Sarah Macdonald’s journey to Mornings

ABC Radio Sydney presenter Sarah Macdonald found herself in the updated Mornings slot at the end of last month, moving from her former role on the Evenings program, which she held for three years.

The updated Mornings slot begins half an hour earlier, at the new time of 08:30 – 11:00, allowing the show to synchronise better with the rhythm of Sydney, which Sarah knows well.

Born in Surry Hills, Sarah completed a psychology degree before setting off on the Australian rite of passage of extensive post-study travel.

During her time overseas, regular correspondence with her family and friends brought Sarah’s attention to the power of media.

“I studied psychology, and I really enjoyed it, but I didn’t feel old enough and experienced enough in life to practice,” Sarah said.

“I was writing lots of letters back and people were really enjoying them and I thought, gee, media would be fun.”

Following her intuition, Sarah threw her hat into the media world upon return, getting jobs in both radio and television.

Securing a job at Sydney’s 2SER to learn about the industry, Sarah “just fell in love with it.”

“The minute I turned on the first microphone to host a show one night, I remember I was so nervous I couldn’t stop laughing, I was like, this is fun. This is unreal,” Sarah said.

“I mean, I’d always listened to the radio and I listened to triple j a lot because that was my age group. I remember driving along listening to triple j and they had two people in the studio who had clinical depression and I think one was struggling with schizophrenia, and it was this sort of overlap of my two worlds – radio and psychology – and I couldn’t get out of the car.”

“That’s when I learned about the power of radio and sharing stories and understanding. I think that’s when it kind of all crystallised for me.”

“People tell you and share incredible things and they can really affect you as a listener in a way that something online may not. It often will, but there’s just something about conversation.”

Sarah later landed herself an ABC cadetship, which was the launching platform leading her to many different microphones including triple j Mornings, ABC Radio Sydney’s Breakfast, Evenings and recently, Mornings.

“It’s been a big change in so many ways because I was on Evenings for three years, and before that, I did a late night Weekend Nightlife . . . So it has been a bit of a shock to the body clock because I’ve always been a bit of a night owl,” Sarah said.

“But, I’m really enjoying it, like, my brain is still getting used to it and my body is still getting used to it. But the principle of radio is it’s always fun, fantastic and a pretty wonderful job to have, so I’m enjoying it.”

Sarah’s experience has taught her the delicate balance of solo hosting live radio. Supported by her team behind the scenes, Sarah harnesses the opportunity to connect with the community and share stories unique to Sydney. The pressure is just part of the fun.

“It is high pressure because you don’t have a lot of time in the morning to think, and you’ve got to go on the radio without your brain being awake for many hours, and you’ve got to be across so many things from poker machines to what the weather is too, what federal issues are going on, federal politics, finance, film, popular culture, music – we do everything,” Sarah said.

“It’s a little bit of a tightrope, but there’s always a net underneath. You’ve got producers, the audience and yourself to kind of respond in the moment, and sometimes you feel you might fall, but I always feel that it’s a really exciting and fun thing to do.”

“You’re flying by the seat of your pants a lot though, and that’s where the fun is.”

Since starting as an ABC cadet in her twenties, Sarah has seen audio change and diversify. The progression of podcasts and streaming has made the sphere more competitive than ever, but Sarah believes live radio is still king.

“There’s far more competition for people’s ears now. So there’s that in music and there are podcasts and there’s online, so we’re part of a huge mountain of information that’s out there, but I guess the thing that hasn’t changed with radio now is it is immediate,” Sarah said.

“It can come from a local about your city that you can’t get any other way than you can on the radio if you want to be in touch with the conversations and the events that are happening in the city right now.”

“When there’s fire and floods for instance, you’re hearing what’s happening because you need to be safe, but when it’s other stories that are fantastic and beautiful and exciting in your city, you’re hearing them at the same time, but you’re still focused in on what’s going on at that time, and that’s what’s exciting about radio. And that’s never going to change.”

Sarah said was excited to see the new round of ABC cadets in the studio recently, giving them a tour and showing them the ropes as she was shown, sharing industry knowledge with people that could trace her own steps to become the hosts of the future.

Sharing her wisdom with those early in their journey, Sarah says “stay eternally curious.”

“I think that when you’re starting out – and this is one thing that has never left me – you’ve got to stay eternally curious.”

“When you work in media, you can never learn everything. You can talk to people about what they know heaps about, so you can always learn from someone.”

“There’s always more to learn, and it’s a great opportunity to do that because you can go, ‘well I need to know more about that, and I’ve got that device where I can find out more’ – it’s brilliant!”

Sarah is heard on weekdays between 08:30-11:00 talking all things Sydney via 702 ABC Radio Sydney or online.

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