Fifty years ago - it's a long time to remember. I'm lucky (or unlucky, depending on your point
of view) that I can remember many of the things that happened back then in my early days in
One of those events was the introduction of Radio Ranch
, and its first few shining years.
The people who started Radio Ranch were Phil Charley
and Dick McLaren
, who had been mates for
years before they teamed up together on 2LM Lismore, in the NSW Northern Rivers district, and
began, among many other things, the Radio Ranch saga in 1951.
I was a member of the same announcing team but had left the station for a time to sample the
joys of big city life as a newsreader at Sydney's 2UE. But the lure of country radio, with its
free and easy lifestyle in those days, plus the promise of learning how to manage a radio
station made me return to 2LM just after Phil and Dick had started the show. (Being a manager
would pay a better rate than being a local personality, I was about to get married - and 2LM had
offered me the chance of learning under the patient skills of the then manager Keith Spencer
2LM was not typical of country radio stations at that time, at least so we thought. It had a bit
more class than others, although stations like 2GZ in Orange and 2WG Wagga had much better
reputations. But under the guidance of Keith Spencer, the announcers were encouraged to develop
new programs. If you got a new show going, and the broadcast time happened to change to your day
off, you went in and did it anyway. We did it because we enjoyed it - certainly not for the money.
2LM was housed in a few rooms on the first floor of the Northern Star newspaper building at the
end of Molesworth Street Lismore, handily placed right opposite the police station. There was
one studio - a big room which housed the broadcast console with its few switches and four
turntables, plus a baby grand piano and a few wooden stools along the walls. Every program came
out of that studio. Then there was a control room, about the size of a couple of shower recesses
side by side, with a general office outside. When not on the air, the announcers wrote
advertising copy, using a room not wanted by the newspaper reporters during the day.
Commercial recordings were coming back into the market after the war years, and we would get a
catalogue of new records about every fortnight. It was the job of the boss to pick the ones we
ought to play, since the era of free recordings for radio stations hadn't yet happened. With the
advent of Radio Ranch, there was a much better chance that Keith would include some c and w
(or, sorry, "hillbilly") as it was previously known.
Tape recorders were just coming into vogue. 2LM had a Ferrograph, quite a famous brand of
"portable" tape recorder. Normally it was located in the control room, but if we took it out on
location its portability was a sad joke. I've still got a crook shoulder from lugging it around!
If a big star came to town, we would try to make a recording of some of his or her songs which
we'd broadcast the following Saturday morning, and would keep for repeat broadcasts when there
was a shortage of stars on the scene.
Radio Ranch went to air at 9:30 each Saturday morning. Phil and Dick would assume their Radio
Ranch roles as Moose and Trigger. The idea was to play the new records, read a few letters,
share some jokes and introduce some local new talent. It was a full hour, and I have a vague
recollection that later in its history it was extended to an hour and a half.
The third member of the original team was Geoff Ryan
. Geoff was a very kind and courteous
gentleman, and very popular as 2LM's breakfast announcer. He decided that he would be the
comedian of the show, and created a character known as "Uncle Zeke" - generally referred to as
"Zeke". (That name stuck; we would often call him Zeke when we were working side by side putting
other programs together or collecting advertising copy from our sponsors).
Uncle Zeke had a horse named Gus.
Geoff was very quick witted. Someone asked him whether he had a good horse or not, and Geoff,
as Zeke, created a horse on the spot, complete with information on the horse's diet and ancestry.
When I arrived, I was invited to be part of the program. Somehow or other, I got the name of
"Buck Hawkins". I must have come in when someone went on holidays, and I just hung around.
One day, the conversation on Radio Ranch got round to family names, and one of us asked Zeke what
his full name was. Apart from the fact that he stoutly maintained that his name was the same
whether he was full or sober, Zeke insisted that his true name was Zeke Cholmondley O'Zandovitch.
There was a long silence as we all figured out what that was all about. Then Zeke added -
Perhaps I should add that Geoff was an enthusiastic non-drinker.
Dick, Phil and I broke up laughing. The only person not laughing was Geoff, or Zeke. He let us
go for a while, then in his wavering Uncle Zeke voice, demanded to know what was so darned funny
about a name like Zeke Cholmondley O'Zandovitch - Junior". We couldn't say. We had to play a song
to fill the gap while we recovered.
Some of the amateur talent Radio Ranch found was very good indeed, and some of them could have
made it in the business if they'd wanted to. I'm told the people in the shops always knew when
it was Saturday - they'd see all these people in their cowboy gear tramping up the street in the
direction of 2LM. They'd have their guitars with them, and we always tried to put the newcomers
on air. Some of them weren't very good, but they all got a word of praise and a "keep on
practising" from Moose and Trigger.
I remember one fellow, Andy. He came in one morning, and he was invited back time and time again.
He was one of the local postmen, so someone christened him "The Singing Postman", much to his
Word got around about the program, and we started to get copies of imported records from all
sorts of people. Imported records were very much in short supply. They were usually brought into
Australia by Aussies returning home from a trip, usually by ocean liner, because air travel
hadn't many fans. It was costly, noisy and risky.
When I talk about records, I'm talking about the old fashioned 78s. The kind you played by
putting on a turntable, putting a needle in a "pick-up", and tracking the needle in carefully so
the pick-up didn't jump. These discs were very breakable and had to be handled with care. Radio
announcers in those days were used to treating records very carefully. If you broke a popular one
, you'd probably never get another copy.
But there were some exceptions. I once got so heartily sick of one particular disc (later they
were called "platters") that I threw it out the 2LM studio window, and reported it broken - as it
undoubtedly was. The next day the same record was again in my program, with a note from the
record librarian which said "HA! Tricked you! I had another one... but watch it, brother".
For some time, Phil had been playing around with an idea. He wanted to start a Radio Ranch
magazine for the members of Radio Ranch - the "Ranch Hands". He called it "Spurs", and it came
into being in May 1952. It sold for the princely sum of one shilling and sixpence - the equivalent
of 15 cents.
Originally printed by a friend of Phil's, Spurs soon had to change printers. The radio station
was owned by the Northern Star newspaper and they had difficulty understanding why we didn't
give them the printing order. The General Manager had so much difficulty that he gave us an
ultimatum - give it to them to print, or stop printing it! We changed printers.
We convinced the newsagents in the vicinity that they should stock it, and it sold well. All we
needed to do was to advise everyone that "Spurs is out", and they'd pour into the shops to get
their copy. We also had a fairly large subscription list.
The first issue had a short item about one of the biggest stars of the day, Smoky Dawson, a
letter from Slim Dusty welcoming the onset of Spurs, a serial - written by Phil - called
"Desperados of Crystal City". (Phil wrote it under the name Judd Masters - perhaps he didn't
want his authorship to be made public. Phil left the show before the serial finished in Spurs,
but he sent us the final chapter just in time for the next issue). There was also a review of
some of the latest Australian records featuring performers like Tommy Mack, and Buddy Williams as
well as some Americans. Uncle Zeke's horse had a letter published (he must have known the editor)
, an astrologer gave us the horoscope of Shirley Thoms, and there was an exclusive report from
an eye witness of Zeke's wedding day. True it was, Zeke had just married, although he used the
name Geoff Ryan for the ceremony.
The team began to break up when Dick bought himself a small business (selling electrical goods
and records), and Phil took off on his first job in management at 4ZR Roma, and later 2QN
deniliqyuin - after that taking off to help establish commercial radio in New Guinea, and later
to be Operations Manager at 2CH Sydney. That left Uncle Zeke and me. We carried on regardless,
occasionally introducing newcomers to the station as special personalities on the show. One was
, later to manage radio stations in Perth, and there was Laurie Magee
whose later career took him into television on the Northern Rivers.
About this time, the station manager at 2KM Kempsey was getting questions from his local listeners.
They told him there was a radio show he ought to get, and that it was on Saturday mornings on
2LM. They insisted, so Bernie Hart
asked us if we could relay the show to them each
Saturday morning. To do this you need landlines, and they were in short supply. But we knew a
post office technician who discovered there was an unused ABC landline available on Saturday
mornings. Radio Ranch was big time! It was then on two stations!
That was the period of the Radio Ranch Concerts. Run to support local charities, they featured
the best local performers from Radio Ranch, and always had a big star as the drawcard. Slim Dusty
, Smoky Dawson, Reg Lindsay, the McKeon Sisters, Ric and Thel and lots of others appeared at
these shows, which would run in Lismore, Casino, Kyogle and Ballina over a week.
This idea had the support of 2LM's new manager, who took over after Keith left for Queensland,
where years later he ran 4AY. Peter le Brun
had been with 2LM for many years and was
always one of the boys.
Slim Dusty was the featured star of our first show. I was able to get him for two reasons - first,
he was just starting to become well known at the time and was hoping to be able to put a show on
the road, and I had known him for about ten years, since he made his first broadcast on 2KM
Kempsey in my program, when we were both about 16.
We used to pay a fee to the stars, but the locals did it for love. One of the star turns in each
concert had nothing to do with country music. It was a routine we developed in which we used to
explain how thoughts could be transferred from one person to another, while one was blindfold
and not allowed to ask questions, and the other would go around the audience who would give him
some item they had with them, and the blindfolded one on stage had to say what it was. It always
worked and amazed the crowd, but the secret of how we did it remains just that - a secret.
We also ran a major Radio Ranch talent Quest. Just sorting out the entries and listening to them
was a major job that had to be done outside our normal working hours (that applied to "Spurs" and
the charity concerts as well). The winner of our big quest made quite a career for himself. His
name was Arthur Blanch.
In 1955, Geoff Ryan and I both decided to move on. We were impatient to try our luck at the big
time - I went to 2WL Wollongong to become their production manager, and Geoff went to Sydney in
search of interesting work. Unfortunately, for personal reasons, he found he had to give up
radio work with its early morning and late night shifts and weekend work, so he eventually made
a career for himself in the Public Service. Later in his life, he ran a program at a community
station on the NSW Central Coast.
Radio Ranch went on. Slim Dusty and Joy McKean took over "Spurs", which then had a short run
before it folded - I believe not for want of effort on their part (and that of Joy's mother) but
because it was at a stage where a lot more work had to be done to establish it on a national
basis, and Slim and Joy were a bit busy for that to happen.
Laurie Magee stepped into Radio Ranch for quite a while, and I heard that Strat Ward
gone to Lismore and was part of the show.
They were great days. It was exciting to see the new talent coming along and being part of a
very popular program. We had a vision of Lismore becoming a centre for what we called "Our Kind
of Music", but that was not to be.
Years later Tamworth did just that - and probably a damn sight better than we could ever have
- Tom Crozier