Nothing beats Joy, except radio

Staff Writer

Guest contributor Jim Mortimer delves into the Vault….

Having recently enjoyed Pat Morrish’s stories about her work at the ABC in Cairns, I was reminded of another time in the deep north when radio really shone.

In the three days leading up to Christmas 1990, Cairns and Far North QLD were threatened by a cyclone more powerful than Darwin’s fateful Cyclone Tracy.

The destructive centre of Cyclone Joy quickly moved to within 100Km of the city, and then she stopped. And hovered. And intensified to the highest category, 5. There she sat for 2 days.

But with destructive winds out to 150 KM from the centre, the city was under siege and left paralysed. All exits were cut, so evacuation wasn’t possible. Joy thumped at Cairns’ door and threatened to do worse. Residents were left sheltering where they could with failing services, limited contact to the outside world, waiting. We were wondering if this Christmas cyclone would move in for the killer blow. (The Army later acknowledged it had thousands of body bags ready to ship from their nearest base in Townsville).

Radio 4CA was the primary commercial station in the Cairns license area, and in those days was live and local, 24/7. In an emergency situation it’s always a personal choice whether to shelter with your family, or head in to work. Of the 30 or so staff at the time around half came in to ‘live’ at work. We weren’t sure what we would go home to. Even the radio station itself wasn’t (and still isn’t) in a particularly cyclone-proof building.

With the power off,  TV was unavailable or irrelevant (relayed from other cities). Local ABC radio struggled with transmission issues, but somehow the old AM 4CA stayed on the air.

Anyone who wasn't on the air or having a short nap manned the phones. When the police and emergency services couldn't cope with the call overload, the local police asked the public to call the radio station instead. Radio really was in its element, informing, warning, advising, comforting. At one stage the GM was 'receptionist', putting hundreds of calls through to the most appropriate area. On air, news, or just someone to counsel. Some notable staff worked around the clock. Caitlin Shea, Todd Sargeant, Grant Cassidy, Rob McLean, manager Noel Roberts. Others came in to relieve us when it was safe to drive.

It was a Christmas ‘Joy’ won’t let us forget, a lucky escape and a real demonstration of radio’s strengths.

4CA won best news event coverage and best community service (regional) at the 1991 Rawards for what you hear unfold below… Cyclone Joy 1990 montage.mp3

Here's an article from the Qld Sunday Mail, December 30, 1990 (click to enlarge)

Jim Mortimer was Production Manager and weekend announcer at 4CA, and currently is an audio producer for Southern Cross Austereo in Adelaide.

Comment Form

Your email address will not be published.

Recent comments (0)
Post new comment


See all