Community broadcasting trailblazers: Wayne Bynder

November 11, 2020


In 1979 a young Wayne Bynder found his way to the 6NR university campus studios and his path in community radio was set.

As Wayne winds up his tenure as Station Manager at Wangki Radio in Fitzroy Crossing, he spoke to CBF’s Tracee Hutchison about his 40-year career in community broadcasting.

What attracted you to community radio as a young 19 year old?

I was a poor student in 1979, starting a family, and was asked to get involved with a radio program being broadcast from  Community Radio 6NR on the campus of the West Australian Institute of Technology. I was eager to try anything and jumped at the chance.

A couple of years later while volunteering for the Aboriginal program I was asked to apply to be a trainee in a paid role at the station. They must have recognised that I had something to offer? At that stage my photography course was coming to an end and my film making career wasn’t going anywhere so I applied.

By then, I’d built some experience and felt like I had something to offer. I happened to live across the road from Curtin University, WA Institute of Technology as it was then. I enjoyed the excitement of developing skills and possibly building a career. I did not realise at the time that this was the best industry I could possibly choose. I was lucky.

Who inspired you to sit behind the microphone and what did it mean to you as a young Aboriginal man to find your voice in community media?

My drive to do something different was the inspiration, plus in the back of my mind was the fact that I came from a family of workers and my dad was the main role model. All the older folk were seasoned workers having worked all their lives for what they achieved. And that inspired me.

As I gained skills, I gained voice. I could talk about issues and the media gave me power to elevate our Aboriginal life. Perhaps the ego took over, but I really enjoy communicating to listeners through a radio program. I would have completed thousands of radio programs and every time I finish a program I find it takes a while to come back down to earth, such is the excitement of it.

You’ve carved out an impressive career – working in radio stations in Perth, Alice Springs, Darwin, Kununurra, Broome and Fitzroy Crossing – what are some of the highlights of those years?

There are many highlights that include being involved in:

  • the Land Rights marches in Perth in the early 80’s and covering those events for our listeners
  • sowing the seeds of a broadcast organisation from a group of volunteers – at the time we were combining with another group broadcasting their program and together were working towards incorporation of the group
  • developing Indigenous programming for the ABC – they approached us to provide programming as they were not doing anything in that space – my thought at the time was that any new development would assist the group
  • being recruited by CAAMA Radio in 1985 which was in its early days was an exciting new experience for me
  • broadcasting at Uluru during the handover in 1985 was an amazing experience and one that I cherish
  • early development of radio broadcasting in the Kimberley – I was able to work with the ABC in traversing the Kimberley from a base at Waringarri Radio which involved travel to each of the towns discussing radio with the emerging groups – it’s incredible that nowadays when travelling we can listen to Indigenous radio across the Kimberley
  • broadcasting in the ABC Darwin Saturday evenings and Breakfast through Regional Radio ABC Alice Springs
  • adding to the development of Noongar Radio in Perth as Station Manager for 5 years
  • converting/saving cultural recordings from magnetic tape to digital files for longevity at Wangki Radio – a short project that involved running any recorded material from aging magnetic tape into a digital format meant hearing wonderful stories and dance from up to thirty years of Wangki Radio, and from even earlier
  • managing Wangki Yupurnanupurru Radio, Fitzroy Crossing and the excitement, challenge and inspiration of these experiences.

There were so many highlights in each location and I am just honoured to be part of each and contributing in some way. I love the industry for the opportunities it has provided me.

As a proud Noongar man, and former Station Manager at Noongar Radio, can you tell us how important that station has been for First Nations people and stories in Perth/WA?

That station has been extremely important for Noongar and First Nation broadcasting across the country. Broadcasters over the years have covered amazing stories that mainstream can only gloss over. Our broadcasters have done them in depth and with compassion and empathy.

Perth is one of those capital cities of Australia where everything happens and nothing happens. As a broadcaster we had to think about the impact a story angle can take. Should we be doing a negative story, thereby perpetuating what mainstream believes of the Noongar community, or should we leave that to other media? These were the dilemmas facing broadcasters at Noongar Radio. We always manage to get by.

I just love the concept of a Noongar Radio broadcasting to the community by community people. I’m very proud of what’s been achieved there and with radio stations across the country – First Nations Media.

COVID and Black Lives Matter has had a profound impact on community broadcasters. How has it been for you at Wangki and how important has the station been to the local community during this time?

It’s disasters like this that really bring home the need for localised broadcasting. At Wangki Radio we increased our programming by introducing a daily report – we did 50 episodes, conducting in excess of 100 interviews.

The Central Kimberley so far has been spared the pandemic, yet we were ready and the emergency responses people in the valley were ready. Not having one positive case caused me to think about the program and what we were trying to do. So we decided to park the program for the moment, intending to bring it back if required.

What was interesting about this exercise was that the threat of the pandemic in the valley created opportunities for us as broadcasters. I had been working very hard for a couple of years trying to develop new programming. Thankfully some locals decided we needed daily programming discussing the issue and what needed to happen should an outbreak occur here. The urgency and energy it brought to the station was impressive.

The Black Lives Matter campaigns across the world provided opportunity to consume news and discussion about our own situation in Australia, with Deaths in Custody. We didn’t have in-depth discussion or dedicated programming on Deaths in Custody but were able to raise and promote on social media about the issues.

How important have First Nations media platforms been in protecting and preserving language and culture, and creating a place for story?

First Nations media is critical for giving us a voice and the way it works is amazing. It is very different to mainstream media. Always at the forefront is the protection and preserving of language and culture in the way that I have worked and the goals I set myself.

Telling our story our way is best for us. Thankfully the broadcast world is changing and the central focus of getting the story out and not being too concerned about the quality of how it is getting out. Quality of technical aspects of reports are very important but COVID has swung it in favour of just getting the story out no matter what. I like this.

You were in Fitzroy Crossing when the station started broadcasting 30 years ago and ended up behind the mic. Can you describe what the station meant – and means – for local First Nations’ communities?

It was a very exciting day for me some 30 years ago. I happened to be visiting and noticed what was in place when the ribbon to the front door was to be cut had somehow fallen through. I felt strongly at the time for the Fitzroy Valley people and didn’t want it to go wrong so jumped on the desk and started broadcasting.

Next thing I know the crowd had gathered at the front door with the great man Mr Preston along with David Hill MD of the ABC ready to cut the ribbon. All the locals were there and there was a huge sense of achievement in the air. Wangki Radio had been born from those efforts the old people had put in over a number of years earlier. Great day and I was ever so thankful to be a part of it.

Wangki Radio has become a regular feature of community broadcasting awards in recent years – what does it mean to you when you see those young people shining?

Interesting concept leadership, isn’t it? Like others assisted me with opportunities, I was able to provide the open door for our young people. What they achieved when they walked through that door is all about them.

Wangki Radio punches above its weight in terms of the quality of those young people and their standard of broadcasting. We are small but we are good. I have often thought how great this is to create great broadcasting with such great young people. Give the kids the keys and great things can happen.

When you look back over your 40-years in community broadcasting, how would you describe its role and importance in the broader media Australian media landscape?

I just happened to be in the right place at the right time to get involved in community broadcasting. When leaving primary school, the best ever teacher’s words were ‘you kids are lucky as you were born at the right time when the world is changing’. I remember those words so clearly as I found my way.

As a listener and media practitioner I have enjoyed the new ideas and variety you often find in community broadcasting. This tier of media gave many of us opportunities to enter the industry. I wanted to have a go. To see how far I could go. I think I did okay?

Thank god for community broadcasting – I think it’s the most important media in Australia.

You’re off to Geraldton to be closer to family. Is there another chapter in the Wayne Bynder story in community broadcasting?

You better believe there is another chapter – perhaps Radio Mama, but certainly doing something in the industry. My ego will be pleased.

A couple of years back I did a lot of work for a very important organisation working with the Stolen Generations. Hopefully, opportunities come up there again.

I know the industry is changing and there is likely to be many opportunities for broadcasters to provide programming throughout the industry. I reckon I have enough experiences to be part of that change. Will be giving it a go!

Postscript: In late November 2020, Wayne won the Community Broadcasting Association Australia’s Station Leadership Award for his work at Wangki Radio, and also for his involvement at CAAMA Radio, Waringarri Radio, Noongar Radio and so much more.

Know any community broadcasting trailblazers?

This story is part of a series of a in-depth interviews with community broadcasting trailblazers and others who have made a lasting contribution to community media. If you’d like us to profile someone at your station, please get in touch with Tracee Hutchison.

Photo (courtesty of First Nations Media Australia): Wayne Bynder received the Outstanding Contributor Award at the 2019 First Nation Media Awards.

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