WHEN the words “what the f…. was that?” blasted from a Newcastle radio station just before 9.30 on a summer’s morning in 1989, no-one listening either complained or was offended.
In fact, the collective population of Newcastle probably chorused similar words at that very same time.
It was Thursday, December 28 and an earthquake measuring 5.6 on the Richter scale had just hit the NSW city, wreaking havoc, killing 13 people and injuring more than 160.
The radio announcer who reacted to the disaster with an expletive seldom heard on radio in those days was Don Dawkins, who is about to hang up his headphones and retire from his position as Capital Radio’s program director for 2CA and the company’s regional stations in NSW, WA and Victoria.
Like most of us who’ve survived the rigors and vagaries of broadcasting over several decades, Don’s career started in a modest fashion in late 1974 in a country town where he worked his butt off and got paid a pittance.
Radio station 2BE (now 2EC) Bega, on the far south coast of NSW, was to be Don Dawkins’ initiation into the world of wireless where he got his initial “on air” experience.
“One of my most memorable times at 2BE was when I completed a 100-hour marathon broadcast, beating the previous record of 72 hours,” he recalls.
“That was Easter, 1976 with a studio built in the window of Roy Howard’s hardware store for the duration of the marathon.”
A few years later, in early 1979, Don gravitated to 2CC, working the late night shift, 10pm to 1am. He stayed a couple of years before venturing into his first program director’s job at 2NM Muswellbrook in the Hunter Valley in 1981.
From there it was a merry-go-round of stations on the Central Coast, including his infamous earthquake moment at Newcastle, before heading back to Canberra – and 2CC – for his second incarnation at the station in 1997, this time as program director.
However, the merry-go-round of stations hadn’t stopped on the central NSW coast and now Canberra had a whole host of new stations. And Don didn’t miss too many of them, doing casual announcing at the newly established FM stations.
As the old Danny Kaye song goes: “The music went round and round” before it came out at 2CA where Don worked casual shifts, finally graduating back into program directing at the station in 2008.
As Capital Radio expanded its stable of regional radio stations, Don was elevated to national program director to ensure programming was consistent with the various markets the stations serve.
And while Don still pulls an on-air shift every now and again, it’s been mostly management that’s occupied his time. It’s a transition he has slipped into effortlessly.
He concedes 2CA has not been without its troubled times.
“There were a lot of format changes in the late ‘80s into the ‘90s and that was a big issue,” he says.
“What I’ve tried to do with 2CA since I’ve been on board is to keep it pretty much consistent, without making it too predictable.”
To Dawkins, it really comes down to one simple formula – being relative to the market, which he says is a young one.
“If you look at the last two lots of census in Canberra, the median age has been 34,” he says.
“When I first came to Canberra in 1979, the median age was 28. So, in that time, it hasn’t even aged 10 years,” he reasons.
“Forever Classic has been a very successful handle for us,” he says.
So how is Don Dawkins planning this latest transition to retirement? Apart from some quality catch-up time with his three grown-up children, he’s also looking at a business opportunity.
“My brother and I have some property down on the Gippsland Lakes. I want to turn one of those properties into a B&B on a part-time basis so I’ll be spending a bit of time doing stuff there.”
Knowing Don, he’ll probably last a couple of years in retirement before gravitating back to radio in some capacity. If only for a rest!
Rod Henshaw is a Canberra-based journalist and broadcaster