Veteran CQ radio announcer leaps into new career
YOU could be forgiven for thinking you had mistakenly called into a radio talk show instead of Michelle Landry's office when the phone gets answered by the dulcet tones of veteran Central Queensland radio announcer Laurie Atlas.
Unbeknown to many locals, in March the COVID-19 pandemic forced Laurie to bring down the curtains on his glittering 42 year broadcasting career - the past decade of which he featured on the air waves in CQ.
Such is the hazard of the profession that radio announcers rarely have the opportunity to say goodbye in the manner that Alan Jones is.
One day they are on air, the next they are gone; as was the case with Laurie who would have dearly loved to have bade his loyal CQ listeners an appropriate on-air farewell.
Well known for his interest in politics, it's a fascinating journey to retrace Laurie's career from a wet-behind-the-ears teenager starting his radio career in Kalgoolie, across Australia over the decades into his "exhilarating" new career working behind the political scenes as an electoral officer.
Retracing his steps
Born in Perth in 1961, Laurie initially harboured ambitions of being a cricket commentator but when he realised "that was never going to happen" he did the next best thing and applied to work at a Kalgoorlie radio station, two weeks after finishing high school in 1978.
"I thought it was good at the time but I've listened back to my audition tape and I would not have hired me," Laurie confided.
"I was absolutely woeful, but the manager must have seen something in me and I'm eternally grateful to him for doing that. It started a career that went on for 42 years and I've loved every minute of it.
"The saying goes, 'if you find something you love, you never work a day in your life' and I don't believe I've ever worked a day in my life."
After an eight month stint in Kalgoorlie, he moved back to Perth to work at one of their radio stations before embarking on an overseas working holiday where he had brief stints at international radio stations and continued to hone his craft.
He returned to work in Perth before moving to Victoria where he spent the next 25 years working in Melbourne and Geelong radio.
"Then we decided we needed a change out of Geelong so we packed up the car and moved to the Sunshine Coast without a job and luckily I was able to find one with Prime Broadcasting," he said.
He spent the five years between 2010 and 2015 working on the Sunshine Coast, broadcasting to 4RO before Grant Broadcasters took over ownership of the company, reorientating the station's focus back locally.
"I think local radio is always the best thing to have and so they offered me the job to go to 4RO," he said.
For the past five years, Laurie has lived in Rockhampton with his wife Rebecca and daughter Giselle, 15, initially doing the morning show before shifting to afternoons to make way for Ray Hadley.
In late January, he shifted from 4RO to 4CC in Gladstone before he was made redundant by Grant Broadcasters on March 30.
"It was a decision that they made and they made that decision based on what was going to happen during the COVID-19 situation," he said.
"I believe there were 79 of us throughout the network across Australia who went that day and a lot of good people went that day, and it was a shame. A lot of far more talented people than me which made me feel a little better that it wasn't personal, it's just business."
There's still a part of him left wondering why that fateful decision was made.
"After you get past the 'why-me' angst when you lose a job you love, you look back and think, 'I had a really good run'," he said.
Throughout his career, Laurie has had some great times behind the microphone but he regarded his time living and broadcasting in CQ as his favourite.
"I really loved the afternoon show. I got to talk to all the politicians and got to bring a little colour to the afternoon talking to all sorts of people who came into Rockhampton, talked to local clients, found out about them, local people who were doing wonderful things. It was a really enjoyable time in my life," he said.
"People seemed to like it. We had talkback callers, it was great I really enjoyed it."
Laurie was fortunate to be able to interview many famous people but one interview really stood out in his memory.
"Probably the most famous was Elton John but I absolutely mucked up the interview because I'd loved him all my life and I was absolutely starstruck and I just blathered my way through the whole interview with him sitting face-to-face looking nonchalant and weird at me," he said.
"If I could have that time over again I would probably be a lot calmer and do a better job of it (but) you get starstruck sometimes and that was probably the highlight."
Over the years he's had interesting interviews with the big players in Australian politics including Bob Hawke, John Howard, Paul Keating and John Hewson.
For almost three decades, he enjoyed an ongoing on-air relationship with Peter Ford talking about showbiz goss - someone who he regarded as the best in the business.
"Probably he's the one I miss most, apart from talking politics with a mate of mine called John Preston, who I really enjoy talking to because he has an interesting take on politics."
The next political step in his career
Politics remains a "healthy interest" for Laurie but he was never keen to run himself.
A career in politics is not for lack of opportunity with Laurie revealing he'd been approached "a couple of times by all manner of parties over the years" to throw his hat into the ring.
While content to listen to what politicians had to say, Laurie said with a laugh that he "couldn't stand to talk to people like me all day" and "it takes a certain type of person, and I'm not it".
"But I absolutely love the fact that th ese hardworking people put themselves out there and they put themselves up for scrutiny," he said.
"They try and make policy that makes people have better lives and they wake up every day trying to make a difference in the world and to be a part of that actually is exhilarating.
"I don't think there are politicians in Australia who don't work their butt off. I always knew they did, but my job on radio was to hold them up to scrutiny and I did that."
It was Capricornia MP Michelle Landry's office that approached Laurie about the opportunity to work behind the scenes in her office as an electoral officer.
"I thought that Michelle was a hardworking person. We didn't always agree on issues but we always had a healthy respect," he said.
He thought she, like every other CQ politician wanted the same thing - to make the country a better place and to leave their mark.
Since taking up his post, Laurie described it as exhilarating and he regretted not taking the step outside of his radio comfort zone sooner.
"I'm more than happy to be a guy behind the scenes who makes sure that someone else is doing the best job they can. I had the ego trip in radio. I don't need to be the guy out the front anymore," he said.
"I really enjoy it. I find it exhilarating to be a part of. Every person in Michelle Landry's office, every staff member who works there has each other's back and we all have one end goal - to keep Michelle in her seat."
Rather than just listening to people like he would on radio, Laurie said he appreciated being able to directly help people and make a difference in their lives.
"They might ring up and lately it's been all about JobSeeker and JobKeeper and Centrelink and various areas like that," he said.
"They might have a problem with their telco company our end and you can actually go 'okay well I have a way that I can help you with that' or 'I know the person you can talk to' or 'do you want me to get that drug put on the PBS' and I can actually go to the person in the Department of Health who can make that decision and make it a definitive change in someone's life and I really enjoy it.
"In radio occasionally you can help them but not in a tangible absolutist way.
"But this job, you actually know the people who you can talk to and I like the fact that I can make a tangible difference people's lives - it actually suits me even more than what I thought it would."
As for making plans for the future, Laurie blames John Lennon from dissuading him from the approach with his line, "life is what happens when you're busy making other plans".