Changes in the air at RTHK
SMALL earthquake in Broadcast Drive: not many hurt. On the 21st birthday of the government-run English-language service the new head of RTHK Radio Three, Martin Clarke, introduced some minor changes to its output - particularly at the weekend - and expressed his hope that it would 'blossom into a more modern and dynamic radio station to reflect its coming of age'.
Most notable of the changes scheduled to come in on April 3 to Radio Three die-hards will be the demise of the microphone grise Ralph Pixton and his Open Line on Saturday mornings. This cardiograph of old Hong Kong belongers will be replaced by Lorna Workman's weekend edition of Hong Kong Today dovetailed with her own phone-in show, putting local decision-makers on the spot.
The end of Open Line might feel akin to the monkeys leaving the Rock of Gibraltar but Clarke has outmanoeuvred 'Outraged of Mid-Levels' by giving him (or her) Uncle Ralph on Sunday mornings in - novel title this - Open Line Plus. By this act of inspired prestidigitation, Pixton gains more airtime to get those roadworks running on time, and, according to Clarke, more room to inject his own personality and humour on the show.
Lorna Workman will bring a welcome cutting edge to the station's current affairs programming. The stately progress of the flagship Hong Kong Today remains unimpeded during the week and Clarke - with shades of the proverbial football manager perhaps - has expressed every confidence in it.
From time to time Hong Kong Today shines - witness the recent way eco-legislator Christine Loh was forced to admit she couldn't do her job without using a car but was still prepared to insist that fellow Hong Kongers forsake theirs. However, the flagship's inability or unwillingness in the past few years to use a female presenter (Workman's recent outing excepted) lends credence to that safari suit image it might like to see joining the mothballs in the wardrobe.
One woman who would ably fill that early morning slot is Liz Case, whose career has progressed by leaps and bounds: so much so that her 45-minute Lunchtime Show is extended by an hour.
Vilma Gardiner, whose Sunday night Mabuhay for Filipino listeners ensures she receives the station's weightiest postbag, is rewarded with three hours in English between nine o'clock to midnight on Saturdays. And again responding to public demand, stalwart Ray Cordeiro goes all the way to the wee small hours an hour earlier on week nights, as well as tucking another show - My Kind of Music on Sunday nights - under his cap.
Drama wins another 45 minutes on Sunday nights and during the week two old favourites return: Barefoot Cantonese and 60 Years of RTHK. The perennial Letter from Hong Kong is to be indulged with for only five minutes which should encourage a broader range of local contributors.
However, there are some victims in this shake-up: Marshall Hughes' folk music outing is scythed back to a paltry 15 minutes on a Saturday night. Clarke maintains, confusingly, that this will allow Hughes to examine aspects of folk more closely.
A few question marks remain. The radio version of RTHK's television programme, A Week In Politics, does not feature on the schedules. Apparently this is still under discussion. As a sound-only version of a TV broadcast, it has sometimes been hopelessly at sea. Whether Workman fills this gap on Saturday mornings remains to be seen, but it is regrettable that Radio Three can't bring us at least 15 minutes of its own to allow pundits and politicos to examine the workings of the executive and legislative processes.
Radio Three's version of Desert Island Discs, One to One, disappears from the spring schedule and if it reappears it too would benefit from the Clarke razor blade. And perhaps oddest of the truncations, Business Report, which seemed to have gained momentum in its previous Sunday incarnation, is relegated to 15 minutes on a Thursday evening.
There is no doubt that Clarke has been treading on eggshells to produce even the slightest of changes to Radio Three's schedules. But he has done so after hearing from the public through listener panels and, doubtless, with little increased spending. For that he deserves two and three-quarter cheers. The entrenched inertia at the top of RTHK - which failed to fill Clarke's position for more than two years - is unlikely to have disappeared overnight.
Perhaps after a few weeks of the new schedules Workman might care to subject Clarke and the head of RTHK, Cheung Man-yee, to a light grilling over the coals. After all, what's good enough for the Governor is good enough for his underlings.