Over the next week we’ll be featuring the creative essays and stories written by young writers who completed residencies in Devonport as part of the Tasmanian Writers’ Centre‘s Young Writers in the City program, December 2016 – January 2017.
Writer: Lauren Hay
Residency: SeaFM studios
A Writer in a Radio Station
This is a creative non-fiction, personal report-style parody essay.
As this is an artistic impression, the views and opinions expressed can only be considered as one possible representation of the people, places and events described. No – Liability. Yes – Deniability
– Day 1 –
Today I’m embarking on an expedition. Daring to go where no bibliophile and technologically illiterate individual has gone before! Okay, so perhaps radio stations and wordies have more in common than I want to admit. Doesn’t change the fact that this will be – as my cowgirl bestie would say – my first Ra-di-oh! (At this point I wanted to insert a tech savvy and intelligent metaphor; then remembered that I am not tech savvy and subsequently substituted it with a subpar pun.) He-hem. As I trundle down the sun-stained and dimpled driveway, my ears catch the first vibrations of what is to come – “It’s Sea FM’s Lee and Jess for breakfast!”.
On the drive there – to prepare myself – I’m sure to sing loudly to whatever songs the station plays. As I don’t know the majority of these songs, the lyrics become little else than garbled and ill-glorified syllables that bleed into one and other. Good thing I sound better on paper.
I arrive early, a miracle. After hesitantly pressing the doorbell – then wondering whether it was is a doorbell or a button to call security deciding that it has to be a doorbell, only to go through the whole dilemma again – I am greeted by John. Luckily, it appears my absolute befuddlement in the face of the common doorbell – very advanced technology that –hasn’t raised any red flags and I’m welcomed into the building and shown about. I’m assigned a desk in the sales department. Soon after, I meet Kayden, Jerry and Teena as they arrive at eight on the dot.
Teena is an account manager and the contact with whom I liaised to organise my residency. As I listen to the charm and debonair with which she holds counsel over the phone, I envy her call making aptitude. I’m doubly impressed when I realise the conversation she’s having is with the woman attending reception (whom I’m yet to meet), visible and audible through the open sales department door. It’s nostalgic, like covert $20-Chickenfeed-walkie-talkie conversations separated by one room; and risqué Facebook group chats at uni with my flatmate… separated by three feet of empty-McDonald’s-packaging-strewn sofa.
John suggests I relocate to Studio 1 where Lee and Jess are in the middle of broadcasting their morning show; a weather update. Apparently it’s going to reach 20 ˚C today. I’m wearing jeans and sneakers; I eye Lee’s board shorts and flip-flops pensively. So this is the wisdom of a radio host…
Between presenting, Lee and Jess are busy editing upcoming segments and perusing the net for material; as well as communicating with their listeners. I spy a familiar, royal blue banner, infamous block white font. Facebook. The Omnipotent Overlord of all human interaction. The Friend, The Like and the Holy News Feed. Facebook, Amen.
I feel a little less guilty about tuning out during university lectures now. Or I would, if it weren’t for the fact that; even whilst roving Facebook, Lee and Jess appear ten times more tuned in than when I attend any university lectures. I have not yet noticed a USB port or direct cable attached to either of them. But, I’m sure if I knew what bionic people smelled like, the scent of android would be …on the air.
Kayden pops into the studio to pre-record a segment. As part of 7AD’s production team, Kayden assists by voicing ads and creating accompanying segments for the show. Today, he will be taking the Sea FM cruiser out to the bluff, listeners who bump into him there may obtain a Friends with Benefits keychain. Owners of the keychains receive discounts at participating local businesses. A clever name, I muse, the sensible sort of person that is likely to go out of their way for a bargain is also likely to get a little thrill from being able to use the questionably risqué phrase, friends with benefits.
Come to think of it, maybe I should find myself one of those tags.
Lee is an efficient wizard when trimming Kayden’s recording to broadcasting perfection. So fast, is he – in fact – there is cause to worry if Kayden has made it to the location before the recording is aired.
I’m a literary fly on the wall as Lee and Jess navigate the topics of their summer show. “It’s seventeen degrees, Thursday morning. This is Sea FM’s Lee and Jess.” Coffee, Best evil laugh, President Evil and the temperamental Tasmanian traffic and weather. The atmosphere in the studio is easy and familiar despite the influx of information that the dulcet duo trawls through, moulds and edits into something tantalising and entertaining.
The great dedication the Lee and Jess pay their show is profound. Good thing teachers have always been such sticklers about waiting till recess to visit the loo, I note. Not every ad break is long enough for a sneaky toilet stop.
As the morning show calls for curtains I retreat downstairs. The sales department has sprung into a lazy summer life in my absence. I meet Emma – the aforementioned legend holding down Forte Reception; Darren and Karen – both scions of the sales department. I eye the yoga-doing emoji on the poster above the desk I’ve been allocated, the text on the poster reads, “THINK digital”. I hope my new acquaintances don’t realise that I can barely think analogue. Rather than my alarm clock, it was the sunrise and my sister’s cat that prompted me to rise from my bed at a quarter past five this morning.
While I’ve been sitting here, hacking away at my keyboard, listening to the crooning of the swanky summer tunes in the background, the activity in the sales department has trickled in and out. Shortly after ten Teena has a visitor. She introduces herself, with a smile, as Lin: The Hanger-On. She’s here to do some laminating. We’re Sea FM for the community. Someone laughs. Someone introduces herself as Tex. Theresa. But, call me Tex.
Lin: The Hanger-On talks to Teena about a cookbook she’s planning to make. She wants to burn the pages, to give it a rustic look, like her grandmother’s. I think of my own mother’s Christmas cake. She’s burnt that every year she’s made it. I make a note to self: don’t try to make a rustic Christmas cake. Charcoal is carcinogenic.
Tex and Teena mention that there will be cake. This rouses the rest of the station, Lee wanders through the Sales Department, Darren materialises from his desk like a mammal from hibernation. The question on everyone’s lips is – when? John re-appears at some point. Have I missed it? Tex assures him no, he hasn’t.
Cake – it turns out – is code for birthday. Isn’t it always? Everyone gathers in the kitchenette and I meet a second Leigh. It’s his birthday. If we go by the candles, Leigh is turning five. The fully grown man that blows them out isn’t fooling anyone. Leigh hosts the breakfast show for Burnie’s station, 7BU. Though, he’s clearly part of the 7AD family. When everyone sings Happy Birthday I’m struck by how, no matter the talent of the singer, it’s a song that cannot be tarnished. The cake is cut and I introduce myself to Leigh. People filter out and I meet Nathan. I haven’t met you before, I’m Nathan. Nathan is relatively new, he tells me, and works in production. Leigh, Nathan, Jerry discuss the marvellous inclusive nature of radio, and how many of the people in the business had little to no background in radio before they began working at a radio station. It’s a comfort to hear, my novicey nature feels a little less like the tacky gum that sticks to the bottom of a shoe.
Studio 3 is Nathan’s haunt. He offers to show me what it is that someone in production actually does. The short answer is, Nathan makes ads. The array of buttons, knobs, dials and twin computers that claim a majority of the desk space appear a little like a marshalling solider crab, microphone claws poised. I warn him I’m technologically illiterate. He laughs and describes his first impression of the tech and production of the program– terrifying and magical.As Nathan explains further, it’s not hard to see why.
7AD is part of a network of fifty-one stations across Tasmania and the mainland. These stations all assist each other with the production of the ads that air on their various shows. For the stations that share airways this also means coordinating timetables so the programmes run smoothly. Nathan pulls up a complex, colour-coded, computerised schedule to exhibit what an average day looks like. My brain pulls up and stops like the awkward-vertical-rainbow-bleep at the end of a ‘90s VCR. Nathan makes making ads seem awesome.
At the same time he educates me, Nathan completes his tasks for the day. It’s hard to believe he’s only been at this for three months. The tasks he is assigned come from On High. On High – is actually a man named David, based in Launceston. According to the speed dial list by my assigned desk in the Sales Department David’s title is: Creative Writer. A unicorn in this sea(FM) of technology! The scripts Nathan receives, to edit and record, all go through David.
It’s about now that Lee wanders into the studio to record the dialogue for some ads. There are only two. Didn’t we have an ad that needed to be recorded within the next hour? The ad’s script isn’t amongst the others. Jerry, Content Director – A.K.A the guy who says what airs and when – suggests Nathan call up On High, to ask about it. David is as nonplussed as Jerry and Nathan. They decide the recording can’t have been that urgent. Nathan turns to me and shrugs, and I learn a new idiom – We’re not saving babies. It doesn’t have the same ring to it as Hakuna Matata but it still means no worries.
I end the day ec-static… (puns on me everyone) and even get the dramatic-driving-off-into-the-sunset journey home.
– Day 2 –
Happy Birthday is a song that cannot be tarnished – less than 24 hours since I wrote it and already I’ve been proven wrong. Driving through Ulverstone I hear something great… and terrible. Jess’ amped up Happy Birthday rendition to Lee has the same cringe-worthy wonderfulness of an aptly executed pun. Highlight of the day. Oh, and yes, that does mean that in two days Sea FM celebrates two birthdays for two Lee/Leighs.
On air, Jess gifts Lee dessert bowls and a cake decorating kit. The story of why they aren’t wrapped involves The Moth from Hell and Jess seeking shelter in the guest bedroom. I ponder the wisdom of letting Jess in on how I got over my own fear of moths, but can’t picture her downing half a bottle of vodka to experience exposure therapy by throwing them at her friends.
I arrive and manage to navigate the doorbell successfully. Can’t fool me twice. I’m greeted by everyone – Good to see you! How are you today? – The atmosphere feels like thoughts of fairy-bread and bubble-wands. As I settle in the Sales Department John draws me into a conversation about what my residency actually entails. Good question, John. My answer is that it entails whatever I can fit into 2000 words as I am “influenced by the space”. There’s a reason they call us creative writers.
The rest of the morning consists of kooky conversations as I edit yesterday’s jottings. Teena, Tex and Emily laugh, work and swap stories. Lee emerges from Studio 1 to join the conversation and pass on Jess’ farewells, as she had to leave early. And then, it is time, once more: to get our cake on!
Another day another cake; what a cake! So, I missed my opportunity yesterday to wax poetic about 7AD’s confectionary of choice. It’s a decadent tri-tiered mud-cake, topped with whipped cream and syrupy cherries. Jealous? Lee, waves us down from singing Happy Birthday in favour of Jess’ masterpiece. Kayden pops a champagne bottle of confetti – seeing as you’re not drinking he tells a dumbfounded Lee. Lee laughs – have fun cleaning this up! What Lee doesn’t realise is that Kayden will take this advice literally; and when Lee later goes to leave for the day he will find the confetti in his car after Kayden has poured in in via the open sunroof.
As the 7AD crew stand around the kitchenette enjoying the cake and each other’s company they discus campervans; holidays and journeys they’d like to make with their families. I ponder how many different forms the word journey can take. Mine, coming to 7AD headquarters, has been relatively short, a mere sixteen hours. Still, it’s been an incredible privilege to be allowed a glimpse into the 7AD world and meet the masterminds behind 107.7. On the scale of great journeys, it sits somewhere between Frodo’s epic to Mordor and the average recluse’s midmorning jaunt to the mailbox. Yeah, I think I won that luck of the draw.
 Different spelling but pronounced the same as “Lee.”