Community, volunteering at Triple R and free time

 “Free time”, what we have left when we stop being paid or otherwise obliged to be somewhere and do something, is a loaded phrase, one that can mean a lot of different things. Let me tell you what it has come to mean to me. 

The studio from which community radio station Triple R broadcasts from is almost exactly six kms from the Crikey Melbourne office. Five of those are taken up by a stretch of Nicholson Street that bisects Cartlon and Fitzroy, north through to Brunswick East. If I’m lucky, and mostly I am, I’ll have spare the hour and 20 minutes that it takes to walk between the two between the end of my shift and the start of Spin Cycle, the weekly show I co-host at 7pm on Thursdays.

Some days the walk will be simple therapy, working out kinks and knots that have bunched in my brain over the course of the day. Others, it will be dedicated largely to self-censure over clumsy writing or a sloppy oversight in that day’s piece, or gnawing anxiety that the politician who didn’t respond to my questions might find the time to call me back and let me know what they think of my work. 

And then, some days, when the air is just the right kind of invigorating cold, to be gulped down lively and bracing and then expelled in dissolving plumes, when the passing buildings glow contended in the dimming gold sunset, on those days my surroundings will sync with the music in my headphones and I will see it all as though for the first time, as a tourist would. And as it all melts past – the ornate landmarks, the terraced houses, the blue-green parks, the restaurant windows newly ablaze in the fading twilight – with a shock of something lovely and sad, I become acutely aware that this quality of light, this chilly air will not be available to me forever. 

I promise I will get to what any of this has to do with volunteering for Triple R.

Spin Cycle deals with the media in Australia, looking at the previous week’s events and issues, each episode anchored by an interview with a journalist or expert or both. It is something that takes quite a bit of work to do well, and there are weeks when its approach coats me in the same vague irritation as an unwanted obligation to a social sports team – “ah Christ, again?” But I’m yet to leave that studio without feeling at least invigorated, usually genuinely cheered. Through Spin Cycle, I’ve been able to speak to some of the greatest journalists in the country, some of the deepest thinkers about the craft and what it is to do it well, and many more people of great energy and principle, doing important work, up and down the country. All that would be quite enough to make the effort worthwhile. But it’s a lot more than that.

I first became involved with the station when, unaccountably, I was asked to fill in on Breakfasters for a week in mid-2018; I still truly believe the message asking me, a media novice with practically no broadcast experience, was meant for someone else, and they’ve just been rolling with that error ever since. I’ve been doing bits and pieces for the station ever since, including a couple of series of a show called The Alternative History, which looked into deep music history, specifically at the points at which music meets various kinds of revolution – say, looking at what it was like to be Stalin’s favorite piano player, albums recorded by exiled freedom fighters, Rock n Roll’s queer roots, and so on.

It’s one of my favourite things I’ve ever done and if anyone ever offered me money to do it , I’m sorry to say a spinning office chair and a Charlie shaped hole in the nearest window would be the last Private Media would see of me. It wasn’t just that I was following a passion – it was the fact that, during every single episode, every idiosyncratic obsessive collection I’d put together, I would get a phonecall from at least one listener. Sometimes to check the name of the song playing, sometimes to suggest artists I might also like, often just to say they were enjoying it. 

A new arrival in Melbourne, I’ve always been unusually reliant on the institutions where I spend my days for sites of community and connection. This is risky, but on this front 3RRR has delivered, and then some. 

David Graeber writes about the phenomenon of “bullshit jobs”, working arrangements so clogged with meaningless and unproductive tasks that they ought not exist. He argues, among other things, that such jobs serve merely to keep us occupied during hours that might otherwise be better spent pursuing one’s “own projects, pleasures, visions, and ideas” – that is, actually living. Free time.

I’m very lucky that my current job is routinely stimulating, tiring, funny, sad, lively. But I’ve had jobs which fulfilled a terrifying amount of Graeber’s criteria for pointless ways to spend your only shot at life, enough to be acutely aware of the differences between a life and a career. 

And that’s what I was getting at with my afternoon reveries at the top of the piece – that walk is one of the best parts of my week, and it only happens because a while back I committed to give some of my free time at an old community radio station which, as one of the better jokes Gerard Henderson has made at my expense put it, could be only described as for a left wing audience “if it had a few more listeners”. 

What I get in return is time and space, carved out and dedicated to some of those “pleasures, visions, and ideas” that go into being human, the particular human I am in my free time.

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1 year ago

What a lovely ode to living in the present, Charlie.

Charlie Lewis
1 year ago
Reply to  Felicity

Thanks so much Felicity, I’m really glad you like it!