Coronavirus crisis: Independent broadcaster RTRFM 92.1 presenters reveal the challenge of radio during COVID-19 lockdown

Headshot of Miriam Fisher
Miriam FisherThe West Australian
Email Miriam Fisher
All Things Queer.
Camera IconAll Things Queer.

Screaming cats, chortling magpies and snoring dogs made up part of the suburban soundtrack RTRFM presenters were forced to compete with while working from home during the COVID-19 crisis. Taking the studio home meant the community radio station’s hosts had to get creative in their efforts to keep it on air.

Here’s how five of them did it.

Kael Driscoll from Ambient Zone.
Camera IconKael Driscoll from Ambient Zone.

For Kael Driscoll, living with kids in an apartment block made getting into Ambient Zone mode to pre-record his shows a touch tricky.

“I decided the quietest place to record my talk breaks was actually inside my car as a kind of vocal booth. Of course that day people decided to beep horns and at least three car alarms went off,” he says.

“Definitely had to ask the kids to try to be quiet when trying to record talk breaks inside. This wasn’t always possible as when they were playing Mario or Zelda in the next room you’d get some pretty loud involuntary yells.”

Meanwhile, Rhian Todhunter of Out to Lunch took a different approach to makeshift soundproofing.

“I really missed the soundproof room at the start. I would have to stop recording in the middle of several talk breaks to wait for a truck to rumble past or the magpies to stop chortling, but the ambient noise ended up feeling pretty homey,” she says.

“I definitely sent in a few shows that featured the dog snoring in the background. There was comfort in knowing a lot of the people that were listening would also be at home, probably with their dog snoring away in the background too.

“For recording, I would usually end up half sitting in the cupboard recording talk breaks into my phone with a blanket thrown over my head to soundproof as much as possible.”

Out To Lunch.
Camera IconOut To Lunch.

Despite flooding and foiled plans to relocate to Paris with his wife Sashy Singh, isolation provided plenty of grist for Golden Apples of the Sun/Trainwreck presenter Aarom Wilson’s creative mill.

“With most of our fave belongings already sent to Paris to live in an otherwise empty apartment we’re currently renting (including speakers, audio equipment) producing a show had its challenges, but also provided the perfect distraction,” he says.

“It inspired us to create our first-ever recorded LXXVERS mix, a collab project where we spontaneously jam -- me DJing and FXing whilst Sashy responds with live instruments. Difficulties included our dogs barking (hopefully their approval), our house flooding, electronic equipment soaking, no real vox mic etc. But the opportunity to connect and share with appreciative listeners provided much-needed joy and creative spark.

James Dove of Rock, Rattle & Roll.
Camera IconJames Dove of Rock, Rattle & Roll.

“It’s amazing to see how this period has inspired so many, and we are thankful to have likewise experienced one of the beautiful positives of this iso-era.”

Rock, Rattle & Roll’s James Dove kept calm and carried on despite technical issues and the domestic cacophony.

“Luckily I’m a bit of a music nut so had most of the equipment I needed at home. The biggest issue was doing the show at night so the kids or cats weren’t screaming,” he says.

“Recording a whole half hour and not pressing save (was a low point). I never topped that half hour. It was the best show ever.

“Also playing a 2000 Light Years From Home 45rpm on 33.5rpm realising half-way through the song. I must have been a bit tired by then!”

Siamese Dream/Sunday Morning Coming Down’s Dawn Yates found pre-recording afforded her an unfortunate opportunity to critique herself.

“I made an early decision to only record one take for the talk breaks as much as possible. Radio isn’t perfect. It’s a real person keeping you company with great music and relaxed chats, and so I wanted to keep that feeling even if it couldn’t be live,” she says.

“Listening to yourself ‘live’ on the radio is pretty bizarre. I think my partner found my self-heckling pretty funny. ‘You’re going to use the word “wonderful” AGAIN, Dawn? Really?!’”

Siamese Dream.
Camera IconSiamese Dream.

Presenters took to the challenge of working from home in the same good spirit they apply to their live studio shows, and RTRFM is happy to report the recent easing of social distancing restrictions has meant most have now returned to its Beaufort Street headquarters.

But despite their collective efforts, the hit the not-for-profit outfit has taken to its hip pocket has been significant and the station is now calling on its league of devoted listeners to show some love in return during Radio Love Month to help keep it on the air.

“RTRFM has lost close to a third of our operating revenue due to the cancellation of fundraising events like in The Pines and Neon Picnic. In the interest in protecting our community, it’s likely many planned events won’t go ahead in the months to come. We have also seen the devastating effect some restrictions have had on local business, many of which have been generous supporters of RTRFM. The resulting loss of sponsorship revenue has been difficult,” operations and event manager Chris Wheeldon says.

“The people you hear on RTRFM volunteer their time to share a love of great music, diverse stories, and critical ideas. If you love the fact that independent community radio has existed in Perth for nearly 45 years and want The Sound Alternative to continue to thrive, we’re asking you to donate whatever you can.”

Tax-deductible donations during RTRFM 92.1’s Radio Love Month: Here in Isolation drive can be made at rtrfm.com.au.

Up Late.
Camera IconUp Late.

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails