Location: New South Wales, Australia
Date: 1969 - 1971
Posted November 2010.
I arrived in Lismore on a Sunday night in August 1969 and couldn't
find the boarding house where I had been booked to stay by the radio station
manager. So I settled for a motel, which cost me all the money I had. Next
morning, I drove to the station to meet the manager, Howard Head. He was
on air and sounded dreadful. I figured if I couldn't improve on his performance
I should give the game away.
Then I went back into town to settle in to the boarding house, but had
no money. So I went to a pawn shop and sold my National reel-to-reel tape
recorder to raise the bucks for my first week's rent. I told the landlady
about it later and she scolded me. "You could have paid me at the end of
the week!" But it was too late for that.
The landlady was wonderful. Her grand-kids called her Meem, so I did
too. She adopted me, and treated me like a son. She gave me the best room
in the house; a large room at the front of the boarding house with two
sets of French doors, one leading to the side veranda, and a main door
that led to the vestibule. Every night before bed, she made me a thermos
of coffee and a sandwich which I took to the station next morning. I was
the breakfast announcer and started my shift just before 5am, six days
a week. When I arrived back at the boarding house after 9am, once all the
other boarders had left for work, she sat me down at the dining room table
and fed me a huge serving of savory mince on toast, eggs and tea. And if
I complained that it was too much she bullied me into finishing it all,
and wouldn't let me leave the table until the plate was as clean as a whistle.
She was such a sweetheart, and she made me feel right at home. In fact,
I became very friendly with her daughter's family and spent a lot of time
at their house.
Unlike Young, which was a bit of a culture shock and not all that friendly,
Lismore was a place where I felt completely accepted and at home. I had
friends there who made a big difference - a sort of "family" . It was a
coastal town that was used to tourists so my being a city boy was no big
deal. Also, the weather in Lismore was sub-tropical. Even in August, which
was mid winter, the temperature was quite warm. Young by contrast was freezing.
After about 6 months or so, I moved out of the boarding house and into
a flat in town, which was part of a large house. The flat, which cost $12
a week, had been occupied by my mate and fellow announcer, Daryl Tonks
and his wife Yvonne, who built a house at Goonellabah, a new suburb adjacent
to the radio station. I understand that Goonellabah a major suburb now,
virtually a small town.
Which reminds me... one morning on air, I looked out the studio window
at the rolling hills of Goonellabah and saw a small plane dipping and diving
over the undulations with smoke pouring from its fuselage. I thought, "Bloody
hell! This thing is gonna crash!" It was just before the 8am news from
Sydney, so I opened the mic and told the audience what I'd just seen, and
that I'd return after the National news bulletin to report further on the
matter. Then, as the National News went to air, I raced outside. The radio
station was part of a complex that also housed the Northern Star newspaper
and the local TV station. One of the newspaper staff saw me in a panic
and asked what was happening. "There's a plane about to crash!" I blurted,
and pointed to the sky. "That's a crop duster," he said. Oops!
So I went back on air after the news and told the listeners that I was
a dumb kid from the city who knew nothing about crop dusters. Doh!
A popular music station in Sydney at the time, 2SM, had the 'good guys'
so I thought we could be the 'fun fellas' hehe. But the damn printers had
to be grammatically correct, and spelled it 'fellows'. Sheesh. Anyway,
this was a cloth name-tag thingy I wore on my back as a competitor in a
promotional bicycle race from Lismore to Casino and back. I can't believe
I had the energy to do that! The station nerd won the race, and I came
second. I think the nerd - who was a nice guy but, well, you know - quit
radio to become a priest.
And here's another recollection. The nerd did the late night shift and
read the final local news bulletin just before midnight when the station
closed for the day. So Daryl and I (we were a couple of terrors) substituted
the news theme cartridge for another cartridge to which we recorded various
jungle noises such as trumpeting elephants. So when the nerd pushed the
button for the news intro... well, yeah, you get the picture. But the bloke
went ahead and read the local news as if nothing was amiss. Hehe. What
a character. And no, Daryl and I weren't fired.
In fact, Daryl and I pretty much ran the station. We thought up all
the promotional stuff and liased with the advertisers. Daryl's wife Yvonne
was in charge of the schedules department. I was pretty friendly with the
local VW dealer as well as the manager of the local Drive-In cinema. So
when Disney released The Love Bug movie it was an opportunity to go Beetle
Crazy. The local dealer got hold of a 60s Beetle and did it up to look
like the real thing. They took it to Casino where the airport was, and
I got on air to say that the genuine Herbie had been flown in from America
and would arrive in Lismore. So a huge crowd turned out and some smartass
kid said to me, "How come it's not left-hand drive?" Hehe. I hate kids.
Anyway, the promotion was a great success. (The above pic is from the web
and not related to the 2LM promotion).
That's the nerd bottom right, and that's Daryl bottom center. That's
me up top in the middle.Yes, folks, I decided to supplement my income (about
$70 a week) and start Safeway Driving School, using my 1967 Beetle. Naturally,
I advertised the school on my breakfast program. The only other school
in Lismore, which had had a monopoly for years, also used VWs but they
were the square-back type. The school was owned and run by two ladies who
got quite upset when I began competing. Suddenly, billboards advertising
their school appeared all over town. Hehe. How dare this Sydney blow-in
upset the applecart!
I finally decided to compete with the other school by using a Holden
with a three-speed column shift instead of the Beetle's four-on-the-floor.
It was the HG model, the last of the 1968-71 series before the introduction
of the HQ later in 1971. And yes, the pic below is the actual car. The
Holden dealer at nearby Ballina had HGs on special as a run-out model.
I traded the '67 Beetle for $1100. The Holden cost a total of $3000. My
mate who operated the BP petrol station in Lismore was happy to act as
my booking agent. Daryl, by the way, bought a blue and white HG at the
same time. No way he was gonna be upstaged by me!
Ballina is a short drive from Lismore. It was a sleepy beachside village
back then but Ballina is now a major north coast tourist resort. Meem and
her geriatric husband had by this time retired. They sold the boarding
house and moved to a little house in Ballina. When ever I had a student
driver in Ballina, I'd call into Meem's house after the lesson to say g'day
and sure enough she'd make me a banana sandwich and a cuppa tea. She never
stopped mothering me. Hehe.
That's Ballina... a very beautiful coastal town in Northern New South
Wales. It's a pic from the web, obviously taken by a very tall person.
I don't have any pics of Lismore or Ballina when I was there so this
is another pic I nicked from the web. I remember the Hotel Canberra where
I used to enjoy an ale or two from time to time. I see it's called Tommy's
Anyway, I was getting a bit bored with 2LM and decided to move on despite
having made a lot of good friends in Lismore. I applied for a job at a
new radio station being established in Gosford on the Central Coast of
NSW, 60 miles north of Sydney. Little did I realize at the time that Daryl
had applied as well. The sneaky bugger.
UPDATE: Trevor Thompson, my replacement at 2UE in 1984, also
worked at 2LM back in the early '70s. I stumbled across your website
while looking for some photos of my old radio station, 2LM. Yes, it appears
we worked at the same station! I left in December 1975 to take a shift
at 2WL Wollongong. You'll recall I was your replacement at 2UE in 1984
when you left to go to 2DAY-FM. I ended up spending 7 years at 2UE and
left in 1991. Almost 30 years later I still remember listening to some
of the ads you wrote on 2DAY and in particular ads you wrote for some Hi-Fi
system or retailer which aired of a night time - they were 60 or 90 seconds
long but I remember thinking that Gary is a great writer!!!!
Trevor, who runs his own business
these days, sent this pic taken in 1973. Do you remember that old
studio.... I remember it soooooo well. Yes, the old librarian was a guy
called Murray and he lived many, many, many years at the Ryan Hotel. Your
description of the studio and control room layout is spot on! Like you,
I remember those days like it was yesterday. You would not recognise Goonellabah
these days - I was lost and hardly recognised anything when I was up there
earlier this week. Sometimes, you really do wish you could go back and
do it all again don't you? Er... lemme think about that, Trevor. Would
it mean going back to that '70's hairstyle and the paisley shirt?
Return to Home Page