An interview with The Colonel

Andrew McLellan, CBAA's Community Radio Network, 21st January 2019
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Since 1978, Mark ‘The Colonel’ Doherty has presented Nothin’ But The Blues, week-in, week-out on 4ZZZ in Brisbane and for the last two decades nationally on the Community Radio Network.

After 40 years, he’s making way for the next generation of blues broadcasters. As such, we thought it might be a good chance to catch up with this dedicated community radio veteran.

How did you first hear 4ZZZ and get involved?

I think everyone in Brisbane who was interested in non-commercial music in 1975 knew that 4ZZZ was going to start up – Australia’s first community FM stereo radio station, in li’l ol’ Brisvegas! I had met Jim Beatson who was a driving force behind the station, and from December 1975 to 1977 Nothin’ But The Blues was presented by Michael Mayer. Greg Cuffe and I were members of the Australian Blues Society, and Greg went from record provision under Michael to co-hosting with Ben Gosney. I joined in 1978, and Greg and I shared the show for 20 years. In the 1990s, Helen Rankin and Dave McEwan (now at Perth’s RTRFM) co-presented too. But since going national two decades (and over 1,000 shows) ago, I’ve flown solo (though with regular specials from Mark Hipgrave).

What was your involvement with the wider blues scene before radio?

Initially I was just a music fan, collecting records, absorbing information and going to concerts, but in my late thirties I started playing harp and singing. In 1998, I was playing summer gigs in shorts with Natural Born Lovers. Our singer kept referring to my ‘chicken legs’ and my resemblance to a certain well known Kentuckian. It (the name, The Colonel) stuck. To be honest I have played it up a bit.

What would you say the impact of community radio on the Australian blues scene has been since the 1970s?

There are two things. Firstly, the music scene became much more democratic. There was access to and information about local bands and forms of music not sanctioned by the corporates, synchronising with the burgeoning punk scene. Secondly, listeners had access to alternative news sources and contrary political views. In Brisbane, this occurred explosively under the repressive Joh Bjelke Peterson regime. The current scene is a little more sedate musically and politically, and there are more media channels available, but community radio keeps it real and local.

Between radio and writing, is there an interview or guest from your career that really stands out?

I’ve been really lucky to have met many of my musical heroes. The craziest, most entertaining was definitely Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. The most satisfying was the lovely B.B. King, once I got past his minders. The toughest was R.L. Burnside. All answers were either ‘Yeah’, ‘Uh-huh’ or ‘Well, well, well’.

You’re hanging up the headphones after 40 years. Do you feel the blues is in safe hands with the next generation?

In 1990, I started a monthly newsletter/ magazine called Blues On Air. There were 21 blues radio programs in Australia; we are now closer to 50 (contributing to the Australian Blues and Roots Airplay Chart). In terms of diversity and access, I think we are OK. I argue with what some people label as blues these days, but I’m just an old codger and it’s time for me to step aside. Can I just point out that during its four year run, Blues On Air started Australia’s first national blues awards, long before the ARIAs! So there.

This article was originally published in the November 2018 edition of CBX Magazine.

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