How did you first get involved with Triple R?
Michelle Bennett, the producer of the Breakfasters at the time, contacted me through Twitter because she saw that I was writing about politics and asked if I’d like to come in to do a book review. I had published some articles on ABC’s The Drum website and I was writing about some big issues, like social democracy. I ended up choosing ‘Ill Fares The Land’ by Tony Judt. It’s still my all-time favorite book. After that, Ben Eltham, who was filling in on Summer Spoke, asked me if I would come in and talk Federal politics, and I said sure it sounds like great fun, and it was. Later I did the broadcaster training course at Triple R. I came in at ridiculously late hours to practice every week, because I just wanted to learn more and improve. I filled in a few times, before one day, I got the call and was asked if I wanted to join the Triple R grid and have my own show. I couldn’t believe it. I was so honoured. I’d put so much work into it because I had become really fascinated by radio, and interviewing, and I couldn’t think of anything more exciting.
Was presenting something you always wanted to do?
Well, I was always passionate about history and politics, and I absolutely love all the topics I currently present on. I have had those interests for decades. I didn’t realise at the time that radio, and presenting a show, could be one really effective expression of those interests and a way that I could contribute as well. I don’t think an interview is really about me, but I do play a key role, which is to draw out the best from my guests. I try to be intuitive and feel how the interview is going and think where I should take it next. It does require being present but also thinking ahead and being flexible. And to have that longer chat reflects the ethos of Uncommon Sense, and what I had conceived for it, which is a back and forth between people that are curious and inquiring.
How do you source your guests? Are they based on your interests, or around what’s happening?
I think it’s both. It has to be relevant, but that said, there are some topics that are very timeless and don’t need to be aired on any particular week. I will often keep an eye on events, news and nonfiction books and have an idea on what’s coming out. I’ll ask, for example, if non-local guests are coming to Melbourne. And if they are coming in three months, then I’ll often wait three months, because I’d rather have that in-person discussion. I also make sure I’ve got diversity of topic, diversity of medium, and diversity of gender.
Does community radio allow you to structure your show exactly how you want to? And do you think you’d be able to do so elsewhere?
In terms of elsewhere, it really would depend, I guess. I think community radio has a very unique and creative offering, which is that you are independent. The station doesn’t tell you what music to play or what guests to have on. They are there to facilitate and make life easier for you so you are able to volunteer your time. But it is one of the most creative expressions that any broadcaster could have. To basically have a blank slate of three hours every week and to create something out of nothing with the guests that you have and music that you choose. It’s quite mind boggling to think, that that’s possible.
You have great conversations with your regular guest, Ben Eltham. Do you ever get too relaxed, and have to remind yourself that you have an audience?
I’m always cognisent of an audience. I think once you put headphones on and have a microphone in front of you, you don’t get too relaxed. I feel relaxed, I feel very at ease when I’m in the studio. It feels like home. But I’m certainly aware that we’re doing something that people are listening to. I’m not interested in having anyone feel excluded, I really want everyone to feel like they are in the studio with us being part of our conversation.
Do you have any advice for aspiring broadcasters or presenters?
My advice would be to just say ‘yes’ to opportunities – unless it feels wrong for some reason and your gut says no – but if it’s just nerves, apprehension or you’re questioning whether you can do it – don’t question it. Just say yes. Because once you get in there you’ll have the best time and you learn from it. You don’t need to be worried about how people are going to perceive you if you go in there with an open heart and mind, and do your best. Also, listen widely. Pick presenters that inspire you, that you think are doing their job well, and figure out why they’re doing it well.