Andrew Farr

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Great Lakes FM recently celebrated 21 years on the airwaves in the Manning Great Lakes. We take a look at what has been achieved, and discuss future plans with General Manager Andrew Farr.

Originally from England, what brought you to Forster?

 Although I was born in the UK, my father and sister were both born in Australia. I grew up in a typical English country village in the county of Oxfordshire. It was very picturesque, with thatched cottages and three pubs, but not a very exciting place for a young person to live. My dad was very patriotic and he often talked about Australia. He made it sound such an interesting and beautiful place, that it really inspired me to come here. 

So, eventually I got myself a ticket and boarded a plane bound for Singapore. From there I got on a Russian livestock ship and ended up in Fremantle in early 1980. 

My dad was right; I found Australia both interesting and beautiful, and I spent the next few years travelling and exploring this huge country. 

I married a wonderful lady named Regina in 1990, and when our first child, David came along, we quickly decided that the city wasn’t the place to bring up a family. So we moved from Sydney to the Central Coast. 

After eight years and two more children, we felt the Central Coast was also getting a bit crowded, so we eventually settled on a lovely 5 acre property near Nabiac. We haven’t looked back since.

> What do you enjoy most about the area?

We really do have the best of all worlds here, with the hinterland on one side and the beautiful lakes and beaches on the other. Every time I drive across the Forster Tuncurry bridge on a sunny day, I never cease to be amazed by the colour of the water, and of course, it’s not unusual to see dolphins. It’s no wonder that it’s so popular with holiday makers. I always feel a bit sorry for them that they have to go back to the city. 

We’ve made some great friends here, as well. In the city you tend to be anonymous and only socialise with a few select people, but in the country you get to know just about everybody around you, and most of them would give you the shirt off their backs if you needed it.

 I guess I’ve always been a country boy at heart too, so I can’t imagine living anywhere else.

> You’ve been involved with Great lakes FM, which has recently turned 21. How has the station developed over the years?

 It all began when a group of people got together to start a community radio station back in 1985. 

The community rallied around to get the station on air, building a transmitter hut and erecting antennas, and the first official broadcast went to air on the 25th August 1986. 

In those days Great Lakes FM was based in the Chamber of Commerce building in Wharf Street, Forster. Music was played on vinyl records and sponsorships from cassette tapes. We’ve come a long way since then. 

Everything is computerised of course, but we still have a turntable in the studio and some of our presenters, including me, make good use of it. Technology is very useful, though. Our website enables people to listen in from anywhere in the world, send in requests or community notices. You can also check out the presenters or listen to interviews that you might have missed, or look at photos of events that we have covered. 

We have photos of our 21st birthday party on the website. It was a great night with over 120 people attending – some in fancy dress. It was a chance for volunteers past and present to get together and swap stories. Lots of our listeners came along too. 

> Being a community radio station, what’s the biggest issue you have to contend with?

One of the biggest obstacles that nearly all community radio stations have to overcome is finance. There are no big corporations or entrepreneurs to fall back on in hard times. There’s no funding or rescue packages forthcoming from the Government. 

Our main source of revenue is sponsorship, but our governing body, the Australian Communication and Media Authority, are quite strict with the amount of sponsorship time allowed on community radio. 

We raise money in other ways, such as membership drives, raffles, and of course grant applications, but many other community organisations are vying for the same grants, which makes it very competitive.

Recent surveys have shown that more and more people choose to listen to community radio, and we are dedicated to producing a variety of quality programs that are professionally presented and aimed at pleasing as wide a section of our listening audience as possible.

 I believe that dedication is reflected by the support that Great Lakes FM gets from the local community and also from the business sector through their ongoing sponsorships.

> You recently broadcast live from inside a demolition derby car. How did you fare?

Believe me – it was quite an experience! 

I was very nervous at first, not having been in one before, but once the red flag dropped it was every man for himself. I don’t remember what I said while the race was underway, but it was live-to-air – and at least I had the hindsight to apologise in advance for any expletives that I might let slip. 

The first collision is the worst, and I might have let one go then, but after that I went into serious destruction mode. We didn’t do too badly actually, I think we came 4th – just missing out on a trophy. The recording of the event is on our website, and I have to admit that I couldn’t help laughing when I heard it.

 The demolition derby was the highlight of a series of events to raise money for the children’s ward at Manning Base Hospital. 

A lot of people put in a lot of hours and hard work to make the fundraiser a success. I was proud to be asked to MC the presentation of a cheque for over $22,000 by derby organiser Col Menser to the nurse unit manager from the children’s ward.

Andrew and his demolition derby car

Andrew and his demolition derby car

> What other exciting ideas do you have planned for your radio show? 

 Well, after the demolition derby I feel the sky’s the limit – literally! Maybe a live cross from a free fall parachute jump, or a hang glider, or maybe bungee jumping. I hate heights too! 

In October we will be at the Nabiac rodeo, where all proceeds from the day will be going to the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service. The guys organising it say they are going to line me up a nice quiet steer to ride. I don’t know why they keep laughing and calling me the Pommie jackeroo!

Recently I took part in a paintball battle organised by a team of firefighters to raise funds for Variety, a charity to improve the lives of sick, disadvantaged and handicapped children. I took the recording equipment along, but unfortunately didn’t get a chance to put it on. Maybe that’s just as well in hindsight, because those paintballs travel very fast and you certainly feel it when they hit you. I’ve got the bruises to prove it.

The main thing is if Great Lakes FM can help to promote an event for a worthy cause and give listeners a chuckle at the same time, then it’s all worthwhile.

One event I am looking forward to is the national regional rural and sub metro broadcasters conference, to be held in March 2010. I have just submitted a proposal to host the event here in Forster Tuncurry. 

If it’s successful, we will have over 150 media representatives from all over Australia converging on us. It’s quite a big event and getting bigger every year. Personally I think if it’s held here once, then they’ll want to make it a permanent venue – and who can blame them when you look at what this area has to offer?

> Most memorable moment on air?

There’s a saying in this business that goes: “Watch the off button on your mike; it could become next year’s blooper tape.” And there’s a lot of truth in that. 

I think all announcers have accidentally left the microphone on at some stage. What’s really embarrassing is if you don’t realise it until one of your listeners rings up and tells you that everybody is tuned in to your conversation. That’s happened to me – shame I can’t remember what I was saying at the time!

Seriously though, it’s difficult to pinpoint one particular moment, because for me every moment is memorable. I get a buzz whether I’m talking to a high profile entertainer or taking song requests from listeners. At the end of the day if just one person calls and says they enjoyed the show, then it’s a memorable moment for me.

I absolutely love working in radio, and I especially love working here at Great Lakes FM with this great bunch of dedicated volunteers. I consider myself very fortunate indeed.

> If people would like to become involved with the radio station, what can they do?

Just contact us and there are several ways they can do that. Our phone number is 6555 8433. Our email address is 

info@greatlakesfm.org.au our website is www.greatlakesfm.org.au

You can also call in and see us; we are at 16 Douglas Avenue in Tuncurry. 

> Thank you Andrew.

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