Andrew Farr, Great Lakes FM

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We last spoke with Andrew Farr – Station Manager at Great Lakes FM – in 2015 when he shared his very personal battle with pancreatic cancer and the radical surgery he undertook at that time. Now, as Andrew prepares to retire, he took some time out to update us on his health journey and his interesting career.

Hi Andrew. It’s been four years since you shared your personal story with FOCUS readers after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  Can you please tell us what’s happened since we last spoke with you?

In some ways, I’ve been quite lucky. Pancreatic cancer has one of the lowest survival rates of any disease, simply because there are no obvious symptoms until it’s too late. In my case I got jaundice, which led to a diagnosis in time for me to have surgery and undergo a radical operation called a Whipple procedure. That was followed by six months of chemotherapy, and in 2015 I was able to return to the job that I love so much, which is managing our local community radio station, Great Lakes FM, and to continue presenting the Brekky Show every Monday to Friday. 

Unfortunately, cancer has a nasty habit of returning, and that is what’s happened to me – only this time my options are very limited. As a result, and in order to spend more time with my family, I have cut back on the hours that I work at GLFM and only present the Brekky Show on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. It is a gradual withdrawal though, and very dependant on how my health goes before I finish up completely.

Your career at Great Lakes FM started some 15 years ago, beginning with volunteering and then moving through to taking on the role of Station Manager – a position that you’ve held for the last 12 years. Can you give our readers some insights into the highs and lows (memorable moments and ones you’d rather forget) of your time at Great Lakes FM?

Radio is an unusual broadcast medium, in that it’s audio only, as opposed to television where you can be seen as well as heard, so sometimes we have to go just that little bit further in attracting and entertaining our audience to be competitive. With today’s technology it’s possible to go outside the confines of the broadcasting studio and carry listeners into some very unusual situations. 

Some of my most memorable moments, both highs and lows, have been when doing live crosses under questionable circumstances. For example, I remember climbing behind the wheel of a demolition derby car and giving a running commentary on radio, whilst trying to avoid being pulverised by other drivers. I now know why a lot of the drivers elect to wear neck braces! That was a definite high point, because we actually came second in our class. 

Another time I volunteered to climb on the back of a steer at a local rodeo and do a live cross whilst it was trying to buck me off. That turned out to be one of the shortest live crosses I’ve ever done – I think it was about three seconds. I also had a sore tailbone for about a week, so I guess you could say it was a bit of a low point too! 

In truth, I can honestly say that there haven’t been any low points – the whole experience has been fantastic, and it’s been a real pleasure to work with such a great group of volunteers.

Radio wasn’t your first job though, was it? Tell us some more about what you did before you started at Great Lakes FM?

 I’m qualified as an electrician, but I’ve actually spent quite a lot of time working in hospitals too. I spent a few years in the spinal unit of the Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney working as a wardsman, and when we moved to this area I worked at various times in Bulahdelah, Gloucester, Wingham and Taree hospitals either as a wardsman, or in the various maintenance departments. I’ve also worked as a carer looking after people with disabilities in a home environment. 

None of the jobs that I’ve done previously relate to radio work at all, and the reason that I first became involved is because a friend of ours mentioned that she thought I had a nice voice for radio after hearing the message I’d left on our telephone answering machine. That inspired me to come knocking on the door of GLFM back in 2003, offering my services as a volunteer, but up until that point radio was a thing I’d never even considered. I only wish that I’d done it sooner, because it’s something I really enjoy, and it’s a real bonus if you have a job you love – even if it means getting up at 4am every weekday morning!

What have been the biggest challenges (apart from your battle with pancreatic cancer) that you’ve had along the way?

One of the biggest challenges for just about all community radio stations is finance. It costs a considerable amount of money to keep a station on the airwaves, and there are no government handouts, or wealthy entrepreneurs standing by to dish out the dollars. We have great support from the local business community, so the majority of our revenue comes from sponsorship, but we also have a great fundraising team who are constantly coming up with ideas to raise money. Grant applications count for a lot too, but there are many other non-profit organisations vying for the same grants, so it’s very competitive.

You’ve obviously enjoyed your time in radio, so tell us what your advice is to anyone who is contemplating radio as a career?

I’d say go for it – and the ideal place to start is community radio. Lots of high profile radio and television presenters got their start in community radio, and quite a few of the volunteer presenters at GLFM have gone on to have very successful careers in commercial radio as well. There are also grant and scholarship opportunities available to attend organisations such as AFTRS (Australian Film, Television and Radio School). 

It’s a very competitive industry though, and technology is changing the face of radio very rapidly, with social media influencing what we listen to and when we want to listen to it. Nevertheless, it’s a great industry to be in, and my advice is to get down to your local community radio station and offer your services as a volunteer. Who knows – you might be the next John Laws, Ray Hadley, Alan Jones or Hamish and Andy.

Final thoughts/thank yous?

It’s a very difficult time for me and my family, but we’ve been overwhelmed by messages of support, and our thanks go out to everybody. I’m proud to be associated with such an amazing community radio station and although I’ll be sad when I finally hang up my broadcasting hat, I’ll be leaving the station with many happy memories and enduring friendships. 

Thanks Andrew.

Interview: Ingrid Bayer.

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