ARN just made the biggest move of the year – no, not Kyle and Jackie!

By now, Kyle and Jackie O’s ten-year contract extension has received a hundred-years’ worth of media coverage, but despite the hype, it was not the most important thing to happen within the Australian Radio Network this week.

This week, BlakCast, an Aboriginal owned and ran podcast network, launched in partnership with ARN’s iHeart.

ARN launched iHeart ten years ago, and has since built it into the country’s largest podcasting network. However, like all mainstream media in Australia, it had fallen short of being a true representation of the country.

“As a middle-aged, bald, white man, I realise I had built a network that did not represent wider Australia,” iHeart’s head of digital audio Corey Layton, admitted at the Blakcast launch.

It was a frank admission to make.

BlakCast is the brainchild of Mandanara Bayles, who joined iHeart earlier this year with the ‘Black Magic Woman’ podcast, which she launched herself in 2020 as “a new space where I yarn with interesting people about things that matter to me and to First Nations people in Australia and around the world”.

Black Magic Woman was the first Indigenous-hosted podcast on the iHeart network. Bayles joined iHeart in July, and less than six months later, she is launching her own Indigenous podcasting network within its walls. That’s pretty damn impressive.

By launching within the massive global iHeart machine, the Blakcast Network now shares a home with big-hitting podcasting networks from the New York Times, Bloomberg, and Audioboom. More importantly, it will have the might of the Australian Radio Network “guiding, amplifying, and monetising” the podcasts, as Layton put it.

Even more importantly, BlakCast is Aboriginal owned and ran.

Here’s the official spiel:

“BlakCast is an Australian podcast network that is owned and led by First Nations people. Our podcasts are conceived of, developed by, and proudly platform First Nations, black and people of colour. We hold space for the celebration of Indigenous knowledge and diverse perspectives.

“BlakCast tells stories for all Australians, building community and sharing culture on our journey to a stronger, more inclusive future. We aspire to bridge the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia through empathy, connection, and meaningful conversations.

“We invite you to walk with us.”

The talent they have managed to secure is truly impressive.

Amy McQuire is probably the best investigative journalist in Australia. Her podcast Curtain, started in 2016, helped to free an Aboriginal man sentenced for a 1991 murder he couldn’t have possibly committed. The forensic nature of her reporting found that Kevin ‘Curtain’ Henry was denied legal representation after his arrest, a supposed confession was “most likely coerced”, that no DNA evidence ties him to the case, and that he has a solid alibi that proves he couldn’t have taken part in the murder. McQuire also uncovered new witness statements that point to two other possible perpetrators.

Having been on hiatus since February 2022, Curtain the Podcast will return next year on Blakcast, with a new focus on missing and murdered Aboriginal women and children.

Blakcast has also managed to snare Jamila Rizvi from SCA (she co-hosts The Briefing) and Nine/Fairfax (where she writes a column for Sunday Life magazine).

Rizvi will be driving a nation-wide talent search for the next generation of First Nations’ storytellers. ‘Find and Tell’ is both a talent show, and a platform to build out the BlakCast network. The four storytellers chosen will be properly trained in the iHeart studios, paid for their work (not always a guarantee in talent competitions that generate monetised content), supplied with podcasting gear, and given a weekly show. “Never again will Australian media be able to say, ‘but we don’t know any Aboriginal talent'”, Bayles said.

Plans to grow the network’s array of voices were reiterated throughout the launch.

A gaggle of cute kids dressed in matching Unite Our Voices tees accompanied Bayles during a lot of her speeches at the launch – the slogan pre-dates The Voice and isn’t related to that, she quickly cleared up – and she pointed out how now those children don’t necessarily have to wait to start a podcast, should they choose to do so. BlakCast now provides a home and a training ground for those voices.

As Bayles noted, “First Nations people are the original storytellers, and this history should be honoured and shared.” On a similar theme, the launch event’s MC, Bianca Hunt, joked about the number of possible podcast hosts within the circles of those in the room. “I know you’ve got a funny uncle, because I know I do,” she quipped.

It seemed inevitable that Bayles would launch such a landmark media network, given her lineage.

Bayles is a Wonnarua, Bundjalung, Birri-Gubba, and Gungalu woman, raised in Redfern. Her father, the late Tiga Bayles, was known as “the voice of Indigenous Australia”.

He started Radio Redfern in 1984 along with his mother, Maureen Watson, broadcasting from an 1890s terrace house in Cope Street that has since been demolished.

Tiga Bayles later founded the National Indigenous Radio Service, and was CEO of the Brisbane Indigenous Media Association (BIMA) for two decades.

He was a media pioneer, as is his daughter.

“BlakCast is Aboriginal owned and run. For decades, our stories have either gone untold or were told by others in the mainstream media,” Bayles said.

“Podcasting is a new opportunity for mob to share their stories, in their own voices and on their own terms. It’s a privilege to be part of making that happen.”

The network launched this week, with six podcasts – with show topics ranging from business excellence to the First Nations LGBTQ+ community.

Next year sees the launch of Find and Tell, and no doubt a number of other diverse, wonderful podcasts from the BlakCast family.

Bayles’ father was known as the voice of Indigenous Australia.

If her podcasting network succeeds the way it should, Mandanara Bayles will be just one of thousands of Indigenous voices, telling their stories, educating, entertaining, and elevating culture.

Enjoy your weekend.

Elsewhere, this week, Kyle and Jackie O signed a deal that will see Kyle making sex jokes into his 60s; Foxtel and the free-to-air networks waged war over proposed legislation that will see smart TV manufacturers forced to give the free-to-air apps prominent placement on their menus; Australian radio turned 100 (and sounds good for its age, despite a crackly voice between stations) and we all rode out the biggest retail day on the shopping calendar.


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