Open Mic Spotlight: Jon Tjhia

NYF’s Open Mic Spotlight spends a few minutes each week with prominent Grand Jury members from around the globe, each Spotlight interview shares the insights of content creators from the wonderful world of radio.

New York Festivals International Radio Awards jury of award-winning directors, producers, journalists, writers, actors, creative directors, composers, on-air talent, and programming executives are actively involved in creating the innovative content on radio today.

Grand Jury member, Jon Tjhia is the Wheeler Centre’s Senior Digital Editor. He has worked on the Wheeler Centre’s multimedia, editorial and digital projects since 2010, including #discuss, the short-form multimedia series Housekeeping, and long-form podcast series Better Off Dead and The Messenger, which won several awards.

He’s a co-editor and co-founder of the Australian Audio Guide, and a member of the 2018 New York Festivals Radio Awards Grand Jury.

Jon also produces the Paper Radio literary fiction and creative non-fiction podcast, plays music with Speed Painters and has served on Audiocraft’s 2017 programming committee. In 2016, he was a top-ten finalist in Radiotopia’s Podquest competition.
Better Off Dead was named Finalist at New York Festivals Radio Awards 2016.

Michael Green (left), Behind the Wire and Jon Tjhia (right) of the Wheeler Centre accepting the 2017 NYF Grand Award.

The Messenger was awarded the Grand Trophy and two Gold Medals at New York Festivals Radio Awards 2017; the 2017 UNAA Media Award for Best Radio Documentary; the 2017 Walkley Award for Radio/Audio Feature; and (with Behind the Wire’s They Cannot Take the Sky), the 2017 Australian Human Rights Commission Media Award. It was also a finalist at the 2017 Quill Awards.

New York Festivals: How did you get your start in the radio industry?

Jon Tjhia: I had always been interested in live radio, and dabbled in it (as many particularly smitten music fans do here in Australia), but I had never really considered producing as something I was especially invested in. That changed when I got a job working at the ABC – Australia’s national broadcaster – as a web developer and digital producer. I was supporting broadcasters whose work went out across the region in several different languages. Alongside all the work around rebroadcast and transmitter licenses that my colleagues were doing, my team was grappling with this new thing called podcasting. I loved how open-ended that was back then; there were barely any established conventions, so you got to really decide how you were going to present your material in a feed, and question why.

Eventually, I started producing interviews with musicians from the Pacific Islands for a cross-platform competition we were running, and slowly began applying my music production skills to making packages that would sometimes find their way onto the radio.

New York Festivals: What was the turning point in your career?

Jon Tjhia: It was starting Paper Radio in 2010. It really wasn’t that long ago, and it feels ridiculous to think that starting a podcast was novel so recently, but it changed a lot for me.

Making creative and business decisions, answering to and for yourselves … I developed a taste for independence that I get really restless without. But the main reason it was a turning point for me was because of how much I had to learn all at once in order to keep it going, and to correct mistakes I’d made earlier. I can’t stress how stupid I was about so many things to do with radio making, and in so many ways, I still am. I think you’re lucky if your life puts you in a position where you really have no choice but to learn – a lot, and as quickly as you can.

New York  Festivals: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Jon Tjhia: I don’t think any one individual gave me this advice – it was rather absorbed through artists of various persuasions over many years – but the thought that keeps me going is that there are no rules. I know it sounds like a bumper sticker or a souvenir hat slogan, but it’s so important; almost all the rules we live and die by are made up by people. Often, yes, for good reasons. Sometimes not. I think when you’re making creative work, or work that really needs to connect with its audience in a particular way, you owe it to your craft to at least question every rule you meet. That’s about being deliberate.

New York Festivals: What is the responsibility of journalists in today’s world?

Jon Tjhia: I think journalists have always – and should always – have a responsibility to veracity. To me, that’s the fundamental, definitional quality of journalism. (If you don’t, that’s fine! Write your columns, feature articles, scripts … claim whatever the correct title of your profession is. No big deal!) Discern the question, or the questionable thing, and scratch at it. Do they have a responsibility to be entertaining? No! I really don’t think so. If they don’t connect properly to their audiences, though, that’s on editors. Editors really, really matter. Aaaand scene.

New York Festivals: What program do you wish you created?

Jon Tjhia: There are so many things I wish I had made, or at least had a really good peek under the hood of! Some things I keep coming back to include ‘Moving Homes’ by Thomas Meadowcroft (Soundproof), some of those hilarious radio pieces by Chris Morris and Armando Iannucci, and this thing called ‘Between Empathy and Sympathy is Time (Apartheid)’ by artist Terre Thaemlitz. The latter isn’t a radio feature (it’s part of an album and a live multimedia show), but that often makes me wonder what the difference is – why wouldn’t it be? But anyway, there are actually so many producers and artists I’m envious of that it’s sometimes paralyzing. Listeners are totally spoiled for choice.

Lovebomb LP featuring “Between Empathy and Sympathy is Time (Apartheid)” by artist Terre Thaemlitz













New York Festivals: What do you think are the hallmarks of award-winning work?

Jon Tjhia: I think there is a perception that award-winning work is often Serious and Worthy, and I think that does often play out. Certainly, there’s incredible value in work that reveals a hidden something, an untold other thing, and it should be recognised. There is work with great implication, or that takes real focus, dedication, rigor and skill. At the same time, I’m most excited by work that delivers an experience that really respects its listeners and brings them somewhere new; that animates them. I’m happiest when I hear stuff that, by design or by accident, feels original and confident and supported by its own internal logic. Some call it personality.

For more information on New York Festivals Radio Awards, please visit: and for information on the 2018 NYF Radio Awards Gala, please visit:,7,15

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