Tag: Radio

Country Music

John Williamson, Pixie Jenkins, Warren H. Williams, James O'Brien at ABC Studio, Tamworth
John Williamson, Pixie Jenkins, Warren H. Williams, James O’Brien at ABC Studio, Tamworth

In the last couple of months I’ve begun to reacquaint myself with my love of country music. It’s taken me back to the days of regular visits to the Tamworth Country Music Festival, which are now more than a decade ago, as my radio career has taken me in a different, more city-based direction.

Despite my inner-city reputation, I actually know a fair bit about country music, and I have lots of great “special experts” to draw upon to supplement the areas in which my knowledge is a little short. Having grown up in Lismore, I grew up with a lot of country music. Johnny Cash, Conway Twitty, Loretta Lynnn and the like were the soundtrack to my youth. And then having lived in a number of other country towns, I learned a lot more. I visited the Tamworth Country Musical Festival several times, as well as other festivals like Barmera and Gympie, and there was was even one year where I was a judge for Tamworth. For me, country music, the authentic stuff (I was never into anything cheesy) has been a strong part of “who I am”.

But having worked in “capital city radio” over the last decade, my attention has been drawn away from country music until recently when my attention has been brought back on a few levels. And so I’ve been listening to a lot of country music over the last few weeks, and revisiting some wonderful “old friends”.

It wasn’t intended. It was something which came out of the re-structure of the ABC announced back in November. As a result of the changes, the people looking after “ABC Country” were made redundant, which meant responsibility for keeping the station on air fell with me. Realistically, there’s not a lot of work required, as the station operates pretty much as an automated playlist station without presenters.

That said, it’s important for it to remain contemporary, which means adding in new songs, and it’s important that it should sound like a radio station, and not someone’s ipod!

So I took it on, and was determined to achieve a few things. First, we’ve changed the station identifications which I hope bring a little more “life” to the sound, especially as they feature “real people” who are country fans. Second, we increased the amount of Indigenous performers on the station to include some wonderful new performers like Dewayne Everett-Smith, as well as classic performers like Roger Knox and The Mills Sisters. Third, we’ve increased the amount of Australian content from around 25% to about 70% at the moment. Fourth, we’ve introduced a new category of music called “classic country” which pays respect to some of the great performers of the past. And I have a great team of “volunteers” (country music fans within the ABC) as well as paying for some people with expertise in the area to help with the transformation. Honestly though, it’s been for LESS than the smell of an oily rag🙂

And for me it’s been a real passion project, mostly done “out of hours”. I genuinely love listening to the station, and I’ve re-developed my passion for country music. I love it.

And with that in mind, I thought I’d share a few of my favourites I’ve discovered in the last few months…

And in case you’re wondering, I’ve even managed to sneak in a couple of Swedish tracks in, aas part of the desire to play more than just country from Nashville, but to feature performers from other countries also.

Oh, and one of my all-time favourites is by a Canadian singer-songwriter, Fred Eaglesmith, who I developed a major singer/songwriter crush on about a decade ago. I’ve met him a few times, have interviewed him a few times, and have seen him perform live. His songs display both a wonderful sensitivity, as well as a great sense of humour. This song, “Alcohol & Pills” is my all time favourite by Fred: telling the story of amazingly talented people whose lives were lost to alc…

Hank Williams, he came up from Montgomery
With his heart full of broken country songs
Nashville, Tennessee, didn’t really understand him
‘Cause he did things differently
Then the way that they were done
But when he finally made it to the Grand Ole Opry
He made it stand still
He ended up on alcohol and pills
Elvis Presley, he came up from Jackson
With a brand new way of singing, Lord
And a brand new way of dancing
And even from the waist up, Lord
He gave the world a thrill
He ended up on alcohol and pills
Alcohol and pills
It’s a crying shame
You’d think they might have been happy with
The glory and the fame
But fame doesn’t take away the pain
It just pays the bills
And you wind up on alcohol and pills
Janis Joplin, she was wild and reckless
And then there was Gram Parsons
And then there was Jimi Hendrix
The story just goes on and on
And I guess it always will
They ended up on alcohol and pills
Alcohol and pills
It’s a crying shame
You’d think they might have been happy with
The glory and the fame
But fame doesn’t take away the pain
It just pays the bills
And you wind up on alcohol and pills
Sometimes somebody
Just doesn’t wake up one day
Sometimes it’s a heart attack
Sometimes they just don’t say
They pulled poor old Hank Williams
Out of a Cadillac Coupe de Ville
He ended up on alcohol and pills
Alcohol and pills
It’s a crying shame
You’d think they might have been happy with
The glory and fame
But fame doesn’t take away the pain
It just pays the bills
And you wind up on alcohol and pills
And you wind up on alcohol and pills

Half My Life

A few months ago, you might recall, I made a post here about my twenty-five years of continuous service with the ABC.

The official employment offer letter states it was twenty five years today that I was offered a job at the ABC. I’d previously been employed at the community radio station at Bourke in Western NSW. I’d applied for a few ABC jobs during the previous six months. When the call came through from Don Bensted offering me the position, I actually had to ask him “for which job”. In reality, it didn’t matter much to me, as I’d long wanted to work for ABC Radio. I have a vague memory of finishing work in Bourke on a Wednesday or a Thursday, driving overnight via Broken Hill, and of arriving in Renmark on a Thursday or Friday afternoon. I’m pretty sure I went to air the following Monday, though it’s possible I had a few days to settle in. Twenty five years later and I’m still working for the ABC. Along the way, I’ve been the Morning Presenter in Wagga Wagga, the Statewide Afternoon and Drive presenter in NSW, and have acted in other jobs in Darwin, Perth, Canberra and Lismore. Ten years ago I made the switch from on-air presenter to Manager which wasn’t as traumatic as I thought it might be ego-wise. In a lovely piece of symmetry, I’m currently back in Regional Radio, working as the National Manager of our regional stations. I’ve had many great opportunities over the last twenty five years, and I continue to love working for a really terrific organisation. Win.

Today I received a medal which commemorates this moment in time.

At today’s “ceremony” I told the story of how I’d once dated a guy at work. A few years later, having broken up with him, I caught up with him and he asked if I still worked for the ABC. When I told him I did, he said, in a very negative tone “I always knew you’d be a lifer”. I told those attending I didn’t see it as a negative, even though in this modern world, it’s generally regarded as odd that you should work for the same organisation for such a long time. I told everyone I’d had so many wonderful opportunities to do so many different things, to live in many different parts of the country, and genuinely love my current job and the people I work with. Receiving the medal was a very proud moment for me, and something I’ll really treasure for many years to come. “It’s my Matthew Mitcham moment”, I joked.

Interesting fact: the medal was designed by Andor Meszaros who also designed the Olympic Commemoration Medallion for the Melbourne Olympics in 1956.

I received some lovely comments on social media and via email.

Sweet! Congrats to a great fella!

It’s when I are that gold I know I should have stayed on for a few years. (It is good, right?) well done Jimmi

Wow. 25 years. Congratulations James. You going for 50?

Late to this but nonetheless congrats. on your award. Segue to a sporting achievement, to wit the marathon, Minister O’Brien.

Fantastic! Do you get 25 weeks bonus leave as well?

Congrats James. The medal looks good!

I know you’re in another meeting otherwise I’d call but congratulations on your 25 years. I can’t imagine making that kind of milestone. It’s a tribute to your commitment not just to the ABC but also to the medium. The passion shows. Congratulations and enjoy the celebration. Tea and cake I presume.

Welcome to the club x

Congratulations on the medal of service to the Abc. Simon showed me the photo! Thanks for staying with the abc and enriching the lives of your audiences in NSW and beyond. I remember listening to you on NSW regs whilst visiting Byron Bay one year! Thanks for your hard work and support through the years – it really is appreciated! I hope the accompanying champas was delish!!