Ratbag Radio Network: the podcasting year in review

As we move towards a new year I want to take the opportunity to review the history, such as it is, of the Ratbag Radio Network -- and ponder its future.>>


As far as I can make out the the genesis of its web existence goes back something like this:
Life of Riley- [ blogging from June 2004]
The Blather (the original Ratbag Radio) [podcasting from October 2005]
LeftCast [podcasting from March 2006]
Education for Socialists [podcasting from April 2006]
VenSol: Venezuela Solidarity Podcast [ podcasting from May 2006]
PodcastThis! --audio aggregator [audio aggregating from November 2006]
And over that space of time I’ve had to learn through intense DIY how to record, edit and publish audio in mp3 format; tool myself up with hardware with which to record; and create a web presence in order to distribute it. I was also fortunate in that I also took a 12 week course in radio ponale oiperation at 4EB Ethnic Community Radio here in Brisbane

The Channels

While I began by adding audio to the Life of Riley blog -- as a sort of audio blogging exercise -- The Blather, which was originally promoted as Ratbag Radio was utilised as an exercise in experimenting and learning. Only with the advent of VenSol --the Venezuela Solidarity podcast -- was a set schedule of production and publishing followed and this was made possible by the fact that the audio was generated in Caracas either by Venezuela Analysis or by Green Left Weekly correspondents located there.I acted as producer.

LeftCast instead functioned as a vehicle to showcase good left audio found on the web and occasionally as a vehicle for audio I had recorded --such as a talk or lecture that had general broad left interest..

Education for Socialists has been neglected primarily because I haven’t been able to record the material I had planned for that channel. The concept is still relevant and the project has made available some interesting and useful material but until such time as I can work in tandem with special educational events -- like a socialist scholars conference, or a socialist summer school -- it’s not going to have the relevance I had envisaged. I had in mind creating an antipodean version of Resistance Mp3 or even orchestrating short class series in audio format

New Techniques

The irony is that these events are more often than not recorded but the recordings are produced on analogue equipment when what’s needed is a switch to digital. Given the nature of the talks presented on these occasions I think the retooling required is Hi MD mini disc recording devices-- like those from Sony -- which are so easy to set and forget especially with their own inbuilt gain control. A good microphone with plug in power would also be required to make such a rig work under these conditions. (With the latest version of Sony’s editing software --Sonic Stage -- post editing and conversion is a breeze)

After I realised I could snaffle useful audio content from the web by employing a simple exercise like PodcastThis! --which is basically a aggregation of tagged audio --LeftCast lost a lot of its usefulness. I had planned to reformat the channel as a locally produced commentary project but I couldn’t work out how I to do that. I thought that if I shared the recording know how and I developed an easy means for people to create content that I would be able to later harvest it for LeftCast. Another way to do this, I thought, was to rely on the podcaster’s standby and employ Skype VoIP audio as a means to record interviews computer to computer.

Neither of these approaches proved practicable but I did, through my experiments on The Blather, develop a technique to record phone interviews direct from a speaker phone. Now that I am shifting perhaps to Engin as my “telephone” service the prospect exists to interview & record anyone I can access through a telephone -- landline or mobile--without an expensive setup or relying on a person’s access to a computer and familiarity with VoIP computer programs like Skype .

New Formats

This calls for a major reconsideration of what I am doing with the various channels on the network. As well as creating podcasts I’ve also been listening to podcasts and among my preferred pod subscriptions are such news services a Free Speech Radio News.

FSRN has a very dense and focused news presentation format drawing on reports contributed by journalists from all over the world. Each report would last for less than 2 minutes within a 30 minute program event. The reports are written and delivered as read reportage linked to segments of interviews, statements and the like.

I think that I can shepherd LeftCast towards becoming a local cousin to this FSRN style. Without being too rigid about it, a news podcast in broadcast journalism style, lasting for 10 minutes is feasible -- say at least once per week. This is the format pursued by Venezuela Analysis radio which I podcast on VenSol as is that of This Week In Palestine.(which I have also distributed through RRN). While I’m after a news format I think I’ll need to be flexible in what constitutes reportage as I can't pretend that I’m trying to compete with ABC radio. So the “news” to be worthwhile must have its own spin and, I guess, its own in-house style. But the key thing is the format: 10 minutes -- once or maybe more times per week(say 2-3?). That's what you go for, that's the perspective.

If I find a way to link that strongly with Green Left Weekly I can explore ways to partner the project in the way I have done already this last year by podcasting interviews I also transcribe for publication in GLW.

Unfortunately formulating print journalism is a bit different from how broadcast jouralism is pitched --and inasmuch as I prefer the broadcast format (as exercised by ABC Radio -- such as The World Today -- here in Australia), I'm sure a GLW editor can straddle the divide.

The other aspect I'm keen to explore with such a new approach for LeftCast is that it can utilize the same open forum approach that FSRN employs:
So I may be able to pick up a few others to keenly contribute news audio to the project...even. maybe the occasional journalism student.

Changing circumstance

I managed to kick start a straightforward exercise with VenSol this year by tee-ing up the two GLW correspondents -- Jim McIlroy & Coral Wynter -- before they left for Caracas. And with Michael Fox more often than not creating news audio through the resources of Venezuela Analysis I was able to produce (although I didn't do any recording)a weekly news program reporting on events in Venezuela.

Now that Jim and Coral's tenure has ended there and Venezuela Analysis seems to be now publishing audio through FSRN -- the VenSol project may flounder a bit. But what I hope to do is engineer a new focus with more coverage on the solidarity movement and commentary sourced in this country by employing interviews with activists and brigadistas fresh from their tours.

VenSol's reach has been greatly extended by the use Warrick Fry at NimFM Community Radio in Northern NSW has been able to put the VenSol audio by incorporating it with his LatinRadical program --so that an ongoing partnership has been consolidated the application of which we will explore in greater depth during 2007. VenSol also has some scope to work more closely with the Australian Venezuela Solidarity Network and through that connection we have been considering ways to link up with the extensive Spanish language network within Australian community radio.


Since Ratbag Radio --as the name may suggest -- began life as a exercise in political satire I was for a time supplying content to Upstart Radio's Mindwalk -- a web and transmitter radio program in the United States and especially via Sean Lennon, its producer. It was also through this satiric penchant that RRN was first taken up by NimFM--via Martin -- as for a time there Ratbag Radio was slotted into Sunday night programming for its satiric content. But as I lost my satiric edge over the year and got caught up in other avenues of expression and experimentation I was able to work with Warrick Fry and, in the case of Education for Socialists -- team up with Bob Morris in Los Angeles who was doing great work recording forums and talks delivered on the LA left.I know guest blog on his blog, Politics in the Zeros.

Maybe not as fruitful in way of finding a shared project to work together on, but Robert (a witty [G]reat Dane living in Scotland) has always been inspiring with what he has been doing with his HansIsland podcast.

Elsewhere -- with some contacts in England -- we have explored the prospect of creating an international left commentary & analysis podcast. But I think, for the moment the RRN horizon will have to remain domestic --although the notion is very exciting and technically as practicable as FSRN is--even for a bunch of amateurs.

Nonetheless, some of the audio RRN has produced has been broadcast by John Tognolini on his Katoomba Surf Club program which goes out each Sunday from Blue Mountains FM. John, like Warrick, has background in community broadcasting from an aggressively radical left perspective.

Hip Hopping

While not technically the same genre, the Ratbag Radio Network is planning to produce a Hip Hop CD for the Socialist Alliance during 2007. Just as soon as the wherewithall is explored -- production, marketing, distribution --there's certainly the talent and commitment available to make the project va success.