Saturday, November 08, 2014
20 YEARS OF 3XY RADIO HELLAS
On Late Night Live a few weeks ago, the sagacious Phillip Adams asked Graeme Blundell if 3XY, a Melbourne radio institution still exists. Graeme in turn mused that it had probably been dissolved. It was to this conversation that my thoughts turned, when I beheld the breathtaking Yiannis Ploutarhos on the stage of Hamer Hall. Clean-cut Yiannis, the sort of person you would have no qualms taking home to meet your mother except when forming the sneaking suspicion that she may try to steal him from you and take advantage of his boyish demeanour, generously offered to fly the long distance to Australia in order to perform at a charity concert for the benefit of Agapi Care, Frontitha and the Australian Greek Welfare Society. He did so at the behest of 3XY Radio Hellas, which is definitely in existence and this year, celebrates 20 years of Greek broadcasting.
I remember in October 1994, the founder of Radio Hellas, Spiros Stamoulis calling us excitedly and stating: 'Τώρα έχουμε φωνή.᾽ For the first time ever, our community would have a twenty-four hour radio station, run by the community for the community. What followed completely transformed our community, as we then knew it. Firstly there was the novelty of having a Greek voice reach each and every available home at any hour. For years, our radio, permanently tuned to 1422AM, would be on during every one of our waking hours. In those days, local actors, journalists and would-be media personalities all scrambled to contribute to this audacious undertaking. We would avidly listen to the radio-play Ἡ οικογένεια Στουρνάρα,῾ following the fortunes of a typical Greek-Australian family, and laugh at George Kapiniaris' humorous "Hair Loss is not a Greek Island." Visiting Greek educator and historian Kostas Tsonis produced a remarkable set of programs tracing the multi-faceted history and culture of the various regions of Greece, whilst the presenters of the current affairs program 'Ο κόσμος σήμερα,᾽ Dimitris Papanikolaou and Panayiotis Souvatzis, became overnight celebrities, feted at Greek functions for years. In those days, vast number of Greeks would gather around the table, and engage in heated discussions on the topics presented by the station. In many families, such as my own, that tradition endures, with a new generation of broadcasters.
The key to the success of 3XY Radio Hellas has been the accessibility and relevance of its content. For the sports fans, there are live sports-casts of the various leagues. For home-keepers, there are programs devoted to recipes and handy hits around the home. For children, there are fairy tales and children's songs. For students, there is the long running NUGAS programme. For music-lovers, there is a wide range of the latest, as well as the most traditional of Greek music, often played by enthusiasts who wish to share their love of any given particular singer. The Kazantzakis-worshipping Dimitris Tsambasidis, who ends his program with the catchphrase "I love yous all," enjoys legendary status among his followers. Unbeknownst to many, there has existed within Melbourne, a large coterie of non-Greek fans of 3XY, who tune in, simply to enjoy the music.
Even its advertisements are historically important for they would provide the sociologist with ample material to study the needs and attitudes of the Greek community in Melbourne. Some of those jingles are purely magical. Take for example, this pearl from an advertisement for Nicholas TV Service: "Αν χάλασε το βίντεο, το στερεοφωνικό σου, αν έπαψε να παίζει το τελεβίζιο σου...῾ Then there is this emphasis on healing by Goumas Smash repairs: ᾽Γκούμας, γκούμας, της τράκας ο γιατρός...᾽ By far the best advertisements however, where those produced for the car dealer George Kotses, one of which in particular, is significant because it possibly is the first Greek-Australian rap song ever-written: Ἑπούλησα το ακίνητο, να πάρω αυτοκίνητο, να σ᾽ έχω στο αμάξι, μη βρέξει και μη στάξει, Κω, κω, κω, κω κω, Κωτσές.᾽ Absolutely brilliant, and definitely not as disturbing as the advertisement for George's Lingerie, which begins: ῾Σέξυ, σέξυ...᾽ and ends, ᾽για σένα το φοράω μωρό μου, για σένα᾽. We would do well to realise that a generation of Greek-Australian children have been brought up upon these jingles and harness this knowledge to better effect.
Most importantly, for those who are bereaved, lonely, ill or isolated, 3XY Radio Hellas is a lifeline that brings into the home, a social context and sense of community that many would have otherwise have lost. This is why the fact that 3XY Radio Hellas is present at almost all significant functions of the Greek community, providing commentary for those at home who cannot make it, or encouraging others to make the effort, or relaying the Orthodox church service for those to ill to attend their local parish, is of intrinsic importance to our community. Furthermore, without 3XY Radio Hellas' generous commitment to community fundraising, the raising of necessary funds for worthwhile community endeavours and charities would prove a difficult task indeed. Quite apart from the annual radiothons for Aged Care and other facilities, one can remember just how united the community was when it scrambled to raise money for the survival of Heidelberg United soccer team, or when it donated generously to the appeal to raise funds for the Greeks of Northern Epirus. In encouraging and facilitating us working together, Radio 3XY is an inestimably intrinsic part of the complex glue that binds us all together.
The commitment of the Stamoulis family to the community as exemplified in 3XY Radio Hellas and its many other endeavours has now been assumed by an Australian-born generation of that family. This commitment has intensified, adapted itself to the changing demographic and cultural needs of a diverse community so that a nuanced, sensitive and inclusive approach to Greek broadcasting is achieved. With no less a personage as the ubiquitous and passionate Deputy Victorian Multicultural Commissioner Ross Alatsas as manager, 3XY Radio Hellas has elicited the praise of Federal and State Governments, including, just recently, that of the Prime Minister himself.
My own association with 3XY Radio Hellas has been a long and rewarding one. In 1999, having returned from accompanying the Archbishop of Albania Anastasios on a visit to the Greek villages of Northern Epirus, I was requested by Spiros Stamoulis, who was then also the president of the Panepirotic Federation of Australia, to present a four-part programme on the region. He also asked me to write an accompanying article, in Greek, which was published in the newspaper TA NEA. For a young Greek, still not out of university and knowing nothing about radio, this was a big deal, and I remember how carefully I attempted to craft the narrative around a selection of admittedly cacophonous polyphonic Northern Epirot funerary dirges, some of which were culled by Spiros Stamoulis, in the interests, as he stated, of not frightening away listeners, possessed of a less hardcore tolerance to he music of the region.
In 2003, I was back, this time presenting an arts and literature programme in Greek and in 2005 I returned yet again at the behest of Spiros Stamoulis, presenting the Epirus programme every Wednesday night, ever since. The programme, punctuated by telephone calls from Spiros Stamoulis in the early days, demanding that we play happier songs, has proved to be my own window into a community that is demanding, devastatingly critical and yet, infinitely supportive. Week after week, listeners will call in, to offer suggestions and opinions, share memories, or in many cases, because they are lonely and just wish to speak with someone. It is a humbling and yet infinitely heart-warming experience to know that, through the radio waves, we are all linked together and can reach out to each other, via the same frequency, if and when we need to. Other volunteers, such as the committed presenters of the Pontian, Macedonian and Cypriot programs have expressed similar sentiments and provide invaluable services, not only to their compatriots in the narrow sense, but to all of us in general.
It is for all these reasons and more that there was such an outpouring of good-will and joy at 3XY Radio Hellas' 20th birthday concert. For it cannot be disputed that Greek communal life is now inconceivable without 3XY, an institution that has deftly incorporated itself within the warp and the weft of the intricate tapestry that is the Greek community of Melbourne, and without which, one would hazard a guess, the community itself would begin to unravel. Twenty years ago, the late Spiros Stamoulis, in his own words, gave us a voice and we are externally thankful. It is now up to all of us, via our own engagement and participation with, along with our support of, 3XY Radio Hellas to ensure that this voice will be continue to be heard and understood, far into the future. Paraphrasing an old 3XY Christmas jingle:
᾽3ΧΥ, 3ΧΥ Ράδιο Ελλάς,
δέξου τα χρόνια πολλά
από τους ακροατάς...῾