Radio for the Community! Spoken Histories From 3ZZZ

This week, we speak with two dedicated volunteer broadcasters from the Maltese program on 3ZZZ community radio, Paul Vella and Liz Phillips. Both Liz and Paul will take us on a journey through the rich history of their program, their passion for preserving Maltese culture, and the deep sense of community they foster among their listeners.

Radio for the Community! Spoken Histories From 3ZZZ highlights the impact that 3ZZZ broadcasters have made to their communities, increasing diversity in community media, benefits of multiculturalism, sacrifices made by new migrants in Australia, and benefits of volunteering in community radio.


Maram Ismail: Welcome to a new episode of radio for the community Spoken histories from 3ZZZ. I’m your host, Maram Ismail, and in today’s episode, we speak with two dedicated volunteer broadcasters from the Maltese program on 3ZZZ community radio, Paul Vella and Liz Phillips. Both Liz and Paul will take us on a journey through the rich history of their program, their passion for preserving Maltese culture, and the deep sense of community they foster among their listeners.

Paul Vella: It’s not our program, it’s their program. So whatever they want, we give them, you know, to make everybody happy.

Maram Ismail: Let’s start with Paul Vella. Paul arrived in Australia from Malta in 1965. He had worked for The Times of Malta, a Maltese newspaper.

Paul Vella: Just got married in Malta and we spent one month on the boat, which was our honeymoon, and we arrived here, and my trade was, uh, I used to work in a daily newspaper in Malta, The Times of Malta, a Maltese newspaper there. And when I came here, I kept the same trade, you know, and I was working in a printing place. And from there, after three years there, I moved into a what they call a newspaper, suburban newspapers, the leader newspapers. And they used to produce about 30 different, uh, papers from different suburbs every week. Uh, it was a family business and we helped to build it up for them but then at the end, they sold it to the Herald. And after one year, they sold the business to Rupert Murdoch, which he decided to, uh, send all the work outside. And we finished without a job. And then I believe, you know, after about six months after we left, he started hiring people to go back. But anyway. So since then, uh, I was 52 when I, uh, retired from that work, and, uh, I used to do voluntary work. During that time.

Maram Ismail: Paul and his wife dedicated their time to a seniors group looking after about 120 members. But his passion for broadcasting led him to 3ZZZ station.

Paul Vella: Myself and my wife got involved in seniors group look after the seniors group with about 120 members. And since then we stayed like that and then naturally, I got interested in broadcasting. This was about 27 years ago, I think I’ve been doing this, uh, broadcasting, which is very rewarding. We always say we’re doing this job as volunteers. We don’t get paid for the time and for everything else except, you know, sometimes we have to, uh, use our own funds to keep going but our reward is the feedback we get from our listeners, which is every week. You know, especially we’ve got listeners like today, you know, we hardly finished the program. Start getting the SMS’s, you know, thank you for this, thank you for that and they really enjoyed the programs. That’s something that you feel that you’ll be able to give something to the community, you know, through Radio. Mario, I think he’s the one that has been, uh, longer broadcasting with 3ZZZ. When he came to Australia, he started broadcasting in Queensland, and then he came to Melbourne, and he started with the 3ZZ then they used to do the shows from the basement of the Union headquarters in the city, and then they moved to uh, Fitzroy then. And he did a lot of broadcasting and he won a lot of awards for his jobs, you know, and then, uh, we had the different broadcasters over the years, you know, most of them, you know, they sadly, they passed away like Louis., Louis was involved, he was convenor as well, he, uh, broadcast for a number of years. When I came in, I came in around 1996, I think I was, uh, urged by our association, the seniors group, they said, why don’t you, uh, have a go in broadcasting? And I was so scared, you know, because, uh, I said, you know, I have to talk to people. But I said, anyway, I said, I’m talking to them and I can’t see him. So, it’s nothing to be scared. And it was very, very fulfilling.

Maram Ismail: Liz, on the other hand, was born in Australia but is deeply connected to her Maltese heritage through her parents. She has worked in schools for over 35 years.

Liz Phillips: Um, born here in Australia and I was made in Malta and then born here. So you think about that. So my parents were, um, were Maltese. I’m a secretary by trade, and my first job was because, um, we were taught by nuns. And you either became a nun or a secretary. That was all that was available to us at that time, not like the kids of today. So, I became a secretary, and I’ve been a secretary for a long time, and of late I’ve been working well over 35 years. I’d been working at schools. I’ve now retired, and I just do emergency work at a school.

Maram Ismail: Liz is commitment to her heritage and community led her to volunteer for the Maltese program at 3ZZZ radio station.

Liz Phillips: I was ringing in, you know, every Saturday, and they’d answer, and I met Paul and Sylvia, his wife, at a function, and I said, I wrote to you to help because at that stage you wanted help and I’ve had no reply and then I when I met you and I said, you know, I would like to be a _ and you said, oh, come in, come in. So that’s how I became a broadcaster. And that was like, I don’t know how many years ago was it six, five, six years ago. And I yeah, volunteer. It’s all voluntary. My mum says to me, why do you talk to everybody? And you volunteer? And I said, it’s in me, it’s in me. I’ve got four other sisters, but nobody gets what I do and say. Yeah. And like Paul said, the listeners that what they say and we reach the hearts of people that maybe don’t hear the Maltese language anymore.

Maram Ismail: Keeping the Maltese language alive is crucial for Liz. She made sure to pass down their language to her family at home.

Liz Phillips: My mum always spoke to us in Maltese and my dad and grandparents lived with us. All my sisters all speak Maltese and the kids and now my grandchild. I’m teaching her and I speak to her in Maltese because I don’t want the Maltese language to end. It wasn’t another language, it was just the way we were raised. I didn’t see it as another language. We just spoke it.

Paul Vella: Yeah, we are very, very happy with her because, as she said, she was born in Australia and from the Maltese she learned from her parents. She is able to keep a Maltese program going. The listeners, they appreciate that as well, you know, because they know that it’s not an easy thing to do.

Maram Ismail: So what sets this program apart? Paul and Liz offer a diverse range of content that caters to various tastes within the Maltese community.

Paul Vella: Our programmes, they differ in different things. Like my programme. I start with some marching. That’s a marching band from Malta and then we play music, Maltese literature. We have interviews and programmes we receive from Malta. Mario, he does that. You know, a few very interesting things, and he’s got a comic story, which it’s been going for a number of years, you know, and that’s loved by all listeners as well. Apart from that, we’ve got listeners in Malta, in England, America, Canada, even in France, we’ve got people. Because every week I’ll send a copy of the three programmes Monday, Friday and Saturday through internet, and it goes to about 400 different people overseas. And the feedback we get from them is amazing. Even in Malta, they say we don’t hear the Maltese music, you know, because they prefer to pay English, Italian or whatever, you know, and there’s a couple of stations, they play Maltese music, but with ours they say, you know, you get everything Maltese, you know?

Liz Phillips: And I guess that answers the question, what makes our radio station or the radio unique? Because they don’t hear Maltese songs over in Malta.

Paul Vella: The way we present our programmes will make sure that every listener, he gets something that he likes from each programme.

Maram Ismail: The heart of their work lies in connecting with their listeners who are elderly and alone.

Paul Vella: Most people they ring up especially on Saturday because it’s a request programme. They are lonely people, and they tell us. They tell us I don’t ring during the programme, you know, because they feel shy. I said, no, it’s nothing to be shy about, you know, because nobody can see you. It’s amazing how many people they listen to, the programmes, we say a few jokes, you know, and if we don’t do them, they start phoning in when you’re going to have, when you’re going to say it when you go. And especially, you know, we’ve got a very soft spot for those people who lives on their own. Yeah. You know, because they tell us you said we’ll wait for that hour, you know, to be with you. Yeah, yeah.

Liz Phillips: And some people, they tell their children not to come over between 10 and 11. But yeah, like Paul said, our community is older. They are in homes, and they are living alone. So, if we can reach them, so be it. And that’s my passion.

Paul Vella: I’ll give an example, one of our listeners, you know, which I’ll send her the programmes and her mother, she is in a home and she suffers from dementia. And she goes there and play the programmes for her, you know, because she relates to the Maltese music and that’s they are things, you know, it’s hard, you know, when you ask the question to remember all this. I remember many years ago I used to send the programmes to people in England and one person in England as I said, you know, I used to do the gospel of the following Sunday. His mother, she couldn’t go out. You know, to go to church. And he used to play it for her. You know, they are little things which, you know, when you put them together, you know, you it’s the feedback that we get. Yeah.

Liz Phillips: Every time I walk through the main doors at 3ZZZ, that’s a special moment for me because I’m serving the Maltese. And although I’m born here, the Maltese language runs so deep in my veins. I’m so passionate. Like I’m getting goosebumps just saying that. But yeah, on the radio when I do answer the phones, oh, the people are so grateful. And the words they say, it’s just you couldn’t get paid enough to hear what they say. Yeah, I do come out crying because I know that we’re serving the Maltese people that don’t hear the Maltese otherwise, that are in the homes. And you know, that’s a blessing. Every time I walk in the studios, it’s a blessing.

Maram Ismail: Of course, every journey has its challenges. For Paul and Liz, it’s been about steering clear of sensitive topics like politics and keeping their listeners engaged as technology evolved. But the rewards have far outweighed the challenges.

Paul Vella: Over the years. You know, a lot of things, especially from the days we were in Fitzroy, you know, as you said, you know, technology keeps on changing, not like with our age. You know, we used to have something that stays there for a number of years. Every time we got something new, we used to get trained on it. You know, there’s a few things which, uh, we don’t use, but the equipment we use, you know, you have to learn it. You have to learn it, and you have to abide by the rules. You know, the way we are taught how to use it. Liz, does the program live on Monday? I have the program on Friday, which I record at home. I’ve got like a little studio. My wife is not there.

Liz Phillips: Because his whole house is his studio.

Paul Vella: Because I took the whole house and did a bit here, a little bit there. But, you know, I’m able to record the program, put it on, uh, cool edit and then I send it through an email to the studio and the program goes in at the time allotted to us. And that way, you know, to me, it was a great achievement that I can do this, you know, and most of the time, you know, I learn these things by myself, you know, by trial and error, you know. But I managed during Covid 19, the studio was closed. That’s when I started to do the programs recorded at home. And because both Liz and Mario didn’t have the means to do such programs recorded for the three years, I had to produce and record the three programs weekly. I kept them part of the programs. You know, I used to interview Liz and Mario and put it on the program. And, uh, I can say that during those three years, we never lost one program except with a problem with the studio technique, with the studios, you know.

Maram Ismail: Paul and Liz have done an outstanding job of fostering a sense of community among their listeners.

Paul Vella: When listeners, they ask, either they tell you of something they enjoyed in the program, so you get an idea of what you need to present to please most listeners. You know, that’s the way I think. You know that when you know what the listeners want and what they want, because it’s not our program, it’s their program. So whatever they want, we give them, you know, to make everybody happy. And I can say that in these 27 years I’ve done this program, I never had bad, bad feedback. You know, we meet most of them, especially with us and with Liz, you know, because Liz looking after the seniors group as well. And uh, most of our members, they are listeners to the program. So when we meet on Wednesday, you know, they tell us about the program, what they enjoyed, you know. Yeah, even, you know, like my Friday program, I gave it a name, which is You’ll Never Alone, you know, because, uh, during that hour, everyone is, uh, together listening.

Liz Phillips: And like Paul said, we’re both involved in the community through this radio, but also we run different seniors groups. I’ve got the Moreland Seniors Maltese group, which we play bingo, which we shouldn’t, but we do. And the men come to talk, and I’m the secretary and treasurer of that, but, oh, there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for the Maltese. Yeah.

Paul Vella: I mean, we’ve been doing this, uh, seniors group the same since 1996. Myself and my wife now for the last few years, my wife is the president of the group, and I’m the secretary. We never have fights with the wife, you know? Because that we live in a democratic country, and she can do whatever she likes.

Liz Phillips: As long as she does, Paul.

Paul Vella: As long as long as she do whatever I tell her.

Maram Ismail: Looking ahead, Paul and Liz hope to see more young people involved in preserving Maltese culture, even as the language faces challenges they’ve tried.

Paul Vella: Not during my time here, but they’ve tried to encourage young people and to give them a program. They last one week, two weeks, you know, and that’s it. Yeah.

Liz Phillips: But do you think it’s because the Maltese language here in Australia is fading away? They all speak English, and my own children speak English. And when I said my granddaughter, when my children are over, I speak to her in English because they don’t understand Maltese. But you also have to have you want to give, you’ve got to have that in you. Paul. Do you agree with that or not? Yeah, yeah. You’ve got to have it in you to, to want, to want. And we unfortunately don’t. There’s only the, the two of us and Mario that do the program. But we’ve advertised a lot.

Paul Vella: As I said, you know, they’ve tried to get a group of young ones. Yeah. Which, you know, I believe SBS did the same thing. You know, they try to get the young ones, you know, on the show. But I don’t know. I don’t know if maybe, you know, they don’t they are not ready to give for a long time at least, you know. Yeah.

Liz Phillips Well, I’ll say it’s never too late to be a broadcaster. I started late in life, but I used to hear all the time. I’ll say it’s never too late and you’re doing something for the community. So please, I beg them to um, do something for the Maltese. Remember your heritage where you’re from. That’s all I can say.

Maram Ismail: Paul Vella and Liz Phillips dedication to their community and preserving Maltese culture through community radio is truly inspiring.

Paul Vella: Well, myself, what I can say is to thank you to our listeners for staying with us, for listening all the programs. And even though if you know, they don’t have the courage to ring back, you know, to tell us that we know that they are enjoying it, and we thank them for their support. We thank them for their listening, especially, you know, we as I said, we have a very soft spot, you know, for those people who live on their own and who wait week after week. For our programs we present because that way they really enjoy what we’re doing.

Maram Ismail: Thank you for joining us in this episode of radio for the community spoken histories from 3ZZZ.

Radio for the Community! Spoken Histories From 3ZZZ is proudly supported by the Community Broadcasting Foundation.