Lee Constable is a radio producer and presenter, recent Masters graduate, and the mastermind behind SoapBox, a weekly interview show broadcast on 2XX 98.3FM in Canberra and SYN Nation online. SoapBox focuses on profiling people who are passionate about social justice or environmental sustainability, and is a Young Folk Media program that was supported through a 2015 YWCA Canberra Great Ydeas grant.
I caught up with Lee to chat about her passion for radio, SoapBox, and what 2016 holds for her.
Tell us a bit about yourself!
I grew up on my family’s sheep farm near Galong, NSW. It was definitely my farm upbringing that first got me interested in the environment and science in general. I moved from there to Canberra in 2009 to start a double degree (Science/Arts) at ANU and got busy completing four majors (Plant Science, Earth and Environmental Science, Sociology and Drama). I chose Sociology on enrolment day at ANU when I realised that there were not enough Drama courses to fill my entire Arts degree. I’d never heard of it before, but the description (studying how society influences who we are) sounded fascinating, so that’s where another passion began.
I also have an interest in performance, communication and science which lead me to complete a Master of Science Communication Outreach in 2015. The practical part of this course was touring remote and regional Australia as a presenter in the Shell Questacon Science Circus, doing science shows for schools and communities. I gained some extra hobbies this year by being involved in some great projects for the Masters course. I started a tumblr, Instagram and Facebook page called ‘Sexy Pot Plant: Succulent Tales of a Sex-Positive Pot Plant‘ where I blog and post about the sexual liberation of plants from the perspective of a pot plant to educate people about plant reproduction in a fun, humourous way through pop culture and social justice references. I have really enjoyed the project so I’m hoping to continue it.
I love the idea of merging art and science as a way of communicating complex topics and I planned an event as part of my coursework too called Co-Lab: Science Meets Street Art in September where street artists painted works at Westside Acton Park based on the research and discoveries of ANU Science PhD students. People who came to watch the artworks take shape enjoyed the event and there are plans underway for the event to happen again in 2016, so that should keep me busy too! Last but not least – I produce and present a weekly radio show called SoapBox on 2XXFM and SYN Nation where I interview people who are passionate about addressing social justice and environmental issues.
Why did you start SoapBox?
I joined a group at 2XXFM called Young Folk Media in 2014. This is a hub for people 12-25 years old who want to learn how to make media. The hub was formed as a part of SYN Nation – an initiative of Melbourne-based youth media organisation, SYN where youth content from across Australia is broadcast online. I was keen to learn how to make radio content but the more I came along and contributed to the Young Folk Media shows, the more I realised that I really only wanted to talk about environmental and social justice issues. I decided that me talking on the radio about what I thought, read or understood about these issues really wasn’t enough – people need to hear what those who are working to address these issues have to say. Hence, after successfully securing a time slot on 2XX FM and SYN Nation and a Great Ydeas Grant from YWCA Canberra – SoapBox was born!
What draws you to radio as a medium?
I grew up with the radio on almost constantly. I even remember as a kid having my own cassette player/radio with a microphone that I would tape my own radio shows onto, saying ridiculous things like ‘This is Lee’s radio show where we tell you what’s hot and what’s not!’ My parents would have 666 ABC on always – as their alarm, playing in the kitchen during breakfast, in the car, in the sheep yards, the cattle yards, the garden or even on horseback.
If it wasn’t the car radio that was on, it was a small red radio that Dad bought Mum in the 80’s that would be carried around in a bum-bag Mum had made from an old pair of jeans. I say this all in past tense but the truth is Mum and Dad still have the radio on constantly at home, although the little red radio sadly died not too long ago. My sister and my parents love watching the cricket on mute, tuned into the radio because it’s worth dealing with a slight time lag for what they consider superior commentary. Around the age of 15, I started listening to the radio in my room all the time tuned to Triple J (since even in the midst of teen angst we’re a family of die-hard ABC fans).
It’s not until I started making radio that I thought about how much radio was in my life growing up and realised this might be part of what drew me to it. I love radio and podcasts as a medium because it’s something that can be enjoyed and consumed while you go about daily life, travelling, working, exercising or relaxing. Because of this, it can have a much wider reach and is a very accessible medium. The best radio presenters and podcasters can take you on a journey just with sound and keep you invested in a story or concept regardless of what’s happening around you. I’d love to develop my skills to be able to do that too.
What do you think of the radio/audio community in Canberra? Is it large/growing/supportive?
I’m still very new to the community but I have found the people I have met very supportive, particularly of young people starting out. The other budding presenters and producers in Young Folk Media are always very supportive and so are the people at SYN in Melbourne.
It was with the great support of Young Folk Media founder/former coordinator, Yen Eriksen, that I put in an application to 2XXFM and SYN Nation for the program and also submitted an application for a YWCA Canberra Great Ydeas grant which supports the program, so I am very grateful to Yen and YWCA Canberra too!
Sian Willoughby and Nida Mollison are co-presenters of the show and have been a great support, giving advice, contributing interviews to the show and meeting up with me to brainstorm and talk about the direction of the show. If there weren’t so many supportive young community radio people out there I never would have been able to pursue the idea and make SoapBox happen.
Why do you think it’s important to highlight people who are working on a social justice cause/movement, through Soapbox?
I think it’s very important for people working to bring about positive change, to have a platform for their voices and for the community to learn more about these issues through them and know that there are ways that they can get involved and contribute to this positive change.
SoapBox interviews don’t only focus on what the issue, movement or organisation is but the personal story of how the interviewee came to form this interest or passion. I think telling the personal stories of people who are invested in these causes is as important as talking about the cause itself. Everyone involved in these projects and initiatives have come there from different backgrounds and perspectives. People relate to the stories of others and I hope this also helps them relate to the issues that are discussed.
What has been a highlight show for you so far?
It’s extremely hard to choose! I interviewed an 11-year-old girl whose class made a greenhouse out of recycled plastic bottles and planned to present the idea to politicians at a Youth Parliament. She was amazing!
I also got to interview Emma Macdonald who is a senior reporter at Canberra Times, two-time Walkley Award winner (amongst many other awards) and co-founder of ‘Send Hope Not Flowers’ which is a charity focused on reducing maternal mortality in developing countries. She spoke to me about Women in Media which launched earlier this year, an initiative that gives networking, professional development and mentoring opportunities to women in the Australian media industry. It was ANZAC day which meant I suddenly realised I was locked out of the building where the 2XX studios are. I luckily had a field recorder, but no batteries, I was still very new to the whole thing, it was raining, I was stressed and nervous and she was due to arrive any minute.
When Emma arrived and I explained what happened she just said ‘Let’s go to that café over there. I’ll get some coffees and you get some batteries and then we’ll do this.’ She was very supportive and it was inspiring to listen to her talking about the challenges faced by women in media. She told one story of having a Vice-Chancellor on one line, a Federal Minister on another line, balancing two phones, trying to wipe a toddler’s bottom. She came back to the show again to talk about ‘Send Hope Not Flowers’ on Mothers Day too. I was amazed that this busy, successful, senior journalist was so willing to make time to talk to me on my community radio show.
How would you describe your process of coordinating an episode, from choosing a subject through to broadcast?
Sometimes I find out about people and organisations through others, sometimes they are people or organisations I have always admired and sometimes I read a news article or see an event online that piques my interest and fits within the themes of social justice and environmental sustainability.
I get in touch with interviewees usually by email and tell them about the show and what I’d like to cover. I have been really surprised by how enthusiastic and willing so many people have been to be interviewed even though I’m a beginner on community radio contacting them out of the blue.
I pre-record the show to make it as easy as possible to fit in interview times with my guests’ schedules and my own. I research the person and organisation’s background and get familiar with the key issues that they work to address, but I prefer to let the interviewee explain what they do and how they got there in their own words.
I then edit the interview and send it on to others at Young Folk Media (at 2XXFM) and SYN Nation so it can be broadcast on both stations. I start my show by asking ‘What gets you on your soapbox?’ and I finish by asking guests what one word or concept is that they’d like listeners to learn more about. I think this is really important because so many of us who work to address social justice or environmental issues spend our time thinking ‘this would be so much easier if people understood this!’
Anything exciting planned for the show in 2016?
In January I will be attending SYN camp which is a three-day camp near Melbourne with other under 25 year old media makers from Student Youth Network. It will be an opportunity for me to meet other young people who are making radio, attend workshops and get new ideas and skills. I’m in the process of making previous episodes of SoapBox available online as a podcast too so that will also be happening in 2016. I hope that having interviews available online will mean that they can act as a resource for organisations and individuals who want to give people ways of understanding what they do and why.