'Renewal is needed': Radio boss resigns from ABC
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'Renewal is needed': Radio boss resigns from ABC

The ABC's head of radio is leaving the public broadcaster, but says his departure is in no way linked to recent leadership turmoil.

Michael Mason said in a staff email on Wednesday that now was the right time to step down as director of radio. The announcement comes just weeks after the ABC board sacked former managing director Michelle Guthrie, with former chairman, Justine Milne, subsequently resigning.

"I am keenly aware that we have just experienced significant change at the highest levels within the ABC," Mr Mason wrote. "After 34 years at the ABC I can honestly say I have been privileged to have had the opportunity to work alongside some of this country's greatest broadcasting and media talent - both in front of and behind the mic.

ABC radio boss Michael Mason.

ABC radio boss Michael Mason. Credit:ABC

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"Now, I believe I'm just as privileged to be able to call time on my ABC career at a moment of my choosing. I want to tell you, though, that this decision is one of the hardest I have ever made."

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The ABC executive was quick to point out that his decision to not renew his contract was made in early August, prior to Ms Guthrie's axing. In late August, ABC Radio Melbourne's total audience share dropped to 8 per cent – its worst result since 1989.

However, an ABC source said ABC Radio Melbourne's performance did not influence Mr Mason's decision to leave – pointing out the executive is responsible for more than 50 stations across the country. In the most recent radio ratings, Melbourne breakfast also record its first-ever surge in audience share since Red Symons was replaced with Jacinta Parsons and Sami Shah.

In his email to staff, Mr Mason revealed former Sydney Morning Herald editor Judith Whelan will step into his role while the ABC hunts for a new head of radio.

"[In the] past 30 years I've seen massive change in the ABC, as well as across the entire media industry – and never more so as in the past few years," he said. "But almost in spite of the odds that seem overwhelmingly stacked against us at times, we have kept attracting the brightest talent and producing some of the finest content imaginable.

"Diversity remains a challenge for us, but I am proud that we have gone from just one female presenter having a voice in the primetime breakfast shift in our capital cities to five. We now have an Indigenous voice at breakfast in Canberra."

Despite overseeing significant restructures to the ABC's radio networks, Mr Mason is largely respected within the public broadcaster. He is also seen as a champion of diversity. In 2016, he told staff needed to throw out "old ideas and assumptions about the average Aussie" and put people with "difficult" accents on-air.

The ABC's acting managing director, David Anderson, paid tribute to Mr Mason.

"It's hard to capture the enormous influence Michael has had on the development and success of ABC's radio and audio services over the past 34 years," he said in a statement. "Without a doubt he has been one of the most influential radio executives in Australia and his decision to leave is a significant loss to the ABC."

Broede Carmody is an entertainment reporter at Fairfax Media.

Michael Lallo is a Senior Entertainment Writer for The Age and Sydney Morning Herald. Michael joined Fairfax Media in 2006 as a feature writer. He has also been a news reporter for The Sunday Age, a deputy editor of Green Guide and a columnist and critic.