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  • Jen Seyderhelm

Local Still Matters

RadioInfo article from Monday 24 February, 2020

This month marks my 20th anniversary in commercial radio.

I’d only spent a couple of weeks at Max Rowley’s Radio School before he sent me to Gunnedah in country NSW for an interview with 2MO and Triple G. My future boss, Peter Rasmussen, was wearing stubbies and a shirt with a beer logo. Outside of a small amount of overseas travel I’d never really left Sydney. I accepted the job and felt constantly sick in the couple of weeks leading up to my start date.

Initially I tried to keep to myself, but my colleagues wouldn’t take no for an answer, inviting me over for dinner, trivia nights and pub outings (I must have won 30 meat trays). In a very short while I’d fallen in love with the town and the people. In my year and a half there I won a burn out competition, a devoted listener named his prized calf after me, went to my first and only B&S Ball, hosted the Olympic Torch Relay in Coonabarabran, directed a theatre restaurant show, was on air the morning of September 11 and I even got married in the local church. During the floods of the summer of 2000/01 I was in a dinghy broadcasting live to Howard Sattler. We went up and over something with a great thunk. I asked the driver what it was. He said it was the top of the fence of the sports oval. The water was that high the bottom of the boat clipped the top of the fence!

This summer I live and work in radio in Canberra. In the weeks prior to December a colleague mentioned how much they were looking forward to the non-ratings period and their annual break which included time on the South Coast.

Summer on radio normally means the B Team on the metro and major regional stations across the day and plenty of additional podcast downloads as we cater for long vacation car trips.

Normally.

But this summer has been nothing like normal.

ABC research says that original content podcasts tend to outrank radio catch up. This summer those statistics have been turned upside down, unsurprisingly. Some areas were without power for days, even weeks. In that situation, all that you have is radio and hopefully lots of batteries from the Christmas stockpile. Even those fortunate to not be directly affected by the fires were tuning into the news as the ongoing crisis captured national and international attention.

I personally couldn’t watch the tv news. Some of the images were so distressing that they affected my dreams. I even had to turn down the radio at times when the images in my head overwhelmed me.

I was on air (being part of the B team at work myself) on Saturday the 1st of February. That day was expected to be the hottest and most unpredictable of the ACT fire season. It was also about a week after the unexpected hail onslaught that had done more than $5K damage to my car. I was deeply anxious of what could unfold. Even now, with 20 years under my belt, days filled with the unknown are still both terrifying and filled with adrenaline, as you don’t want to do or say anything that could put anyone at additional risk. In the month since then I have experienced what Alan Jones is calling compassion fatigue as we all wait to see where our donation money ends up. But I realised this week that there is still something positive I can do that is relevant to our changing radio climate. I want to say THANK YOU to the metro B teams, regional and community announcers, behind the scenes managers and staff who stayed late, stayed on air and stayed to look after their people, sometimes at significant risk to themselves or without knowing if they had a home to return to. We may not have ratings over summer, or at all in some of those areas, but people were relying on you, and what you did mattered.

Time has moved on and other big stories have broken. Drought, fire and floods have moved to the back of most of our minds. Before long, it will be June and we’ll be complaining of the cold (well in Canberra anyway). Then it will be Christmas again. Some towns will have been unable to get back on their feet. Farms will close, families will move away and without local voices it will be as if they never existed at all.

Recently I went to Bowral to be a part of the glorious fundraising event FireAid 2020. A friend organised for his sister to put me up for the night. I’d only met her and her husband once. None the less when we arrived at her place near midnight, starving having not paused to eat across the day, she prepared a banquet, made me a vat of coffee just how I liked it the next morning and hugged me goodbye like family. I’m a fully capable woman and mum, but she allowed me to feel at home in someone else’s.

There are two things that I want for my children. Firstly, they should work in retail, so they know what it is like for the person behind the counter. Secondly, every person should spend six months to a year living and working in the bush, a small town or somewhere nowhere near a Capital city. I’ve noticed that people born in the country never forget and then there are those who, like me, go and find home somewhere way outside their limited sphere of experience.

While I think this summer has shown us why radio and localism still matter, my fear is that we’ll see a further shrinkage of regional stations and voices. People like my friend’s sister who was making up backpacks so that kids who were displaced by the fires would have a whole bag of fresh new stationery and other goodies for their first day of school.

Good people who can only give so much without ongoing media, financial and government support, now, next year and beyond that too.



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