Tribute to a Loveable Rogue

 Obituary by Peter Saxon

After 54 years in radio, the last 21 with 3AW, Keith McGowan aged 68 decided to retire. He pulled his last Mid – Dawn shift on July 22, 2011.

Taking on retirement at a furious pace, I’d never known him to be more content… more at one with the world. A bushie at heart, he and his soul mate, Angela, would pack up “The Blue Ranger” and head off into the scrub for weeks on end listening to some remote radio stations along the way. They were living their dream. Now, sadly, it’s over.

Keith McGowan passed away aged 70 at 11 pm last night, the result of a massive stroke from which he failed to regain consciousness. He was surrounded by the people he loved.

Over the past two and a half years, Keith’s written dozens of articles for radioinfo about the stations he’d heard and the characters he knew. His profiles were mainly about people who may not be the biggest stars in the business, but are nonetheless the foundations upon which this industry is built. People much like Keith himself.

He loved writing. He said it was cathartic and kept him connected with the industry he loved. His articles were extremely popular with our readers.

The last thing I expected or wanted was to have to write an obituary for my friend – just three days out from Christmas.

It was in 1973 at 2KA in Katoomba when I first met up with Keith who was then program director. He was just 30, and I was 21, when he hired me to do Nights before I went on to Afternoons. At the time the station, which has since converted to FM and is now known as The Edge, was playing Country music – serious Country like Hank Williams, Charlie Pride and Merle Haggard – targeting the rapidly growing outer western suburbs of Sydney with a signal that could barely reach it.

Keith ran the announcing roster old school, like a captain-coach of a regional football team. If there was method and research that went into the programming of 2KA, I was unaware of it. Instead, there was a lot of  team bonding built on unbridled enthusiasm and a passion for Radio with which he infected all of us.  

There was nothing conventional about Keith. He was the quintessential larrikin  – a wild, wild man at times who often went out of his way to shock you.

Left to Right: Keith, Phil Rawstrom (known on-air as Jack Daniels), Country legend Reg Lindsay, young Nathan McGowan, Greg Evans. Photo: Supplied

It was a Saturday when all of us young jocks, bar whoever was on air that night, drove down the mountains to the Sydney Opera House where Keith had organised the worst seats in the house for us to see Susan Raye  who had a hit with L.A. International Airport and Buck Owens and The Buckaroos whose big hit at the time was Made in Japan.

Coming out of the show, Keith spotted a high profile radio identity dining at the three hatted Benelong restaurant. I can’t recall exactly who it was. It might have been Nick Erby, or someone like him, but I could be wrong. Anyway, Keith took us all inside, much to the dismay of the tuxedoed wait staff, and struck up a conversation, much to the dismay of the radio identity who was terrified that we’d all sit down and join him at his table.

Of course, that was not going to happen as we couldn’t come up with the price of one scoop of ice cream between the lot of us at the Benelong. So we just stood around while Keith chatted.  It must have looked like one of those classic scenes from a Marx or Blues Brothers movie (and countless others) where the riff raff manages to get past the maitre de and infiltrates the genteel diners at the upmarket eatery.

Keith was determined to play the scene out. So, as we were (finally) leaving, he spied a large tray of petite fours at one of the dessert stations. He marched up to the tray, grabbed two of the delicate morsels and with great flourish worthy of Oliver Hardy, stuffed them both into his mouth. The waiters went into meltdown as we slunk out of the retaurant red faced from embarrassment while Keith held his head high.

The 2KA studios and a small two room office space were situated above the Rural Bank (now engulfed by Westpac) in Katoomba Street. It was cricket season and Keith decided that the office was a reasonable place to have a game between us using a tennis ball and a mic stand for a bat. The bank manager had to come upstairs three times and threaten to call the police if we didn’t stop.

We were Keith’s extended family. God knows we spent more time together than with our own kin. Radio’s like that. He’d have us over to his house often. He’d bought one of the first colour televisions when they were introduced in Australia. Despite the lousy reception we were amazed to be watching Wimbledon live in colour. It was a historic match between Australia’s Ken Rosewall and America’s Jimmy Connors. Old style versus new. The younger fitter man out-muscled experience and finesse – more’s the pity in this case. It was a great night, nonetheless.

Greg Evans, who was my flatmate and doing Breakfast atv 2KA in the early 70’s says of that time that although Keith was a full on character, “He was never a drinker but used to put port in a bladder and squirt it into our mouths at parties.”

Part of that on-air team at 2KA during the McGowan era, as I recall included…
·       Peter Hand
·       Greg Evans
·       Ian Maurice
·       Leon Byner 
Mark Condon
·       Geoff Brown
·       Phil Rawstrom
·       Richard Perno
·       Mike Wass
·       Dave Gosper
·       Mal Lees

And, no doubt, many more I’ve forgotten and to whom I apologise. 40 years is a long time to remember every person you’ve ever worked with.
Keith was the program manager, appointed by the legendary Rod Muir, the driving force behind program consultancy firm Digamae.

On occasions when Muir himself or one of his cohorts like John (Jaan) Torv or Mike Webb would drive up the Blue Mountains to Katoomba, they would listen to the jocks’ air-checks one by one as we all sat around hoping that we’d still have a job after our reel had been threaded onto the Rola. Apart from his duties as PD, Keith would often fill in for sick or holidaying announcers. His was the last of the air-checks they would lace up. It was a standing joke: “Lucky you’re the PD, Keith, otherwise you’d be out on your arse.”

In the end, Keith showed them, didn’t he?

Keith started at 3UZ in1957 as an office boy and turntable operator. He then went on to 3TR, Channel 10 (a show called Teen Time) 7BU, 7HO, 6PR, 3TR again, 2NM, 2KA, 2HD, 2UW, 3MP, 3DB, 3GL, 3AK and 3AW. That last job at AW as Overnights presenter lasted 21 years until his retirement in 2011.

Below is his first on-air job at 3TR  circa 1961and his last at 3AW.


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