Radio, radio: sitting in on The Outpost!
Music lover, writer and UTS student Mia Rankin was curious to see a radio show in action, so she joined Vinny Ramone for a live episode of 2SER’s The Outpost last month. It was a packed show, featuring Canadian artist Steve Poltz, Areatha Bryant from Mother Hen Touring as well as Tim Easton all dropping by the studio. These are her impressions of being a fly on the wall for what followed:
You can catch up on more of Mia’s writings on various topics at her substack account, Dead Letter Offices, from which this is reproduced with permission.
Radio, radio: sitting in on The Outpost
When I daydream about potential careers in the music business, on occasion I wonder what it’d be like to host something. Maybe it’s because I’ve watched too much of The Old Grey Whistle Test or Top of the Pops, but some hopeful goblin in the back of my mind believes I could marry my brief drama career with my passion for music. Maybe I could be a radio host. I’m no John Peel, but there’s something about the headphones and microphone look with the mixing desk at your fingers that kind of appeals.
Normally, I would remind myself that there’s nothing more I like doing than writing, and resign myself to trying to get into what is ostensibly the dying career of music journalism. (I’m aware that saying that I want to be a music journalist is like abandoning all the nice buildings on a street and running headfirst into the burning one instead.) But recently, I was very generously offered the opportunity to sit in on a music radio show and learn a bit about the behind-the-scenes activities, so I decided to put down the pen and paper (or close the google document?) and enter the world of radio for a bit.
2SER is a community radio station in Sydney that’s been on the air since 1979. It broadcasts a wide variety of shows from theatre to science, but on Thursdays from 12pm-2pm (and repeats on Sundays from 8am-10am), it’s airing The Outpost, a show that aims to bring you the best of Americana, alt-country, and country rock.
The Outpost is hosted by one Vinny Ramone, who very kindly let me sit in on his show on March 23rd. My first impressions of him were shaped by the following: his Nick Cave shirt, an unexpected passion for Norwegian music, and the preliminary knowledge that he’s buddies with former Go-Betweens member Amanda Brown. In other words, his music nerd credentials seemed pretty strong right off the bat.
Vinny showed me around 2SER HQ, which is a stone’s throw away from my university campus. Having been in a recording studio before, a radio studio didn’t faze me too much. But that’s not to say I didn’t marvel at the mixing desks and mics, or ogle the real live shows being recorded in front of me. A lot of the shows at 2SER are pre-recorded, but The Outpost is done completely live in the studio.
I had chosen an unusually busy episode to sit in on. Normally, The Outpost features one guest who has a slot for roughly 25 minutes, but this episode featured three different guest features.
First up was the Canadian-American singer-songwriter Steve Poltz. While Poltz was outside the studio, Vinny remarked that we had a real live Californian hippie in our midst. I did share in his awe – as an Australian, North Americans feel like an exotic foreign species to me. Their accents never seem real when I hear them talking in person. But Poltz was completely genuine and incredibly funny. Even though I was just sitting in rather than doing anything, he went out of his way to chat with me and make me feel included. And on air he was a firecracker. Full of jokes and good humour, Poltz was so gregarious that Vinny didn’t even need to refer to the interview questions he’d prepared earlier.
“Some people I get on here really love to talk,” Vinny had told me. “And others give you very short, one-word answers. You have to coax stuff out of them.”
The next two guests, Areatha Bryant and Tim Easton, came in together so I thought they were a package deal. Turns out I was wrong. Areatha Bryant is a promoter at Mother Hen Touring who had finally decided to bite the bullet after being asked time and time again to make an appearance on The Outpost. Vinny had given her guest programming duties, so over the course of the next hour or so we got to hear some of her song picks. I think this is the part of hosting a music show I’d enjoy the most – just forcing my audience to listen to whatever I wanted for two hours. You could go mad with power. Just look at Kenny Everett playing ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ 14 times over the course of two days.
After Areatha’s guest programming slot, Tim Easton went on air. Tim is an American singer-songwriter who, in my eyes, vaguely resembles present-day Tim Finn in terms of appearance. (The name is just a coincidence.) He had patiently sat through the songs to perform his own called ‘Voice On The Radio’, which was beautiful to listen to. Though not as extroverted as Poltz, we still had a great chat about Patti Smith and Substack newsletters when we weren’t on air.
I think I felt more like a fly on the wall with these two guests, disappearing into the background until somebody mentioned Billy Bragg (and then of course, being the humongous Billy fan that I am, I just had to pipe up). I’d seen him live the previous Monday and I was all too eager to talk about him as per usual. But otherwise, I was just happy to sit in the corner, simply watching and observing, wondering what it’d be like to be in either the host or guest’s shoes.
The world of radio is still somewhat of an enigmatic one to me. At the press of a button you can go on air and sabotage someone else’s show, or you can broadcast music whilst chatting away unheard in the same studio. There’s rules with run times and song queues that I’m still getting my head around. During the show, I’d sometimes be worried when I would be allowed to speak, since I feared I’d accidentally have a stray cough or giggle of mine aired live around Sydney. But Vinny was a great tour guide, and I wouldn’t say no to coming back. Maybe this time I’ll sit at the interview desk.