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The Canberra Times | In the City Magazine | AUTUMN
Canberrans follow every word they say, engage with them in passionate conversation and debate
their merits as radio presenters, but how much do we really know about the women behind 666
ABC Canberra? BY JONI SCANLON
Alex Sloan, Genevieve Jacobs and Louise
Maher have taken very different paths in
career and in life, yet at the heart of their
stories are similar struggles and joys.
For Alex the choice to enter the world of news
was made very early in life. A self-confessed
country kid who grew up listening to ABC radio,
Alex wrote in Year Four she wanted to work in
agriculture or journalism.
Journalism eventually prevailed, but only after
she spent time in Papua New Guinea teaching
agriculture and running a school farm. On
her return to Australia she started as a cadet
journalist at a rural newspaper. Her radio career
flourished when she took a job as a rural
reporter with the ABC in Hobart and her next job
allowed her to work in the United States, Japan
and Hong Kong.
For Alex, moving to Canberra in 1995 to
present the Drive program has brought her much
joy including a husband and a baby girl.
When her daughter Zoe was born, Alex left
Drive so she could take care of her and instead
did the Gardening program for four years. But
once Zoe started school, Alex was ready to dive
back into a weekday program and now presents
“I feel I’ve had a rather blessed run through
with the ABC,” she said.
“I’ve never felt there were barriers to where I
wanted to go.”
However, Alex admitted that at one point in
her career she had the choice to take the foreign
“I was counselled by a senior female staff
member who said ‘what do you want to do? Do
you want to do that or do you want to have kids?’”
Alex realised she did want a family and is
thankful that in Canberra she has been able to
have both a family and a career.
Her time here on radio has also allowed her to
interview some fascinating people, but for Alex it
isn’t always the well-known that stick with her.
“While people will look to the famous and the
rich and important, it’s often the normal people
just living their lives that will touch you,” she said.
“That’s why talkback is good, because all of a
sudden someone will come in and stop you in
Afternoons presenter Genevieve Jacobs knows
the feeling. Growing up on a family farm near
West Wyalong, she wanted to be a journalist since
she was 10.
“I’ve got a huge curiosity about people’s lives
and people’s stories and I love delving into what
makes them tick,” she said.
She began work in the south-west slopes on
local and regional papers and as a freelance
journalist, and still lives in the area with her
husband and four children.
It was her passion for gardening that brought
her to Canberra; as the ACT and Southern NSW
co-ordinator for Australia's Open Garden Scheme
she worked closely with an ABC member on the
regional committee, who told her a presenting job
“It’s a wonderful place to work, and that’s
because Canberra is this extraordinary mixture
of being a big country town, stuffed with really
interesting people,” she said.
Genevieve admits that working on the
Gardening program was great practice for
working out how radio works.
“People assume that radio presenting is just
about journalism or just about entertainment, and
in fact it’s about creating an atmosphere and a
mood, and understanding what the audience will
respond to as much as anything.”
The spontaneity of radio appealed to Genevieve
and she enjoys pushing boundaries doing things
on radio that would seem impossible, including
having profoundly deaf hip hop dancers on the
“You have to be somebody who absolutely is
prepared to thrive on that because that is what
drives the sense of adventure,” she said.
“It’s far more challenging and exciting to say
‘who are the people behind this, what drives
them, what way can I find to tell this story that’s
completely imaginative and novel, and who can I
find that will tell it in a way that the audience has
never heard before?’ That’s a real triumph if you
can pull that off.”
Drive presenter Louise Maher’s love affair with
the airwaves also began when she was young; as
a child she was lifted onto the kitchen bench to
listen to kids' shows on the ABC.
“I always wanted to be a journalist. Ever since I
was really little I used to like writing and I worked
out that if you wanted to write then journalism
was a good thing to do,” she said.
As an 18-year-old Louise began studying
Communications and after six months was offered
a job as a cadet journalist.
“My training to do court reporting consisted
of following a reporter to a case and sitting there
with the reporter as he described what was
happening and then the next day I had to go and
do it,” she said.
“The training was very much sink or swim and
I had to deal with some quite confronting things
when I was a young journalist like murders,
fires and car accidents, without any real support
or backup as to how to deal with those things
“But in terms of learning on the job it was just
Louise lived in Alice Springs for six years
producing and presenting radio programs; she
also found the time to have two children.
To be closer to family they moved to Bega,
where she became one of only three female
regional program managers. It wasn’t the only
time Louise found her gender to be an issue – she
was turned down for another cadetship because
at the time women weren’t considered to be
authoritative enough for radio.
“Early on there was a lot of feeling that women
weren’t meant to be on air,” she said.
“(But) you need a balance of male and female
voices on the radio.”
After 30 years in radio, she is now part of a
team of local presenters that is predominantly
It was here in Canberra that Louise covered the
most memorable stories of her career during the
2003 Canberra bushfires.
“That was the most significant time in all the
work I’ve done as a journalist, because what we
were doing then mattered to people so much, it
was so immediate, it was affecting their lives, and
it was just a really emotional time,” she said.
For Louise it was also a trying time because she
lived in Duffy, an area ravaged by fire, and had
to return there each night after hearing stories of
devastation; but it was important not to wallow in
her own feelings.
“If I start sobbing on the radio, that’s kind of
While Louise’s career has taken her across
the country, she feels like people have really
welcomed her into their hearts and homes in
“Life always takes you in directions that you
don’t expect and that’s part of the fun of it,” she
“The experiences I’ve had in radio are just
Life on Air
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