This radio station is ‘Keepin it Alive’ in the middle of the desert

In this two-part series, radioinfo’s Kim Napier visited one of Australia’s most remote community radio stations, spending time with the announcers and learning about their love for community broadcasting.

Wilcannia is a small town located within the Central Darling Shire in north western New South Wales, 958 k’s from Sydney.
Its population is around 600 with 77% of Aboriginal descent.
I visited in January during a drive from Adelaide to Sydney and was keen for a tour of the local radio station, 103.1 Wilcania River Radio after it was featured in a BBC documentary I watched.
My indigenous girlfriend, also named Kim (she heads up the national Recognise Campaign to have Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples recognised in the Federal Constitution), grew up in Wilcannia.
I asked her if she could put me in touch with the DJ interviewed in the doco, who happened to be her cousin, Smacka.
Smacka was happy to organise a tour and some interviews as their website advertises they “love interviewing travellers”.
First some history.
It was in 2009 whilst attending a community meeting in Wilcannia, Janelle Whitehead from MPREC, the peak provider of services to Indigenous communities, heard locals wanted the Radio Station re-established, after it had been shut down several years before.
According to the radio station’s website, “Janelle went about securing funding to build a new Radio Station with limited start up funds, using local labour and attracting locals to commence broadcast traineeships.
“The Station became operational soon after this with no name, just the frequency 103.1FM. After consultation with the community and the broadcasters, the Wilcannia River Radio came about. Wilcannia is located on the Darling River with the slogan “Keepin it Alive” as its catch cry. From this, a logo was produced which is now the symbol of the Station. The logo which means “Community of all ages” and the River, is represented by the different coloured dots.”
It is now the heart and soul of the community.
When I arrived DJ Lil’ Smurf, also know as Synitta Adams was on-air.
DJ Smurf has been announcing at 103.1 for a year.
She travels all the way from Broken Hill 197 km’s away near the South Australian border.
“I come up on a Monday and then I go back on Friday,” she explains.
She is on air for about “7.6 hours a day” in a fulltime paid gig, funded by the Government.
Synitta is a bubbly girl, a fan of Beyonce with all the moves and apparently quite a singing voice.

In fact she loves music and gets to choose her own when on-air.
“My type of music is more new for young kids…RnB, Pop, I like Country as well.”
We chat about many things, from my trip so far to how hot the weather is before I ask why is she called DJ Lil’ Smurf.
“…our boss is really short and there’s a lady that works with us and she’s short too and one of the staff was asking where was our boss and she said “He’s in his Smurf office”, then she told everyone  I said it.
“When everyone sees me now they go, Little Smurf! But I’m taller than most people here,” she laughs.
I ask how important is the radio station to the community?
“It’s very important. You get a call up every day for requests, birthdays and for a shout out especially for sad occasions like a funeral.
“We say it out on the radio, when it is, where it is, so it’s really important it’s how the community gets their news.”
When I was there, there was a handwritten note on the desk from nearby St. Mary’s Pharmacy advertising a sale, alongside details of a forthcoming disco needing a plug.
“If anyone wants anything they want the community to know, they come here.”
And while DJ Smurf is comfortable chatting with the locals she says she gets nervous if she has to talk on-air to an “outsider”.
I tried to explain that being nervous isn’t a bad thing and even the most seasoned of performers have a case of the butterflies. I went on to say it was adrenaline and it’s a good thing because it means you value what you are doing, it’s important to you and basically, you don’t want to stuff it up.
I then suggested she practice interviewing travellers starting with me.
“I’m really nervous now,” she said with her head in her hands.
So I offered this analogy; imagine we are two chicks at St Mary’s Pharmacy having a yarn about which perfume and hair products we like better. I’ll even hold you hand across the desk.
“It’s a long desk,” she says, before beginning to set up the panel.
I was straight away her biggest fan. She was VERY nervous but she was brave enough to try which made me nervous because I didn’t want to scare her, just encourage.

Next week Kim chats with former DJ, Smacka and current announcer Brendon on the importance of community radio, and a very proud moment for the station.

           Kim Napier

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