Richard's cover image

Richard FIDLER

Year of Award: 2011 Award State: Queensland Multimedia > Radio
To investigate new forms of public radio - USA, UK

‘Conversations with Richard Fidler’ started as a local ABC radio program in Brisbane in 2005. Now it reaches listeners all over Australia and overseas and is the most downloaded podcast of the ABC.

Its unusual format is a one-hour long interview, usually with just one person. Richard writes, ‘Right from the start we had a bias towards guests who were unknown to the general public; people with good stories to tell, whose lives resemble those of our listeners’.

The program sometimes features authors and public figures, but listeners respond most favourably to ‘un-famous’ guests. I met Richard in the Brisbane ABC building in October 2014. ‘Bringing the voices of ordinary people anyone can relate to over a whole hour,’ he said, ‘we could explore some big, complex issues. My producer and I imagined we might be molding a different kind of public radio, bringing large audiences to interesting stories and ideas.’

Richard wanted to make the program even better and when he discovered podcasts from the United States, This American Life, The Moth Radio Hour, Radio Lab and Planet Money, he observed that their producers had gone further down the same road. Richard credits his Churchill Fellowship in 2011 with improving his program and for refining his thoughts about where he wanted it to go. Richard used his Churchill Fellowship to meet the producers of such radio programs above, as well as visit the BBC in London.

Some of the people he met overseas had an enduring impact on Richard and his ideas about the radio program. Ira Glass in the United States showed him that the power of public radio ‘travels up your spine and into your head. It doesn’t blare at you like TV does.’ Ira talked to him about the usual ‘newsreader’ voice as being ‘the mask of omniscience, which closes off to the complexity and curiosity and humour of honest encounters with ordinary people.’ Ira reinforced the different values needed in public radio programs like his and Richard’s, where it can tap into a community’s longing for shared sympathies. Programs like This American Life allow for nuance and spontaneity. They allow people to feel close to others instead of alienated from them, as they often do in our competitive and consumerist society.

I was listening to ABC Radio’s ‘Drive’ on 18 November 2014 when Richard Glover interviewed Richard Fidler. Glover described ‘Conversations with Richard Fidler’ as ‘intense and intimate’ and he asked Richard Fidler how he achieved that effect. Richard said he treated what he heard like a fable. ‘My curiosity is genuine,’ he said. ‘I find a moment I’m very interested in and I imagine telling my kids that story. It’s called “Conversations” but really it’s a kind of guided story-telling. … I could almost begin everyone with “Once upon a time …” and this results in the creation of a safe space for guests.’

Richard said, ‘A great part of the Churchill Fellowship is the time to think, time to meditate and reflect.’ He said he was grateful for a break from the long hours and frenetic work of normal life and he gained a tremendous amount from the chance to recharge his batteries and benefit from new ideas. These ideas made his program better than it was before and it continues to increase in popularity with listeners all over the world.

Excerpt from “Inspiring Australians” written by Penny Hanley (2015)

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