Radio Skid Row - 40 years of community broadcasting
By ALEC SMART
Radio Skid Row broadcasts from the Addison Road Community Centre in Marrickville. We caught up with Col Hesse, DJ and ex-Marrickville councillor, to find out more about the pioneer station.
Skid Row community radio station, aka 2RSR, can be found at Addi Road among the community arts and cultural organisations in the heritage-listed former Army depot. For the full sonic experience, tune in to 88.9 Mhz on the FM dial, or live-stream from their website.
Col Hesse, environmental campaigner and former Inner West Councillor, hosts a topical and popular Thursday morning program, ‘Close to Home’. When and how did he become involved with RSR?
“Just over eight years ago I read a story in the local paper about Skid Row looking for breakfast presenters,” he said. “I'd served a term on Marrickville Council, and felt that a program that looked at what local government did may fill a space in the media. Gladly the Board agreed, and I've been presenting the program for eight years this January.”
Col’s two-hour broadcast from 7am features guest interviews, local news updates and music.
“I like to mix in some music with two or three live interviews about local government/local issues,” Col reveals, “and often some local music or arts news. I tend to focus on local new Australian music as I think it's important to respect local musicians, and to play new sounds… We have so many great musicians making wonderful music right now, and I think it's vital their music is heard. I love the music I grew up with, but we don't need another radio station playing the same 250 songs from the seventies, eighties and nineties.”
RSR was founded in 1981, when it was a dial-in service that broadcast to neighbourhood drop-in centres, inmates at Long Bay Gaol and Community Youth Support Scheme venues that assisted the young unemployed.
In 1983, RSR secured a community radio licence to broadcast to inner-city Sydney. From humble beginnings in the graffiti-strewn basement of the Wentworth Building on Sydney University campus (beneath what is now student kitchens), Skid Row emerged as a diverse and pioneering station.
Run by volunteers and Initially broadcasting from morning to midnight, it featured foreign language shows and music ranging from punk to reggae to ‘world’ music.
Because of the lack of women in public broadcasting, Skid Row dedicated Fridays as women’s day, when only females hosted shows and managed programming.
In 1985, RSR shared the premises awhile with new Aboriginal community station Radio Redfern (which eventually transitioned into 93.7FM Koori Radio). Radio Redfern’s Indigenous DJs arrived at midnight and broadcast for 10 hours before handing controls back to Skid Row in the morning.
Col Hesse hosts a topical and popular Thursday morning program, ‘Close to Home’.
The name Skid Row - a run-down part of town frequented by vagrants - came about because RSR’s original precept included broadcasting information to Sydney’s homeless population on where to obtain free meals, accommodation and advice.
Ironically, Addi Road, from where RSR now broadcasts, has become a beacon of support for the unemployed, homeless and low-income earners, many of whom have been severely impacted by the worldwide coronavirus pandemic. Addi Road hosts the Food Pantry discount supermarket as well as providing relief food hampers for the seriously disadvantaged.
“The last few years has seen a lot of new people come to Addi Road to access the Food Pantry and other community services,” Col confirmed. “Radio Skid Row, as its names suggests, has always been about standing with the marginalised in our society, and giving them a voice. That's what we're here for. The media market is very narrow in Australia, and with Covid-19 it's become narrower still. Local stories and local voices are being lost, and that's why I believe community radio is more important than ever. I'm very passionate about citizen journalism, about telling our local stories, doing it fairly, and with respect and commitment to our community. That's a passion for me.”
How many shows are broadcast on RSR?
“There are over eighty broadcasters who volunteer with Radio Skid Row, and the programs range widely. Many of the programs come from the various migrant communities that make up our city. For example Saturday during the day is mostly Pacifica programming, with shows from the Maori, Tongan, Cook Islands. Samoan and Niue communities.
“Saturday evening and night is from a couple of the African communities... Our breakfast programs are mostly in English, including Workers Radio, which looks at union and workers’ issues from around Australia and around the world. We also broadcast the very popular "Democracy Now" Monday to Friday at 9am from New York.”
How can people become involved?
“People can get involved in many ways, both as on-air presenters and behind the scenes. if people have an idea for a program they need to pitch the idea to the program committee, but there's many long-running programs that greatly appreciate new ideas, input and help, on and off air.”
Radio Skid Row
Soundcloud archive: https://soundcloud.com/radio-skid-row