I am now the very happy owner of a radio. I treated myself to a brand new wireless. It’s true that I can bluetooth anything through it and out its small but gutsy speakers, but I am happiest because I now have a radio with crystal clear reception. No crackle, no fuzz, no random wireless shutdown.
My ears pricked up when funding issues affecting community radio got a mention during last week’s news. I didn’t get how significant community radio was to the life of a community, till I spent three years in Bourke, over a decade ago.
According to the latest McNair Ingenuity survey, 4,446,000 people listen to community radio every week (which makes up 25% of the population). When “occasional” listeners are added, the figure rises to 10,611,000. (Nov 2012)
Of course these figures are new, and counting big city audiences too, but the percentage of those from a rural area engaging with community radio would be greater than 25%.
They say that people fear public speaking more than they fear death. Death is second. I’ve never investigated it, maybe it’s a mythical survey. But public speaking feels pretty bad.
So bad that I got into community radio in an effort to reduce some of the sweat that had trickled down into my shoes when I’d been invited to speak to a state conference about Bourke Aboriginal youth in crisis. At the time they said Bourke was out of control, had the worst stats in the state. I apologise for not remembering the figures, it was over a decade ago that I moved there because they said it was one of the worst towns in Australia then. It was recently reported as the most dangerous town in the world, if you make comparisons with the UN data. It makes for a good headline, but it just wasn't my experience.
So I completed the free 6 week course – to get some public speaking tips – and it evolved into hosting a weekend radio show for nearly three years. Evolved, after conquering some significant barriers. Like the lisp I developed – I didn’t have a lisp prior to my first show, but I was so nervous I couldn’t pronounce my own name. That's a problem in radio.
This problem was solved, after sounding out different letters till I came up with an alias I could pronounce.
I’m from the country and volunteering is part of what keeps rural towns going. Community radio also serves a vital service for Aboriginal communities. And it provides training and community cohesion.
Prior to the radio opportunity coming up I had considered joining the rural fire service. They were keen, but I had to pull out when I discovered the uniform weighed 25kgs (that’s the grass fire suit, the structural fire suit is heavier) and I didn’t have the strength to walk around in it, let alone attend a fire. They suggested I could man the two way at base, but I really wanted to ride in the big red fire truck, which I couldn’t climb up into, also again due to the heavy bright yellow onesie.
Community radio satisfied my need to do some volunteer work, and it meant that every Saturday afternoon I was sitting in a sound proof room listening to music that people loved through the best sound system you are likely to get.
The concept of my show was what is your favourite song – I had a solid list of what people liked – but what I was after was ‘what is your favourite song?’ And out that way, far west NSW, we’re talking country. Old country music.
I met a lot of people simply because of songs. And I learnt all about country music from The Carter Family onwards.
From a personal development point of view, it gave me effective feedback:
Listener: I taped 86 of your shows.
Me: I’ve done 127 shows.
Him: Yeah, I heard them all, but some were better than others.
It was interesting and fun, but mostly I liked it because some of the songs reminded me of the old people and the music I can remember hearing on the wireless when I was a kid.
There were some songs that came up regularly – I'm talking 60s to 90s - but then we started to get down to tin tacks – it can take a while to narrow it down to your favourite song. Then I was getting requests for songs that I had never heard of, title or artist. One song, I searched for nearly two years to find. The song isn’t even that old, in Bourke years, and it’s a mystery to me how the song came to be so well known, because it was a very hard song to find. To this day you can’t youtube it.
Not that we had youtube ten years ago. I had to rely on word of mouth, putting the word out high and low that I was looking for one particular song. It was requested at least once a week. I mean without fail, someone would ask for that one particular song at least once a week.
One of the best moments of my life was at about the hundred show mark, when I finally announced, “This is George Jones – Heckel & Jeckel”.
Then the song was requested every day.
It’s a pretty good song, they weren’t wrong. Public speaking is less awkward these days, and country music is just a small part of what I listen to. But for a time I was caught up in a network that was just about sharing what made you feel good.
Footnote: After 3 years in Bourke, I moved and had a two year show on another community radio station in Canberra.
Well, you and me baby know what love's all about,
It sure wasn't easy, oh but we figured out,
No matter what happens, we'll see it through.
Baby, dont you see there aint no me without you.
We're like Heckel and Jeckel ....