Unquestionably, presenters were part of 2MBS’s early success story. And by the middle of 1975 the number of subscribers was higher than expected. That David Rumsey was the first presenter is suggestive in its symbolism. While not a professional broadcaster, he was a professional organist and teacher at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. His voice on air added authority to the presentation of music. Rumsey recalls his ideal, shared by all involved in programming at 2MBS: “always aiming for the best, technically and musically”.
Rumsey wasn’t the only music presenter who made voice and speaking an asset. Whereas his enthusiasm, as he began his long running program ‘State of the Art Bach’, was measured, knowledgeable, even erudite, another voice well-remembered by listeners from those years was vivid, almost manic and over-the-top: that of Richard Gaze, first heard on 29 December 1974. Gaze had been an announcer on commercial radio, and had acted in radio plays. You could hear that in his manner of presenting serious music, in the program ‘Mainly Baroque’. He had even written radio comedy, and his broadcasting illustrated why media guru Marshall McLuhan called radio a ‘hot medium’. Gaze introduced music with ear-seizing, lively words. This provoked a reaction, pro or contra – mainly pro. Even those bothered by the presentation could scarcely deny its confidence, and anyway there was always much more music than words. David Rumsey, who knew him through the Sydney Organ Society, realised that Richard Gaze’s radio experience and his considerable musical knowledge would serve 2MBS. Almost immediately he began seminars to train the volunteers who were being encouraged to become announcers.
Programs like those of Gaze and Rumsey became MBS’s recruiting spearheads – in no small part because of their presenters’ personality. Far from making subscription seem unnecessary, they invited it, explicitly in promos, and by presenting programs that sounded eminently worth supporting. Rumsey believes people responded to the generosity that radiated from 2MBS amateurs giving something away for nothing. The extrovert Gaze suggested on air that listeners might call in at 76 Chandos St., bringing their own refreshments He took great pride in founding the Saturday Night Club at the station. Broadcasters sounded a jolly band.
By this time 3MBS-FM had started in Melbourne, and, under the influence of its main founder Brian Cabena, moved quickly in the direction of uninterrupted music, with minimal announcements. One prejudiced 2MBS person, listening to 3MBS on a visit to the southern city, commented that it was like tuning in to the city morgue. Those days are long past, and both stations settled eventually for a happy medium. Announcers and their personalities play a part alongside music, but subservient to it. There will always be listeners who reckon there’s too much talk, but what is undeniable is that the Sydney station throve on its mix, outstripping Melbourne in subscriber numbers.
At the First Annual General Meeting of the MBS Cooperative, on 27 September 1975, there was a lively discussion of spoken word on 2MBS, and it was reported: “there had, it appeared, contrary to some suggestions, been no problem with subscription to 2MBS FM as a result of the policy to announce works being played on air”.
Some claim the founders intended to phase out announcements, but lack of evidence suggests an urban myth. It never happened. The voice of David Rumsey was prophetic. When the ABC followed the MBS stations into FM, in early 1976, it moved away from professional dedicated announcers towards the MBS pattern of programmers presenting music they had chosen. A station for music lovers attracts listeners who want the music brought to them by people who love it. They even come to love many of the presenters. A real radio station…
We will meet more presenters and listeners in subsequent posts, and revisit some of the issues raised here that are perennial at Fine Music 102.5. History repeats itself, but never the same way twice. Watch this space.
David Garrett has been associated with Fine Music 102.5 since before it hit the airwaves 40 years ago. A regular on-air presenter, he is also a former Board member and Treasurer of the organisation. David is well known as a writer and speaker on music and history. His Ph.D. from the University of Wollongong explored how the Australian Broadcasting Commission became a presenter of concerts and builder of orchestras. David has taught history at Monash and Sydney Universities. For thirty years he was a music administrator and programmer, for Sydney Philharmonia, then for the ABC and Australia’s six symphony orchestras.
The research and writing for Fine Music: Forty Years of FM Broadcasting are made possible through a generous donation from station volunteer and former Chairman Ron Walledge.
For information on how to donate or subscribe to Fine Music 102.5 click here.