Sydney radio announcer’s tribute to Charleville radio owner
RAY Kington is one of Sydney's most popular afternoon radio presenters, and he worked his way up from humble beginnings in Charleville.
One of his mentors was the late Lee Sims, who owned the local radio station 4VL for 10 years.
Mr Kington reflects on Lee's life and career in this interview with The Western Times:
Tell us a little bit about Lee's and the stages of his career?
I met Lee prior to me coming to Charleville. I met him in 1998. So, when I first me Lee he had literally only just gotten over leukaemia so he actually closed his radio school prior to that for a period of time just basically so he could deal with his leukaemia diagnosis, which he successfully beat, thank goodness!
He was mainly a Brisbane personality and as I mentioned in the tribute, he worked at Lismore. That's where he started. Then he eventually ended up in Brisbane radio and he worked in Brisbane radio very successfully.
He was the number one announcer at Brisbane at one point for a country music show. And that was simply by accident because the station had decided to give country music a go at night time and a lot of people thought it was going to fail, but he decided to learn everything about country music.
He didn't know much about country music but he decided to learn everything he could about country music and surprisingly, it became a massive hit! Something that many people would know in Charleville is Nick Erby, who was [tasked] with putting the country music on that particular radio station.
Lee eventually moved on to 4BH, which is the easy listening station and he was doing the midnight to dawn there. At the same time, he decided to start up the radio school because he thought that the training wasn't really sufficient in Brisbane and he started up his radio school in Spring Hill.
I didn't actually get to visit that particular school because he closed it down and had to sell a lot of stuff because of his leukaemia diagnosis.
But I've seen the pictures of it and he basically replicated a radio station inside this premises. So, people would be doing some lectures with him; in the meantime, other people would be hosting mock radio shows and broadcast throughout the entire building and into the foyer area and the lunch room and the courtyard equipped with even a newsroom as well.
They were training journalists and doing news on each half-hour, putting together actual professional bulletins each half-hour - it was pretty much way ahead of its time.
He was very much in competition with the Australian Film, Television and Radio School (AFTRS). It was definitely competition to AFTRS coming out of Brisbane.
He ran that school for around about 10 years before he got sick. The time I met him, he was just rebuilding things and the school was hosted at an ethnic broadcaster called 4EB, which was based in Brisbane.
One of his lectures (a slightly abridged course compared to the Spring Hill setup that he had) and from there, he moved onto working for the cabbies in Queensland and he was working as a spokesman there for a good many years actually and was quite successful that he ended up on a lot of news publications right across the Queensland area, representing the cabs association.
What contribution did he make to the Radio School in Spring Hill, Brisbane?
Well, he churned out a lot of fantastic people: Paul Campion, Steve Baker, Mel Bampton, [and myself]. Mel worked at Triple-J. She started there working midnight to dawns and eventually ended up on the morning show and she was instrumental in starting a segment which is still going on Triple-J today called 'Like a Version', so she's one of the big names.
So, you did attend the radio school?
Yes, I did attend the school in 1998 and then I ended up in Charleville in around early to mid-1999 and worked there right through to early months of 2000. I did breakfast at 4VL in Charleville when it was under different ownership. It was under the ownership of Brad Smart.
What did you think of the Charleville community?
I loved Charleville! It was amazing. It was a bit of a culture shock in that it was such a small town and being a Brisbane boy myself, it was certainly an adjustment to get used to such a small town whereby the first week I was there, I remember walking through the shopping centre, just doing my shopping and you could hear people whispering, "that's the new breakfast announcer!"
Because they had already done something on the local newspaper and you suddenly went, "okay, everybody knows you here!" And that's different compared to living in Brisbane where unless you're a big name, nobody knows you. But of course when you turn up in Charleville for 4VL, you become a big name personality!
There was a real concern that the radio station was going to go off the air and he did all that he could to keep the radio station on the point that they were even selling some of the records and whatever gear that they didn't need anymore.
Lee would have made his mark, travelling across the country and taught many students?
He reached a lot of people! A lot of people came through his radio school and a lot of his students went through very successful careers. One of the main things that Lee taught was not just how to get a job in radio, but also, how to progress your career.
Some school will just get you good enough to get a job, and then you got to figure it out yourself. But Lee's training was quite detailed and in fact, I've still got his original books that came with the course, to which I actually from time to time even refer to today! I've been asked to do this particular thing at a radio station? How do I do it?
What are some of the basics that I need to know? I've even been in the industry for 20 years now, so his literature that he provided basically was evergreen.
You described Lee as a "good friend and mentor". What impact did he have on your career?
It's uncommon for people to be 'unfriended', I suppose, with their lecturer or their teacher, but for me I liked them straight up. He was a raw, straight shooter and not everybody liked the guy. You know, because he was sometimes a little bit cantankerous.
But I liked his straightforwardness, the fact that… if you produced something, played it to him and he didn't like it, he just told you. He didn't try and put flowers all around it and go, "it doesn't sound too bad, if it sound's good, it's done."
So I suppose for me, that really helped me progress very, very quickly and we just formed a friendship straight away to the point that when I got my first job, I was giving him a call and going, "hey, I've got this problem," or, "I have to deal with this person," or, "I'm not too sure how to deal with this scenario."
He was always available and from talking about radio, you know, you end up talking about life in general. And this just became a habit of ours. We talked pretty regularly over a 20-year period and it's only when he passed away do you go, "wow, that's kind of funny."
It's certainly not normal, I don't know if he kept in touch with many of his other students but with me, we kept in touch and he sort of grew from being a 'teacher' to being a 'mentor' and being a friend and somebody you go to if you have a personal problem.
He was obviously a lot older than me and I benefit from his knowledge. So yeah, it's one of those things where he saw me going through job after job after job through radio where I started off in Charleville to ending up in Sydney. It was a big deal having that sort of mentor. People talk about having a mentor and that's the funny thing when I hear people saying in the industry, "you should have a mentor!"
That's all fine, but I don't think a mentor is somebody that you could actually go, "hey, can you be my mentor?" and then that relationship will blossom in that fashion, but I think it actually has to happen organically. A lot of corporate-type people will go, "go get a mentor!"
But it's really not that simple, it has to start off from a teaching position and it has to eventually become a friendship. I think a mentor is more than just a teacher, a mentor is someone who stands side-by-side with you and actually cares how your career progresses and it's of no benefit to them, really, apart from your friendship and your sharing is concerned.
I'm sure from humble beginnings to your Hope 103.2 gig in Sydney, you'd have to owe it to the guy who started it all off?
Oh, for sure! Absolutely! In fact, it's funny how I actually got into radio, so prior to this, I was working on the professional tennis circuit as a professional tennis umpire which I did for about seven years and then I decided that I was sick of dealing with angry tennis players and living out of a suitcase.
I decided to get into radio and I sent out a whole bunch of apps to round about 360 radio stations and got zero results out of that and I thought, "clearly I need to go do some training and a little bit of community radio."
I contacted Lee and at the time, he would have still been at the Spring Hill location and he didn't have any spots open - they were full. So, I sort of forgot about that, went back to the tennis, another year passed and then I come back to Brisbane and had enrolled in university again to do another university degree.
Maybe I was going to sort my life out that way and get back on track to getting a 'regular' job and then in the first couple of weeks, I went there and went, "this is really not for me." It's very different from when you're 18 years old doing university, you don't mind having any money and living at home and suddenly being in your late 20s and having had a job and then go back to student life.
I did university for about two weeks of this new course and went, "oh, this is so not for me!" Fortunately, at that time, I got a phone call from Lee and he said, "mate, I've actually got a space open if you're interested. I've got the course reopening again, I had to close for a little while but am reopening again.
Would you like to do the course?" So, I literally quit university that day and signed up to the radio school and by that stage I'd done a fair bit more community radio and Lee had already heard my take and Lee said, "you know what, I'm going to give it to you for half price because it sounds like you've already done a few things." So, that was just like a pivotal moment getting that phone call going, "okay, I actually know what I'm going to do. I'm going to do radio." As opposed to another degree that I probably won't use.
As with anyone who's a mentor, they would have a lot of impact on students with their future careers. What kind of impact would he have made on Australian radio in general?
I think what Lee provided people with was a solid beginning and a solid grasp on the industry so that they could move forward and progress their career.
That's probably the biggest thing. Some radio schools were excited that they got people into driving promos. Lee didn't consider driving the promo card to be a job in radio. He wanted to get people jobs on the radio, not just in the radio station, because anybody can get a job in a radio station. It's just another workplace. But being on the air is a completely different scenario.
Probably one of his biggest things was his attention to detail and saying, "if you want to get a job on the air, this is what you have to do. These are the things that I'm going to teach you." And very often, and in fact I actually talked about this with Lee at one point, he started to do a little bit of motivational speaking.
He actually realised that many of the tools that he gave students in becoming radio announcers, was actually applicable in life. Things like brevity, getting to the point, storytelling. He found that all of those things you could actually apply to many, many industries.
So, I actually thought that many of the things that Lee taught in his school carried over to other parts of personal and professional life.
Anything else you would like to add?
He really made a mark on Charleville and really improved that radio station significantly. I do know that he was actually bringing a lot of students into town to work at 4VL and it was an opportunity to populate the radio station (country radio stations usually have small staff numbers) but he was able to bring in a lot of new young talent to be able to spend a bit of time at 4VL and be able to move on.
Read Ray Kington's tribute to Lee Sims here.