SPOTLIGHT ON FAIRLIE HAMILTON
FAIRLIE KNEW AT A YOUNG AGE THAT HER DREAM WAS TO WORK IN RADIO and is NOw the producer of abc illawarra mornings.
When did you come to PLC Sydney, and what was your plan for after school?
I came to PLC Sydney in Year 6 in 1993. When I was 15, I decided I wanted to be a radio announcer, and that’s what I did!
What made you decide so early on in life to be a radio announcer?
I did a lot of drama and public speaking at school, but I was just obsessed with the radio.
On the train in the morning, I would listen to Wendy Harmer and The Morning Crew, and every night I would listen to the Hot30 Countdown. I’d be at home watching the television but listening to the radio. I listened to the radio all the time; I would ring up the Hot30 Countdown as a teenager - they probably thought I was a bit of a loser [laughs]. I just thought it’d be so fun; you get to listen to music, meet cool people; I just desperately wanted to be a radio presenter.
I’m lucky because I knew early on what I wanted to do, which many people don’t. I think it's easier to see what you want to do and figure out how to do it than to figure out what you want to do from scratch.
How did you manage to do it after school?
I did a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Media and Communications at UNSW. During my time at university, I started working at Austereo (2DayFM and TripleM). I started volunteering on the community switchboard, and then they needed somebody to do casual reception, and I put my hand up for the role. The promotions team then needed some casual promotions staff, and again, I put my hand up. Producers and the on-air staff then needed some staff to answer and monitor phone calls for the presenters. I just put my hand up time and time again for every opportunity presented to me until, eventually, I was presenting for community radio.
I finished my degree, and then I went to AFTRS - Australian Film Television and Radio School - and did a short course in Announcing. Someone in the class was doing a show in Chatswood on community radio, which led me to a role back in community radio. Then AFTRS rang, and they told me there was a job in Inverell - which is a country town I’d never heard of before - that they thought I was ready. So that was how I got my first job, and from there, I just kept trying to jump up the pyramid.
Did you enjoy working in radio from the moment you started?
I loved it - it’s the best. I’m so happy. It made me feel empowered because I had a goal, and I achieved it. Just the fact that I wanted to do something and ended up doing it makes me feel so proud.
What was it like for you the first time you switched on the microphone and you were live on air?
I can’t remember my first shift in Inverell, but I just remember how exciting the whole experience was. Every job I have done since has been so exciting because I’ve moved continuously up the ladder by continually say yes to new opportunities.
In the early stages, it was very much about getting better at my work. When I was in Inverell, for example, I would get a demo of myself every month or so, and I’d send it out to six or eight different program directors around the country in places I knew I wanted to work. They’d send me back emails saying I needed to work on certain things, I’d print them off, I’d highlight them, I’d stick them in a book and then I’d do it again. That’s how I improved. I made a concerted effort to get good at it. In the beginning, it was definitely about getting better.
What does a typical workday look like for you?
I now work at the ABC, which is very different from commercial radio. I’m a producer, so I start work at 6.30 am, and for two hours, we find the daily news and plan the first half-hour of our program, which begins at 8.30 am. The show is from 8.30 -11 am, Monday to Friday.
After the show finishes, we plan the next day’s program and finish at about 3 pm. We look at stories for the next couple of days in advance, but then the first half-hour is spent finding out what’s going on now.
My day-to-day tasks are really about finding stories: keeping an eye out, especially on social media. For example, I just saw somebody have a rant about a skip bin being delivered - maybe that could be a story? So it’s a matter of finding stories and then also calling, organising, booking the guests and making sure the presenter has the information to do the interview.
I also pre-record segments (I do a regular true crime segment) or I’ll fill in and present when people are off sick. It’s easy to sit back and answer phones for a couple of hours if it’s a quiet day, but presenting is a different pressure altogether, especially on the ABC compared to commercial. In commercial radio, if you’re doing a music shift, you might speak three times in an hour for thirty seconds at a time, whereas on the ABC, you’re talking for an hour straight.
I think I prefer the ABC at this point in my life because I’m older [laughs]. Commercial radio is more fun, just because of the environment. There are different departments to the radio station, and there is more social activity, banter and lots of has big personalities.
I’ve found the standard of work is high at the ABC. You’re dealing with fascinating current news stories; there’s a lot of integrity in working here.
Could you tell us about a mistake that you’ve made and what the learning experience was behind that mistake?
A mistake that I make in general is procrastinating. Mistakes always offer a learning opportunity. I’m always the first person to say that I’ve made a mistake, and it’s empowering - you own it, and you can move forward from it.
What’s the most significant piece of advice you’ve received, and who shared it with you?
When I started my first job working as a presenter in the country, I had never done any interviews before. I rang a guy that I’d worked with at TripleM (it was Ugly Phil, who I used to spend all that time listening to when I was a teenager).
He said, “You have to listen”. That’s proven to be excellent advice because you can write out twenty questions, but when you’re sitting talking to the person, they might say something that leads you down a far more interesting path or line of inquiry. That’s particular career advice, but it just goes to show you that it’s useful in your career to ask people and find mentors to try and get better.
What has been the proudest moment in your life so far?
The proudest moment in my life was when one day in 2007.
When I was a teenager, I was obsessed with Savage Garden, and my love of them was one of the reasons I wanted to work in radio - maybe one day I’d be able to meet them. So I finally managed to get an interview with the lead singer of Savage Garden - Darren Hayes - and I had to go into work very early in the morning because he was living in London.
On the same day of the interview, I received a nomination for a radio industry award. It was so vindicating; I was doing it all right. It was amazing talking to him, and I was completely honest with him in our interview - I admitted that he was the reason I was in this career. My 15-year-old self would have been like, “wow this is amazing”!
If you could travel back in time and speak to your younger self, what would you say to her?
The advice I would give to myself would just be to look after yourself. There are times where I’ve been healthy and feeling fantastic, and there are times where I haven’t been. By and large, the times when I’m healthy are the times when I’ve been doing better things in general. It sounds boring, but it’s the truth.
What are your go-to’s for inspiration or to create some balance in your life?
I use Instagram as an escape. I don’t follow friends, anyone from work or school - anyone that will remind me of my real life because it’s just a little rabbit hole for me. Funny memes, cute animals, weird artists, humans from New York; it’s a place where I can go, and nothing triggers me. Instagram has very much been a source of escapism for me.
What role has PLC Sydney had in your life?
I loved my time at PLC because I felt that I could excel in areas where I had strength. I had the opportunity to do things that I ended up being reasonably good at, or even if you weren’t good at them, and you were just interested in them. I got to play basketball, do drama club and public speaking - I learned about confidence which helped me down the line in my career. It just provided you with a lot of opportunities, and I absolutely loved school. I know not everybody did, but I just had the best time.
I love that the school is very diverse. For example, the fact that you do Dorcas or the pet show gives you a better understanding that it's important to do something for people that need help. Many private schools seem to be in areas where it’s just all the same type of families, whereas as the school is on a train line, it means that you’ve got people from all over the place, it’s as diverse as a private school can be.
For me, it helped me to become a well-rounded person because I got to try different things, meet different people and try and gain an understanding of things that I wasn’t aware of.
What are some of your most memorable moments from school?
I loved Mrs Coleman; she was my English teacher in Year 11 and 12 - she was the best. I loved Mrs Arnott, who I had as my Drama teacher. I loved Mrs Humphries, who was my biology teacher. I also loved Miss Lancley- she taught my Geography, and she was also our netball coach.