MULLIGAN + CHERRY
The radio star and his multi-talented producer
Jesse Mulligan, 42, presents RNZ’s afternoon weekday show; Caitlin Cherry, 45, is the executive producer. Though they work together every day, Jesse is based in Auckland and Caitlin is based in Wellington, so they rarely meet in person. JESSE/ I was visiting Wellington, doing my job down there, and a bright and clearly extremely competent producer from the Nine To Noon show came in, waved at me, and said: “Hi I’m Caitlin, nice to meet you.” Some time later, when they were advertising for the job running my show, I got a whiff that she’d thrown her name in the hat. I thought: “Hmm! That would be good.”
She’s definitely one for continuous improvement. Each day, we’ll catch up on the phone and say what do you think worked, what do you think didn’t work… I’ve worked for all sorts of radio and TV stations and it’s so rare to find somebody who’s in tune with you. One of the best things she does is turn a 10-minute interview into an amazing six-minute interview. That’s an amazing thing to be able to lean on as a presenter.
I talk to her on email probably 10 times a day and on the phone, usually a couple of times. There’s also a program called Top Line where you can send messages of 140 characters – I’d get a half dozen of those from her each day, and texts. Sometimes it’s tiny things, sometimes it’s really important. I feel like she’s right there in my ear, all day long. It’s the most intimate working relationship between two people who almost never see each other.
Once I had to talk to Caitlin about using our urgent messaging system for LOLs during the show. I’ll be coming out of a Rolling Stones track and get a flashing light that indicates I have a message and it will be Caitlin saying: “I sing this one in my band!” I’m like: “That’s great, Caitlin, but I’m interviewing the Minister of Finance at the moment, was there anything else?”
She’s a very reassuring presence. She has really high standards and yet you never feel like this show is life or death stuff. I played a really, really terrible album on the show the other day. Halfway through the first song, she sent me a Top Line [message] that said: “I hate this music.” I was like: “I’m really sorry. We’ve got another few minutes of it...”
She’s one of those “super women”. There have been times when I literally don’t understand how she’s doing as many things as she’s doing. She got two kids, she’s a singer in a band, she’s the station’s go-to person for breaking news... If there’s an earthquake, she’s the first call they make. She comes in and runs rolling coverage, gets presenters on air, decides who to go to next... For her to be that first choice says a lot about her qualities.
I’m probably a bit more reserved and careful and, I dare say, quieter than her. She is a very loud sneezer. I’m not saying I can hear her from Auckland. But there have been times where she’s sneezed and it’s stopped the whole office. CAITLIN/ I suppose I knew of him the way everyone else knew of him – he was on Seven Sharp. And hearing him on afternoons when I was working as a producer on Nine To Noon. I thought he was a really good broadcaster and I actually enjoyed listening to the show. I properly met him when I got this job. We immediately got on; we’re both pretty professional, but not in a formal sense. We get on with the work, throw ideas around, and don’t take anything personally. We value the strong relationship we have with the audience – they’re always emailing and texting, interacting and suggesting ideas. Jesse makes a real effort to answer.
He’s really good at talking to “real” people. We played a Neil Diamond album last year and a quite elderly woman emailed in to say she’d performed with him years ago. Jesse said: “Let’s talk to her.” She was nervous and he totally put her at ease. Then he got her to sing. She sounded fantastic.
How he is on radio is actually how he is. Some people might think he’s a bit of an Auckland celebrity, but he’s not. He’s got his slightly dorky bike helmet and he rides his bike and parks it in the garage downstairs. I like that.
He knows a hell of a lot about how to trap rats. He had to write an FAQ for the RNZ website because he gets so many questions from people every time he talks about rat trapping. He regularly traps rats in his back garden and thinks that we should all do our bit.
We’ve often pre-booked a lot of the longer form material. When Jacinda Ardern was made leader of the Labour party, we immediately called her press secretary and got her on the show. I said to Jesse: “Don’t ask her about children.” And he said: “OK.” And he didn’t. Then he did it on The Project that night. He got absolutely vilified. He had asked her ahead of the interview whether he could ask her about it, and she said it was fine. We were getting emails from people who were really mad with him. I did feel quite protective of him. But when he came into work the next day I said: “I’m really cross with you.”
We’re both parents, first and foremost – we share that understanding of what’s really important in life. We both like having a laugh and just enjoying the absurdity of life. We really strive to do a variety of stories and we don’t actually have an agenda of any kind, but we do really like doing stories that are probably not so depressing – a bit more hopeful, a bit more inspirational, a bit more celebratory. Jesse Mulligan’s 1-4pm show returns to RNZ tomorrow.
“How he is on radio is actually how he is. Some people might think he’s a bit of an Auckland celebrity, but he’s not.”