Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been recounting some of my experiences as a volunteer at a community radio station in Brisbane. My task was to answer the phones late on Monday nights for Chuck, an announcer who was politically so far to the right that he was in danger of turning inside out.
Chucks on-air rants were so controversial that nearly every caller was angry and outraged. At times they were so upset that words would fail them, and I would have to help fill in the gaps. And being the sort of person who bores easily, I even started to have a little fun with the few callers who were overly abusive or threatening.
I’d let them rage, scream and swear until they paused for a breath, then I’d say in an official tone, “Thank you for contacting the Australian Federal Police, your call has been traced and an officer will contact you shortly.” Without fail the caller would slam down their phone and I would never hear from them again. I imagined that they had dashed from their homes into the night, and spent the next few years on the run, jumping nervously each time a chopper passed overhead.
And each week, just as the show was wrapping up, one regular listener would call in and point out any flaws in Chucks’ arguments. In spite of loathing Chuck, and everything he stood for, he never missed a show, and I eventually asked him, “Look Phil,” (for that was his name), “why do you do this to yourself? Why do you keep tuning in?”
There was a long period of silence before he replied, ‘Well,” he said finally, “maybe I can change him?”
“Do you think it’s working?” I asked in amazement.
“Um, no. But you never know do you?” he said stoically.
“Oh, you can take it from me Phil, Chuck is never going to change.”
“Well, what about you Greg, do you agree with him?”
“Hell no!” I cried, and hung up leaving him to ponder our curious working relationship. On air, Chuck was such a hard line right winger that Joe McCarthy would have felt embarrassed in his presence, but otherwise, he was a genial, laid back sort of bloke. Even when I’d finally convinced him that I really was a card carrying unionist, he merely grinned and said, “You’ll come around eventually, I’ve got faith in you!” I had been hoping that he would sack me.
After each show Chuck would whip up some great tasting coffee, and we’d discuss the various calls and our political differences. I learned that even though we had wildly differing beliefs, it didn’t necessarily mean that Chuck was ignorant or uncaring about the society we lived in. And Chuck discovered that not all unionists are mindless, loudmouthed, beer swilling yobs, hell bent on destroying the very fabric of society itself; I preferred rum.
We only had one falling out, over whether or not it was Voltaire who said, “Sir, I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend, to the death, your right to say it.” Though we both heartily agreed with the sentiment, and eventually agreed to disagree.
Afterwards I recall saying to Chuck, “I might not agree with a single thing you say, or how you say it, but depending on my mood at the time, I will defend your right to say it, until I get threatened with a black eye or severe financial losses.”
But our peculiar relationship wasn’t to last as Chuck was eventually poached by a commercial radio station and sailed off to pursue a new life as a full time shock jock. I was surprised to learn that a lot of people at the station were sorry to see him go; only because he took his little coffee machine with him.
The selfish fascist!