How an airconditioning mechanic working in Sydney Australia became an award winning broadcaster in Britain. – Part 3.

25Oct13

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If You Can’t Beat Them, Join them

It was late 1992, I was still earning my living  from cold air, not hot air. I’d sent demo tapes to every commercial radio station in Australia and I was presenting a weekly show on a community radio station but wasn’t being paid.

I heard about The Australian Film Television and Radio School (AFTRS) which was based in Sydney. They ran the top broadcasting course in Australia. Only twelve students were selected to do the course each year and applications came from all over the country. I’d also heard that after graduation, nearly every one of the twelve walked straight into broadcasting jobs. I was annoyed; I said to my wife Julie, “If  I ever get an interview for a radio job and I’m up against an AFTRS graduate, what chance have I got?” Julie’s reply floored me, “Why don’t you apply to go on the AFTRS course?”

This was crazy talk. I was 28, three years older than the cut-off age, I wasn’t Australian, I didn’t have an Australian accent, I was a Pom. I had only got into Australia because I’d become a New Zealand citizen when I’d lived there and was taking advantage of the reciprocal agreement the two countries have. Besides that, there were only days to go before applications for that year’s radio course closed.

I called and they sent out the application forms which contained a bombshell. You had to write a one thousand word essay about yourself and why you think you should be selected, the essay had to be typed.  I hadn’t written an essay since I’d left school at sixteen. I wasn’t exactly a scholar; to my great shame, my only qualification resulting from eleven years of free education was one ‘O’ Level, grade ‘D’ in Technical Science. Never mind that, how was I going to type it? This was long before everyone had a PC, I didn’t own a typewriter and the only time I worked in an office was when I went in one to fix the air-conditioning. I was totally blue collar; I didn’t even have a résumé. If I did, under “experience” it would have said: “Air-conditioning mechanic (not qualified) – five years; Trades Assistant (construction) – Two years; Pipefitter (not qualified) – three years; Industrial plant hire cleaner and van driver – one year; Electrician apprentice – one year (failed).

I put off writing the essay until the night before the closing date. With the help of a six-pack of Fosters I worked well into the early hours writing and re-writing it all out by hand. It was an amazing experience, one I would recommend to anyone at any time of life. I can only describe it as therapeutic; I’d never stopped and taken the time to work out who I was and how I’d ended up where I was. I realized I’d spent my entire working life in blue collar engineering jobs because other (well meaning) people had kept telling me that’s what I should be doing. As I wrote about my childhood in the North West of England, I couldn’t find any evidence of a natural aptitude for that kind of work. I didn’t like to fix engines, repair lawnmowers or collect tools in my spare time and I wasn’t even any good at metalwork at school.

What I did remember was how much fun I’d had with tape recorders from quite a young age. I’d had a second hand reel to reel machine since before I was a teenager and always had cassette machines and microphones. I’d make fake radio shows, interview other kids, and write and produce sketches. When I hooked two machines together, I worked out how to edit and over-dub. I’d interview myself or take audio from the TV and the radio and insert my voice into it. I’d got hold of a low powered FM transmitter and used to do pirate broadcasts. At eighteen when my parents moved the family to New Zealand, instead of sending letters home to my friends, I sent them cassettes that I’d recorded mixing my voice with music, sound effects and chats with people I’d met in New Zealand. When Julie and I got married and moved in together, Julie found an old exercise book of mine that had all of my favorite radio DJs listed, their stations, their frequencies and what time they were on. Before we left New Zealand and moved to Australia, I’d made money on the side as the lead singer in a rock ‘n’ roll band for five years playing three and four nights a week. We didn’t have any children, any debts or own any property, why had I gone out and got a ‘sensible’ job that I really didn’t like when I could have been doing what I’ve really wanted to do all along? Writing the essay showed me that up until the epiphany I’d had a couple of years earlier when I came home from work and told Julie I wanted to be on the radio, I’d been in denial.

The next morning, the last day for applications for AFTRS, I was torn. I was really happy with the essay but I knew that because it wasn’t typed it wouldn’t be accepted.  Julie read it and liked it, so she took it to a place in the city where you can pay to have them type things up for you. It looked perfect, maybe too perfect, the application was very specific, you had to type the essay YOURSELF. Time was running out so faced with no other choice, she took the full application including the perfectly presented typed essay and handed it in at the Australian Film TV and Radio School.

With the phrase “cheats never prosper” ringing in my ears, I waited.

Craic on!

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