The West

Legendary ideas man of the ABC
Legendary ideas man of the ABC

Interviewing columnist and broadcasting legend Phillip Adams is a slightly unnerving experience. After all, he has spent decades interviewing extraordinary people and discussing "odd ideas", as he explains in his latest book Bedtime Stories: Tales from my 21 years at RN's Late Night Live.

If anyone knows the art of the interview, it is Adams.

"To me, it's just simply conversations, you're just talking to people," he says on the line from Sydney. "If you're not curious about them, if you don't find ideas interesting, then you shouldn't be doing it."

Even radio programs boasting guests such as Henry Kissinger and the late Christopher Hitchens and Gore Vidal failed to unnerve Adams. "I'm never daunted at my age. I don't feel an iota of nervousness if I walk out to talk to a thousand people, or if I'm talking to one on the wireless," he says.

Told in his signature chatty style, Bedtime Stories begins with Adams' commercial radio experiences and moves through to his current ABC Radio National program, Late Night Live.

Adams also offers delicious anecdotes about the ABC board, battles with politicians, difficult guests and angry members of the public (there have been death threats).

Despite the threats to his life and censorship - John Howard complained of left-wing bias during his prime ministership - Adams describes his job as "a gift from heaven".

"I've had - at least for me - arguably one of the best jobs in Australian media, if not the best. I can write on any subject in any tone of voice I like. No other columnist has ever had that.

"At the ABC, I was the first person they'd ever hired who had known, noisy political views. They gave me a job where I could talk to anyone on earth - anyone that we could land - on any topic that took my fancy or the producer's."

Adams' job satisfaction is also influenced by his love of the radio - a medium which allows a special intimacy with the listener. A listener he fondly names Gladys.

What began as a joke during a time when ABC management were concerned with low ratings - that is, there was only one person listening - became a useful metaphor for Adams' overall broadcasting philosophy.

"That joke about Gladys is also a serious point," Adams says. "If you're good at radio, you must in fact use it as though you're talking to one other person - plus the guest of course. You must think of the audience as an individual."

The West Australian

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