Crackle, pause, "testing, one, two, three . . . buzz . . . silence. Community radio station BLU FM 89.1 has come a long way since its first half-day test transmission in June 1986.
As it prepares for a big 21st birthday bash and local music extravaganza at the Clarendon Hotel on Sunday, July 1, the Katoomba-based station can boast of 24-hours of broadcasting between Mt Victoria, Woodford and beyond.
It has more than 60 presenters, new studio equipment and antennas and a strong local music focus.
Plus a swag of Australian Community Broadcasting Association awards won since 2004 and programs for the young, the old, people with special needs and everyone in between.
But back to day one . . .
"We went to air for four hours from an old, council-owned hut that used to be in the Leura village car park, using an antenna made from a few bits of pipe and a borrowed transmitter," said BLU FM president Ken Quinnell.
"The process was started by then mayor Peter Quirk and Member for Blue Mountains Bob Debus, who succeeded in securing a grant to supply studio equipment.
"A committee was set up by myself, Will Silk and John McIntyre and at that rate we were looking at another 100 years before we got a full-time licence!
"I can remember the first test broadcast, the crackling and buzzing, equipment breaking down and the record players and cassette tapes," said BLU FM life member Betty Chiavlo.
"There was a lot of dead air in the 80s and people talking and then realising the mike hadn't been turned on!" said Bob Foster.
But it wasn't too long before quality community radio with a strong local flavour and relevance emerged.
"The first radio serial by the late Tim Watson lasted for 10 years and was community broadcasting at its best," said Betty.
"It was called The Dodds – a fictional farming family from Hartley – very corny, but very good listening."
By 1994, BLU FM was broadcasting 24-hours per day, seven days a week from its Gang Gang Street, Katoomba studios with State and Federal funding support, connected to a 200 watt transmitter on the roof of council chambers.
Popular programs running for more than 10 years include The Melody Lingers On, Shake This Shack, Shades of Country, Random Groove, Entertainment This Week, Recycling the Blues, Strangers in the Night, The Soccer Show, The Katoomba Surf Club, The Time Machine and Sex, God and Garage Sales.
Important public services include the Community Notice Board, The Gig Guide, The Talking Newspaper (for the vision-impaired), local weather updates, outside broadcasts and regular updates during major fires and storms.
The station remains a key local music industry supporter, dedicating airtime to local musos (including 100% local music on the weekly Mountains of Music program), organising music competitions in all genres and presenting Blue Mountains Music Week and Awards every November.
At the website Blufm.org.au there is a section dedicated to local artists, with summaries and contact details of 55 of the region's best.
"I think the key to our success is being part of the community right across the board," said Mr Quinnell.
Behind the microphone
Shane Desiatnik puts a few quick questions to Time Machine presenters Tom Oriti and Josh Graham:
Q. What drew you to the BLU FM airwaves?
A. Our interest in music and recording shows on tape at home, realising that people could actually listen to our work!
Q. You're still on the airwaves ten years later, what keeps you there?
A. Our passion for all types of music that mainstream stations tend to neglect.
Q. In a nutshell, what's your show about?
A. We're on between 4-6 pm on Saturdays and play pre-2000 music in the first hour, new music in the second and informally chat with each other and listeners about whatever comes up – that's the beauty of live radio.
Q. Give a brief example of a memorable dead air filler you've done.
A. We dialed directory assistance on the last Federal election day and asked for John Howard's number at The Lodge in Canberra. After a brief pause, the poor operator firmly remarked "doesn't your mother know you're using the phone, little boy?" and then hung up!
Q. Do you have any radio role models or favourite programs?
A. We've always been loyal followers of the ABC and Triple J as well as Sydney's FBi, 2SER and other programs on BLU FM.