‘Nothing Was Planned’: Fred Botica’s snap decision that got Bob Geldof to Perth.
It was late 1985 when Fred Botica was at home “just mucking around” when the phone rang.
On the other end was his former colleague, Gary Roberts.
The pair had worked together in the 1970s but Gary had left in 1980 to start a radio station in Perth.
The station was 96FM.
“I heard you walked out of 89FM,” Gary said. “Do you want a job?”
With that, Fred Botica was on his way to Perth.
By February 1986, Fred had kicked off his 12pm-3pm afternoon shift and, as a keen windsurfer, slotted in perfectly to life in Perth.
Fred said he felt completely at home at 96FM, particularly putting the listener front-and-centre with segments like the ‘Side Show’, a night show which featured one side of an album all the way through, and ‘Music For Headphones’:
“Where we’d play these great albums and you would listen to them on headphones and it would just sound amazing,” he said.
“So, everything was about the music or music-related.”
Except when it wasn’t.
On Australia Day, Fred recalled giving away a piece of Australia – literally.
“We gave away a block up north in a new subdivision,” he said.
“That then progressed to house-and-land packages, they were amazing prizes we were giving away – it was phenomenal that a radio station could do that.”
He described how, when giving away houses, those in the running would get a key and try it in the lock to win the house.
“I’d be inside the door and, through a camera set-up, you could see people bending the keys almost to try and make it turn!”
Fred said they were life-changing prizes.
“I still have people coming up to me from time to time saying, ‘oh we were the lucky people who won that house years ago’, it’s really amazing.”
Another thing Fred gets stopped in the street over is the iconic Skyshow which 96FM brought to Australia.
“I think there’d been two Skyshow events before I arrived and then I did the voiceovers for it,” Fred said.
“I still have people walking up behind me going ‘whatever you do, don’t look down,’ so these things stick with people, they remember all that.”
But for Fred, one encounter has stuck with him as not just a career highlight, but a highlight across the board.
Bob Geldof had just released his first solo album after leaving The Boomtown Rats and Fred was scheduled to interview him.
“I was in the newsroom’s little recording booth and I called him on the phone there,” Fred recalled. “I started chatting with him and I was just blown away by his music knowledge – the things we were talking about – he was entertaining me as much as anybody else ever had.”
It was here that Fred had an idea.
“I said ‘Bob, mate, don’t go away, can you just give me a minute? Just stay right there, I’ll be right back, I just have to go check something’.”
Fred said he rushed into Gary’s office, which was right next door to the newsroom.
“I said ‘I have Bob Geldof on the phone, he sounds amazing to talk to, his music knowledge and his gift of the gab, these amazing stories’,” he blurted out.
“Without batting an eyelid, Gary said, ‘tell him if he wants to come out to Australia, we’ll bring his family out and if he could do a week of shows with us’.”
Fred said OK and went back to the phone and passed on the message.
Geldof was keen but he’d have to get back to them.
“Four or five days later, he got back and said they were on their way,” Fred said. “He was going to do a radio show with me!”
The show ran for a week, from 4pm to 6pm and Fred described it as “the best radio I’d ever been involved with” from the point of view that “it was done on the spur of the moment.”
Fred would pick up Geldof about midday and, while in the car, the pair would start chatting about what they would talk about on the show.
“We’d come in and nothing was planned, it was seat-of-the-pants,” Fred recalled.
“[On air] we’d tell stories and the guys in the studio would be running back and forth bringing the music in while we were talking, and Bob was telling his stories – it was incredible radio.”
Listeners thought so too.
Fred remembers getting a phone call from a listener who was a travelling salesman who did a lot of trips around the South West who would always make sure he was back by 4pm so he could hear the show before heading back south again after 6pm to finish what he had been doing.
But it was one conversation Fred had with Geldof that would end up being a radio gamechanger.
“I asked him if he’d ever had an interview with Van Morrison,” Fred said.
“Geldof said that Morrison wouldn’t speak to anyone, he was just that kind of guy.
“I said would he talk to you? He said ‘hmm, maybe’.”
Fred suggested that Geldof interview the Moondance superstar and put out a special together.
“Long story short, he goes back to Ireland he arranges an interview with Van Morrison and puts the special together,” Fred said, adding that it was at a time in the ‘90s when FM stations where opening up all over Europe.
“They sold that interview and figured they’d do more,” he said.
But Geldof ran into a problem. It seems the radio specials were too popular.
“He rings me and says, ‘mate I need someone to help me out on doing the radio side of things, it’s not my go’,” Fred said.
“So, I went in to see Des Shaw, who was 96FM’s music director at the time, and said ‘Bob Geldof is looking for someone to help him out doing all these radio specials’… and to this day, Des Shaw still works for Bob Geldof.”
Years later, Geldof came back to Perth and 96FM had him on the air again. This time, he brought his mate to join him.
His name was Paul McCartney.
The specialness of this will never be lost on Fred Botica.
“You can imagine this happening in England or America where you have a plethora of amazing artists,” he said.
“But for Perth, the most isolated capital city on the planet, it was a hell of thing for us to pull off.”