How an airconditioning mechanic working in Sydney Australia became an award winning broadcaster in Britain. – Part 1.



Ticket to Ryde

Newton’s second law of motion states that a force, acting on an object, will change the object’s velocity by changing either its speed or its direction or both. – I found an old cassette today from 1991, the year I decided to change speed and direction.

I was 27, living in Sydney Australia and working as an airconditioning mechanic. One day I was stuck in traffic on the way home from a particularly bad day at work. I was surrounded by cars, trucks and vans driven by people who looked like they’d had similar days. I turned on the radio and listened to the DJ who was just going through the motions. He seemed completely unaware of this captive audience craving companionship or escape. By the time I got home, I was fired up. I walked into our two-bedroom rented flat and said to my wife Julie, “I know what I want to do for the rest of my life; I want to be on the radio!” Instead of saying, “Don’t be so stupid, wash your hands, your tea’s on the table”, she paused for a second and then said three words that changed the speed and direction of our lives forever. She said, “Go on then!”

We’d only been living in Sydney for a year, we’d moved there from New Zealand. We didn’t know anyone in radio, in fact, we didn’t know that many people in Australia! I eventually found out about a thing called community radio. It’s where volunteers are given their own radio programs which go out on FM in Sydney. It sounded to me like an amazing idea. I imagined all sorts of cutting edge artists, social commentators, satirists and comedians being given the freedom of the airwaves. I came down to earth with a bump when I tuned in to my local community station.

An hour of heavy metal records played back to back in sets of three was back announced by a deep sleepy voice. That was followed by an hour of jazz records played back to back in sets of three and back announced by an elderly gentleman who read out all of the records’ catalog numbers. Maybe it’s because they have more time on their hands but it turns out that community radio stations are run by people who are either unemployed or retired. In 1991 the format of most community radio stations in Sydney was Death Metal and Dixieland Jazz.

I got in touch with ‘Ryde Regional Radio’, a community station in Ryde, Sydney. The thing I liked most about them was their name, they called themselves ‘2 Triple R’. The top rated station in Sydney at the time was ‘2 Triple M’, there was also a national music station called ‘Triple J’. It looked to me like the coolest radio stations used three identical letters in their call signs so ‘Triple R’ was the one for me.

Before I could go on the air, I had to pay to do the ‘Triple R’ training course. After one evening a week for six weeks, I was ready but there was a problem. There were no open slots. Presenters got one hour a week each but slots only became available when someone got a full-time job or died. Twenty other people had done the training course, unless a new factory suddenly opened in Ryde or there was an epidemic, I could be waiting a long time.

I checked the schedule and it turned out that the station went off the air between 2am and 6am on Sunday mornings. I told the Program Director, I’d do THAT shift. I’m sure he thought I was mad but I wanted to learn and didn’t think an hour a week would be long enough anyway.

You had to supply your own records so I decided to go with an ‘Oldies’ format. This was because I didn’t own any heavy metal or jazz records and with no new ‘Oldies’ being recorded, I wouldn’t have to buy new records every week.

There was no digital storage of music back then so in the early hours of Sunday morning I would arrive at the studios at Henley Cottage with a plastic milk crate full of 45s, LPs, CDs and cassettes. It’s funny, these days the only storage format that has survived is the milk crate.

I bought a second hand Tascam Porta One four track machine and made produced pieces at home. I even sang my own Beatles Jingles. There was a phone in the studio but it wasn’t connected to the mixing board so I started to use calls that had been left on my machine at home. Once I edited a call from my boss at the airconditioning firm so all you hear him say, is “err, err, err…”. The phone was hard wired into the studio wall so eventually, while the songs were playing, I wired up a socket and plugged in my answerphone. I could now give out the “on air” phone number and play the messages into the guest mic. Later I plugged in a speaker phone and did live calls the same way. Sometimes I’d call the number myself, put on a voice and complain about something I’d just said.

Listening back now, it all sounds very raw and dated but it was a start. A couple of years later I got my first professional broadcasting job and started an adventure that continues today, Sir Isaac Newton was right.

You can listen to those early days here;

Craic on!

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