We recently had the pleasure of… well… discovering Pulse 89.9FM’s Discovery show! Hosted by Dave every Thursday evening in the Hawkesbury region of Australia, his three hour slot from 7pm (AEST) features exclusively Australian music. Not only that, he hunts for previously undiscovered and independent musicians. His work is undefined by genre or typical radio airplay expectations. His show also has some very interesting quirks, which you’ll have to read further to discover! Honestly, he is a most intriguing and experienced fellow, and we couldn’t help but sit him down in a virtual Darkstereo chair and ask him some questions.
Hi Dave! With 38 Discovery shows now under your belt with PulseFM, I wanted to ask about your history with the station, and programming for local radio in general. How long have you been doing this for? What activities have you been involved in prior to PulseFM, in terms or searching for and promoting Australian music? Are you a musician yourself? Tell us more!
Initially I joined Pulse so I could continue using Amrap as a source of great, varied and original Australian music. The Discovery show actually started at Hawkesbury Radio which held the community radio licence for the area. The show had already built up a listener base both locally and nationally, and when the licence was awarded to Pulse, it was a no brainer to follow the licence. The two main reasons were the community licence allowed me continued access to Amrap, and also kept the show on the local 89.9fm frequency. The priority was continuation for local listeners, even down to holding the same time slot. I’d put a lot into Discovery while at Hawkesbury radio, and it seemed pointless to just pull the plug on the show and disappear because of the loss of the licence. Luckily those who knew of the show followed me from one station to another. It took a bit of convincing to get Pulse to take on the show but it’s more than proved the idea, format and content appeals. So pretty much Pulse started as a full-time community radio station the week I joined them. What I proposed was, to my knowledge, unique in the broad programming of community radio. There are 350+ community radio stations across Australia and most have an Amrap based show. While some simply use Amrap based content to help meet the 25% Australian content that is required on community radio, I personally believe that what I introduce each week is equal to anything you can hear on commercial radio stations, it simply hasn’t got the support or attention from the music industry or commercial media. You could say I’m on a mission, but it’s only half the story. I could easily just sit and play music on the radio, take the easy option and reel off Cold Chisel, Inxs, Midnight Oil etc as part of the content, but what’s original in that? Every radio station across the country does just that. It’s not exciting, it’s not challenging or, in truth, that interesting. Music has to be fresh, original, creative, challenging and emotional. To get the buzz from hearing something that makes you go holy s$%t, get goosebumps, shivers, emotional responses, or stops you dead in your tracks. That same buzz that an artist gets when they hear their music on the radio for the first time.
Why do I do it? I played drums in bands in the UK, recorded some tracks and had doors slammed in my face when approaching radio stations. In simple terms, being on the radio some years later gives me an opportunity to wedge the door open, so new artists do have an option. As you mentioned, the chance to give something back for the many hours of enjoyment music gave me as a performer, makes it just as rewarding as the day I stood on a stage with 25000 people watching me and the band.
My radio journey started at 2mcr, now the sounds of Macarthur in NSW. I missed playing the drums and wanted to somehow be connected with music, something that had been a major part of my life in the UK. I joined 2mcr, started doing a rock show, playing all the usual well-known rock that I grew up with. After a while I decided, I could listen to that at home, and if I could, so could everyone else. I needed to rethink radio, think of something different, find something that people couldn’t just listen to at home. This was before Spotify and streaming became the norm. It’s only 13 years ago but wow, how much has the music industry changed. Is it better now? That’s a question no one can answer. I needed something more if it was going to achieve anything. I started the Wednesday Night Coffee Morning on 2mcr. Wednesday night because it was on a Wednesday, coffee morning? Because I had family and friends who gathered together in the UK for a coffee to listen to me. It all made sense to me even if it confused everyone else!!! The idea, having been introduced to Amrap as a source of content, was to introduce as many artists as possible in 2hrs, which grew to 3hrs as it became popular to listeners. It was very simple idea, 3 featured artist releases, a bio and a triple play from each, and a whole stack of single releases. It worked, in four years I was nominated for a CBAA award for services to Australian music, 3 times. That was reward enough for me, even though I didn’t win, the recognition for the show proved the idea worked.
Moving forward some time, having relocated to Tasmania and finding that radio there didn’t have the same approach or, to a degree, technology, that mainland stations had, I reluctantly returned to Sydney. I joined Hawkesbury Radio during Covid and started with the usual familiar songs and got bored… again. The desire for new music was again niggling at my conscience. I opted to revive the WNCM, but with a different name and a more expansive idea than I’d originally had. It occurred to me that there is an invisible barrier, artists struggle to connect with radio listeners, and while listeners may hear something they like, there’s no opportunity to find out more about the music or the artist. In an instant it’s gone, never to be heard again and that needs to be changed. So, I started posting the full playlist, in advance of the show, so listeners could follow the listing, identify the artists and follow up by connecting if they wanted to. A simple idea that worked well. I then introduced the listener vote. As it says, listeners vote for a song or songs they like each week, top 3 return the next week so those ‘popular’ songs get heard again. After the show finishes at 10pm, I load a full night of Amrap songs to run through till the breakfast show. Along with Facebook postings I add a ‘sneak peak’ Spotify playlist for those who check out the music in advance, or to rerun most of the content after the show. It’s not perfect, but with zero budget it’s going well. A few facts and figures since Jan 1st 2023. Facebook postings have reached over 70,000 people. Total votes received 3650. Total number of artists who have received votes 528. Listeners vote from across Australia with votes from locals as well as Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Brisbane etc. It’s proof enough that it works, it’s different but it truly shows people want to hear new music and support new artists. I need to build a Discovery empire, aired on every community radio station so everyone gets to hear the music. Oh well, better go buy a lotto ticket, wish me luck.
Could you give our readers some insight into what happens behind the scenes for Discovery with Dave? I’d imagine that an immense amount of work is done in preparing a weekly show with a three-hour time slot. What is your process for selecting music, choosing the sequence of play, and tying everything together? I ask because a lot of listeners and musicians too, might be unaware of how much passion, time and planning is involved. For me, it has only been through interviews like this one, with podcasters and the like, that I’ve begun to fathom the immense amount of work required in collecting music and bringing it to happy listener’s ears.
What are some of your most memorable moments on-air since you started with PulseFM?
What happens away from the live show? Obviously, preparation of music, sourcing, responding to emails, messages, following up on links, enquiries. While some just walk into a radio station, flick through the library of music and play what they want, when you have specific content, there’s more to it. I’d rather put the effort into preparation and produce a show that offers a bit more than just me going through my own music collection. I can’t emphasize enough, getting the music heard is the important thing, and that ties in with how its presented. In effect, I’m a salesrep for every artist on the show, and if I have poor quality content or tech issues that give poor sound, it reflects on the artist, myself and also the radio station. There’s a lot to consider putting the show together. I can’t use my own personal musical preferences, nor can I limit the many different styles and genre, everyone deserves a fair go. To limit the music, limits myself, and would also limit the audience. There’s no specific genre, and if I went with just one, I’d miss out, the listeners miss out and the artists miss out. Ok, I’m limited only by time, and If I could, I’d be on air 24/7 expanding on what the limited time allows me.
When putting the show together, firstly I follow up on emails and messages. If I can I’ll download the tracks for a listen. Then I’ll make my way to the Amrap website. Some artists are still unaware of the Amrap distribution to community radio, which is a shame. With the possibility of 350+ community radio stations accessing your music and giving airtime it’s one of the biggest ways to get your music heard across Australia. I’m a big supporter of Amrap and the services it offers to artists. As a presenter, the convenience of going to one website, and having access to a lot of pre-release, new release and old catalogue releases from unsigned Australian artists is invaluable. Amrap offers two charts, metro and regional, which are based upon radio presenter downloads. It’s a fantastic website for artists and presenters.
I start the process of music selection, initially going with my own instinct. If the music grabs me within 30 seconds, I’ll download it. Why only 30 seconds? Two reasons, firstly I don’t have the time to listen to 500 or more new songs each week and then eliminate a large number of them purely because of time constraints. Secondly, if a song grabs me within the first 30 seconds, offers something interesting, original or different, regardless of genre, then it goes in the list. I don’t limit the process to just single releases, I also check out the albums, ep’s etc. Although the show is primarily based on single releases, full albums and EP’s are also being released, and to include tracks from them is just as important. Then it’s the lyrics, I have to be careful of lyrical content, personally it doesn’t bother me if words we hear every day are included, it’s the artists way of getting their point across, however, there are still rules within individual radio stations and also general rules of community radio regarding lyric content. To avoid ‘offending’ anyone I prefer not to air controversial content, and with the show time starting at 7pm I’d be apologising every three minutes if I did.
So I have the music, I then listen to the selected tracks right through. While compiling a show, I have to add the listener vote winners from the previous week along with all the new music. At one time I got so anal about the listing I’d spend two days on repeat, moving songs up and down the list to suit, but not anymore. I have a music player that I load all the tunes into, hit shuffle for 5 minutes, and that’s the play order. I write all the songs down, number each song in the order the shuffle gave me. The only exception is the top three from previous week I try to time for halfway through the show. Then it’s the editing. Every track is different, recorded at different volumes, varied lead in/fade out times, etc, which I edit so I don’t get silence going out the speakers. It’s simply for continuation and smooth music exchange. I ‘normalize’ all volumes to 90% so the source file doesn’t distort as it goes through the various ‘boosters’ and sound equipment, and means that I don’t have to continually monitor the volume controls for the music while on air, one less thing to worry about. Why so much preparation? Can technology really be trusted to do what it’s supposed to do? I just do all I can to avoid problems. It’s a learning curve, and now any problems that occur are due to technical issues, music players, streamers, internet, or human interference with the settings.
I’m good to go at this point, music is loaded onto 2 thumb drives (backup), so I could walk into studio and play the music. BUT, it doesn’t end there. While the show actually airs on a Thursday, to get the listeners involved before the show, and to ensure the artists are aware the music is included in the show, normally on a Sunday, I post the whole listing, tagging every artist included where possible, onto the Pulse Fm89.9 Facebook page, and then repeat the whole posting on the Discovery Facebook page. I’m asking artists to share one or other post, the purpose of which is to reach out to as many people as possible. Obviously, some artists think sharing the post will benefit the other artists, but the truth is, spreading the word gets the music heard. The more people who are aware, the better chance people will tune in, support the artists and vote. It seems pretty straightforward to me, it raises awareness of the music, the artists, the show and Pulse fm. Everyone wins. The final link in the preparation is to jump onto Spotify, make up a playlist of as many of the listed songs as possible, and share that on social media too. Currently the show doesn’t have a recall or download facility for those who want to tune in, but have other things going on in their lives. It has been mentioned that the show will be edited into a streaming podcast in the future, but for now, I can only work with what I have.
The show has, in 9 months, grown a nationwide audience, and it’s so rewarding for me personally to know that the music is getting heard. When it kicked off in January, I never fully anticipated that it would prove so popular. When I first suggested the idea, the main response was “it’ll never work, listeners will turn off because they don’t know the music, never heard it before, and don’t know who the artists are. Unknown content, a different approach, the listener vote, and a ‘pom’ as a presenter, the odds were stacked against me”. I honestly think the show has more than proven the idea works, there is an audience wanting to hear new Australian artists/ music, and I’m really pleased that people have got behind the idea, supported the show, and taken the time to get involved by voting and supporting the artists too.
Not only that, but there is a whole new community of musicians who have come together in support of each other. One example, way back in January I included tracks from two different artists, from opposite sides of Australia. Rustyn, an electronic music producer, heard a track by Alicia Salerno (the big evil) on the show. He contacted her, and next week a collaboration between the two gets officially released (murder in the dark), and they were good enough to offer me the exclusive first radio airing of the track to say thank you for bringing them together which happened last Thursday night. Artists like Kaiwyn, a hard-working doctor, who uses music as an escape, has had a massive listener response to his music, and proved to be very popular. Markus T is another artist who generated a lot of positive feedback, with one comment being “Markus T should be on Broadway” which I think is such a positive response for the artist. All these things make it worthwhile and rewarding for me and just emphasises that my faith in the music I play is fully justified. The music is always varied, I like playing the different genres included, it avoids the predictability of a one genre show, throws up tracks that are toe tapping, headbanging, yeehaw, ironic, emotional and fun. Music isn’t just one genre, and I try to make sure I cover as much as I can. From classical music to pop punk, and all areas in between, If it works, I’ll play it.
I have to ask, how to do manage your time and make space for all the work required in the show’s preparation? On top of this, I’m curious about what other interests and passions you have outside of music too.
To many people, community radio is like day release from the care home, it gets the presenter out for a few hours, and there’s nothing interesting to be heard. Such is the way people think of community radio. I volunteer my time, believe in what I do, and try to give a presentation that is equal to anything you may hear on commercial radio. To be honest, it does seem a lot of work for just 3 hrs, but to me it’s important to get it right. Having done all my own preparation for virtually every show I’ve hosted, (I have two 3hr shows of general (YAWN) content prepared in case I need to help out with another time slot) and without repeating myself, I’d rather know the music is prepared rather than trust in the music library of the radio station.
Having hosted numerous shows over the last 13 years or more, the preparation has become second nature to me now. What initially would take 2-3 days when I first started, I can now pretty much complete in 6hrs. The difference between then, and now, is I am actually doing more to promote the music and artists, with Facebook posts and Spotify listings which weren’t readily available way back when, yet it seems to be easier to get things to tie in, programmable FB posts is a benefit, I can sort the listings etc well in advance and set them to post on a Sunday, so realistically, Friday is show prep, which frees me up to do other things.
Other things? what’s more important than music? Yes, family life could be considered ‘other things’ but to me it’s important. I’m lucky, I have a very supportive family who tolerate my obsession, even if the garden doesn’t get sorted, or the shopping gets forgotten, because music is a welcome distraction. Even at this very moment I’m supposed to be out in the yard disposing of unfriendly weeds with my faithful spray bottle of Zero. I can honestly say that music and family are the two main parts of my life. Apart from my daily need for caffeine, my daily trip to the local coffee shop is a must do, and if I miss it, I become a bear with a sore head until someone obliges me. Anyway, I digress, I am, apparently, a melophile. For as long as I can remember music has been my escape, and as it was when I was young, it still is the reality I prefer.
If I’m not preparing a show, there’s still music, with so many ways to hear music, multiple apps and streaming options nowadays, to have headphones on while sat at computer means I’m listening to something, continually looking for the perfect song. To be around the home, the stereo is on, either radio or linked to a thumb drive of new music. It’s a constant, music and a coffee, the perfect match. What do I do away from music? The simple answer to that is not a lot. Almost everything I do is music-based, from the show and the preparation, to sitting behind a drum kit or playing a keyboard (very badly).
In the past few years I have started to do some home recording, using Cubase, and in collaboration with a good friend in the UK, we occupy ourselves recording cover versions (never to be heard) or writing our own music. It’s a challenge, initially I never thought we could make it work, I’m no tech expert so connecting an E-kit to a computer and then all the associated parts within Cubase were a major deal for me. Fortunately, I’m blessed to have a collaborator who not only is a tremendous bass player and singer, but is also an IT specialist. When not working on the collaboration, I sit with a keyboard and make all kinds of weird noises, some would call it ambient, others wouldn’t be so polite. Recording using Cubase, I’m slowly improving, having never had any formal music training so it’s all by ear. If it sounds right, it must be right. I’m still trying to master the idea of a 3 minute track. Somehow, I get lost within the moment, and simply follow my instincts, adding more and more, until I’ve created something that’s 20 minutes long with no real structure. It’s everyday life for me. What I create is for me, I can’t play guitar, sing, or boast any technical prowess, (if anyone wants to join in and has an instrument and Cubase, I’m up for the fun of creating) so it’s all about the creativity, the music, and my very public obsession with music.
What advice or wisdom can you offer for little-known Australian artists who are seeking airplay in this country? Aside from Amrap or directly contacting stations, are there any other angles they can take or opportunities they should be seeking?
How do you offer advice, I can’t tell artists what they should or shouldn’t do, but as the saying goes, any publicity is good publicity, not that I’m encouraging anyone to run naked through the streets yelling buy my CD to every person they see.
Aside from Amrap (within Australia) and the benefits already mentioned, getting a rapport with local radio stations is important. Go knocking on doors, check their websites for suitable presenters or programmes to approach. Introduce yourselves, make friends, have a quality product that you believe in, arrange interviews timed to coincide with a new release or a gig, get to know promoters and venues, local press, online social media groups etc. It’s more about connections and networks. Everything is linked, and the more dots that can be connected, the better the overall presentation.
I can only speak from the community radio side of things, commercial radio doesn’t tend to notice local artists unless there’s a bag full of incentives, tickets, merchandise, cd’s etc etc. From the perspective of the music, it’s all about quality. While some artists believe it’s ok to record through Garageband onto their iPhone, (yes, I’ve had music submitted in that way) the sound quality leaves a lot to be desired. It’s great for demo purposes, but not, in my opinion, the best way to attract listeners on the radio. You can have the best song ever written, but if the recording quality isn’t up to much, it will be overlooked. There are many computer programmes available, even online set ups like Band Lab, not all a high-end expense, that can give studio quality sound, for a fraction of the price paid to a recording studio, engineer and producer.
Obviously, the benefits of studio time, producers and engineers is the best way to go, but it’s not always practical or cost effective. Since Covid and the lockdowns, more artists have opted to home record, it’s convenient, doesn’t have the hourly studio rates and can produce some fantastic results, all in the comfort of your own home. All in though, there’s a lot more to it than just having a song. It’s a full working package, publicity, product, connections, media. There are promo companies who do all that kind of thing, but again, it’s down to cost against results. Also, use the internet. Find websites that review music, search out independent record labels that may be interested in your music, bloggers, vloggers and social media pages.
Initially, I’d just make sure that radio, media etc have a way of contacting you. That may seem obvious, it’s easy to submit the music to radio or whatever, but there are still artists who fail to give a contact email, phone number, social media links etc. As a presenter, trying to track down artists after music has been submitted can be time consuming, and even on Amrap there are many who do not add contact details. It’s a simple thing, which presenters look for, they have the music and want to air it, but have no way to contact the artist. I still encounter the issue regularly. Finally, make sure the music is registered and all distribution licences and permissions are obtained, having spent so much getting your song recorded, you don’t want to miss out on the royalties you’re entitled to. Believe in yourselves, believe in your music, and don’t take no for an answer. There’s no easy path, and no specific way of doing things, but be true to yourselves and no compromises.