My first introduction to Radio 3ZZZ took place in 1990, as an emendation to my morning pre-school ritual. Since I can remember, while eating breakfast, I would listen to the news and the sparsely interpolated songs on the SBS Greek program. One day, while driving my cousins and I to school, my father casually switched the radio onto the Greek program at Radio 3ZZZ, thus beginning a tradition that, some twenty-four years later, still endures.
Unlike the SBS Greek program, which over the years lost much of its fresh character and increasingly became a translation of conventional English language news, 3ZZZ appeared to be a breath of fresh air. Instead of finely tuned and micro-produced segments, here there was lively, often unscripted debate, commentary on what was transpiring in the Greek community, rather than mere news reportage, and an introduction to a completely novel way of looking at the world, divorced from the often blinkered and stereotypical world view presented by mainstream media.
I began to listen to the Greek program religiously, intently concentrating upon each spoken word and protesting vociferously when my father, who is possessed of talkback propensities, attempted to switch to 3AW. As a result, not a few Greek words entered my vocabulary. In particular I still remember how far away from school I was when Greek community poet Dina Amanatidou was interviewed in relation to the launch of her poetry collection
‘Δροσοσταλίδες και Διάττοντες’. These were mysterious, moist sounding words and I resolved to use them in almost every sentence, to the chagrin of my Greek school teacher, who curtly informed me that ‘διάττοντες’ was not a Greek word at all and that I should stop using it in my essay ‘Πώς πέρασα το Σαββατοκύριακο’.
3ZZZ Greek programs are also responsible for opening up a world of Greek music, of whose existence I was hitherto blissfully unaware. To that point, my understanding of Greek music was limited to traditional demotic songs and some snippets of ’60s-’70s popular music performed at Greek dances or played on old LPs by my aged progenitors’ progenitors. All of a sudden I was introduced to something ‘έντεχνο’, meaning replete with ‘techne’ or art, and I would be moved by the music, simultaneously pondering the often profound meaning of the verses. Even today, whether there is a plurality of other Greek radio programs on various stations, 3ZZZ maintains its commitment to the alternative. Particularly heartwarming are the musical selections of Zisis Pouros, who is, as far as I know, the only Greek broadcaster in Melbourne who realises that Greek Australian children also listen to the radio and accordingly, plays
Greek children’s songs, mostly of ‘Zouzounia’ provenance. Last week, he inadvertently played a Zouzounia that had half the words removed, so that children could, presumably, read the rest of the lyrics from a television screen.
The prevalence of on-air gaffes such as Zisis’ is another factor that makes 3ZZZ so endearing. The presenters are all volunteers and one gets to know their foibles or stock phrases over the years, whether these be 3ZZZ stalwart and historian George Zangalis running out of breath after delivering a particularly lengthy exposition (Zangalis, by the way, is known for being able to attract the most illustrious guests from the political sphere on his show and subject them to uncompromising cross-examination), Anthe Sidiropoulos’ off the cuff remarks or the genial Christos Fifis forgetting to switch off the microphone and talking to his guests over the music during the musical interlude. There is no stuffiness or pretention about the program. We accept and love the presenters, warts and all, especially the volunteers recently arrived from Greece, whose employment of the language and knowledge of the diversity and complexity of Modern Greek culture is marvellous. Dimitra Lagoudaki’s program on culture and current affairs, in particular, must remain as a yardstick by which all other Greek language programs in Australia must be measured. For this is the 3ZZZ Greek programs main appeal: its capacity to teach and inspire.
Despite the lack of technical support, 3ZZZ Greek programs are in no way amateurish. Quite the contrary, they are ‘jam-packed’, (to use an expression from the old youth Tria Harakiri program) with news and analysis. They are also decidedly partisan, presenting a certain outlook both on the world and the Greek community at large. The Greek programs thus have a decidedly left-wing slant, and inhabit a world where the ‘progressive forces’ of the community, which include the Workers Association Democritus, the Friends of KKE and the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria, act or should act in concert with the Labor Party in particular in order to bring about social justice. 3ZZZ Greek presenters have not shied away from attacking members of the Greek Orthodox Community where they believe that they have departed from this ideal, though criticism of such nature has died down recently, with the successful construction of the Cultural Centre. Greek Australian politicians and even the Diatribist have received tongue-lashings by acerbic presenters and this is how it should be in a complex, multi-faceted Greek community where a plurality of voices and opinions must be heard and questioned. This is why, even on the occasions when the usually astute political analysis becomes puerile and simplistic, leading one to believe that they are listening to Radio Bulgaria during the Cold War, i.e. the Liberals are the personification of evil, lack of criticism of the Labor Party’s departure from its own ideals and espousal of neo-conservative economics, exposition of antiquated theories of class struggle and a polarised view of the community between the progressive ‘us’ and the reactionary ‘them’, even when the views expressed are historically revisionist, i.e. Stalin (who can do no wrong) and Churchill never did divide the Balkans between them and Mao never caused the huge famine in China during the Cultural Revolution, it is instructive and important that these views be aired and considered. After all, they form part of the backdrop upon which the story of our community’s development was played out. It is also worth considering how valuable it is to have a government funded radio station that is able, without fear of reprisal, to criticise that government.
As George Zangalis points out in his history of 3ZZZ, its existence was not secured without a struggle. Facing closure during the Fraser era, passionate activists such as Zangalis engaged in people power tactics that while today, in a decidedly less free world, would have been ineffective and resulted in criminal prosecutions, at the time forced the government’s hand and kept 3ZZZ alive. It is for this reason alone, for their active stand for freedom of expression and cultural diversity, that we should value the work of its presenters and take an active role in supporting, promoting and enhancing its programs.
On the odd occasion, while driving around town, my radio dial will inevitably travel to 3ZZZ at times un-Greek. In particular, I will look out for the Albanian and Assyrian programs, which are extremely well presented, the Coptic youth program and the program that purports to broadcast in a language which its presenters claim is ‘Macedonian’, simply because I enjoy its music. On other occasions, when stuck in traffic and bored to tears by the conventionality of mainstream radio, I will turn to 3ZZZ at random, trying to guess the identity of the language I am listening to and gain a sense of its musical tradition, or lack thereof. And it is here that 3ZZZ excels in a way that other ethnic broadcasters do not. Rather than encouraging the ghettoisation and isolation of ethnic cultures in Australia, it actively promotes the sharing of cultural traditions in all of their facets, whether these be musical, literary, sporting, religious or political, arriving at that point at which the ideologues of the original multiculturalism aspired to. The extent and perpetuation of that achievement, in the light of 3ZZZ’s forty year anniversary, depends on all us.
*Dean Kalimniou is a Melbourne solicitor and freelance journalist.