Clark of the discourse

ABC Radio had to go to Sydney to fill the critical vacancy in its high-rating breakfast program. LAURA EDWARDS meets the new host with fond memories of Canberra

IF there’s anyone who could slip easily into the well-worn chair of ABC 666 breakfast radio host Ross Solly, it’s Philip Clark.

The 57-year-old broadcast veteran and former Canberran is days into his new gig, replacing Solly as he moves overseas for a year, and already feels “at home.”

“I’ve got a great fondness for Canberra, it’s been a place of great memories for me, so it’s as if I’ve never really left,” says Clark, who studied a degree in arts/law at the Australian National University in the 1970s.

“My two daughters are studying here at the ANU now, so it’s almost like the family is together again.”

Clark’s wife Diana Slade, a linguistics professor at the University of Technology, Sydney, is currently on an 18-month posting to Hong Kong.

“We’ve been trying to visit as much as we can, but for now I’m just settling in and finding my feet,” he says.

Clark, who moved from Sydney for the new role, says he’s enjoying reconnecting with his former community at an “interesting time” for the capital.

“It’s a time of change in Canberra – there’s a brand new Federal Government, they’ve suggested there will be job losses, so I’m interested in what Canberrans think about their environment, what they think about health and education, and what they do and don’t like about their city,” he says.

“It’s well known Canberrans are among the most educated in the country, they want to know what’s going on in their community and they want to know first thing in the morning, so I’m looking forward to listening to what they have to say, what concerns them, and holding public officials to account when I need to.”

He says Canberra has changed “remarkably” since he was a resident.

“I’ve just moved to a unit in Braddon, and when I was there as a student it was all car yards, now it’s cafes and shops,” he says.

“Then you’ve got places like NewActon, which are very funky, very cool – the city is a lot more dense, a lot more alive.”

Launceston-born, Clark first moved to Canberra in 1974 for his university studies, later working at Parliament House as press secretary for Labor Senator John Button during the Hawke years.

“It was a very interesting time, for a young fellow like me. I’d always been interested in politics before that, so it was just fascinating,” he says.

Clark moved to Sydney in 1986 to pursue a job with a private law firm, before realising it “didn’t quite fit”.

When the opportunity came to write for Fairfax, he didn’t hesitate.

“As soon as I started, I knew journalism was the right move for me,” he says.

Clark wrote and edited “The Sydney Morning Herald’s” popular “Stay in Touch” column –  “lots of political gossip and great fun,” he says – until he was offered a role with the ABC to co-host a radio show with John Doyle, also known as Roy Slaven of Roy and HG.

The producers had seen Clark’s columns, and wanted a fresh voice to talk politics with Slaven in an “offbeat” way.

“I still remember my first shift – it was shocking,” laughs Clark.

“I was ridiculously nervous, and I had written my introduction in biro and everything just seemed to go wrong.”

Gradually, Clark became a natural behind the mic and soon landed his own evening show. Later, in 1993, he hosted his first breakfast radio show on ABC 702 and even moved into television, hosting ABC TV’s quiz show “Flashback”. More recently, he has been teaching media law at the University of Technology in Sydney.

Clark has many highlights in his broadcasting career – interviewing former Prime Minister John Howard during the “children overboard” scandal, covering the Sydney Olympics in 2000 – but he says those raw, poignant moments with “ordinary people” are what really drives him.

“I feel really privileged when someone can just let go and share their story or their adventures, when you have those moments when you can hear a pin drop,” he says.

“For me, breakfast radio is my favourite slot of the day, it’s so dangerous. People might be grumpy or tired, their kids might be screaming as they wrangle them into the car – you’re talking to people at a very loaded time of the day. But it’s also a very important time because they want to know what’s going on, they want to be informed and entertained, they want you to say something funny without shoving your opinion down their throat.

“I think that’s what my style is in this new role, to be warm and friendly, and to reconnect with a community I have great affection for.”

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