Network
Podcast Playlist: All-Australia Edition
Ready to add some stories with Australian accents to your podcast feed? Here’s a list of the best Australian audio storytelling I found – mostly via recommendations from Australian podcasters and listeners:
Produced by: ABC
Tagline: a heady mix of fiction, non-fiction, essays and drama from writers, artists and radio makers, brought to you by RN’s Creative Audio Unit.
Listen to: The ‘Addendum’ series, which tells the stories behind the classifieds – think Reply All‘s occasional Craigslist stories; Radio with Pictures, a storytelling series that is ‘part radio, part comic’; and Volume Without Sparks, a ‘how-to radio manual for amplifying sound without electricity’ that radio producer Joel Werner calls one of his ‘favorite series in recent memory’.
2. All The Best
Produced by: FBi Radio, with Radio Adelaide, 4ZZZ & SYN
It’s sort of like: Snap Judgment
Description: Through docos, interviews, fictions and factual accounts, we paint a unique portrait of Australia with audio stories.
Produced by: The Wheeler Centre
It’s sort of like: Life of the Law – if Life of the Law were focused only on the issue of euthanasia?
Description: Andrew Denton investigates the stories, moral arguments and individuals woven into discussions about why good people are dying bad deaths in Australia – because there is no law to help them. Reader Jen Crothers calls it “intelligent, meaningful, personal, challenging – really worth a listen.”
4. Contact Mic
Produced by: Fleur Kilpatrick, Kieran Ruffles and Sarah Walker
Tagline: a podcast about the things that make us human: moments of change, indecision and, well, contact.
Listen to: Episode 2: Clairscent – This Month in Your World – Postcards – Jason Lehane. The ‘This Month in Your World’ segment tells brief, jumpy vignettes of scenes around the world, in a way that is enjoyably disorienting, and the whole podcast has a cool, experimental vibe to it.
Produced by: Mamamia Podcast Network
It’s sort of like: The Longest Shortest Time
Tagline: This is not the place for “perfect parents”. This is a weekly look at parenting as it truly is – confusing, exhausting, inspiring, completely full of surprises and very messy.
Produced by: ABC
It’s sort of like: NPR’s Invisibilia
Tagline: An exploration of all things mental, All in the Mind is about the brain and behaviour, and the fascinating connections between them.
Produced by: Bec Fary
It’s sort of like: Nocturne
Tagline: The podcast about sleep, dreams, nightmares and what happens in your head after dark. Caroline Crampton, creator of the newsletter So far, I’ve had no complaints, recently wrote about SleepTalker: “What has kept me listening, though, is the fact that the makers of SleepTalker are trying interesting things with their format: their use of music is pretty good, as is the shifting between fiction and non-fiction.”
8. Off Track
Produced by: ABC
It’s sort of like: Outside/In
Tagline: Listen to the environment discussed by the people who live in and love it
Produced by: Wil Anderson, comedian
It’s sort of like: How to Be Amazing
Description: Wil Anderson asks smart people stupid questions and tries to find out the meaning of life.
Recommended by: Monique Bowley, Mamamia Podcast Network
10. Story Club
Produced by: Giant Dwarf Theatre
It’s sort of like: The Moth
Tagline: Each week, we bring you stories told live from the Story Club chair at the Giant Dwarf Theatre in Sydney.
11. Mamamia Out Loud
Produced by: The Mamamia Women’s Network
It’s sort of like: Call Your Girlfriend
Description: It’s the kind of show you’d never hear on commercial radio: that is, women. Lots of women. This is the weekly podcast that’s smart, often silly and sometimes surprising.
12. Private Parts
Produced by: Elin Andersson and Irit Pollak
It’s sort of like: The Heart
Tagline: an audio-art project about gender and perception
13. Chat 10 looks 3
Produced by: Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales
Description: Sarah Walker (Contact Mic) says: “with two of our most prominent political commentator ladies – both totally badass babes, but instead of talking hardcore politics, they talk about what they’re cooking and reading and you desperately want to be their friend. It’s the best.”
Produced by: Evana Ho
It’s sort of like: Huffington Post’s Love & Sex Podcast
Tagline: Intimate conversations about love, sex and relationships.
Produced by: ABC
It’s sort of like: What’s Tech (the Verge)
Description: Explore the latest in technology, social media, consumer electronics, digital culture and more.
Check out more curated podcast playlists here.
If you live somewhere outside of the United States and you’re a producer/creator/fan of audio stories, get in touch via e-mail or Twitter and tell me about the best podcasts in your country.