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 now.

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?

Scrapbook Part 5
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