By Neil Pigot
Broken Hill community radio station 2DRY FM will throw open its doors to the public next Saturday evening with a BBQ and a few cool drinks.
It’s a casual get together to which all are welcome, one that the station’s founding president Margaret Burrowes hopes will see a new breed of potential presenters and techies catch the community radio bug, much as they did just a little over thirty years ago.
It was 1989 when Margaret, fresh in town and having had a little community radio experience in Griffith, decided to hold a public meeting to see if there was any interest in creating a grassroots radio station in the Silver City.
“I put an ad in the BDT and we set up a few chairs at the Workies. I remember sitting there wondering if anyone would turn up. Then people started arriving, all ages, all types. We ended up spending the first 15 minutes looking for extra chairs.”
Within a few months the fledgling station boasted a membership in the hundreds and as Margaret recalls, 75 would be presenters. And in something of a coup, the station received the fastest licence approval on record, helped in no small part by Margaret’s brassy approach to the then Federal Senator and Hawke government minister Chris Schact.
“He was visiting town and so I went and interviewed him, talked about how important it was in an isolated community to have a diverse range of voices heard, our voices, and how committed the community was to having the station. Then I insisted that he become a member. He signed up and paid his dues on the spot.”
Two years after that initial public meeting the station began regular broadcasts from rented premises in Radford House on Eyre Street in the south and the range of programming was extraordinary.
Local news, latest hits, a late-night jazz program presented by a local school teacher, two hours of weekly Italian language content hosted by the builder who had helped plaster the stations makeshift studio and on Friday nights one of Margaret’s favourites, Jailhouse Rock, a show
featuring a playlist selected by the inmates of Broken Hill prison.
“The warden was a member and he would go and collect the prisoner’s requests and their cheerio’s to their wives, family and friends. We’d play the songs and read the messages. It was all part of being genuinely inclusive. It was great. I still think it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.”
Amongst those 75 presenters was the host of the Saturday morning midnight till 3 am graveyard shift, a then 15-year-old Dion Woodman, a member of the founding committee and the stations current president.
“I went to that first meeting and I was hooked. I loved music but it was expensive to buy and so I thought ‘I know, I’ll join and I’ll get to play the music I like and get it for free’.”
Which he did, in between fielding calls from revellers more often than not demanding more Cold Chisel.
“Then mum would come and pick me up and take me home.”
And they all knew they were on a winner from the get go. In the first week of test broadcasting the station received 1,000 calls requesting songs, thankfully not all of them Cold Chisel and for more than a decade 2DRY was flying high. Then came the digital age, the mine shutdowns, the slow population drain and for a time in the noughties the station drifted, swamped as online media took centre stage.
“The community had changed and community radio is about community, about being relevant, inclusive, about connection. We had to ask ourselves, how do we reclaim our relevance, how do we change to connect with our changing community?”
A revamped playlist along with involvement in community events through outside broadcasting are just a small part of that reboot and it’s a program of re-engagement and retooling that seems to be working. In the past couple of years 2DRY has been runner up in the Small Community Station of the Year award, just pipped by Mackay in a field of over 4,000 stations, runner up in the Outside Broadcast Award for their coverage of the Broken Heel Festival and perhaps most importantly, a recent survey conducted by the station found that one third of the town tunes in on a regular basis.
While it’s a great outcome after a lot of hard work, Dion and the volunteers at 2DRY aren’t done yet. A successful grant application has led to the hiring of a part time station manager. Enter Megan Williams, a youthful community radio veteran is passionate about making 2DRY a focus of the community, for the community. And for Megan, as it is with Dion and his board, it’s all about community engagement through local content.
“What we’d love to see is 4-9pm, local people, local issues, local stories, local voices. Building the station and the community within the station.”
Already Megan has introduced Walk in Wednesday, an open invitation for anyone to drop in between 1 and 3 mid-week to get a feel for the place.
“If you have an idea for a show or would just like to have a look around, I’m here and I’d love to chat.”
And getting presenters back in the studio is high on her list of priorities.
“One of the silver linings of the pandemic has been the incredible technology that has emerged for home production and that’s great but what creates connection, I think what really excites people is seeing things being made. I’d love people to be standing at the window watching the shows go out.”
With years of experience in community radio Megan is excited about the opportunity to nurture and develop programs, presenters and production volunteers.
“Young or old, if you think Broken Hill needs this, bring it to us. Indigenous voices, youth, I want everyone to feel they can bring ideas to us and that they’ll not only be listened to but given the help they need to make that idea a reality. This is a place that has a role for everyone.”
Megan, Dion and the 2DRY team will be at the station from 5pm on Saturday the 12th. And depending on grandkid commitments, so too will Margaret who is still an active member. The BBQ will be fired up and beverages will be on ice. So, if you feel you’ve got that idea that Broken Hill needs or just fancy a free snag, drop in. It is, after all, our community radio station.