NOOSA – Nick Booth, who died yesterday in Sydney aged 76, was a busy and enthusiastic man, who delighted in being with people and working with people to get things done.
I knew him not in his professional, paid career as a senior public service administrator but in his role as a broadcaster on community radio, especially between 1976 and 1983. I also knew Nick and his wife Lynn as good and kind friends.
Nick was born in England in 1945 and later found himself in Papua New Guinea, where his father, Dr Peter Booth, it seems sometime in the late 1950s, was appointed medical officer at Saiho hospital – “18 miles and 18 rivers from Popondetta”, he wrote.
“Bush materials, flat swampy ground, a tropical paradise and absolutely lethal. Infested by mosquitoes all full of talciparum malaria, not chloroquine-resistant in my day.”
In 1962, Dr Booth established the then territory’s Blood Transfusion Service. By this time Nick had been packed off to school and university in Brisbane (where he edited the student newspaper Semper Floreat), spending holidays in PNG.
Many years later, Nick later resumed contact with Papua New Guinea as a committee member of the PNG Association of Australia, and was treasurer at the time the association showed great generosity to the Crocodile Prize.
An arts degree in his pocket, and wife Lynn and children now in his life, circumstance took him to the University of New England in Armidale, NSW, as Information and Publications Officer.
In 1976, this is where we met, as I fled PNG to establish a new radio station in Armidale. Nick was one of my most valued associates. He was already immersed in the city, the university and the medium.
Just a year later, I was off to set up an educational broadcasting service in the Maldives and Nick moved to Sydney to the Higher Education Board.
Andrew Greig, who himself died recently and had spent time in PNG, wrote a profile of Nick in 1980 which takes up the story:
“Nick had little contact with radio between 1977 and 1979. He could have gone to 2MBS (of which he strongly approves) but fine music is, in his words 'not his bag'.
"2SER was different. As soon as the licence was granted Nick had talks with the station and offered his services. In March 1979, Keith Jackson was appointed as station manager and the old firm of Booth and Jackson was re-established without delay.
“Nick had the job of auditioning and selecting the first batch of announcers. He helped to plan the studio procedure and rosters and to determine the station’s ‘on air’ style.
“His most formidable task perhaps was the launching of the station’s first official broadcast in front of a battery of television cameras.”
Nick was a first rate and highly skilled radio presenter with a wonderful sense of how to construct a music program. Listenable but not loud.
His radio ‘presence’, as we called it, was warm, intimate and witty. Nick could have made a career in radio and I told him that a number of times (in fact I once offered him a job).
But radio careers can be skittish and Nick, with family and security in mind, chose instead he path of an administrator in public service, a role in which I understand he was highly competent and senior.
This important side of his life I did not know well and, with me, his talk was always of broadcasting and family.
When 2SER-FM on Sydney’s Broadway launched on 1 October 1979 - not all that long ago for us who are getting old – Nick’s was the first voice on air.
“This is Radio Station 2SER-FM commencing its inaugural broadcast on a frequency of 107.5 megahertz with a licence power of one kilowatt.”
Here’s the audio - along with Nick's selection of an appropriate opening song for the new radio station.
Later Nick presented a popular program called Summer Breeze. Lovely languorous leisurely radio. The music mellifluous and (mostly) calming. (Nick was mischievous and could spring surprises.) The presentation laidback, witty and concise.
He let the music do the talking, if you get my drift. In real life beyond the studio, Nick liked to let his talking do the talking.
The song of the same name was the opening theme of the program. Summer Breeze, by Seals and Croft, a hit in 1972, is playing as I write. It reminds me so vividly of Nick.
So we have lost a fine man and we grieve for him but are grateful for who he was.
We get old and our friends depart, taking a bit of us with them as they leave. That’s life’s sorrow. But its joy is that they were with us at all.
My condolences to Lynn, the boys and the family. Nick was so proud of you.