Wowsers wound up by Orgasm FM

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The Independent Online
DRIVING home through Sydney the other night, "channel surfing" on the car radio, I hit the button on something that I and no one else in this city had ever heard on radio before. Here was a woman talking live in explicit detail about her sex life with her husband.

The studio presenter, Ruth Ostrow, was encouraging her. "What about when you were pregnant?" asked Miss Ostrow. "Did that slow you down?" "Oh no," replied the caller. "It made it better. We couldn't keep our hands off each other." Next was a male caller who gave a blow-by-blow description of meeting a woman at a party and having sex with her there and then. Welcome to sex radio, Australian-style.

The programme in question started airing a few weeks ago on radio station 2MMM-FM in Sydney and its sister station in Melbourne. Its title, The MMM Sex Show, is as bald and upfront as its content. And what content. A few nights after I hit upon it, the programme hit the newspaper headlines when it went further than any mainstream radio programme has ever gone in Australia, and possibly anywhere else. With Ms Ostrow giving a live commentary, a woman known as Miss Nude Australia stripped in the studio. The piece de resistance came, as it were, when a woman on the phone-in segment masturbated to climax on air.

This is radio? "Oh yes," Ms Ostrow told the press. "It's not a sleazy show. There's a real sense of joy and laughter and exploration." She is particularly proud of the programme that she broadcast live from a Sydney brothel, including the sounds of a prostitute and her customer having sex. "We narrated it like it was a sports event. We knew we were really pushing the boundaries that time, but everyone wants to know what really goes on inside a brothel."

Once a heavily-censored country ruled by "wowsers" (puritans), Australia has gone the full monty in the opposite direction. Television led the way with a programme called Sex/Life on Channel Nine until that network's owner, Kerry Packer,banned it. Sex/Life moved to a rival network, Channel Ten, since when it has got even more explicit - showing erect penises for an item on premature ejaculation, for example.

Now radio, the last bastion of good taste, has fallen to the libertarians as well. Not to be outdone by Ms Ostrow, 2Day-FM, a rival radio network to 2MMM, recently started a programme called Hot Sex Friday in which Tracey Cox, an agony aunt and columnist for Cosmopolitan magazine, holds forth in a prime-time morning slot. Ms Ostrow's show at least delays its start until 10pm, when children are meant to be in bed, even if their parents are talking dirty down the telephone to her in the next room. Her programme is sponsored by condom manufacturers, phone sex services and massage parlours.

Critics accuse the women of promoting smut and cheap radio, but the ratings appear to back their claims that they are only giving listeners what they want. There are plans to broadcast Ms Ostrow's programme nationally. "There's a real need for practical information about sex," Miss Cox told The Australian, Rupert Murdoch's national newspaper. "You'd think we'd know all about it, wouldn't you? But we don't."

But the wowsers are fighting back. Last Thursday Richard Alston, Minister for Communications in the conservative coalition government,told Parliament he was "shocked" by "the extent to which some of these programmes have descended". He said: "I don't think anyone in this country wants to see an electronic version of Sodom and Gomorrah. It is unedifying and debasing, and we will take action to make sure that it does not occur."

Short of returning to censorship, the government may be on shaky ground. Australian broadcasters operate under a self-regulating system in which there are no rules, except that they must not broadcast language which would offend "to a substantial degree the contemporary standards of decency" of their audiences. The Australian Broadcasting Authority, a regulating body, can take action only if audiences complain. So far, they don't seem to have done so.

It is a far cry from the daysof programmes such as Blue Hills, a family serial set in a country town that ran for 25 years. The blue on radio these days is of a very different shade.

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