Cacophony, camaraderie and a coma: two years of Kampot Radio

And they said it wouldn’t last two weeks – Kampot Radio is this month celebrating its second birthday, the highlight of which will be a concert at The Magic Sponge on Sunday 12 May, featuring Phnom Penhers Clay George, Marianna Hensley and Scott Bywater, Kampoters Ant Colloff, Andy Trowers and Summer Lee Carlson, Jared Bibler from Ho Chi Minh City and Justin Frew from Wollongong, New South Wales.

Clay George and Marianna Hensley are among the performers playing at The Magic Sponge on Sunday evening for the 2nd birthday celebrations.
Photos: Steve Porte

This is a station that really puts the community into community radio – run by amateurs (rank and otherwise) and enthusiastic volunteers of all levels of experience, but at the same time being an internet based entity is not limited to its home town, and is building a select international audience – station statistics show listeners in Albania, the Faroe Islands, Lithuania, Singapore, Swaziland, Uzbekistan and even a place called Unknown.

Last year founder Darryl Carter wrote some words for Leng Pleng; this year we gathered comments from a handful of the staff and supporters to explain what you are missing out on if you’re not tuning in to Kampot Radio.

Steve Wakeham, the presenter on Saturday afternoons, knows his way around the dial. “I’ve been an avid radio listener since my uncle gave me my own red plastic AM wireless device back in 1972.”

After accidentally becoming a community radio presenter in Queensland in the 90s, Steve eventually found his way to Kampot, met Darryl in a bar, and was swiftly on air. “I always include a good mix of local Khmer music as well as expats living and playing in Cambodia. The old style music of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s like Sin Sisamouth, Ros Sreysothea, BCK and Drakkar Band is having bit of a nostalgic revival as well as newcomers like the Batbangers.”

“Kampot is a great town for music with many local musicians and bands both Khmer and expats. We have listeners all over the world who often contact us to say they enjoy hearing the music of Cambodia. A number of independent musicians and bands have asked us to play their music on Kampot Radio and we have even had exclusive radio premieres of songs that have not been heard on air before. An example over the past year was London based artist Got Von Zola.”

By contrast, David Collier, Monday to Friday mid-afternoon presenter, is new to radio. “Initially I was asked by a friend and thought it would be a good opportunity to do something new. What gets me exited is the opportunity to do something I have not done before. I’d like to think I bring my own personality and ideas to the station. What makes me stay and contribute is I like the people involved and the opportunity to see how far I can take it. Engagement with the local community is not too difficult as I live in Kampot, but internationally is a challenge, as I don’t know who is listening where. So to make it easy for myself I just presume everyone is hanging on my every word and play a fairly eclectic mix of music.”

For some their exposure to the station was a little more dramatic. Australian singer/songwriter Justin Frew: “I first discovered Kampot Radio when I came to Cambodia to play the 2017 Kampot Readers and Writers Festival. I didn’t know when or where I’d play. I got thrown on last minute – ‘don’t worry, it’s Cambodia’ time – and just before I walked on stage I was told in a thick Manchester accent, ‘Okay, you’re going live to radio!’ Beautiful chaos.   I’ve been a fan ever since.”

For Justin it’s about the attitude and the style. “It’s run on a very punk, do it yourself ethic. Running on fumes and bravado, but it’s kept going and is a pleasure to tune in to, as a listener and an artist they support.”

Kampot Radio fan Justin Frew in action.  Photo: supplied

Justin continues his support in Australia, where he is a self-appointed ambassador for the station. “I’ve had the pleasure of turning quite a few of my friends here in Australia onto this little online gem of a radio station. Darryl, radio chimp, the devil himself, has been a massive supporter, dangerous drinking buddy, and someone I love and admire. Behind all the hilarious obnoxiousness, there is a passionate soul there driven to deliver not just great radio, but a strong appreciation of Cambodian music, old and new, and especially the newer and upcoming artists – and it is an exciting time for Khmer music.”

“I guess my initial reason for being on Kampot Radio is that I enjoyed being part of Sihanoukville Radio and missed sitting behind the mic,” says Michael Keys, who does drivetime on Wednesdays and Thursdays, “But the cast of characters and the radio chimp in charge keep me amused enough to stick around. I’m not sure what I bring other than being another old guy who will show up on time and not screw things up too much.”

And there are some perks. “Getting to see musos I haven’t seen in a while and meeting new ones has been a another great benefit to me personally since I have a music venue, Samurai Saloon, a little ways out of town. I am pretty sure I will be around for awhile unless I lose my keys again or get fired for playing tunes with graphic language.”

Stan the Weatherman, presenting Monday to Wednesday evenings, is another great fan of radio in general. “Radio’s where I get my news and music. I was thus very excited to hear about radio coming to Kampot.

“In late 2017 I started a six days a week, one minute weather report.  It was fun: I put on a hippie drawl radio voice and everybody liked it. Some time later I began a one hour music show four nights a week. It took a while to get the hang of the equipment and I shut down the whole station a couple times without even knowing how I did it.”

Kampot Radio even saved Stan when he went into a pneumonia-induced coma. When he didn’t show up for his shift Darryl went around to check on him. “He and another friend both thought I was a goner until he saw my foot twitch, which set in motion breaking into the house through a strong metal door and getting me to a hospital. It took about six months before I was ready and able to return to the station but I decided I had to cut back, so now I’m doing only three music nights a week.

“As for the weather report, I’ll get back to that too at some point. Kampot radio is a great asset for the town and it’ll only improve with time.”

As Justin says, “Welcome to the terrible twos.”

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