Penrith rides the radio waves

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It was April 2008 and the often controversial and always changing Penrith radio scene was at the centre of another major shake-up.

Kick FM – which had launched with a star-studded line-up a year or two earlier – had dumped a raft of its on-air talent and replaced it with a bunch of good people who were experienced journos but had minimal radio experience.

Former Weekender Editor and current Penrith City Councillor Bernard Bratusa had Alan Jones shaking in his boots by grabbing the breakfast shift.

Panthers lower grade forward and Papua New Guinea international James Nightingale was handed the gig of breakfast newsreader. One day, he read a story about Alzheimer’s Awareness Day twice in the same bulletin. That was James – cheeky and always ready to deliver a laugh.

I happened to be the beneficiary of these changes, installed as the Drive host. It was a long shift – 2pm to 7pm weekdays – but one that allowed me to become totally engrossed in the radio world, an industry I always loved but had very little experience in.

I even used to drive the Kick 87.6 car around Penrith.

One thing that stood about Kick was its hyperlocal approach. From bushfires to car accidents, local sport, politics… if it was happening in Penrith, you knew you could trust Kick to cover it.

We covered the NRL without the rights to do so, somehow getting away with doing ‘live updates’ from the stands that sounded much more like ball-by-ball commentary than an update.

To say Kick skated on thin ice at times in terms of what it was or wasn’t allowed to do would be an understatement. But it was all done with Penrith at heart.

Kick would last only a couple of years, entering the museum of Penrith radio stations highlighted by the likes of 2KA and OneFM.

The old 2KA studios in the Penrith CBD.

As announcers we probably didn’t enter Penrith radio folklore with the likes of Frank Ley or Brian Sanders, but boy we had some fun.

Kick was replaced by Vintage FM on the 87.6 dial, which maintained its Penrith focus over the next decade.

In more recent times, My88 has been Penrith’s go-to radio station, broadcasting out of the same Jamisontown studio that Kick did all those years ago.

But that studio fell somewhat silent this week, with My88 moving off the FM band and entirely online through iHeart Radio. It is a sign of the times and will give them wider reach, and they remain committed to keeping content focused on greater western Sydney.

Vintage FM meanwhile has been sold, though its focus had shifted to the Camden, Macarthur and Wollondilly regions some time ago. Its previous owner Wayne Willmington remains connected to the station and is also working strongly with his Target Radio Network.

Faith Radio will take on the FM radio licence that Vintage and My88 once dominated, but without a local approach.

In short, for the first time in a long time, Penrith has been left without a traditional local radio station.

There are other community players around of course, like WOW FM out of St Marys.

And there’s plenty of rumours doing the rounds that another Penrith station may emerge out of the Jamisontown studios, again possibly online-only.

From 2KA to OneFM, Kick to Vintage, and countless other iterations over many decades, Penrith radio has always been a crazy ride, and I doubt it will stay silent for too long.

But it’ll never quite be the same.

The glory days, as you might call it, are likely gone.

There is of course still a place for local radio and in fact any community without a dedicated station providing hyperlocal news and updates is all the poorer.

But these days, the ‘big three’ of newspapers, radio and television are joined by a plethora of media sources, and with various rules governing local stations, commercial success can be tough.

Whatever happens, radio in Penrith will always have a storied history. Hopefully another chapter will still be written.

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