Australian experience 

15 August 2001 tbs.pm/3189

“This is SAFM, 107.1 and 91.1 in the Foothills…”

I remember it was a weekday evening, I was eight years old and the stereo was tuned into SAFM, a regular commercial pop station in Adelaide, Australia. Yet for some reason, the announcer’s words struck me. I forget who the disc jockey was and I have no idea what’s happened to him. But something, just something, etched his line into my memory.

Eleven years later, I’m in a studio overlooking the South Parklands of Adelaide. But this is no ordinary studio. This is SAFM. And here I am, as part of a twelve-week radio course, in this studio behind the mike. In the studio with me are three fellow students and SAFM drivetime jock John Bleby.

As part of our homework, we’ve had to write ‘speed breaks’ for this week’s session, the trip to SAFM. Now, four at a time, we’re putting them to the test. We’re going to announce them on the mike and they’ll be recorded on the editing machine. SAFM is getting the nationally syndicated Hot 30 Countdown while we’re doing this, so there’s no chance that Adelaide – and its million residents – will hear us.

Of course, I chose to be in the first four to speak at the mike. But I waited so I was the last one in the group to take the ‘flight deck’ as John calls it. Now it’s my turn. I’m at the mike. I’m at SAFM. I’m on Greenhill Road, as I’ve heard the announcers mention many times before. I’m facing in the direction of Mount Lofty, where the SAFM transmitter stands.

“This is SAFM and uh…”

I can’t believe it. I had eleven years to practice. I knew on week eight that we would visit SAFM. I remember our teacher, Daisy, telling us to have our scripts ready for next week. Yet, I fluffed it.

But I did it again and John thought it good. A little nervous, but natural. And he liked how to emphasized the competition I was shilling in my “speed break”. Recorded on the machine. Well done. Next four, please…

Just a short walk down to the SAFM boardroom and I’m back with the other students on this 12-week beginner course in radio at the Australian Radio School, based right here in Adelaide. Just across the South Parklands in fact are Daisy’s offices and our classroom known as the “barn”.

This 12-week course is a fast-track introduction into the Australian commercial radio industry. We have a lecture every Tuesday night and a studio session once a week. On this course, you learn what happens in commercial radio, visit radio studios, and at the end you’ll have an audition tape and just enough knowledge to get that first gig. At a country station in the middle of nowhere.

Of course, you can’t and won’t learn everything in 12 weeks. If you want it, you’ll learn everything at your first gig… which is sure to be at a country station. You’ll be plunged into the deep end and you’ll really learn on the job.

It’s always understaffed and underfunded out there, so you’ll expected to multi-task. You’ll learn to be a jock. And a music director. And a producer. And a copywriter. And heaven knows, a whole lot more. One day, you might even make it back to the city.

I’m not sure if I will make the sacrifice – heavens, I want to move to a bigger city, not a country town! – but even if I don’t, this has been well worth it. A dream has come true and I’ve learnt so much.

Especially from our main teacher, Daisy. Better known as David Day, who has had over 35 years experience in the radio industry. Starting out as a teenager in a small country station in New South Wales during the 1960s, he made his way to Adelaide in the 1970s and joined the pioneering Adelaide station 5KA.

The 70s were the golden era for “Life Station” 5KA. It’s generally regarded that the Sixties didn’t come to Australia until the Seventies and Adelaide was a place to be with a trailblazing Labor government and its social reforms.

5KA were there. A commercial station, of course, but one with a load of credibility. And a successful station too. It’s no wonder that these guys were headed for better things.

David Day was one of the guys that jumped ship to the new FM station, Double S A FM in 1980. At the time, they were regarded as cowboys. 5SSA was mocked. An FM Station? It’ll never work! Well, these cowboys, Daisy included, made SAFM Australia’s first truly successful FM station, capturing the metropolitan audience.

And SA-FM was the station that led the Austereo Network, which now runs the “Today” network of stations (including SA-FM) and the Triple M network in the major metropolitan markets. The duopoly dominates the commercial music radio market in every capital city, against the ABC’s national music station Triple J and the new challenger, Nova.

But back to David Day. He’s been a great jock, but Daisy has also been a music director and worked in various positions “upstairs” in station management. And he hasn’t restricted himself in radio.

He’s done music production, music and print publishing, voiceover work and he’s been involved in television too. And he’s championing the cause of the South Australian music industry as the current Labor state government tries to cut funding to the local industry.

Yet, he finds enough time to run with the Australian Radio School, does lectures every week and listens to our practice tapes.

In the eight weeks of this course so far, we’ve had entertaining lectures, with liberal use of swear words, as is Daisy’s style. We’ve learnt how to operate the radio studio equipment and write our own scripts for radio, done creativity and learnt radio journalism.

We’ve visited three radio stations in Adelaide. SAFM, of course, and Triple M that sits in the same building. And also 5AA.

5AA is a very popular talkback and news station. Alas, these stations are targeted at over-40s, although that didn’t stop my excitement at visiting this station!

Being a talkback station, 5AA is dominated by the personalities and not music – after all, they don’t play music. Some might argue sports sells it a bit with their football broadcasts. Typical Australia for you.

At 5AA we met and spoke to a living legend in Adelaide radio, Bob Francis. It’s a bit difficult to describe Big Bob. There’s nobody like him, not even on the other talkback stations in Australia.

Bob has been in radio for over forty years. At the start of the sixties, he became the first “disc jockey” – as opposed to “announcer” – on Adelaide radio. Bob, thanks to a feed to Sydney, got the information about the pop stars of the day – almost impossible to get in Adelaide.

In 1964, Bob Francis managed to get 80,000 signatures and changed The Beatles’ Australian tour itinerary to include concerts in Adelaide. But by the time he was in his late 20s, he was already too old to be a disc jockey, so he went into talkback.

And he’s been on talkback radio in Adelaide for a very long time. Not for all that time, of course – he was a news correspondent in Vietnam during the war.

Basically, all that happens is people ring Bob and they talk on-air. They might agree, but knowing the callers and knowing Bob, you could very well expect an argument. And there are often fireworks.

Bob pulls no punches, so he’s on a seven-second delay to ensure that if he says something rather naughty he can dump it. We were shown an edited and an unedited clip of Bob in action.

As you can imagine, Bob happens to use swear words a bit liberally. And he did, while talking to us. His secret to talkback is simple – he’s had a lot of life experience. Four marriages. Reporting in the Vietnam War. That’s how he wins his debates.

Oh, and the loony people who ring him are part of the secret, too. They’re the entertainment!

I shook Bob’s hand, and that was quite a thrill. I’ve listened to him on Adelaide radio and he’s quite a local celebrity.

But I don’t think it’ll match up to thrill of fluffing my lines in the SAFM studios.

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