I used to work as the phone monkey and director of first impressions at a popular, once formidable, FM radio station in Brisbane. Funny how I ended up doing that job after twelve years of teaching. I used to have thirty state high school students under my thumb everyday. I was there to teach and they had no choice but to learn it. Being boss was both intoxicating and comforting. I knew how the day would pan out. I knew the job like the back of my own hand. Boredom drove me into the arms of a long held fantasy. I would become a radio announcer!
As this brainwave struck me at the age of 34 and I hadn't an ounce of relevant experience, I took an entry-level job to gain some. I became a receptionist, much to my father's chagrin, at a radio station. The constant complaints on the phone and the steady stream of couriers, listeners, celebreties and basic whackos required the hyper-vigliance of a soldier in Vietnam. Tenacity was required. I took the job to make contacts and learn new skills. I had to hang in there. Besides, I loved radio.
As a child of the '70s, I'll never forget the first time I heard FM radio in stereo. As I had grown up snuggled next to the old fashioned AM receiver that was cleverly disguised as some stylish piece of sideboard furniture, ensconsed in laminex, hearing Radio 10 in stereo through my walkman in 1981 was a revelation. Surely I could conjure that same feeling in my daily occupation??? My journals henceforth, will be chronicling my times as an ambitious radio receptionist.
Radio stations seem to attract unstable and deeply unhappy people. Despite the neutral delivery of the announcers, some people still view the radio station as essentially, a friendly kind of place. They come to make contact. 'Gary' bore a strange resemblance to that blonde guy in 'Love My Way'. But more crestfallen. He first appeared as a threat to be monitored. The lobby has this blind spot in front of the elevator and the corner was fitted out with one of those bulbous mirrors for vision. Gary stepped from the lift into the small alcove, and considering himself unseen, proceeded to unzip his jeans and reach far inside. Needless to say I was alarmed. From my vantage point, I was able to activate the silent alarm. This was supposed to inspire grown men to clamour to my rescue. The girl needed help, and I wasn't sure what he was going to do. Was he reaching for a gun? I'd heard the stories about the previous receptionist having a large pot plant hurled at her head over something Fat Cat had said. Let's not take any chances here.
Was he going to get his John Thomas out to frighten me with or did he have an irresistable need to scratch himself? Just why did he have his hands down his pants?
Long legged heroic types were at my side by the time Gary made his grand debut. Brandishing a harmless packet of Drum, he nonchalantly began to roll a spliff in the central lounge. I guess he didn't have a gun after all. Half an hour of coaxing was required to remove Gary from his new found home. G was a fan with personal problems. He cried like a baby about his last failed relationship. Apparently he hadn't been home in days and had been on an ugly bender at the Casino. In fact, he'd 'just come from there' and 'would we like a cold VB?'
Gary slobbered in every morning for a fortnight after that. After a week of dancing the same unintelligible routine with him, I resorted to handing him pen and paper for him to write out his whacky requests. With a jet-stream of Bacardi breath, Gary would challenge me as to whether his messages ever got through to their intended recipients, and with considerable mirth, I swore to him they did.
She looked remarkably like Marty Feldman on a bender.
Shelley stumbled from the methadone clinic into our garden hedge. Unfortunately, she was a very ugly woman. Each time Shelley presented herself to me at the reception desk, she was whacked from methadone. A government funded clinic was located directly behind the radio station near the Roma Street lock-up. It was no longer surprising to find emaciated people shooting up near your car or behind the industrial bin.
Shelley stalked me for about two months. She was the source of much amusement for an amateur anthropologist. She appeared to be in her mid to late forties. Age is always difficult to judge when serious drugs are involved. She was very stooped and skinny and any attempt she made at verbal communication would be interrupted with sudden and violent spasms. Apparently, Shelley loved Guns and Roses and was mother to a son by the name of Axel. He'd been taken away from her by family services. Her long rants about him would be randomly punctuated with recitations of lyrics from random ‘80s songs...“My little man Axel means everything to me. Those government fuckers took him away…and (insert Depeche Mode tune) “when I’m with you babe, I just go out of my head, and I just can’t get enough.” Unbeknownst to me, Shelley also visited the receptionist from B105 radio. Apparently she had presented Hilda with a naked plastic doll and threatened her with voodoo spells and other incantations.
Said place of work was anchored on the apex of a nasty little hairpin turn, notorious for swallowing small cars and mopeds. The architecture of the building allowed the boss to view the exact point at which the William Jolly Bridge connects the quay. That was the last place I saw her…completely fucked off her tits and attempting to walk in front of traffic.
My journey into the world of radio would have to start at the bottom of the shit heap. The following will attempt to outline a typical day working as a receptionist for Triple M.
Catch the train.
Zone out with some Hoodoo Gurus on the walkman with the loose fitting head phones.
Get berated on the train by ugly little ferret who would rather humiliate me loudly about the offensive volume than give me a brotherly ‘wink wink nudge nudge’. (and that's just a taste of the Ipswich line commuter demographic)
Suffer humiliation in front of a packed train of smirking high school kids.
Discover that ferret owns a Triple M back pack.
Have smug fantasises that when he comes to collect his U2 tickets I will allocate him the crappiest seats in the venue.
Walk from Roma Street Station to North Quay.
Step over previously mentioned junkies.
Smile back at ‘Sven’ backpacker types.
Arrive at work and am greeted with the salutation “Is the coffee van here yet?”
Turn the phones on and pray that I don’t have to answer 300 calls like the day before and that none of the announcers have said anything too provoking.
Settle a wager between two factory workers as to whether Mark Knopfler is singing Hawaiian ‘noises’ or ‘oysters’ in Money for Nothing.
Navigate a listener calling from her mobile who claims she’s driving the wrong way up North Quay.
Spin lies to get rid of a woman renowned for stalking our breakfast announcer Marto.
Shake my head at the staff member who begins our interaction by asking me how I am, then without pausing to find out, launches into their own infinite black hole of need.
Roll my eyes at Brian from Kingston who calls to complain about the jocks ruining his ‘mixed tape’ by talking over the intros and outros of songs.
Attempt to diffuse an angry soldier on the phone who was determined to convince the station to broadcast from Iraq.
Interrupt a long diatribe about aluminium trays for utes to inform caller he had the wrong “Triple M”. Rattle off the number he should have called by heart. Impress stranger because I did a better job than Telstra Directory.
Try to block out the bimbo I work next to because she won’t stop banging on about her personal problems.
Fear for my life when anonymous caller threatens to beat me with a length of lumber that’s 2 inches thick and 4 inches wide if we played that Ashlee Simpson song one more time.
Attempt to keep my cool when a courier abuses me for his mistake.
Miserably fail at explaining the concept of satire when an angry Steady Eddy type calls to complain about playing Randy Newman’s ‘Short People’
Deflect deluded rock star wanna-be stalking the station wanting feedback about his song titled “Bigger than your Mum’s Bum”
Act as a basic venting receptacle for everyone’s angst and being expected, by management, to smile my arse off through it all.
Is it any wonder that by the end of it all, I had the attention span of a gnat?