Q&A by Erandhi Mendis
Have you ever dreamt of being behind the microphone, sharing your passion for music, news, or storytelling with a community of eager listeners? If so, welcome to the inspiring world of community radio! It’s the most electrifying time of year for community radio with the PBS Radio Festival back in full swing. This year, in celebration of the raw and real of radio, three of PBS’ presenters have come on board to share with Ramona readers their beginnings, beloved tracks, and the exhilarating experience of going live on air.
How did you get into community radio and how long have you been a part of the PBS community?
Lyndelle Wilkinson (The Afterglow)
- In 1995/96 I was in a band and we got airplay on PBS FM. We went into the station for an interview and I was really blown away by how passionate the broadcasters were about supporting bands. It was my first exposure to the station. After the band broke up, I went backpacking around Europe, then came home. I wanted to connect again to music in Melbourne but not be in a band. I wanted some other connection, so I did the radio course, submitted a demo and the rest is history. I feel like I have been part of the community since around 1995 as a listener, member and an admirer. As a broadcaster, it has been my home since November 2004.
Penny O’Brien (Passing Notes)
- I started my community radio journey by crashing Milly Davison’s graveyard shifts on RRR and then progressing to fills for Edd Fisher’s ‘Tomorrowland’ and CC:Disco’s ‘Smoke & Mirrors’ after I completed the PBS presenter course. At the end of 2018, CC almost forced me to put my own program submission in when her Friday night slot was going to become available to a new permanent show – and the rest, as they say, is history. Passing Notes has now been on air for four and a half years which equates to approximately 216 shows.
Suzi Hutchings (Subway Sounds)
- I produced and presented Crossing Tracks on Radio Adelaide 101.5FM from 2009 to 2016. When I got to Melbourne in 2016 I really wanted to be involved in Community Radio again – as it is a serious passion of mine and I really love producing and presenting on air and being part of a quirky, interesting community of like minded people. I chose PBS because it is a music station rather than a talks station. I started as a regular guest presenter/fill at PBS in 2018 presenting jazz and hip-hop focused shows. In 2021 I was offered a spot to produce and present my own show Subway Sounds at 7pm on Saturday nights.
Being on radio and going live can make for some pretty interesting moments – what is the real-est moment you’ve had on air where you’ve had to just roll with the punches?
- I had a pre-record with an International artist who came into the station to promote their tour – arranged well in advance and by the time they arrived in Melbourne, the show had actually sold out. And surprisingly, they chose to come in anyway and do the interview, which I thought was cool and good of them – but when they turned up, it became very obvious that they just didn’t want to be there. Once in the studio with me, they barely looked up from their phone, gave one word answers to my questions and were just plain rude. So I just kept going, I rolled on with it and I got through it, I showered them in kindness, thanked them for their time and for coming in. And after they left, I just simply never edited the interview so it didn’t go to air. It was real. Really disappointing and really an eye opener actually. So I guess that’s a Real moment that didn’t actually get to air. I have been pretty lucky with live radio – surprisingly after 19 years! Or maybe I just have a terrible memory – and I have blanked stuff out!
- The real-est moment I’ve experienced on air was when I was relatively new to weekly radio. At this point in time my radio-related problem-solving skills were not yet well developed. I was unlucky to be on air when a very rare technical fault to do with the transmitter at Mr Dandenong occured. The only thing that was broadcasting out of the studio I was in was very loud white noise and I had two guests that had just come in for an interview. There was much panic and many tears but I’m now extremely prepared for anything like this to happen again. Shout out to my guests Matt and Lauren of OK EG who (also happen to be sound engineers) and Owen for holding my hand through that one!
- Interviewing Mo’Ju. They are such a brilliant artist to interview and I had such a wonderful time. There was one potential embarrassing glitch when I asked what were the dates of their next performances for their new album. Mo’Ju in a friendly but pointed way said “well you have them there on that piece of paper just near you”. We both made a bit of a joke of it so the listeners would get why I was off mic for a few seconds as I reached over to grab the piece of paper as I was saying “Oh yes, of course here they are and you are appearing on…. etc” This seems minor as I write it down but at the time it seemed more immense and I needed to think fast on my feet. There have been 2 other times when I have had to roll with the punches when one of the faders seemed to get stuck or I did not fade them up properly and no music or promos were coming out of the studio. Seconds later it was rectified but these moments always seem like hours rather than merely seconds of “dead air”.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to start working in radio?
- Open your ears and your eyes, open your mind and your heart. That’s basically it. Be open and stay open. Be kind and patient with yourself and with everyone you meet. And from there, be prepared to discover a whole new part of yourself. Community radio is a world full of diverse and amazing humans, who will draw new and wonderful things out of you that you didn’t know you had. And don’t be afraid. Be excited instead.
- Get amongst it and start volunteering in whatever capacity you can. If you’ve got your sights set on broadcasting, do the presenter course and put your hand up for graveyards and fills. Reach out to your favourite broadcaster and chat to them directly about how you can get involved – many of us invite interested folk into the studio to shadow and see how things work behind the scenes!
- I would have talked it up about how much fun it is. How producing a show is such a wonderful creative process, how friendly and interesting the people who volunteer and/or work in community radio are, the great social events, how exciting interviewing musicians is and for me First Nation musicians and performers in particular, how much I feel like I am contributing to increasing knowledge for the community by introducing listeners to new or innovative music or even old favourites and also to different genres of music. The interaction between the listener/audience and me as the announcer I find really exciting and satisfying. Being on radio is such a buzz.
Other than your own show(s), what are your favourite radio shows to listen to and how do you best like to consume them – headphones, in the car, with friends etc.?
- I love listening live in the car – that’s the best. Nice and loud – windows open in Summer. The Best. Usually it’s on my way home after my show listening to Ella’s ‘Stardust’ program. Or driving around on the weekend – usually on a Saturday to Emma Peel’s ‘Switched On’ and Miss Goldie’s ‘Boss Action’. I regularly listen back On Demand at my office – favourites are ‘Mystic Brew’, ‘Boogie Beat Suite’, ‘Good Company’, ‘Subway Sounds’, ‘Firewater’, ‘Radio City’, ‘Tomorrowland’, and listen when I can. I aim to tune in live most Fridays from ‘Ports of Paradise’ all the way through to late at night. In the morning either walking the lake near my house with my headphones or getting ready for work through the bedroom stereo – I listen to Milo’s ‘The Breakfast Spread’. Mind you quite often I will get home on a Thursday night and my husband Andrew is usually blaring ‘Fang It!’ followed by ‘Junkyard’ and then ‘Sunglasses After Dark’ on our living room stereo – so basically… all the time!
- Full Circle by Milly Davison on RRR. Synthesize Me by Bridget and Henry on PBS. Spaces Within Space by Jazz on PBS. And of course, pretty much all of Friday’s programming on PBS. Lot’s of great internet radio shows to mention too: Liquid Assets by Mosam Howieson on Skylab Radio. Into The Blue by Hannah D on Skylab Radio. Cry Later by Tropic of Cancer on NTS.…there’s too many good ones to name…
- My favs are ‘Fresh Produce’ which I listen to on the way home from my own show or listen back via the app or the website. Even though Reggae is not really my thing I always appreciate listening to Jessie I’s ‘Babylon Burning’ as I learn so much about a genre of music that is essentially outside of my music domain. I also like ‘Soak’ – it is very deep and presented in a very unique way – again I listen to this show usually when I am driving. I like the Jazz shows and also ‘Mystic Brew’. I really appreciate ‘Boogie Beat Suite’ because there is some similarity in styles with my own show and I can relate to the music Mz Rizk plays. I also like and appreciate ‘Tiger Beats Elephant Grooves’ for introducing listeners (including me) to a whole range of music from a part of the world that is neglected musically by most other radio stations (particularly commercial stations). My main listening happens while I am driving or the app or the PBS website – but occasionally via headphones or just the stereo system I have at home when I am doing housework or cooking etc.
If you had to pick one song you’ve spun this year that captures your 2023 mood, what would it be and why?
- “Shake That Off” – Public Opinion Afro Orchestra.
The groove of that band, the way their sound makes you move. But then, there are those lyrics – they are everything. It’s basically a dancing mantra that’s telling you that you will be ok. I think that as the years roll on, you’ve just gotta keep going. Just keep going. And dance. Dance your ass off no matter what.
“You’ve got stress on the right
Shake that off
Pressure on the left
Shake that off
Problems in life
Shake that off
Whatever’s on your mind you can shake that off”
- Higher Intelligence Agency & Pete Namlook – Intruder Detector – a bit nice and a bit chaotic.
- Change Has to Come by Mo’Ju – because essentially a change does have to come to the world sooner rather than later if we are to survive and if we as humans are going to stop treating wildlife as expendable – like we just don’t care! We need to care!
Tune in or sign up to support PBS via the website: https://www.pbsfm.org.