“Oh, you know, fuck”: In 40 years, PBS has never had to be more brave

“Oh, you know, fuck”: In 40 years, PBS has never had to be more brave

Words by Tom Parker

The beloved community radio station needs your help more than ever.

We’ve seen the effect the current crisis has had on live music venues; we’ve spoken to artists to see how they’re faring, but what about another crucial sector of the arts industry – community radio?

They’ve been forced to adapt just as swiftly as the rest of the industry around them. Radio is like the Albus Dumbledore of broadcast mediums – wise, experienced and perpetually trusted but how has it fared amidst the coronavirus commotion?

“Oh, you know, fuck” are Adrian Basso’s first words when I reach him on the phone. The PBS 106.7FM General Manager is chatting to me from the front porch of his Melbourne home where he’s working away, trying to keep his radio station afloat.

To keep the spirits high, Basso and his family of a wife and two kids have recruited a ‘pandemic puppy’.

“Because ‘why not?'” Basso continues.

The incredibly approachable and friendly Basso is keeping his head held high despite the current turmoil and you can’t ask for much more than that. Basso has been at the helm of the cultural institution we once called 3PBS since 2007 and has steered the beloved radio station through an ever-competitive digital age. But this situation is unprecedented and even though he had an inside scoop, Basso admits it’s been a challenge to keep up.

“Work-wise, we’ve just been trying to cope and deal with the situation and stay on air and keep pumping stuff out,” Basso says.

“So on the [Labour Day] long weekend when shit started to hit the fan, I’ve got family in Italy just where that major outbreak happened and could see it getting out of control out there. So I went to work that week and was like, ‘We need to get hand sanitisers and stuff’ and I was getting eye rolls from staff.

“Then we closed the front door, reduced access to the station. Just the volunteer announcers were the only ones who were permitted in – all the other volunteers were told that they didn’t need to come in and the last few weeks, we’ve just had one staff member there during the day in a rotation to keep the firelight going.”

It’s been a tight ship that’s for sure given the stringency of today’s restrictions, but reduced personnel hasn’t put a stop to creativity. For Basso, the radio station is sounding more crisp, energetic and innovative than ever before.

“We’ve had announcers really keen to come in and, in many ways, we’ve never sounded better because none of them [the announcers] are on holidays. A lot of them would be doing gigs around this time of year with all the festivals and stuff, which is a bit unfortunate [in itself].

“But the fact is that they’re at home, they’re surrounded by their record collection and I think they’re spending way more time preparing for their shows and the station hasn’t sounded better.”

Basso says the listener response has been fantastic.

“The feedback from listeners has been amazing. Our text-line has been non-stop … and we took a pretty early decision to say, ‘Look, we don’t want to bang on about COVID’, even if we could it’s not in our nature to.

“The Breakfast Spread stopped doing news, because news is just COVID this, COVID that, COVID this and the decision was to be a respite for our listeners and a place of comfort and I think we’ve been doing that.”

Across its 40-year history, PBS has been a place for people to come and congregate and learn not just about music and the arts but also about culture and diversity. Whether we know about it or not, PBS is a major generator of our sociality – it informs what we do outside our 9-5 and how we occupy our weekends. The radio station essentially underpins peoples’ recreation, life’s prized possession.

As a result, PBS needs gigs and events to be happening for it to survive.

“[When coronavirus hit] all the gigs started closing, the venues cancelled this, cancelled that. The music industry and the performance industry were the first to suffer this I suppose and all that filtered through us as well. A big part of our income is sponsorship, all the clients just stopped,” Basso says.

Alongside sponsorship stemming from the very events it promotes, PBS survives off its subscriber base which sees loyal listeners pledge their support via an annual donation which in turn scores them a bunch of goodies. As contributions from one avenue dry up, the alternative tributary is more crucial than ever.

“We’ve got listeners who subscribe, so we’ve always thought, ‘We’ll be there for them’ and now we’re hoping, and the early indications are pretty strong, that they’ll be there for us.”

PBS 106.7FM is coming up to its annual Radio Festival which won’t see the usual buzz physically envelope its Easey Street location, but the occasion is more important than ever.

“So we won’t have a phone room full of volunteers. We’ll have a few people to take calls but we’re going to be encouraging all our listeners to jump online if they can and do it online,” Basso says.

“[This year’s] theme is ‘You Can’t Stop The Music’ … and we want people to help us not stop the music by keeping us on air. The Radio Festival sets us up for the year ahead, just operational costs – it’s expensive to run a radio station – we do this once a year and we really pull out all the stops.

“Every year has been good, this year’s probably more important than ever and we hope that people will do that and jump onboard. There’s all these different ways that people can support whether it be a small donation to a large donation. Every little bit helps.”

Radio Festival kicks off on Monday May 18, but anyone who subscribes from now until Sunday May 31 will go into the draw for a huge bag of prizes and surprises.

Alongside a swag of daily prizes including food and drink hampers, vouchers, tickets and merch packs, the list of 2020 major prizes include a scooter courtesy of Peter Stevens Motorcycles, a handmade electric guitar from Clingan Guitar Tone in Collingwood, an Audiophile turntable as well as other things such as an entire year’s worth of PBS feature albums and a new road bike from My Ride Collingwood.

Find out more about the 2020 PBS Radio Festival here and become a PBS member here.

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