There was certainly a sense of sadness in the local music community when RTRFM announced the other week that its beloved Breakfast presenter, Caitlin Nienaber, was leaving her position after three-and-a-half years.
In some ways it’s a strange, full circle. Having been a volunteer for RTRFM for some years, Nienaber moved to NSW in 2012 to work at Wave FM in Wollongong. She’d had enough of the commercial radio experience by the time she returned to Perth to take over from Peter Barr as host of RTRFM’s Breakfast slot at the start of 2015. Nienaber is now returning East to work in Sydney as a Content Producer for double j. It’s a return to NSW but this time to a station – similar to RTRFM – where music comes first.
“It is and that’s very exciting and kind of like a dream come true, really,” Nienaber reflects. “The job that I’ve been in for three-and-a-half years now has given me this opportunity. When I went into this job it was to kind of test myself and see if I could do this and see if I could make the sort of radio and have the kinds of conversations and do lots of interviews that I wanted to do. And have freedom to do it.
“It was an amazing opportunity to be able to do that, and to move on as well. That was always part of my plan too.”
Breakfast radio is an intensely immersive job, even more so on a community station such as RTRFM with a commitment to local arts, music and voices. Nothing is spoon-fed by producers, you simply must live the life.
“Totally,” Nienaber concurs, “it’s been my whole life. It’s infiltrated every area of my life. It’s the first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning – obviously - because I wouldn’t be waking up at 4am otherwise, and it’s been the last thing I think about before I go to bed as I’m checking emails and thinking about what I’m gonna say the next day and what I’m gonna play.
“It’s just always in my head, but I love that. I want that in a job. You want to do what you love. It’s been a beautiful opportunity.”
Three-hours-a-day, five-days-a-week-of-radio over three-and-a-half-years equates a huge amount of music played and interviews conducted, especially in the hours when most folks would rather be pulling the covers over their sleepy-work-bound heads. The details can become a blur, but Nienaber will take much away from it in the way of experience, if not highlights.
“My little warm fuzzies?” she laughs. “I’ve been asked that a couple of times this week and it’s a little bit hard, actually, because so much of this job is about moving forward quickly and going onto the next day.
“I was going through some of my things, the old audio I’d saved and work that I’d done and was looking at names and going, ‘oh my God, I have no recollection of who that person was that I interviewed’ or, ‘holy shit, I interviewed that person? I can’t even remember! I must’ve been half-asleep’. Working in radio and perhaps in the media in general is always such a process of moving onto the next thing, so there’s not always that time to take stock.
“But I also had another kind of nice little moment where I moved into my Mum and Dad’s house a couple of months ago to help my folks out. So I went through my teenage bedroom and all the posters were still on the wall and I took them all down which was a long and annoying process… Blu-Tack is hard to get rid of all those years later. But lots of the posters I was taking down were people I’d idolised as a teenager and whom I’d met or interviewed. That was a really lovely little moment to myself in my bedroom, thinking about that stuff. ‘Here’s this Augie March poster… I remember that day I talked to Glenn Richards, he was lovely and we had a great chat’. That was really nice.
“But there was also lots of posters of people who had been disgraced who I would never want to interview now,” she adds. “That was also quite funny.”
The biggest takeaway for Nienaber, however, seems to be that which comes from community. From the like-mindedness of championing the greater good.
“Just being a part of something is really beautiful,” she notes, “and being so welcomed by people right from the start. Being able to witness, particularly, lots of local musicians and creative people really find themselves.
“Stella Donnelly is one, I remember seeing her playing Mechanical Bull for the first time a couple of years ago in the studio and now she’s having her moment. That stuff’s really cool, it means so much more than talking to your heroes even, or getting to meet people you’ve idolised for a long time. Just those little, warm fuzzy connections with people, that’s what I’m all about. That’s what I love.”
The general feeling around Nienaber’s departure was congratulatory but with a sadness echoed with a round of, ‘gee, that was quick!’. Three-and-a-half-years isn’t meant to be quick at all though, really...
“I know! It’s crazy. It’s gone quick, yet it also feels like it’s been forever, it’s such a weird thing. I still feel like I’m getting used to it and learning every day There’s two types of listeners, ones that are like, ‘oh you’re the new Barr’. I still get that and then more recently though I get kids going, ‘oh, who’s that old guy?’ when he was hanging around. Which was always very validating, and Pete was always very much behind that, like he loved that, which was very sweet that he found that quite funny. But… it’s gone real quick, hey?”
Nienaber’s last Breakfast With Caitlin show is from 6-9am on Friday, July 27, an outside broadcast from Rhubarb Records in Leederville. Taylah Strano, a long-time RTRFM presenter, will capably fill big shoes. The outgoing Breakfast host is, at this point, both reflective and future-bound.
“This has been such a defining period in my life and I still feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to do this job,” Nienaber concludes. “I've met some of my heroes and felt the love and connection of our community. It'd be lovely and easy to do it for ages, but it's time for a new challenge and time to give someone else the chance to have a go!”
Thanks Caitlin Nienaber for your empathy, good humour, care, colourful jumpers and seemingly effortless listenability. No wonder three-and-a-half-years went by so quickly. The pleasure was all ours.
Full details about Goodbye Caitlin: Caitlin's Last Breakfast Live via https://www.facebook.com/events/283194342488139/?active_tab=about