The Coodabeen Champions will be signing off this Saturday for the last time after more than 30 years on air. Photo: Supplied
The ABC is quietly axing a national radio program, the Coodabeen Champions' Saturday Soiree, which has developed a cult following over decades of broadcasting.
The four hosts, who refer to themselves as the Rolling Stones of radio due to their longevity on the airwaves, will sign off on Saturday night after a decade on the ABC and two more decades previously on commercial and community radio.
Ironically, the sports-loving presenters are being forced off due to the ABC expanding its sporting commitments on Saturday evenings.
The rambling Saturday Soiree program, broadcast only in summer, was switched from Sunday to Saturday several years ago, due to more frequent sports broadcasts.
The Coodabeens will continue to host a Saturday morning football show in winter, which rates No. 1 in Melbourne.
That show is in its 33rd consecutive year on Melbourne radio.
Their website says ''irreverence, wit, humour and the odd tall story are the order of the day'' when four team members - Jeff Richardson, Ian Cover, Greg Champion and Billy Baxter - are on air.
Musician Champion said the team would like to continue with the Saturday night program.
"No one is happy about it, we'd like to carry on, we're not happy but we've seen it coming,'' he said.
"We've been called the Rolling Stones of radio, so if you have a good chemistry you just stick with it,'' he said.
"All the boys like to be spontaneous and make it up as you go; there's never much programming, no formatting, no rehearsals, no scripting, very little planning.
"It's evolved a style of spontaneity and the listeners can tell - it's make it up as you go.
"Our ability to improvise became our strength: we back ourselves to make it up.''
Champion said the Soiree was broadcast on Sunday nights until three years ago.
''Sunday night was a better slot because there are more commuters,'' he said.
"The reason for moving it to Saturday night was the expanding sport broadcasts on Sunday nights.
"Very soon there were just as many sports broadcasts on Saturday nights, so we were being knocked out from the radio one network more and more and heard only on digital radio and web streaming.
''So now they've pulled the plug because they said they can't keep paying us to do a show that's not going to air enough.''
Champion said more listeners associated the Coodabeens with the Saturday Footy Show than the Saturday Soiree.
"The Footy Show too has hung by a thread for the past four or five years, on one-year contracts, but we rate number one,'' he said.
The ABC's manager in the ACT, Andrea Ho, has worked with the Coodabeens during New Year's Eve broadcasts in Hobart and with Champion when she worked in Tamworth, during his regular appearances at the country music festival.
"It's always sad to see the end of an era but if it makes way for new things the listeners want, well so be it,'' she said.
An ABC spokesman in Sydney said the Coodabeens remained a very popular part of ABC programming.
''Due to increasing sporting commitments on Saturday nights in summer with the A League, then in winter with the NRL and AFL, there is a rarely a Saturday night in winter or summer free for regular programs like the Coodabeens on a Saturday night,'' he said.
''Their main footy program on Saturday mornings during the AFL months continues on local radio in Victoria and as an online stream.
''The Coodabeens will be involved with a number of outside broadcasts that will be broadcast nationally, to ensure they have presence on local radio over the year.
''These include a New Year's Eve celebration on Tuesday night, the AFL Grand Final parade, and just the other day a broadcast from the first day of play for the Boxing Day Test.''