Back in 1998 I was asked by a friend if I wanted to help out at a Community Radio Station here in sunny ol' Melbourne. The station was called 'Laugh Radio' and was doing test broadcasts in an unusual pseudo-pissing on the wall contest.
Several aspirants were after three permanent positions on the radio dial - two FM, one AM.
89.9FM - Well, not anymore
These groups were given slots on the 89.9FM band for several weeks at a time in order to prove why they deserved to grace the Melbourne airwaves with their presence.
So when I joined in, I was the phone boy for the breakfast program.
I like comedy. I used to listen to a lot of it and watch even more of it. I would occasionally read some of it as well, and eventually because I seemed to know what I was talking about when chatting to the boss of the station, my friend and I got our own program on the weekends and we were able to have some fun.
During the 3-4 years of test broadcasts, Laugh Radio managed to prove that it could get 2% of the listening audience. Which sounds kind of pathetic, but it is actually very impressive given the sporadic nature of the broadcast times, the inability to announce when we would be on air next, the short (from 4-12 weeks) contiguous time on air, the not allowed to advertise etc.
2% was excellent!
Nobody else in the competitor list was able to prove any numbers for their listening audience.
We had 2%, we played comedy 24 hours a day and most importantly, we weren't catering to an already established market. Comedy was a luxury on FM - a "five o'clock funny" which lasted 2-3 minutes.
Other stations played music, preached the importance of their God over everything else, told you that being gay meant you weren't catered for on the radio.
The test broadcasts continued until 2002 when the decision date arrived.
The decision didn't go well for Laugh Radio.
The winners of the three licences were;
The Student Youth Network (SYN) - a university based student radio station which catered for students. Something not already available (with the exception of every other FM station, ie: MMM, Fox, MIX, JJJ, RRR etc).
777 FM (now known as Light FM) - Christian radio catering to an oft-neglected element of our society. Christians. Last Census tells us that over 60% of Australians identify themselves as Christians. Apparently they didn't already listen to the radio.
Koori Radio - The Victorian Aboriginal Community won the AM band slot and honestly, I have no problem with that. Although I wonder what the Aboriginal population of Melbourne is and whether it is more than 2% of us.
There was also another inner city slot available on the FM band with a less powerful signal, so only really available in the inner city. JOY FM won this as it was argued that gay people were not represented on the airwaves also and that they all lived within 10km of the city centre...or something.
So that was it. All over. No arguing, no debate. Kaput.
Laugh Radio was now an ex-radio station.
10 years ago this happened but it still feels kind of raw.
Decision made in 2002, winning stations began in 2003.
Laugh Radio wasn't just a bunch of wannabes, children, gimps or unfunny people who thought they actually were funny. Laugh Radio was a genuinely different radio station offering an escape from the same old music, the depressing news and the boring politics. We had fun, we made people smile, we had callers ringing, emailing and contacting us to tell us what a great idea the station was.
It made people happy.
I watch people on my way to work in their cars. Nobody smiles, everyone is stressed and tired, and they drive angrily.
I wonder how Melbourne might have been a different place had Laugh Radio been able to implant itself as part of the furniture. A channel to flip to in order to escape for a while.
Time flies when you're no longer having fun.