Jan Fisher can lay claim to be Tenterfield’s oldest DJ and there’s no fancy digital programming during her slots, but that hasn’t stopped her attracting a committed following that’s quickly on the phone to check up on her if she dares to miss a shift.
And that’s not too likely. She tells her listeners if she doesn’t show up on air she’s either dead or in hospital, and thankfully it’s only hospital stays that have detained her, including for the replacement of both hips.
Even that didn’t slow her down too much. Daughter Wendy said doctors forbade her mother from driving for six week after the ops, but she was raring to get back up the highway to her microphone as soon as time was up. (There was also an episode of chasing and tethering a stray cow before it could wander onto the highway, at a time when she should have been resting up and recuperating.)
Jan lives in Deepwater and treks up to Tenterfield twice a week for her shifts. On Friday afternoons it’s country and western, while the Saturday afternoon playlist features “a bit of everything”.
Both Jan and Wendy volunteered with the Deepwater radio station prior to Wendy’s daughter Louise getting involved with Ten FM when she started going to Tenterfield High School. Wendy then joined up, followed by Jan.
“Alan Bennett was managing the station at that time, and when he asked what sort of music I was thinking of playing I said country and western,” Jan said.
“’Country and Western? I don’t think people will like that’, Alan said.”
Nevertheless Jan travelled all the way from Deepwater initially for just a half-hour slot on a Friday.
Her commitment expanded and at one stage the family’s programs ran one after the other on a Saturday afternoon, so it was a real family affair. Wendy would be first on with her mix of 1960s and 70s music, Louise would follow with contemporary music and Jan would finish with her country and western. Wendy and Louise eventually had to give up their slots due to other commitments, but 16 years later Jan is still plying the airways. She’s now 80, but has no plans to retire.
“I look forward to it, and I seem to have a following,” she said.
Jan thinks of her times on air as sitting down and having a cup of tea with friends, and that warmth comes through over the airwaves.
She does find that the medium has become a bit more structured over the years, and has found she’s had to reign in her strong opinions a little.
She flatly refuses to use the station’s digitised library, considering herself totally computer-illiterate.
All the music she plays comes from her own extensive collection of CDs.
That’s why she often can’t fill an impromptu request for a particular song, but will play it the following week if possible.
The CDs used to be stored in her living room until there was little room left for living, so they were relegated to another room. She’s not sure how many she has.
“There’d be a few thousand,” she said.
Jan spends 3-4 hours the evening before each session, planning the next day’s program.
Then after each program she goes home and records that day’s playlist by hand into a book so she doesn’t repeat a track the next week.
Her collection covers a variety of genre in addition to country and western. There’s music from the 50s and 60s, even back to the war years, as well as what she calls ‘normal’ music. She can’t stand jazz or modern rap, and when Jan has an opinion she sticks to it.
She does relent and use a computer to queue the sponsors’ ads, which have been organised to play during a commercial break at the press of a single button.
Jan never had any intension of becoming a radio star.
“I’m really surprised I got into it. It’s not something I thought I would.”
She was born and raised in Sydney, working in a dress shop until she married and then at a variety of manufacturing plants. She moved to Glen Innes in 1985 after raising her family, and spent a decade there before moving farther north, to Deepwater.
A dear Glen Innes friend who sprays weeds on properties thought they were both getting a little long in the tooth for their work, and suggested if she gave up her radio job he’d give up spraying.
“Well he’s no long spraying, but I’m still on the radio,” she said.
She’s also a big rugby league fan and there was a slight wobble in her conviction when the Sunday games were shifted to Saturdays, but radio won over. She thinks the volunteer effort that keeps the community radio station going is “marvellous”, and she’s a great admirer of her fellow volunteers, particularly blind Ten FM DJ Mike Harris.
“I just enjoy what I do,” Jan said.
“I don’t drink and I don’t smoke. I only buy magazines for the puzzles. This is my social outlet.
“It keeps the mind active. If you stagnate you die.”