10 Questions with Cam Durnsford

Staff Writer
Image: Melissa Cowan

Cam Durnsford is the music coordinator, studio 5 live booker and Drive live booker at PBS 106.7FM Melbourne.

He’s spent more than a decade in community radio and was part of the foundation management team of the Hi-Fi in Brisbane.

Cam answers 10 Questions from Radio Today.

Why do you think is community radio so important in terms of developing young radio talent?

From its beginnings in the mid-70s, community radio has been by design open and accessible. The list of media personalities who got their start in the community sector is long – since the very start we’ve effectively been the proving ground for the commercial sector and public broadcasters. Many stations offer accredited training through the Community Media Training Organisation (full disclosure: I am a casual trainer with the CMTO myself), but all stations offer some kind of training program to equip people with the skills to produce and present radio, podcasts, and other online content, among other things.

What’s the biggest difference between public radio and commercial radio now compared to 10 years ago when you first started in the business?

It seems like the void between the commercials and community radio has grown in that time, especially in terms of getting new and independent Australian artists on air. I don’t think it is unfair of me to say the commercial stations are failing when it comes to representation of Australian artists on air, which is why community radio is so vital for Australian musicians, and the industry that exists around them.

We’re living in the age of technology and the internet, yet we’re more disconnected from one another than ever before. What place does radio have in getting us re-connected?

We hear anecdotally all the time about how personal the connection our members’ connections to the station and their favourite announcers are. Radio is undoubtedly a medium that fosters a certain intimacy with its listeners – even more so with a station like PBS, where all our announcers are passionate experts in their chosen genres, and can be easily reached on the phone or SMS service when they’re on air. We really see the value of this connection at our annual Radio Festival when thousands of people take out memberships and make donations to the station and hundreds more volunteer their time to help out with the membership campaign.

Why do you think radio hasn’t died off yet?

In our case, we’re very proudly parochial – and I think this connection to a place is very important to our members and big part of the reason radio is still resilient among a pretty bleak media landscape. While I do listen to a lot of online radio from all over the world, I always come back to my local stations, as they keep me informed about things that are happening in my community while still being global in their outlook. The intimacy and sense of connection mentioned above is surely a big part of it too – you just don’t get that from a streaming algorithm.

What’s the biggest challenge facing radio in Australia right now, either public or commercial?

At this point I suppose it’s banal to say the media is changing very rapidly – but the outlook is generally pretty grim. I think the sustained attacks on the ABC aren’t good for our democracy, as we already have highly concentrated media ownership in this country. We need a greater diversity of voices, not fewer, so to see one of the pillars of our democracy come under attack is concerning, to put it lightly. More specifically for the community sector, we have had a few near-misses now with regard to federal funding to ensure our future is secure in the transition to digital broadcasting. We don’t know when the analog spectrum will be turned off, but inevitably it will at some point – I don’t think it’s clear at this point how the community sector will adapt to that change.

What else can Australian radio be doing to support local artists?

I know first-hand from my role that there is no shortage of exceptional talent in this country, so ultimately it is up to programmers, producers and announcers to put these artists front and centre. It’s damning that an artist like Courtney Barnett can be playing huge shows and performing live on network TV in the US, but have no airplay on Australian commercial radio. Maybe if a few commercial MDs tuned into a community station from time to time they might pick up a few new acts to add to rotation?  

What’s the secret to pitching music to radio people in 2018?

I don’t think there’s any secret! Do your research – know the station, and the shows to pitch to. A diligent and thoughtful pitch will always get a much warmer response than a bland, boilerplate approach. Find out the format that works best for the station you’re pitching to and send your music in that format – most (if not all) larger metro community stations have all this information on their websites so there’s no excuse for not getting it right, but of course if there’s anything you don’t understand – just ask! Include a clear and concise bio, press release or one sheet with information about your upcoming shows, release and embargo dates and contact information. Check (and re-check) all the details to make sure you’ve got it all looking good before sending and don’t be disheartened if you don’t get feedback or airplay straight away – we receive an inordinate amount of music every day, so it can take a while to connect.

What’s the one piece of advice you were given that you can pass along?

In a role that is so very subjective you have to back yourself and avoid second-guessing editorial decisions. Find that critical balance between keeping an open mind, trusting your ears and not believing the hype.  

What’s one skill you’ve mastered at work, and one that you’re currently working on?

I had to learn very quickly how to manage a very busy inbox in this role. It stressed me out a lot to begin with, but now I have my emails (mostly) under control by the time I’ve finished my first coffee. It’s almost like muscle memory now. I’m currently working on being a better librarian – with no formal training in the discipline (and mild OCD) I do struggle at times managing a music library with more than 30,000 titles in it, and that’s before you even consider the challenges around archiving, digitisation and future-proofing our collection.

Which Australian artist/s are you loving right now?

RVG are without doubt the best band I’ve seen in a very long time. They tap into so many things I love and sound completely timeless, while being unmistakably contemporary. Seeing them play is highly emotional and cathartic experience, every single time.

Kaiit is the real deal. Precisely the kind of artist that deserves the full support of radio and would sit among the American RNB and hip hop that dominates Australian charts.  When she played at Drive Live this year I was totally knocked out about by her voice.

PBS Radio Festival 2018: Feast Your Ears runs until Sunday 27 May 2018. sign up or renew at https://pbsfm.org.au/radiofestival

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