Is this thing on?

second prize picI gave my first ‘Contest’ speech in more than 20 years on Saturday .. I was a contestant in the Toastmasters District 69, Eastern Division, Area 27 Humorous Speech contest.

Which sounds a bit more spectacular than it actually is.

Essentially it means that I was one of two people representing my Toastmasters club against contestants from other clubs in our area (south-west Brisbane, and northern Logan City).

The winner, I’m pleased to say, was from my club – Fiona Allen. But as you can see from the pictures, I got second place, which I’m happy with since I’ve only just rejoined Toastmasters.

Actually, I lie. I’m never happy with second. I know that probably sounds churlish but it’s true: I’m a competitive soul – so sue me! 🙂

But anyway, since I’d gone to the effort of writing this speech, and since it refers to the industry that has dominated my life, Radio, I thought I’d share it with you!

So – Is this thing on?CountryAndWestern

There’s a scene in the Blues Brothers movie where a barmaid says excitedly “We have both kinds of music here – country AND western!”

It may seem like a joke, but only if you’ve never worked in regional radio.

I have – and I’m here to tell you .. it’s true.

As a youngster, I was the archetype of the city kid.

I spent my childhood years within 10km of the Sydney GPO, and even when, as a young teen, we moved to the sticks of Brisbane I was only 6km from the Queen Street Mall.

In fact, my most dismissive insult as a kid was to call someone a “Dubbo” .. suggesting that if you came from the country, you were .. well.. a Dubbo!

So imagine the culture shock when, straight out of school, I got a job in radio … in LONGREACH.

Now, I’m not saying that Longreach is isolated .. but if you get a map of Queensland and draw a line from Brisbane to the Gulf, and from Cairns to the SA border … where the lines cross …that’s Longreach.

And when I moved there, in 1978, it had a grand total of 3000 permanent residents – and nine pubs.

Every street was named after a bird – Eagle, Swan, Ibis, Cassowary, Crane, Galah. Except one was named after a Fish .. Sir Hudson Fysh, the founder of Qantas.

Yes, the town’s great claim to fame was that it was the home of Qantas. Well, sort of. Strictly speaking, the first Qantas flight LANDED in Longreach – it took off in Cloncurry, so it can’t even really claim that honour.  

It is flat … as a tack. And it only has one hillock – which locals refer to (without the slightest hint of irony) as ‘Hospital Hill’.

merino arcadeBut one thing it also had, in those halcyon days, was its own radio station .. 4LG Longreach – the voice of the central west.

It was that station that gave me my start in radio, nearly 4 decades ago – and while some technical things have changed – like digital music instead of vinyl records, and mp3s instead of tape recorders – the basics have not. And neither have the unique attributes of Regional radio.

For example it’s still the new kid that gets thrown in at the deep end, given the shows that no-one else wants.

In my case it was Ranch Club – two hours of country and western music, complete with requests.

singing kettlesThe first song I ever played on the radio was part of that show – the Singing Kettles ‘Airmail to heaven’ .. “I hope daddy you can forgive her, I’m sealing this letter with love – And sending it Airmail to Heaven, to your home somewhere up above…”

That was followed by Slim Dusty’s ‘Biggest Disappointment in the Family was me’ – and I knew how he felt.

Then there was a really classy little ditty – Johnny Chester’s ‘Lonely women make good lovers.’

An eclectic mix – and the fact that I clearly remember them 37 years later probably tells you how traumatised I was!

But as I say, it was tradition that the new kid got that sort of show.

Something else that remains a tradition of regional radio is the funeral announcement.

You see, in many country towns the local paper only comes out once or twice a week.

AWA_Console_03And that means that people can die, and their funeral be completed, before the next edition of the paper comes out – so radio fills the role.

Generally, it goes something like:

“Ladies and gentlemen, we now pause to offer our condolences and deepest sympathies before reading the following funeral announcement …. the relatives and friends of the late Fred Nurk are respectfully invited to attend his funeral today at St Zaccheus the Tax Collector Anglican Church from 2pm for interment in the Innisfail Cemetery.”

All the time, there’s maudlin organ music playing – like something out of the Claude Raines version of Phantom of the Opera.

And then, after a respectful pause, the announcer says “now, let’s return to to our normal program..”

Of course, no one wants to have their advertising associated with a funeral, so you have to go straight into music. And that’s where the fun begins.

Over the years, I have heard some  rather inappropriate songs played after funeral announcements.

They include “Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel”, “Stayin’ Alive”, “Up Up And Away”, “I Fell Into A Burning Ring Of Fire”, and once, for a truck driver, Slim Dusty’s “The Lights On The Hill Are Blinding Me…”

I was lucky. I never committed that sort of faux pas.

But I came close … oh, so close. I’d just read the funeral announcement for a particularly crabby old busybody – the sort of woman that no-one was really going to miss. And after the pause I was perhaps half a second away for putting my next song to air, when I realised it was “Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead!”

Let’s just say the audience got a longer than normal pause while I frantically cued up another record that day!

So I managed to dodge that bullet – but that’s not to say I didn’t make mistakes.

When you work nights at a country radio station, it’s not unusual to put on a long song and dash down the street to the local cafe, and grab a bite to eat.

cosmos-factory-40th-anniversary-cover-art-hiI did that one night with the Creedence Clearwater Revival version of “Heard it through the grapevine” – the album version, from “Cosmo’s Factory”.

That’s a song that runs 10 minutes and 55 seconds .. plenty of time to dash out and grab a burger for dinner.

Except that as I walked back into the studio, after my meal run, I was horrified to hear that the record had hit a scratch – and for the last 4 minutes or so, all the audience had heard was “heard it thru the / heard it thru the / heard it thru the / heard it thru the…”

Ahem. Embarrassing.

But not as embarrassing as this one last story that sums up both my career as a DJ in country towns – and the industry as a whole.

Imagine the scene – it’s 25 past seven in the morning, prime time for a country-based radio station.

The breakfast DJ is sitting in the studio, and I’m sitting across the desk from him, about to read the 7:30 local news.

He manages to make a complete and utter hash of introducing a song – it was a complete dog’s breakfast.

He throws his headphones off, looks across the desk and says “Jesus Christ, I completely (bleeped) that up, didn’t I?

I point over his shoulder, at the on-air light behind him.

His face goes ashen, he looks back at me and goes ohhhh (bleep) …THEN turns the microphone off.

I mention this incident to make the point that we didn’t get a single phone call after that. Not a letter. Not a comment. Nothing.

Which means either no-one was listening, or more likely, they were so used to stuff-ups that it was just another day.

I’m not sure which is more depressing.

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