Have you heard of Radio Northern Beaches (RNB)?
Many long-time residents will be familiar with the station, it’s been around since 1975, but some newcomers may be surprised to learn its still a hive of radio… activity today.
Entirely staffed by volunteers, the station covers its rent, insurance, broadcasting fees and running costs through a combination of grants, sponsors, subscriptions and training fees (for radio skills workshops).
With 70+ members, ranging from disc jockeys to technicians to administrative support, between them they produce over 50 programs a week.
RNB broadcasts between 7am and midnight from a studio in Terrey Hills via two frequencies: 90.3FM for the southern half of the Northern Beaches peninsula, and 88.7FM for the north.
Listeners can also tune into live broadcasts on the radio station’s website, http://rnb.org.au/stream/, or download apps like Community Radio Plus for mobile phones, android devices and in-car computers to hear current or archived programs.
Manly Observer met David Stewart-Hunter, RNB board director and broadcaster of the long-running Thursday evening program, Sound of the 60s, at the community group’s Yulong Ave studios.
David explained some of the DJs record their programs off-site, then upload a digital file ready for transmission.
However, David prefers the traditional method of recording his programs in RNB’s Terrey Hills studios.
“We’ve got three studios here,” he said. “Studio one is the large studio which is set up for when we have group discussions, which we do from time to time, like a live morning show with guests.
“I prefer the smaller studio number two, because it’s more intimate and I don’t need the larger space. We can fit two or three people in there but generally it’s used by people making solo shows.
“It’s also left-handed, which is great because I’m left-handed. All the equipment is on my left side. It throws me if I have to use the other studio because all the equipment is on the right hand side and that really does my head in!
“Then there’s a third studio,” he continued, “which we use for bands when they come in and record music. We also do outside broadcasts from live concerts and festivals – like the Narrabeen Festival.”
For outside broadcasts, RNB utilise a distinctive yellow van, converted to a mobile studio, which they park at community events like charity fun-runs, surf carnivals and the Northern Beaches Music Festival. Alongside it they pitch a marquee with microphones and radio transmission equipment where they conduct live conversations with participants.
David continues, “In addition, we broadcast two gigs a month, from The Shack in Warriewood [which hosts live bands on the first Saturday evening of each month] and the Manly Fig [which hosts three bands on the last Friday of the month in Seaforth Bowling Club, North Balgowlah].”
The Manly Fig gigs, as well as live performances in Fairlight Folk Lounge, Groove Casino on Palm Beach and Songs Alive at Belrose Bowling Club, are recorded, mixed, then broadcast Sunday evenings from 7pm-9pm on Andrew Goodman-Jones’ RNB Live program (weblink here).
“Any new group from the Northern Beaches, we’re more than happy to put them on air,” David said. “And if they’ve released a CD, my fellow presenter, Mike Lester, has a contemporary music program called OzMusic dedicated to showcasing new music from Beaches’ bands. He brings them in, interviews them and plays their CD.
“So there’s a lot of focus on helping local community talent.”
When it comes to his own program, Sound of the 60s, how long does it take you to select the music, script his between-song banter and record it?
“Overall, it takes me about eight hours a week to put it together,” he considers.
Given that the musical era covers nine years from 1960-69 and you have been hosting it for five years, how do you maintain its freshness and attract listeners each week?
“I can tell you that after recording 180 programs it’s quite challenging! The original idea I had was to broadcast a programme about the 1960s and I would go through each year in succession. Discuss what was happening in the social climate at the time in Australia, UK, America, or elsewhere, interspersed with music, the songs hopefully reflecting what was going on in the world at the time.
“However, I realised that it’s not a sustainable way of doing the programme because if you do, say, two programmes covering each of those years between 1960 and 69, that burns up 20 programmes, then what do you do?
“So I decided to adopt a central theme for each episode. For example, it might be ‘Trios’. A few weeks ago, I decided to host a programme focused on three-person outfits, either vocal or instrumental… like Peter Paul and Mary, Cream and other trios… Then maybe a program centred on London groups, followed by New York or San Francisco…
“I’ve just recorded a program of songs with ‘Me’ in the title! I think one featuring songs with ‘You’ in the title, will inevitably follow soon!”
After deciding on a theme, how do you go about making his program?
“I put together a playlist of the tracks on iTunes, and then I come into the studio with a written script after I’ve researched each of the tracks I’m going to play. I talk about the artist and anything interesting about the song itself while I record the program with the headphones on…
“I know now pretty well, after recording 180 programmes, that I need 16 or so tracks to fill my hour, which is made up of about 47 minutes of music, and maybe 10 minutes of me talking about each of the tracks.
“However,” he considers, “if I’m playing music from 1965 onwards, the tracks suddenly blow out in length from an average of two or three minutes up to five minutes, sometimes 10 minutes, because previously there was the technical limitation of how many how many minutes you get on the side of an old 45 vinyl disc.
“There was also the fact that if you wanted it played on radio stations, disc jockeys in the early 60s had an objection to songs that went on too long, they thought their audiences would get bored.
“So, if I play music from the back half of the 60s, the songs are much longer, and I might fit only 12 tracks in a program. Whereas if I’m doing a program of the early 60s, covering what I call the ‘age of innocence’, which is everything from early Beatles up to the so-called “British Invasion of America” in 1964, then I can play more songs.
“That era is dominated by Neil Sedaka and Dion and those kind of American pop idols with huge hair! You know: handsome fellas who sang nice ditties about the prom queen, and all that sort of American rubbish!”
RNB was established by the Manly Warringah Media Co-operative and first began broadcasting in March 1984 from Narrabeen High School, before relocating to Belrose. In 2013 they established themselves in dedicated studios at Terrey Hills.
They broadcast to the upper Northern Beaches from a transmitter in Ingleside at 88.7FM, and to the lower Northern Beaches from a transmitter on Dobroyd Head, Balgowlah Heights, at 90.3 FM.
Programs include contemporary music, jazz, blues, country, theatre organ music, and the best of bygone eras, plus talk shows on environmentally-themed subjects, classic cars/bikes, religious instruction and financial advice (link to current program schedule here).
If you’d like to get involved with RNB, they host quarterly-run Radio Skills one-day workshops at their Terrey Hills studio, which teach technical proficiency. Book through the Northern Beaches & Mosman College (nationally accredited training).
[There is a Radio Skills Workshop coming up this Saturday, 21 October, with one place still available.]
Radio Northern Beaches
Broadcasts: 90.3FM (southern) and 88.7FM (northern)
Sponsorship enquiries: 02 9453 4903