‘I’d know that voice anywhere’
"HELLO, could I speak to....?"
"Oh, is that Ron Bell?"
The number of times conversations have unfolded along these lines for radio 2GF broadcaster Ron Bell are too many to recall but go some way in explaining how often his distinctive mellow tones have revealed his identity before he has a chance to utter his name.
"They usually know who it is straight away. I'd be no good at making dirty phone calls to anybody," he jests.
And this is not just a phenomenon confined to the Clarence as Ron recalls years ago telephoning a random government department in Sydney.
"I got put through to the 25th floor and got a hello out before they asked if it was Ron Bell. I'd never met or spoken to this person before. That one was really quite amazing."
When Ron was working in Sydney for a time he got to know radio royalty John Laws and Stan Zemanek well enough to get together with them for lunch or dinner twice a year.
"Stan called up one day and said he'd found this tremendous restaurant up at Palm Beach, so he organised for the three of us to go up there. I went across to 2UE and a staffer took us all up there.
"The three of us were all walking down the corridor of this fancy place and the maitre d' was standing there in a dinner suit and pipes up and says 'well I'll be buggered. It's Ron Bell from Grafton'.
"Both John and Stan looked at one another and said 'hang on, isn't this our town?'
"Turns out the guy used to work at the Royal Tavern (in Grafton).
"Of course he quickly apologised and then started fussing over them but it was quite funny gazumping the both of them. They never forgot it."
Of course back in the Clarence, Ron is pretty much the equivalent of John and Stan, the voice of the Clarence you could safely say, in a career he has been honing since first arriving in the Jacaranda City in 1968 from Brisbane to begin a lifetime in radio broadcasting.
Ron said he had always wanted to work in the medium, listening to radio growing up and then pursuing that path with vigour.
"I used to hang around with some radio people annoying them and they pointed me in the right direction.
"There was no such thing as college in those days so I went to the Brisbane School of Broadcasting. It was set up by a radio television personality of that time, Jim Iliffe."
After learning the ropes and finding his natural voice, one which he has pretty much stayed true to, Ron said it was just a matter of sending out audition tapes.
"I sent out a dozen recordings all over Queensland and New South Wales. Orange, Wagga, places like that. I could have ended up anywhere."
Ron received a couple of replies eventually securing the job at Radio 2GF remotely, having never set eyes on the place until the day he started.
"I just turned up and took it on."
The enthusiastic 19-year-old's first gig was the evening shift from 6-11pm.
"Night times were what you did when you started. The station went off air after my shift back then."
Ron said it was his job to play and talk about music which was pre-programmed for him.
"It was mainly easy listening music and I was just the voice on the radio in between the songs," he said.
Eventually he broadened his experience by working different time slots as people left the station.
"I ended up doing the afternoon shift from 1pm. There was no talkback in those days. I just had to play music and talk about it.
"I had a bit of knowledge about it but back then you had the old LPs which had information on the sleeves so you could read those and pretend you knew what you were talking about."
Ron said Grafton's Don Rathborne was doing the popular breakfast program back when he started and helped mentor and encourage Ron in the early days.
"He was there a number of years and when he left in 1969 I was offered the slot.
"That's when you start to get a higher profile so everything really took off from there."
Ron continued that role until the early 70s when he left Grafton to further his career in stations at Goulburn, Orange, Wollongong and Sydney, before heading back to Grafton to pick up where he left off by hosting the breakfast slot again.
Eighteen months later he was off again to Sydney to take his broadcasting to a new level in television and venture into the journalistic side of the industry, something that had always attracted him greatly.
Ron said that new direction was very satisfying, however he did recall a couple of cringeworthy moments working as a journalist, particularly when it came to live interviews.
"Doing those in the public arena was very challenging. I remember Mark Edmondson had beaten John Newcombe in the Australian Open and I did a live cross to Channel 10, had an ear piece in and said something to him like 'that was a tremendous effort from you to beat John Newcombe' and he just looked at me and said 'yeah'.
"That was it. The producer just yelled 'get rid of him' in my ear."
The other tricky occasion was in Grafton when the Commonwealth Bank Cycle Classic was on and an Italian rider had won the race on a particularly steamy summer's day.
"I grabbed him aside and said 'it's pretty hot out there'? and he said 'Eh?'. He didn't speak a word of English and I was standing there interviewing live.
"Luckily some guy from The Daily Telegraph who spoke the language overheard us and started interpreting for us."
Of course interviewing people has been central to Ron's career and he said it had been a great privilege and honour to be able to speak to everyone from prime minsters to everday community members and to cover the events of the Clarence, both good and tragic.
"I was at the station when the Cowper bus crash happened. It was a terrible day.
"I never had to go to the site thankfully but the staff that did certainly needed support, so I did the best I could.
"We fielded calls from
television and radio all over Australia that day.
"It was old school media back then but I think we did have one mobile phone back then."
Ron also reflected on all the flood coverage, the Cowper Rathgar Appeals and other charity sponsorships 2GF had been involved with over the years.
"I couldn't imagine how much money we've help raise during that time. It must be at least a couple of million dollars.
"A lot of those things we used to do have been taken over by government and social media today."
The Clarence community has always been at the heart of Ron's radio career, an honour he never took for granted.
"It's great to be involved at that level but it's more about what the station can do for the community rather than putting yourself in the picture.
"Sure I have an ego, you have to in this business, but I've always tried to make everything I do about the people," he said.
"It's like the Saturday morning sports show I used to do. The cricket news was the important part not the fact I just happen to be reading it out."
The 66-year-old said the recent cancellation of that show wasn't the reason he decided to finish up at 2GF: it was simply because the time felt right.
"I've been broadcasting for 46 years, and been in management for the last 25 years.
"It really is a 24/7 thing and while I still feel physically fit and healthy, I'm mentally drained. I just felt I needed to pull up stumps."
Ron said in all those years he never had a morning where he didn't look forward to going to work.
"I promised myself I'd never get up and think 'oh no, I've got to go in there today'.
"I know people who can tell me how long they have to retire in years, months, days and minutes and I always think how disappointing that must be to go to work every day with that feeling. I never really had an end date in mind."
In the end it turned out his was January 9, 2015, and while he is no longer going to by heard over the radio waves at 2GF it won't be the last time you hear his voice around the Clarence.
With plans to get involved in the Jacaranda Festival and considering putting himself forward as a candidate at the next Clarence Valley Council elections, Ron isn't going to stop being a contributing member of the Clarence community.
"I've already been asked to host the centenary of the Lower Clarence Football Association on the June long weekend so there's no such thing as retirement really."
While Ron has done many thousands during his career these are just a few names he has engaged with from the political and local arena
Bob Hawke, Paul Keating, John Howard, Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, Tony Abbott
Tim Fisher, Larry Anthony, John Anderson, Mark Vaile
Neville Wran, Nick Greiner, Bob Carr, Barry O'Farrell
Many but Ron said his proudest achievement was being able to help mentor and advance the early careers of Troy Cassar-Daley and The McClymonts, introducing them to the media in their early days and playing their music. "I gave Brooke (McClymont) her own radio show after school. It is a great way to develop communication skills."
Best interview ever
Ron said while it was a great honour to speak to everyone from prime ministers to everyday people, the best person he had ever interviewed was the former Governor-General Quentin Bryce. "She was here for a Jacaranda ladies lunch in the 70s. She was the most fascinating person I'd ever spoken to. So intelligent, and well-educated. She was a barrister back then and so vibrant.
"She left an impression on me as the most amazing person I had ever met. I still think that and have never forgotten that interview. I remember everything I spoke to her about but I couldn't tell you what I asked Bob Hawke."