Celebrating Father Gerard Dowling’s 40 Years on Air

Congratulations to Father Gerard Dowling OAM DE as he celebrates the huge milestone of reaching 40 years on air! Father Dowling hosts a regular spot on the RSN 927 AM every Sunday from 10pm to 12am called The Family Counsellor

The Family Counsellor is the longest running show of its kind; established in a time before 24 hour services such as Lifeline. Reporter Chris Evens once credited Father Gerard to have “…saved the lives of hundreds of people and brought comfort to thousands of others.” However, Father Gerard’s humility has remained unchanged, simply stating that “so many people just need somebody to hear them.” He also believes the most valuable skill he has learned from being a counsellor is to be able to say very little.

The longevity of his radio show in an ever changing environment of social networking such as text messaging, Facebook and Twitter is a true testament to Father Gerard understanding the community’s need to turn to a friendly, understanding ear.

Father Gerard says “so often these days we ring a number and we get a pre-recorded message…and you are just desperate to get someone to talk to you as you are.”

Still active as a Priest performing daily Mass, funerals, weddings and baptisms and an avid AFL Kangaroos supporter, he does not appear to be slowing down anytime soon. We are sure The Family Counsellor program with Father Gerard will be around for years to come yet. (From Tobin Brothers, sponsors of the program)

The following interview is publshed with permission from Kairos.

IN 1973, I received an invitation to host a new talk-back program on Radio 3UZ here in Melbourne. I was both surprised and delighted with the proposal, and I accepted it quite happily.
It was given the title, The Family Counsellor. It was to be broadcast for one hour each Sunday night, beginning at 11 o’clock, and was scheduled to begin on the first Sunday in September.
So, with just one practice session behind me, I sat for the first time at a microphone in one of the studios at 45 Bourke Street, Melbourne, the well-known address of Melbourne’s first commercial radio station owned by the Nilson Family.
I was 41 years old at the time, having already served as a priest for 15 years, and had been a social worker for seven of them. And while I could not possibly have been aware of it at the time, the events of that night were to open up for me a whole new way of serving people in need, change for ever the course of my life, and achieve for me a fulfilment that I could never have dreamt possible.
Radio counselling at the time was in its infancy, and to my knowledge I was only the third priest in all of Australia’s capital cities to be accorded such a wonderful pastoral challenge. Interestingly enough, all the others have by now departed the scene.
However, in God’s providence I am still listening to people on the same network, now known as RSN, and broadcasting weekly for two hours from 10pm to midnight. At one stage I was actually on air for four hours, but once the station was bought by the racing industry, its requirements reduced me to its present two hours. But, for some time now I have had the added opportunity of reaching out to listeners with this service on Good Fridays and Christmas Days for a whole six hours.
Wireless is a very personal medium, and one that has clearly survived the arrival of television. And transistor radios are inexpensive these days, and can be taken everywhere, and the service of a talk-back program is just a phone call away. That affords an opportunity that is greatly enhanced by the widespread use these days of mobile phones.
There have been and still are other talk-back programs readily available. But none is quite like the one I have the privilege of conducting. And being both an ordained priest and a trained counsellor, and being able, too, to draw on these two areas of experience to assist anyone who chooses to call, it is possible for me to attend to the needs brought about by struggles to find happiness in life, or to discover some meaning in it.
Of course this particular weekly service has not been presented by me alone. Other priests, such as Frs Kevin Mogg and Kevin Dillon, have sat in for me when I have been unavailable, especially for the three months during which I came so close to death in my struggle against cancer. In addition, right from the start there has been a succession of radio staff members, who have been my on-air partners, as well as my producer. I began with Ken Sparks, and Philip Touzel has been my long-serving companion for more than 20 years.
Naturally enough, I hope that the way I have listened to people and endeavoured to help them has encouraged listeners and callers to continue to tune in to RSN, to be made welcome by receptionists like Maureen and Pam, and to be given a sense of hope by those who have been able to go to their aid in a crisis. One added unusual feature for a commercial radio station has been the invaluable support provided each week by a roster of prayer team members, who have been organised by the Catholic Charismatic Renewal.
From all the foregoing, therefore, you can well understand how grateful I am to God and to all who have contributed to the endurance of The Family Counsellor program and who have ensured that it is still being broadcast over RSN after 40 years of inspiration, information and encouragement—and having managed along the way to help save a life or two.

Gerard Dowling yesterday (photo from Kimi Vunivesilevu MSC)