Given the hours Richard King keeps, this lunch at Momo Wholefood cafe could well be his dinner.
“I get up at 10 to three,” explains the breakfast radio presenter, before outlining his pre-dawn pattern, which includes shaving.
“Sometimes I don’t shave, but then I don’t feel like I’ve woken up.”
“But for radio, you don’t have to shave,” I point out. After all, you’re heard but not seen.
“No, but, you know, the habit, the routine,” he replies in that rich baritone voice of his.
For thousands of Hunter radio listeners, Richard King is part of their weekday morning routine. He’s been joining them for breakfast via 2HD for the past eight years.
And through the airwaves, through his words and his absences from the studio, those listeners have accompanied King on a journey that no one wants to take but so many have to endure: cancer.
King has been on that journey since 2015, when he was diagnosed with a low-grade lymphoma that later became more aggressive.
He knows he’s not alone.
Just the night before, at a movie preview for 2HD listeners, a woman approached the announcer and shared her cancer story.
“And all of a sudden, there’s a connection there,” King says. “Something we can talk about.
“I think I’m still coming to grips with how I feel about it all, and the effect it’s having on me, and the way I think about the world and other people, all that sort of thing.
“But it’s quite profound.”
THAT familiar voice was created in Melbourne. Richard King was born in August 1954, which is why he featured a certain Beatles song on his program recently: “I played that on my 64th birthday.”
His mother, Pat King, was an actress. She had badly burnt her hands as a child, so, she was told, as an actress, she couldn’t expect major roles. But that didn’t matter on the radio. She did a lot of character voices for radio plays.
Richard’s father, Doug Gawler, was a former merchant seaman who was living on borrowed time with leukaemia even before his son was born.
“Mum was pregnant with me when he was first diagnosed, and I think then he was only given six months, but he lived till I was four and a half,” King says.
Six decades later, after King was diagnosed with cancer, he thought of his father and wondered if there could be any link.
“I think the jury’s still out whether or not there’s any genetic predisposition to the blood cancers,” he says.
As a child, living with his mother and older sister, Richard would be in his bedroom at night with his radio, listening to the latest hits and renowned announcer Ken Sparkes.
“I had a crystal radio and I had the little tiger clip plugged into the fly screen beside my bed, and I used to listen to 3UZ,” he says, before singing the station jingle he remembers from his childhood.
When King was 11, his mother remarried, to a man named Ron King: “So she was a King, married a Gawler and became a King again.”
The family moved to Sydney and Richard turned his radio dial to discover new music stations, primarily 2SM and 2UW. He attended Barker College and, having received a private education, “there was an expectation I should do something” when he matriculated.
King studied law part-time at the University of Sydney and worked as an articled clerk for a firm in the city – “I think it’s because I wanted to be the next Perry Mason” – but a lot of his time was consumed by his passion for music, hanging out at Anthem Records, a shop that was underground near Town Hall railway station.
The store was one of the first in the country to import records, which made it all the more enticing to the teenager, as he could access the latest music from overseas.
“I think at the time as an articled clerk, I got the princely sum of about $30 a week. I was spending it all on records,” King recalls.
“I jokingly said to them one day, ‘If you’ve got any work, you can pay me in records’.
“So I used to work there part-time at night, compiling all the overseas orders. In the meantime, I could listen on a turntable, listen to all the new stuff as it came in.
“And back in the 1970s, it was the concept albums, Yes, Pink Floyd, a lot of European bands. I’d listen to everything.”
The record store helped prod King away from a law career. One of the store’s owners, who had recently parted ways with Radio 2UE, suggested a job as a presenter.
“I used to say, ‘That’s not a real job though, playing music and having a good time,” he chuckles. “It’s not a real job!’.”
But it was real enough for Richard King to leave behind law and enrol in a radio presenter’s course. I ask if that’s where he developed his mellifluous voice, or if he always had that.
“Look, I don’t know,” he answers. “I must have had a reasonable voice. I won the Edgeworth David Reading Aloud Prize at Barker [College] in my final year!”
King sent out audition tapes and had four job offers, including one from a station in Bunbury, in Western Australia, “and I thought, ‘Go west, young man!’.”
In 1975, King launched his radio career on the other side of the country: “I was a big fish in a little pond. All of a sudden on the radio, you’re the local DJ. It was a lot of fun.”
After 11 months in Bunbury, he moved to a radio station in Wagga Wagga, where he met his future wife, Anne. Then it was into the big smoke, at Sydney’s 2UW and 2WS.
But he and Anne, who married in 1980, wanted out of Sydney, and King looked at a career change. They moved to Armidale, and Richard went to the University of New England, studying social sciences and psychology. They also began a family, with the arrival of their child, Matthew, who is now 36. They also have three daughters, aged between 34 and 29, and two grandchildren.
After three years in Armidale, and with an Arts degree, King was thinking about how to use his new skills, when he received a call from the Wesgo radio group.
He returned to radio, working at Gosford for 12 months. Then Radio 2KO contacted him, asking if he was interested in the program manager’s job. King and his family travelled up the highway to visit Newcastle.
“This was 1985. It was a different Newcastle,” he explains. “We walked through the mall and we were really struck by how friendly everybody was. My impression of Newcastle prior to that was BHP and coal mines. We were really impressed. That was the clincher, and I accepted the job.
King worked at 2KO as a program manager and on air for about eight years before heading to Sandgate, to 2HD, “but I’ve come and gone from there a couple of times”. One of those breaks was for almost five years: “I was doing voice work – and bamboo.”
Richard King finds bamboo fascinating. He can rattle off the species’ names and talks animatedly about different propagating techniques.
“I can become very boring talking about bamboo,” he admits.
What began as a means to create a screen for the family’s Whitebridge property flourished into a business, Bambootiful, propagating and supplying bamboo, including for a Rutherford residential development for the McCloy Group. King has still got the business – and his love of bamboo.
“It’s a long way from media, it’s a long way from radio, you can get your hands dirty, and it’s a plant, because it grows quickly, where you can see a result quickly.”
King returned to 2HD in 2004, because there was a “financial imperative”. He and Anne had separated after about a quarter of a century of marriage. He enjoyed the return to the airwaves, and to the diversity of topics that each day presented. His unusual work hours didn’t disturb anyone else; he lived alone at Maryville.
“I’m quite comfortable with my own company,” he says. “Although I think it’s an occupational hazard for radio people to talk to themselves!”
Then in 2015 came the cancer diagnosis that would disrupt King’s routine. Initially he was told the cancer was “indolent, low-grade, watch and wait, no treatment . . . I probably should have thought about it a bit more, but I didn’t. Life went on.”
That is until about a year later, when he woke with a sharp pain that only increased. After a PET scan, he was told the cancer was aggressive. King began a cycle of chemotherapy but continued to work two weeks out of three, arguing “it’s better to stay busy”. And the man who talked for a living sought the words of others for comfort, including his former wife, Anne – “she was terrific, as were all the family”.
“At night, particularly in the first few weeks, I didn’t really want to be my own. I did something that for me was out of character. I’d ring people for a chat.”
King has been in remission for almost 12 months. He is still receiving immunotherapy. As he eats tofu san choy bow and sips on a hot lemon drink, King explains this cancer journey has brought about changes.
“I feel very mortal,” he muses. “I know there was a period, when I was younger, when I thought I was 10-foot tall and bullet-proof and God’s gift to the world, not just radio. I think I’m probably a more humble person now than I used to be.”
There’s been a change at work as well. He now has a co-host, Kim Bauer, who he describes as “terrific” to work with: “I spent 40 odd years working on my own, I’ve never had to work with anybody else. I’m really enjoying it, because I’m thinking about it [the job] from a different perspective.”
But there is one constant, the conversation with his radio audience. And Richard King has plenty to talk about.
“I’m a lot older,” he says. “I’m a father and grandfather, lots of things have happened . . . had cancer, I’ve done lots of things, I’ve had lots of interesting jobs and met lots of interesting people. So I’m only now starting to thinking, ‘Wow, I’ve got lots of things to draw on, experiences’.
“I’ve been doing it for a long time, but I still enjoy it. I say to people, if I didn’t enjoy it, why would I get up at 10 to three?”