A tad over 40 years ago radio 5DN legend Jeff Medwell, the original late night talk-back king of the city, told a budding young reporter in the old building of The News that he had a great voice for newspapers and looks only suitable for radio.
Maybe the 35 or more volunteer presenters on our local community station Five Encounter FM – the Sound of the Fleurieu – also once copped brutally-sharp rejection and are now determined to prove their ability and live their on-air dream.
It’s the only explanation as to why these dedicated souls turn up – some at ungodly hours of the morn – for their shift to dedicate some easy-listening music to us, or suggest how we should care for our Chrysanthemums if they have been invaded by aphids or have foliar nematodes. Hello, I’m Neville Skewes and welcome to In Your Garden show.
This is our community radio, and these volunteers love every moment. It’s a hectic experience, sometimes nerve-wracking like the odd occasion when program manager Maree Phillips bursts into the office of station manager John Mann and declares a crisis: “So-and-so is supposed to be on-air in one hour and cannot make it.”
Someone always steps up to the plate, for this is more than just a local radio gig; it’s a belief the world cannot go on without the airwaves, and this profound passion is equally as fierce among the other 25-or-so volunteers working feverishly behind the scenes to also make it all happen.
However, while pop band Bruce Woolley & the Camera Club claimed in 1979 through their hit Video Killed the Radio Star, it seems that time is now slowly killing the whole community radio station.
When 5EFM was launched on October 11, 1991 as the first community radio station on the Southern Fleurieu Peninsula on a wave-length of 89.3MHz from a low-powered transmitter, there was more excitement than when Dick and Mac McDonald opened the original McDonald’s restaurant in San Bernardino, California in 1937. This was new FM radio, opposed to a static 5MU from Murray Bridge and 5AN on the AM band.
But like Bruce and his Camera Club warned, times change, and John pin-points 2004 when all of the city-based commercial stations were updated with 20Kw output, and we could hear them all from Adelaide. Then along came Nova and Power FM, which long followed another community station in Victor Harbor.
“The feeling amongst the community towards their community radio has changed,” John said. “When 5EFM started there was no internet and iPods, and kids weren’t listening to music on mobile phones.
“We are now fighting for survival because there are too many stations in the one spot here in Victor Harbor; we get most of them from the city and Goolwa gets the lot clearly.”
Yet, John and his amazing team are success-driven as ever, and genuinely believe that if more people knew about their community station 89.3 on your dial along the South Coast or 94.7 in Yankalilla and Strathalbyn, the future would be far rosier.
“Everyone here still has the enthusiasm to have a community radio station for the community,” John said. “We have to raise all of the money to run the station ourselves and
we love doing it all, but it is really a case of us trying to keep up with time because everything is changing.
“To change, we need more listeners, and to do that we need to get the message out, but that means advertising that costs money which we don’t have.”
It costs 5EFM more than $15,000 each year in electricity and telephone bills, plus insurance before it goes to air, and then another $5000 in licence fees.
Soon after John, a retired technical field officer for Telstra in Adelaide, started at the station in 2000 he noticed most of the equipment had Cash Converters stickers on the back.
Through the carefully-managed eight-member 5EFM board, John then arranged two $10,000 loans to help get the station working on a near-even footing.
Remarkably, the loans were paid off in four years, but like everything in the partly dilapidated building the station operates from on Seaview Road, nothing comes easily.
“We have to earn every cent, and everything is done by volunteers,” John said with a tone of pride. “We rely on sponsorship; hard work and fundraising. We have a clothing sale at the Victor Harbor RSL Hall from July 5-17, and film night featuring the new movie, Liberace on August 15.
“Oh, Liberace… above everything, he was a good pianist. It’s fair to say a percentage of our listeners would know him, but I doubt whether the young ones would.”
Beyond the hands-on fundraising work are the paid commercials, but unfortunately they don’t add up to much. 5EFM is expected to strictly adhere to the same regulations under the Broadcasting Services Act (1992) as commercial stations, yet being a community station is restricted to only five minutes of advertising or sponsorship per hour. The advertising rates are $3 per 30 seconds.
“It’s not easy surviving financially,” John said. That becomes obvious when you see an honesty jar by the tin of coffee; inflation forcing a rise from 10 cents to 50 cents per cup, and John fears the price may need to jump to a dollar to cover costs. Here, there is absolutely no tangible reward, only cost for the volunteers, but they never complain and turn up every day.
There is a near-empty petty cash tin, and if you consider that as intolerable you can help by taking out an annual membership to the station for $10.
This may seem gloomy, and John admits to thinking at times about the station’s survival rate, but the next moment the station is just one big buzz with everyone focused on everything that is positive about the station and doing their best to present wholesome entertainment. Again, the constant reminder that 5EFM is the only station that broadcasts right across the southern Fleurieu is heartening, and with it comes responsibility.
On any day you’ll find examples of teamwork with John’s wife, Dianne, helping those at the front desk including Annie and Peter, Jenny Sandell busy working in production alongside her husband Jack, and David Elliott being constantly called upon for his technical assistance and other production skills. The list of contributors runs deep with passion; all volunteers with coffee in hand at 50 cents a cup. But more help is needed; here’s your chance for a taste of radio.
John cannot pour enough praise on the presenters for the incredible amount of time and effort they put into their shows. The last hint of controversy was when someone rang 5EFM and said it could hardly call the 4-6 time slot “Drive Time Radio” because he gets home before the track finishes. It caused a laugh. John says ABC radio commands 50 per cent of the listening audience in this section of our radio world, and is convinced 25% of radio listeners in Victor follow 5EFM. They should; the music is great and you can find out how to stop your Hydrangeas from wilting.
It’s why John turns up at the station four days a week from 9am-4pm, and is on call around the clock in case the world of radio has a momentary pause. Some days he wakes up with a hollow feeling that “this is it” for the station, but he goes to bed with the satisfaction no one here in this old building – once home to Meals on Wheels – has given up.
As dear Jeff Medwell used to say, ‘thank you for joining me’. He was probably right about that young bloke at The News; he still doesn’t look pretty in the morning (sigh!)
For 5EFM’s list of programs, or to become a member, visit: http://www.5efm.org.au/