Bob McLean, the saviour of BBBfm

On Friday evening, dignitaries, volunteers and community members gathered at the old Tanunda railway station to celebrate 20 years of the Barossa’s own radio station, BBBfm.

But amid the fond reminiscences of years gone by, guests learnt of the time BBBfm very nearly ceased to exist – and how the generosity of the late Bob McLean saved it.

Barossa councillor and long-term BBBfm presenter Dave de Vries told of how the manager’s salary at the time was at a point where it was causing the station to collapse financially.

“We had to sack him simply because we ran out of money and we literally would have been insolvent had we continued,” he said.

“We were taken to the unfair claims tribunal and we kind of lost that but at the same time we were told yes, there’s no way that you can possibly afford to keep this manager, so we’re not going to force you to rehire him.

“But, the problem we had with all this was that as a result we actually had to close the doors and for three hours – a lot of people don’t know this – BBBfm actually ceased to exist.”

The only reason BBBfm was able to reopen its doors and continue operating was because Bob McLean was able to negotiate a financial arrangement with the manager.

“(Bob) put $15,000 of his own money out and said I’m just going to drop that on the table, that’s yours; it was an unsecured loan,” Mr de Vries said.

The moment the manager was gone, Mr de Vries said the station very quickly started to trade itself back into the black.

“We took what was a $32,000 deficit (on an overdraft) to actually having about $10,000 in the black at the end of the first year.

“We wanted to give the money to Bob, but he said no, I want you to hang on to that money.

“And basically, he gave us that loan for three years interest free; at any time if the station had collapsed he would have just been out of pocket.”

Big Bob McLean. Photo: Milton Wordley.

Big Bob McLean. Photo: Milton Wordley.

Such support for the station has been echoed through the community across its 20 years.

“There’s a huge amount of love and support for the station out there within the wider community,” Mr de Vries said.

“When we began, we were the voice of the Barossa; there was us and the newspapers and that was it.

“Now the communtiy can interact through the internet and BBBfm has joined that voice, we’re very keen to engage on the internet through social media to the point where we were out on the side of the road covering the (Vintage Festival) street parade and at the same time, we had the Herald actually livecasting the visuals.

“I see this as the way forward for BBBfm, linking what we do with community events where they’ll be simulcast to the community.

“Because it’s one thing to have pictures broadcast to the world, but those pictures without a context, without a local voice, without an understanding of who we are as Barossans, don’t really tell the story.

“And that’s really what we do here at BBBfm, we tell the story of the Barossa.”

Mr de Vries said he wanted to honour Mr McLean because, without him, BBBfm would not exist – certainly not in its current form.

“Bob actually said at the time, don’t spread this around; he was a big man, with a big heart, but he was also kind of humble. He did a lot of stuff behind the scenes that people weren’t aware of.

“But I think this is one of those very important parts of the history of the Barossa.

“It’s a story that should be told, and he was the saviour of the station.”