Perth TV's dream team hits milestone
Many, many television watchers in Perth have grown up, married and had their own children knowing nothing but the mellifluous tones of Seven Perth's newsreaders Rick Ardon and Susannah Carr. They've worked their way through six prime ministers, starting with Bob Hawke, and seven premiers, starting with Brian Burke.
They've witnessed the State's economic fortunes wax and wane and they've shared its glories and tragedies. They've had a bird's-eye view of the world with all its sadness and its silliness and they've seen a bewildering expanse of human nature at its best and worst.
They were there when the first West Coast Eagles team ran out on to the ground in 1986 and when, nine years later, the Fremantle Dockers did the same. They beat Home and Away to air, they already were there when Ten launched in Perth and they beat subscription TV by a decade.
While newsreaders at other stations have come and gone, sometimes with bewildering speed and in numbers too great to count, this pair have remained immutable. Unconquerable, too, if television ratings are to be considered.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of their time together. That's longer than either of them has been married. It's more than half the time that Seven Perth has been in existence. It's certainly the most enduring newsreading partnership in Australia. The world mark apparently belongs to retired New York newsreaders Sue Simmons and Chuck Scarborough, whose 32 years together is a record Carr and Ardon seem likely to demolish, to what will be thunderous acclaim.
There's no suggestion of an end in sight either.
It is well documented that Carr brought her velvet voice to Seven Perth from the ABC, where she had taken a job as presenter when deflected from her career dream in architecture by a misogynistic dean. She was beaten in 1974, by Margaret Throsby by just one day, to being the first woman to read an ABC TV news bulletin, although she holds the title for WA.
Ardon came via the editorial department of _The West Australian _, a lanky lad who says he ignored wise counsel from older colleagues who suggested that TV was a fickle, shallow existence and that real weight resided in print.
Indeed, they grew up on television, from callow youths to the seasoned, comfortable professionals they are today. They've aged, happily and without regret, added lines of experience and, sometimes, of private pain. And while "comfortable" is not always a kind word in any profession these days, it is the ease and assurance of their presence on the screen which has kept them so successful. The world changes, moment by moment, but team Rick 'n' Sue don't.
A friend, returning after 25 years away, remarked to Ardon: "You're still there."
"I think he thought that was a good thing," Ardon says. "There was a comfort factor for him in seeing someone he knew."
Of the partnership he says: "We know each other so well. We look out for each other, we can anticipate."
Their journey together parallels not just events and people but the rapid changes to newsgathering, including the birth first of videotape rather than film, of digital TV, 24-hour news coverage, the rise of social media and the technical advances which make it possible for a studio anywhere to link live coverage of a particular event. Witness the fact that part of the continuous coverage of the Sydney Lindt Cafe siege was hosted by Carr, from Perth, when Seven's Sydney studio was out of action.
It was, she says a little wryly, a chance to show the youngsters that experience does have its benefits and that, when challenged, it can rise to the occasion.
"Most of the time we're sitting behind a desk and we aren't able to get out and about as much as we'd like to. It's good to show what we're capable of."
So different is the news landscape these days, with people demanding, and getting, instant news via phones and tablets, it raises the question of how long nightly news bulletins will continue. Clearly a question he'd pondered, Ardon is confident that they remain extremely valuable.
"People coming home from work still want the chance to catch up on the main news of the day," he says.
Certainly the ratings remain strong and extra bulletins during the day, with the chance to go live in the event of a major story, have been big changes to the landscape in recent years. Any studio, Carr says, can host a network story. "We thought we were immediate before - but the immediacy now is amazing."
When we spoke about life and the media five years ago, to mark their 25th anniversary, there was no hint of the changes in store. But now the pair are busy rehearsing in a brand-new studio as part of the co-location of Seven Perth and _The West Australian _. When all the final tweakings have been completed, and only then, the nightly bulletin will go to air from this new home in Osborne Park. It's a new era, coinciding with their anniversary.
Of course there have been offers from other networks over the years, including from Nine just down the road. But they've never been seriously tempted. Both have had just two jobs, again a rarity in the media world.
Higher mathematics suggests that, in their 30 years together, they've read close to 8000 week night bulletins together. That's almost 4000 hours, on air, in each other's company. No wonder they know each other so well. One might think, or even hope, that in that time there's been at least one gossip-column- worthy difference of opinion, one-full scale, no-holds-barred eruption. But if there has been, it's never been publicly recorded.
There is no talk of retirement. Why would there be? They love their jobs, there is no evidence the audience has fallen out of love with them and the ever-changing media world offers constant exhilaration. And anyway, who would keep an eye on the lapses in grammar and sentence structure if not these veterans of classrooms where such subjects were taught?
Ardon thinks that the merging of two newsrooms, Seven Perth with _The West Australian _, will be an exciting change to the way news is gathered and presented in WA.
Both say that they are still fundamentally excited by news, constantly staying aware of what is happening in the world. Its immediacy is exciting.
And while the delivery of the news has changed with the arrival of Twitter and other social-media platforms, the pressure to get there first is measurably greater. The downside, Carr suggests, is that the demand for speed may see unverified information go to air.
If there is regret for Ardon it is that he rarely has the chance to write. Still, he's been able to use his journalistic experience in major news stories such as the Bali bombings, Schapelle Corby's release, the Victorian bushfires and the Gulf War. And, of course, many other live crosses for domestic stories.
One of Carr's highlights will remain her contribution to Seven's national coverage of the funeral of Princess Diana, where she proved herself far better acquainted with British history than others in the team.
She was also in South Africa for the first all-race elections.
Seven Perth's director of news, Howard Gretton is, of course, a happy man to have the pair in place, although he was in short pants when they walked into the studio for the first time.
"Rick Ardon and Susannah Carr are TV news royalty," he said.
"Their enduring partnership has underpinned the success of Seven Perth across the decades, maintaining our position as the TV news leaders in WA.
"Thirty years in any industry is an impressive effort.
"In the hurly-burly of commercial television it demonstrates how Rick and Sue have never lost their edge, never lost their professionalism and never lost their enthusiasm for the job."
'Rick Ardon and Susannah Carr are TV news royalty. Their enduring partnership has underpinned the success of Seven News . . .' Howard Gretton
Seven News airs nightly at 6pm.