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School of Communications and Arts, WAAPA and Kurongkurl Katitjin - Occasional Speaker

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Mr Greg Pearce

Good morning everyone, colleagues, graduates and especially your very proud family and friends.

To graduate in your chosen field is a wonderful achievement of which you should be very proud. Congratulations on persevering and getting to this day but, as I’m sure you’ve been told many times; this is just the beginning. Education is a privilege and shouldn’t be thought of as ending when you leave ECU. Hopefully you’ll continue the education process for the rest of your life.

I’m also very proud to be standing here today presenting this address, because apart from attending graduation ceremonies for my three children, this is the only other ceremony I’ve attended.

That’s because when I decided that I wanted to work in the world of radio there were no university or even TAFE-style courses available. I was lucky to enter this profession after completing Year 12 and receiving a traineeship at a small country radio station.

Boy, how things have changed since I started. And things are changing at an ever increasing rate, or maybe that’s because I’m getting old and change seems to be speeding up.

To give you an idea of how things have transformed in the electronic media since I started, I’ll have to give you a short history lesson, because most of you probably only remember me as being the guy who read the news on Channel 9 until the end of 2012.

It was January 1969… yes 45 years ago to save you doing the maths, when a skinny pimply faced 17 year old kid began work as a DJ at the commercial radio station in Bunbury. On my first day I somehow presented a two hour late night music program.

Even after all these years I can still vividly remember the absolute, sheer, gut wrenching terror of opening the microphone and presenting that first program. The only training I’d had was some work experience during the Year 12 English course at Bunbury High, and some practice during the Christmas holidays.

I mentioned being slightly scared presenting that first program. What I find hard to explain is the unbridled joy at getting through that first two hours without making too many mistakes, and looking forward to getting back in the studio the next night and the night after that, to learn how to improve and become a good broadcaster. I was hooked good and proper.

My parents’ hopes that I would go to Perth and to Teachers College, as it was then called, were quashed. They gave me a year to sink or swim or I had to go back to school. Dad was a policeman, my Mum was a nurse, and their son wanted to be a radio announcer? Luckily, I survived that first year and they lived long enough to be proud of my achievements, but deep down I think they always wanted me to get a real job one day.

So what I’m saying is that if you have the passion to do something a little different and are willing to learn the craft through education and training don’t be deterred. Just go for it.

1969 was a great time to start in the business. I’d always been fascinated by music and radio but to be able to work with both was a dream come true. Back in those times, The Beatles were all still alive and recording. The White album was released in ‘69. Other popular artists of the day included the Rolling Stones, Neil Diamond, Stevie Wonder, Bob Dylan, The Bee Gees, John Farnham, Russell Morris, Roy Orbison, Led Zeppelin and a baby faced kid fronted a band with his brothers, the Jackson Five. Remarkably, most of those artists are still alive, some still performing.

But of course music has changed dramatically both in style and the way it’s presented. We were true Disc Jockeys back then, playing vinyl discs. After vinyl there were reel to reel tapes, cassettes, CDs and now computer driven playlists for radio stations and internet music sites. Sadly the tactile pleasure of taking a record out of its sleeve to play on a turntable has long gone.

To this day I still love working in radio when I can, talking to people, playing music that helps them remember great times in their lives. It’s a great honour to be able to inform and entertain listeners.

I had no idea back then, that one day I would make television my main business. Neil Armstrong walked on the moon that first year, the Jumbo Jet and the Concord were both launched in ‘69 and sadly the Vietnam War was yet to run its course. I was interested in news, but had no real desire to be involved.

That came a few years later after I moved to Perth and worked with 6IX and its parent company Channel 7. I read my first Television bulletin at the ripe old age of 21. I remember it being a public holiday… the regular news presenter was ill and I was the only one on station with a jacket and tie.

Nothing in my four years in radio prepared me for TV. The terror that I’d experienced on my first radio shift was replaced with the feeling that I wished I’d made that last minute trip to the mensroom before going live on TV.

But again once, when I got over those first feelings I realised I was hooked and heading down a different path. Radio was my first love, but TV became my obsession.

In the ensuing years I moved around looking for opportunities. Eight years at the ABC in Perth and Melbourne became my university degree. I had the honour of working with some of the most experienced broadcasters of the time. A great training ground for a lot of presenters and journalists many of whom are still in the business today.

I had the pleasure of working at Channel 9 in Perth when the Today Show started in 1982. I was employed to present the local news every half hour in this new field of Breakfast Television. A radical concept then… par for the course on every channel today.

I also had the pleasure of being involved when Channel Ten started up here in Perth in 1988. I had 15 wonderful years with Ten both here and in Sydney. We pioneered the (First at 5) news which was sneered at by the more established channels, then. Today news is an all-day event on some channels.

Change is inevitable. I’ve seen radio go from just being AM, to FM and now digital and internet. Listeners are now involved, not just talked to.

Television went from three black and white channels - to colour, then high definition, digital and internet with hundreds of channels to choose from.

The speed of change has been astronomical.

In your relatively short lives the mobile phone has changed from simply being an instrument to make phone calls to now being an indispensable tool for business and pleasure.

The web only became widely accepted 20 years ago. Facebook is only ten years old; Twitter, just eight. Not to mention all the other social media platforms.

Imagine the changes that you will see during your working life.

I’ve also had the pleasure of working with and meeting some truly inspirational people. From national leaders, to sports stars, heads of business, entertainers from all around the world. It’s been a great journey.

If I can offer you some advice as you prepare to embark on your career it’s this.

Always treat your colleagues with respect. If you’re in the performance field, electronic media, and theatre especially, there will be a lot of people behind the scenes who can make you look good. Equally they can make life difficult. It’s a very small pool and you can’t imagine how often you will cross paths with the same people as you progress in the industry

Therefore… be honest. have integrity.

And finally… be unique. The most successful performers, artists and presenters have something that makes them stand out. It can be as simple as the look, the voice, the presence. The quicker you stop copying someone else and be yourself, the quicker you’ll progress.

I wish you well in your chosen career. There’ll be speed bumps along the way, but I’ve always treated them as opportunities to reflect and re-assess. My most recent was not having a contract renewed at Channel 9. But that opened up the opportunity to work in the broadcast unit at ECU. And, I must say this last year has been a revelation. Helping talented young people in the postgraduate and undergraduate broadcasting areas, some of whom are graduating today, has been a joy. Passing on my experiences and assisting them find their path into the business has been very gratifying.

So, be proud of who you are and where you come from. The ECU brand is highly regarded.

I think I speak for all lecturers when I say we will follow your career with interest and pride.

Be passionate about your work and never lose the thirst for knowledge through education and experience.

Thanks again.

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