Joel had driven the Pathfinder as far as he could, a little beyond where the old hermit had parked his antique Moke, which looked like the twisted relic of a smashed carnival ride. Still, its owner used it to get to town once a fortnight.
It would be all walking from this point, in poor light since it was still early morning. Joel had to hope there was no more rain coming, since those gullies were already pretty full.
While trudging, he checked the reception on the hefty black sat-phone. Yes. Still strong. He checked his own iPhone. Nothing. Amazing what you can do with the right equipment. And the sat-phone had plenty of battery life. Well, that part was going well.
There was only the one track to follow: a clay mess with ruts so deep there were mosquito wrigglers thriving in them. To the side was nothing but a regrowth forest of gums and lantana which now had the optimistic title of Turangi National Park.
How far to walk to the old mill? A kilometre? Well, if a ninety year old could do it regularly…
A sudden scraping sound, very loud. Joel just caught the tail of a startled goanna, which had dashed up and around a tree to the blind side of the trunk.
Then the phone rang.
“Hello, Joel Wagner.”
“Where are you?”
“Oh, hi Roy. I’m nearly there. You’re in an ad break?”
“Of course I’m in an ad break, goose. If you can’t tell my on-air from my off-air voice by now…Listen, I hope this fancy phone you wanted is going to be worth it.”
“I’ve already checked it against mine. No reception at all with the iPhone, and it’s the new model. If I hadn’t brought the sat…”
“Yeah, you’re an underpaid genius. I’ve underpaid plenty of them in my time. Now listen: I’ll be talking to you and then the old geezer in exactly one hour. And when I say exactly, that’s a Roy Laird exactly, not a Joel Wagner exactly. Make sure you’re in a strong reception spot and ready. And make sure he knows how to talk into the bloody phone. Remember, it’s a light segment, so sound light and friendly. Sound like we’re all good mates – which is never going to be the case, I might add. Got that?”
“Got it. But…we haven’t really secured an interview. I mean, we don’t know this guy, haven’t been able to contact him…”
“You’ve got some cash there to sweeten him up. And a big box of his favourite radio batteries. That should do it. If you can’t get him on line you’ll still have a job. But the job will involve cheeseburgers. Understood?”
“And don’t pre-interview him. Don’t ask his feelings about the show and why he listens and so on. That’s my job. I don’t want some ninety year old getting cranky because he’s been asked the same thing twice. They tend to do that. Your job is to keep him sweet and make sure the connection goes like silk. When I talk to you at the start just sound like a cheerful idiot, which shouldn’t be a problem. Understood?”
Call ended by caller
Roy Laird with you through till nine, taking your calls. Have your say on 2WA, the station which pioneered listener talkback.
Now, before I interview the Attorney-General at the top of the hour about a very serious subject, namely, the release of sexual predators back into your community and mine, I just want to follow up on a couple of matters raised yesterday.
Firstly, I’d like to mention Annabel Gashler’s bravery in fronting the media about her controversial transformation.
The lady formerly known as Brad Gashler of Brad Gashler Motors was and remains a good mate of mine. I hope I’ve made that very clear. You all know that Brad – or rather, Annabel – was for a long time a sponsor of this station. I drove any number of cars from Brad Gashler Motors and was as proud to be a customer of the company as the company was proud to be our sponsor.
I played Rugby Union with Brad, as she was known at the time, in lower grades at Chatswood, though I was a lot older. I’m proud to call him – her, I mean – team mate as well as sponsor and personal friend. Annabel has moved out of the automobile business and into dietary supplements and specialised gym equipment, where I’m sure she’ll make a great success, because she’s that sort of bloke…sheila, I mean. Bugger it, you all know what I mean.
I simply want to say to Annabel what I might have said when she flashed over the line for a game-clinching try from the wing back in our Grand Final in 1987: I’m with you one hundred and ten percent, mate, whatever decisions or directions you take in the future.
Now, before we go the news and more serious subjects, a bit of a surprise, something I know you’ll enjoy.
It’s to do with our big ratings win yesterday. And when I use the word “our”, I believe the win is for all of us: for me, for staff, for station and, above all, for you listeners.
You’ve all been kind enough to put me and my team – because Roy Laird is just a shag on a rock without his team – in the number one position again for morning radio in all of Australia. By way of returning the compliment, we’ve decided to track down some of our more devoted listeners – some would say 2WA morning addicts – and ask them what it is about the program that makes it special. We’re not about bagging other shows or comperes in this great industry, but if we’re winning the ratings this convincingly then why not hear the reasons from fair dinkum listeners rather than media experts.
Now, before any of you ring in, I want to make contact with a listener who can’t ring in ever. This is a gentleman who lives in an old timber mill right on the edge of what used to be the Turangi State Forest and is now the Turangi National Park. The property is out of signal range for normal mobile phones and there has never been a landline or power to the ancient mill.
Nonetheless, the ninety year old occupant of that mill has been listening to our show for the last twenty or so years. That’s the tip I got from the bloke in Dumphries Crossing who sells him the batteries for his old transistor radio. Johnno who runs Johnno’s mixed business in Dumphries Crossing – thanks for ringing in with the tip, old mate. The word is that this senior gent, just known as Norm, has been buying the same batteries with his pension for all those years. When Johnno got round to asking Norm – who isn’t renowned for talking about himself – what he did with the batteries, he explained that four C size batteries were enough to give him this show, the Roy Laird Show, for a month.
Now, we hope to do a bit for Norm’s battery problem, and maybe help out with one or two other things. But first I thought we’d try to get Norm on the line.
So, standing right now with Norm at the old Turangi mill, is our roving reporter Joel Wagner, my young mate I always give the messy jobs to. I do all the stuff like interviewing Miss Venezuela and Joel does the cyclones and traffic jams. It’s a perfect arrangement – if you’re me. No, folks, in the fair dinkum department, he’s a top young bloke and a real little Aussie doer. We all love him to death around here. I see my producer nodding a bit skeptically…
Anyway, Joel’s got a satellite phone with him and the hope is that we’ll have a strong enough signal to reach Joel and Norm for a bit of a chat.
“So, Norm, you were in the timber game all your working life?”
“Oh, long time ago now. Long time ago. When’s that call coming through? Bladder’s not the best. Have I got time to strain the spuds?”
“Sure, sure…but maybe just do it here. You’ll have about a minute after the station puts us through. Right now they’ve got my call on hold, but we’re already connected. After they put us through I’ll be talking first to Roy for a bit, then I’ll pass the phone to you. Then you just talk into it like I showed you. It’ll all be good fun. You’ll see.”
“You want me to piss right here?”
“Well, maybe move a few yards away…”
Joel and the old man were standing on some cleared high ground above the decaying timber mill. Somewhere in the mess of rusty corrugated iron Norm had his dwelling – but Joel had not been curious to look. On arriving, he had called out and had been greeted first by a half hairless blue heeler almost too feeble to yap or run. Then Norm emerged from somewhere inside the mill, tiny and stooped, but nimble enough.
Joe declined the offer of a cup of tea inside – “if you don’t mind milk powder” – and quickly explained his business while oozing his boyish charm. The old man seemed neither interested nor uninterested. He merely agreed to do the interview with Roy Laird, then said very little as they roamed about the clearing in search of the best reception spot.
And now they waited: Joel with the sat-phone pressed hard to his ear, the old man holding something else altogether.
“Joel Wagner! Are you there, champion?”
Roy’s on-air voice.
“G’day, Roy. I’m at the old Turangi mill. It was a bit of a drive then a long trudge, with some hairy moments, but I’m here…You don’t pay me enough, Roy.”
“Don’t tell me I’m paying you! I’ll speak to the accountant. No, but in the fair dinkum department, how is it out there, mate?”
“Well, it’s like you might imagine. Six foot goannas…”
“No need for Olympic pools. They swim in the ruts on the road…”
“Stop it, stop it…Now look, I hear you’re with Turangi’s only resident, an older gentlemen who still lives in the actual mill…”
“That’s right Roy. Norm’s with me now.”
Joel made frenzied gestures at Norm, who had just finished zipping his trousers and was now wiping his hands on his faded King Gee work shirt.
“Now I’ve got the tip from Johnno that Norm’s got our program going for the full three hours five days a week. Is that right, Joel?”
“Well, why don’t we hear it from the horse’s mouth? Here’s the man himself, and I might add that Norm has lived in the area since birth and spent all of his working life working the Turangi timber, as forester and miller. A real vanishing Australian. Everybody, this is Norm.”
After wiping his hand one more time Norm nervously took hold of the sat-phone from Joel.
“Hello…hello…can you hear me? Am I coming through?”
“Loud and clear, Norm. Loud and clear. Know who this is, Norm?”
“Uh…I dunno for sure…from the voice…”
“My voice sounds different on the phone, but this is Roy Laird.”
“Now Norm, I know an old bushie like you is not going to get excited by anything, but I want you to know that I’m excited to be talking to you. And I know a few hundred thousand listeners are excited also.”
“Now? They’re all listening to us right now?”
“That’s right, cobber. And I want you to know that the years and decades and half-centuries that blokes like you have spent fighting fire and flood and accidents and probably greenies have not gone unappreciated. Not by listeners to the Roy Laird program.”
“Oh, thanks for that. And for the stock of batteries.”
“Don’t mention it, mate. And if we can help you out with a better radio…”
“No…no…The one I’ve got is a beauty. Good and loud.”
“Good on you, cobber. And I hear you’ve been playing the full show for more than twenty years…”
“That’s right, the whole thing. Then I turn the radio off when the show finishes, to save the batteries. Sometimes I turn it on for some news or cricket scores, but mainly I use it for your show.”
“Good on you, old mate. God love you, I…”
“It’s the animals, you see. Mainly possums. Sometimes goannas and pythons in the warm season, they’re noisy…”
“Eh? You get possums? And pythons? God love you…”
“It’s the noise, you know. You get possums up there and you cop the racket all day till they go out at night. They’re supposed to sleep in the day but they’re mainly fighting and running and rooting…am I allowed to say that on the wireless?”
“Well, just this once, old mate. God love you. Anyway, I just want to say thank you for being a listener for all these years, and I’m just glad…”
“Of course we’re talking about you, Norm. You’re a star, mate. At least as far as all of us involved in the Roy Laird Show are concerned.”
“No, you see, it’s the noise. You get possums up in a roof cavity where everything’s tin and the noise…well, it’s like World War Three. You have to move ‘em out and keep ‘em out or they’ll send you round the bend…”
“God love you, God love you. Possums, eh? Anyway, Norm, you’re a star. Radio takes talkers and it takes listeners. You’re a star among our listeners. God love you, cobber. Now, if you hand that big lump of a phone back to Joel for a moment…”
“No…no…not me. It’s the possums, you see. There’s just something about your voice, the way you sort of bark at people…
“I put that radio up in the cavity, close the trap so I can’t hear it, and just let it play.
“I haven’t had possums up in the roof in…jeez, more than twenty years, I’d say…”
Call ended by recipient.