Debbie Spillane only migrated north from Sydney 2 years ago, but has certainly made her mark on the Bellingen Shire. Retiring from a long and successful career in the media as a sports commentator and journalist to make the move, Debbie is now busier than ever.
She is actively involved in the renaissance of our local radio station 2BBB; was an extraordinary and thoughtful presence on stage at our recent Bellingen Readers and Writers Festival and is now playing guitar in the band Valla’d. And according to Debbie, she is involved in “loads more. And people tried to tell me I’d be bored in retirement!”
Rod enjoyed catching up with Debbie to get the inside scoop…
Do we call you a local?
I love Bello Shire (as they say in the classics) but I live just a smidge outside it – in Valla Beach. Been there since May 2016.
What brought you to the mid north coast?
My daughter, who now works at Bellingen Hospital, moved to the area in 2014 and the more I visited, the more I liked it.
You were predominately a sports reporter in your previous life- is this because you were sports mad or was there another driver?
If there’s another driver, does that mean I can have a drink?
Oh, ok. I grew up in a sports-mad family and was taken to sporting events from when I was a babe-in-arms. In my teens I started umpiring men’s cricket and then qualified as a rugby league coach. Writing or talking about sport seemed fairly natural to me. Having said that, I owned a music store before I got into the media and, once I was in the media, jumped at the chance to be a music presenter at Triple J and NewFM in Newcastle.
Do you miss working at the ABC and in media in Sydney?
I don’t miss it at all. The old forms of media (TV, radio and print) are struggling to survive in a media landscape that has changed dramatically in recent years. Everyone is under pressure. The ABC has been demoralised by constant funding cuts and political pressure. Senior journalists and broadcasters are being made redundant with every funding cut – and I was one of those in 2016. So that was the impetus for me leaving. But I’d already bought my place up here and had been plotting early retirement and escape from Sydney anyway, so it worked out well.
It seems change is afoot at 2BBB. What’s happening?
Kye Ruigrok asked me to join the board in October last year and, as I like his vision for the station and his enthusiasm for getting it more involved in the community. I thought it would be a way I could put my 30+ years media experience to use in retirement.
The station has been kept alive by a small band of hard-working volunteers, many who’ve been doing multiple shows each week for years and fundraising like mad to keep Triple B on the air, so one of the first initiatives we’ve undertaken is to actively seek out new voices to add to the lineup, to help carry the load.
This area has so many talented, creative and interesting people and we’ve set about recruiting them.
We now have local musicians Joe Newton (“Slipstream Radio” Fri 4-6pm) Scott Collins (“Big Country” Mon 4-6pm) and Tim Porter (“Valley Sounds” Sun 2-4pm) doing shows that feature a wide range of music you probably won’t hear anywhere else.
Eve Jaremka, who we got to know as publicist for SWIFF, is a journalist who has worked on Fleet St in London and she’s doing an interview show that focuses on local business and social initiatves on “The Sound-Out” every second Tuesday from 9am. Colleen O’Brien is also getting some thought provoking interview talent on “Conversation” on Thursdays 9-10pm. Bernard Kelly-Edwards really has the gift of the gab and he gives us another authentic indigenous voice on his “BKE Show” Thursdays 1030-1200.
Local paramedic, Linda “Patsy” Piggott, turns out to have had an undiscovered calling to be a music presenter and she’s been filling in for us as her ambulance shifts permit. And Kye, who himself started at the station as a 14 year old, has introduced our youngest on-air partnership “Team Strange” to Tuesdays 4-6pm. He’s been working with Harry and Seth – a couple of cool local kids who came to us through our radio training course at the Youth Hub.
It’s been keeping us very busy working with all this new talent but it’s incredibly rewarding helping people discover a love for radio and including more of the community in what we do.
We’ve also re-introduced the Community Radio Network’s current affairs program “The Wire” to our weekday schedule 5-5:30pm each evening. Independent reporting is such a rare beast in these times, that we feel it’s important to make it available to our listeners. And when you hear the topics they cover like indigenous issues, health, education, environmental concerns and women’s rights, you realise how bogged down in party politics most mainstream media current affairs shows are.
Ultimately we would like the Friday edition of “The Wire” to be our own Bellinger Shire current affairs instalment. But we need to find the right volunteers to make that work.
Having said all that, programming isn’t the only area where there’s been new blood introduced. We’re incredibly lucky to have new board members like Michael Clarke and Andrew Walls who’ve had careers-full of administrative and financial experience. They are streamlining the business side of the operation. Brenda Freestone has recently taken on the role of sponsorship manager and she’s out and about securing new sponsors. It’s vital. All the on air talent in the world won’t help if we can’t bring money into the station to keep it up-to-date and operating.
You obviously see a lot of potential at 2BBB- what is your ultimate dream for the Bs?
I would love for this community as a whole to appreciate and utilise this valuable asset – at the very least become subscribers. It’s only $20 a year. We have an independent radio station which is something to be treasured and sustained. All the big networks are offering less and less genuine local content. 2BBB can offer local voices, talking about local topics, telling you what’s happening in your area and it can help build a sense of community.
And, one thing I really want to see happen soon is for us to get our gorgeous, iconic little OB van, spruced up and back at as many community events as possible.
Songversations every 2nd Sunday on 2BBB is going gangbusters.
What do you learn about someone from their musical taste?
You just get little chapters from people’s lives, really. Music can evoke so many memories and emotions, I think when people explain why a song means something to them, you can’t help learning about them. And it gives you a different perspective on a person. You know, I love that Yhan Leal used to breakdance to Michael Jackson as a kid or that Scott Collins and his boys jump around their loungeroom yelling along to Rage Against the Machine.
Did you enjoy working with The Bellingen Readers & Writers Festival this year?
Very much. I had just moved here when the Fesitval was on in 2016 and I attended a couple of sessions and thought “How lucky am I to have this sort of Festival on my doorstep?” I had to pinch myself this year thinking, “It’s back, and this time I’m part of it.”
What was the highlight for you at the BRWF?
All the authors I dealt with were wonderful, but I couldn’t go past chatting with Michael Leunig as a highlight.
Favourite media personality you have worked with? (apart from me)
I worked with so many that it’d just create enemies (more enemies?) for me to single one out.
Tell me about the band you play in and any upcoming gigs?
Thought you’d never ask! Valla’d are a trio from … guess where? When I retired my number one ambition was to go back to playing guitar – something I gave up due to my overwhelming mediocrity nearly 40 years ago. I met a couple of locals musos, Lach Whetham and Brett Barber, who were prepared to put up with my rookie guitar playing because we discovered we can do quite lovely vocal harmonies. We have keyboards and two guitars so that suits doing light harmony rock/pop/country material like Crosby Stills and Nash, Mamas and the Papas, Lovin’ Spoonful, The Hollies, Crowded House. Mainly we try to pick songs that have been overlooked by other bands. Our slogan is “Heavy on the harmonies, light on the loud”.
Annie Arnold has threatened to give us a gig at No5 on 14th September. Or maybe we threatened her? We are also playing at the Urunga 150 year celebrations in September.
What do you like best about Bellingen?
Its music and its quirkiness.
Your best sporting moment was?
Finally getting to see Roger Federer live when he played Davis Cup in Sydney in 2011. And I just went as a paying customer, not as a reporter! Although I did actually get to ask him a question at a press conference after a Fast4 match at Sydney Entertainment Centre a few years later and that was big!
What would you like to be remembered for?
Something I learned from talking with a lot of top sports coaches is “don’t worry about things you can’t control”. What I’m remembered for falls into that category.
What are you listening to right now?
I’ve always got a playlist of several new albums, or albums I haven’t heard before, on the go. At the moment my favourite newish one is probably “Adam and Brooke” from my mates Adam Eckersley and Brooke McClymont.
What really annoys you?
Donald Trump and anyone who defends him. (It might go deeper than annoyance.)
The best lesson your parents taught you?
To be able to poke fun at anything – including yourself.
What project are you currently working on?
Trying to attain adequacy on guitar!
Favourite restaurant in the Shire?
I almost live at The Beachhouse in Valla Beach – but as it’s technically out of the Shire, I’ll throw in No5 Church Street. Delicious food and live music is my favourite night out.
The previous career you wish you could forget?
Working in the newsroom at 2GB.
In the Movie Spillanegate, who would Debbie Spillane?
Samantha Bee. She’s got my vocabulary nailed.