West Kimberley Regional Prison inmates say their radio show gives them a new outlook. (ABC Kimberley: Oliver Gordon)
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A high-security compound on the outskirts of a remote town might seem a strange home for a hit radio show but it’s where one group of broadcasters are making waves.
Inmates at the West Kimberley Regional Prison in Western Australia’s far north have been putting together a weekly radio show to air on community stations across the country.
The new program, designed to teach prisoners confidence and media skills, is the first of its kind in Australia.
Presenter ‘Jamie Boy’, not his real name, has been serving time for a number of driving-related offences.
He had never been behind a microphone until he signed up several months ago.
“Doing it in here makes me feel like I’m somebody, it makes me feel important,” he said.
“I just pushed myself to do it, I’ve done a lot of self-confidence building and that’s going really good.”
Inmates at the West Kimberley Regional Prison recording their weekly radio show before it’s distributed across Australia. (ABC Kimberley: Oliver Gordon)
Road to rehabilitation
The show is made in collaboration with local community station 6DBY and features four regular presenters who banter with each other between songs.
“That was Natalie Imbruglia with ‘A Big Mistake’ and that was a big mistake because we picked the wrong song,” is a recent example of their riffing.
After the recording is finished, the broadcast is screened by security and syndicated through the National Indigenous Radio Service (NIRS).
Announcer Rebekah O’Meara said it was an opportunity for prisoners to take some control back over their lives.
“It’s a voice, when you think about Aboriginal people and how we’re portrayed, a lot of the time in the media we’re portrayed really negatively,” she said.
“It’s about them being able to create the narrative.”
For security reasons, the presenters cannot use their real names so they create on-air characters instead.
“I’m a pretty quiet guy (outside the show),” Jamie Boy said.
“My character is something that I have to play, hearing myself on the radio, I sound different and it’s a good thing.”
The WKRP show was first conceived as an internal broadcasting service to give updates on the goings on of the prison.
The initiative was so popular it received special permission from the State Government last year to distribute a weekly hour-long presentation through NIRS.
Producer Brad Spring said it had given the inmates opportunities they’ve never had before.
“It takes away the shame and that shyness,” Mr Spring said.
“I’ve seen some people suddenly come alive and the way they speak has changed.”
Inmate at the West Kimberley Regional Prison records the weekly radio show. (ABC Kimberley: Matt Bamford)
Aspiring presenters have to earn their chops in the program’s media class before they’re allowed behind the microphone.
The aim is to build the capacity of the Indigenous participants to preserve their heritage.
“What we’re teaching in the media class is how to use sound editing software so they can learn how to do interviews, record stories of history and culture and put together radio shows themselves,” Mr Spring said.
It is hoped inmates like Jamie Boy will eventually return to their communities and share the knowledge they have learned.