June 2012. I was 16 years old, with aspirations of one day working in radio or journalism. I’d spent months emailing back and forth, trying to secure a week of work experience with Ben Fordham on 2GB, who was, and still remains, one of my role models.
I was so damn excited when I managed to lock it in, I was bursting to share the news with my friends.
“I’m doing work experience with Ben Fordham!”
“You know… That guy from The Today Show?”
“Nup. Don’t watch news.” Morons.
I was beyond ecstatic, and yet I could not get anyone else to grasp just how exciting it was for me to even get a foot in the door at 2GB, Sydney’s Number 1 radio station. My uncle was one of the few who shared my level of excitement. His name is Mal McCall, and at the time, he was the breakfast presenter on 2TM in Tamworth. So being a radio-guy himself, he had some idea of how great an opportunity it was. He told me, “That’s huge, mate. If you get the chance to talk on air, there’ll be millions of people listening, mate. Millions.” Which is why when I DID get the opportunity to speak on air, I’m glad I chose my words so wisely.
Along with my mum, my grandmother and my sister, I made the six-hour trek from Bogan Gate to the city to spend a week in a pretty freakin’ flash hotel overlooking Darling Harbour so I could commute to and from the 2GB office in Pyrmont. As a city kid at heart trapped in the country, I was on top of the world.
On June 28th, after a few days of getting in the way around the office, being genuinely useless and yet behaving with a false sense of importance, my last day working with Ben and his team quickly came about. T’was another day, with another lineup of callers hoping to chat on air with Ben. And of course, there was annoying little me, by his side in the studio like a moth. (Like, it’s not doing anything wrong, but you’d still prefer if it wasn’t there, y’know?)
One listener called through, telling Ben that he’d received an increase to his pension… A total of $00.30. Complete with sarcasm, Ben responded “30 cents! What could you get for 30 cents, a McDonald’s ice cream? Wouldn’t even get you that, I think they’re 50 cents these days.” Suddenly, the shy, reserved little work experience kid, who hadn’t once spoken all week without first being spoken to, broke his silence. My hand shot up in the air, and I nodded my head at the panel operator. With slightly widened eyes, Ben says “We’ve got our work experience kid Mitchell, here. He’s got something to say.” This was it… My big moment… “Get right up close to the microphone there, buddy,” Ben reminded me. In hindsight, if I was planning to speak on air, then yes, it probably would have been a good idea to talk INTO the microphone. Solid advice there, Benny. Then he said to me, “You’d probably be too young to even remember a time when Maccas ice creams were 30 cents, wouldn’t you?” Drumroll… The squeaky voiced teen was about to make his radio debut. “Well I actually work at McDonald’s, and they’ve brought the price back down to 30 cents.” Ben replies, “You’re joking! How had I not heard this?” “I don’t know”, I said. Ground-breaking shit right there, people.
After Ben threw to an ad break, I heard my uncle’s words echoing in my head. “Millions of people listening, mate. Millions.” And I chose to use my time in the spotlight to speak about ice cream. Yes. On Sydney’s number one premier talk and news station, I spoke about bloody ice cream. I don’t know how I managed that, but it happened. I think that’s very Mitchell to be honest. It was especially in keeping with the general fat-mess vibe I was emitting at the time in my life.
Not long after, another listener called through to tell us he’d just gone through the McDonald’s drive-thru to get a 30 cent ice cream after hearing me talk about it. S’pose my then-employers can’t say I didn’t do my bit for the business. That’s a pretty solid plug right there.
The next day, I listened to Ben’s show in the car on the trip home, complete with a sense of F.O.M.O (Fear of Missing Out). My sister, God love ‘er, ended up having to tell me to shut up because I was persistently whinging about not wanting to leave the big smoke. “I wanna stay in Sydney and I go back to 2GB!” On average, I probably ended up repeating this sentence every 12 seconds. As we ventured into the shadows of the Blue Mountains, the radio signal started to become more and more crackly. It’s not unlike a 16 year old to be dramatic, but at the time, it was completely gutting to go back to reality after a week of floating on a cloud. Bratty little shit, I was.
This particular show of Ben’s was not like any ordinary show, though. It was a special show, as it was what he called “Thank You Day.” This seemed like a fitting opportunity to thank not only Ben and his team for having me, but to thank my Mother for going above and beyond to make that amazing week possible. I was too damn nervous to call through, obviously, so instead I sent an email. By the time Ben had found my email among the tonne of others he’d no doubt received, I was in Bathurst and the radio signal in the car had well and truly dropped out. I was now live streaming the show on my phone. I really didn’t want to let go.
Finally, Ben starts reading out my message. “We’ve got an email here from Mitchell Coombs. Oh, this is the Mitchell that’s been doing work experience with us all week!” Oh good, he hadn’t forgotten already! He read out my message of thanks, which Mum was pretty chuffed to hear. He also thanked me for sucking up by leaving chocolates and a thank-you card. Shucks. Finally, he topped off the segment in a way I’ll never forget.
“Mitchell Coombs. Remember the name.”
Could’ve died then and there, I’ll tell you. How I managed to make a good enough impression to warrant that praise by behaving like a timid little kid and chatting on air about ice cream, for goodness sake, I’ll never know. I still have to pinch myself occasionally.