26 February 2024

Roger Summerill reflects on his 'hip' early days in radio and the full life that followed

| Jen White
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Man leaning on wall.

A promotional picture of Roger Summerill from the 1970s and inset, Roger today. Main photo: Supplied.

Roger Summerill has held many executive and leadership positions during his long career, but few would picture him as a hip young Sydney radio announcer who was reprimanded for promising his listeners a “helluva good time”.

The man who would become chairman of The Illawarra Grammar School Council for 20 years and president of The Illawarra Connection for 12 years was about eight years old when he fell in love with radio.

“In those days I was a bit of a show-off I think. When our family went on car trips I’d be reading out all the road signs – so annoying,” he says.

“Mum took me to 2GB when I was probably about eight or nine. I saw the radio announcer for about a minute or two and thought ‘this is for me’ and I became a radio tragic.

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“There were three things I wanted to be – one was to be a member of parliament, second was to be an Anglican priest and third was to be a radio announcer on 2GB. I was never an announcer on 2GB although I did manage the station for a couple of years.”

Roger’s career in radio lasted for more than 50 years as he worked his way from microphone to management. He’s managed some of Australia’s biggest names in the industry and interviewed many in the entertainment world. Nine years ago he was asked to put together some of his memories from those days, which he has now done in a memoir aptly titled My Life in Radio.

It’s full of anecdotes about his work, the “famous and infamous” people he met and worked with and is a fascinating insight into the world of radio.

He admits in the book that he wasn’t a good student, but Roger was rarely without a job, sometimes juggling two at a time.

While working at the English, Scottish and Australian Bank (ES&A) in 1965, Roger entered the commercial radio announcing section of the City of Sydney Eisteddfod.

Man leaning on a railing.

Roger is now “almost” retired. Photo: Jen White.

He won the competition and the princely sum of 50 pounds and a few months later his radio career began at 2UE hosting weekend midnight to dawn shifts. However, he continued working at the bank Monday to Friday – “I was young and obviously sleep did not seem that important!”

A year later 2UE offered Roger a full-time position presenting a new evening show.

“When I look back, my early days at 2UE were a bit weird. Here I was at 21, married with my wife [Anne] expecting a child and I was being marketed as the hip new young announcer – the hot teenage DJ who was the youngest on-air announcer in Sydney,” he writes in the book.

A week after he started he was rapped over the knuckles when a newspaper columnist referred to him as the “new young announcer on 2UE who promises his listeners a helluva good time”. He was told the term was “inappropriate” for those listening to the station.

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Roger worked alongside some of the biggest radio names of the era at 2UE including Bob Rogers, Gary O’Callaghan and John Laws, who he says was a great support in his early days.

As host of the station’s Hotline show he interviewed the big stars of the day, and says his first interview with a young singer called Roy Orbison remains one of his favourite memories, despite a glitch with a flat battery in his tape recorder.

“Later, when I was teaching at the Australian Film and Television School, my first advice to students was to check their equipment before they went on location!” he writes.

He met and played snooker with John Farnham when he was known as Johnny Farnham singing Sadie, and Normie Rowe was one of a number of featured artists on the show along with Billy Thorpe, Col Joye, Ray Brown, The Ramrods (managed by future Australian prime minister Paul Keating) and Johnny O’Keefe.

Roger and Anne moved to Nowra in 1985 when he became manager of 2ST and later helped guide the birth of Power FM, but his contribution to the community didn’t stop at broadcasting.

He was concerned about the city’s massive unemployment rate, particularly among young people.

“It seemed to me that tourism could be the answer to the problem of keeping our good young people in the area, rather than having them move to Sydney,” he writes in the book.

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He went on to chair the Shoalhaven Tourism Board for 13 years, during which time the Shoalhaven was the most visited local government area outside of Sydney.

In 1999 he received an Order of Australia Medal (OAM) for his contribution to regional tourism and service to the Shoalhaven.

“Although I received the award, Anne and my family and many others supported me and enabled me to do what I did,” he writes.

“Anne supported me all the way during those years that I spent in public life. She made it possible and I am so grateful for that.”

Cover of a book.

The cover of Roger’s book. Photo: Supplied.

When Roger became general manager at WAVE FM in the late 1990s, he and Anne built a home at Shell Cove, where they still live today.

He left commercial radio for the ABC as NSW local radio manager, which covered all regional ABC stations and 702 ABC Sydney. He stayed with the ABC for the next seven years and even after his “official” retirement, he continued his connection with the national broadcaster for many years.

Despite entering radio rather than the priesthood, Roger says his faith has always played an important role in his life.

And although he contemplated a run at politics while living in Sydney, in hindsight he’s pleased it didn’t eventuate.

“I have enjoyed a life that was much blessed and have much to be thankful for,” he says.

My Life in Radio is available as an ebook and from online booksellers.

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