The Coun­try blokes are com­ing to town

What started as two young blokes com­men­tat­ing club rugby from Gore Show­grounds 25 years ago cul­mi­nates on Mon­day when The Coun­try comes to Auckland on Ra­dio Sport

Weekend Herald - - Review - Jamie Mackay

Aquar­ter of a cen­tury ago I was one of those rel­a­tively young bucks. The other one was Lee Piper; these days the head of ru­ral con­tent for NZME. Back in 1994 we de­cided it would be a great idea to buy a ra­dio sta­tion from the govern­ment of the day.

Brief his­tory les­son; at the time, the state-owned Ra­dio New Zealand com­mer­cial di­vi­sion was haem­or­rhag­ing cash and Jim Bol­ger’s govern­ment wanted to in­ves­ti­gate the pos­si­bil­ity of sell­ing off the un­prof­itable as­sets to pri­vate en­ter­prises.

A strate­gi­cally in­signif­i­cant sta­tion called 4ZG in Gore seemed like an ideal guinea pig. How­ever, the elon­gated sale process proved to be a dog rather than a guinea pig and the net re­sult was the launch of Hokonui Gold Ra­dio on April 11, 1994.

The share­hold­ers were Piper, yours truly and an­other rugby com­men­ta­tor by the name of Grant Nis­bett threw his trust­ing hat into the ring as a si­lent part­ner.

While I was glee­fully dis­mis­sive of Piper’s lack of farm­ing knowl­edge, to his credit he did know ra­dio, hav­ing been sent to the un­fash­ion­able out­post of Gore to be the break­fast an­nouncer, and then to man­age 4ZG, lit­er­ally straight out of broad­cast­ing school. What he didn’t know, he made up, and thus con­vinced me that a ra­dio sta­tion sell­ing only $7000 of ad­ver­tis­ing in Fe­bru­ary of 1994 was worth a punt.

By rights I should have been an ac­coun­tant. I dodged a bore­dom bul­let there when fate cru­elly in­ter­vened at the ten­der age of 19 when my fa­ther died. It was a mat­ter of sell­ing the fam­ily farm or quit­ting my com­merce de­gree at Otago Univer­sity to go home to run the place. I chose the lat­ter.

My only train­ing in ra­dio was as a con­sumer, an all-day lis­tener, just as many farm­ers are to­day. The only dif­fer­ence is, to­day, farm­ers have a plethora of lis­ten­ing op­tions in their so­phis­ti­cated trac­tor cabs, farm utes and quad bikes.

But back in the early 1980s when I was cut­ting my teeth do­ing long hours on the trac­tor and in the shear­ing shed, there were just two full-time com­mer­cial mu­sic ra­dio sta­tions in South­land, plus the Na­tional Pro­gramme (these days RNZ Na­tional) and Sports Roundup, which has since mor­phed into Ra­dio Sport.

Many long and happy hours were spent on the trac­tor lis­ten­ing to the likes of Iain Gal­loway, John Parker, Jeremy Coney and Bryan Wad­dle cre­at­ing a the­atre of the mind, call­ing

Auckland lis­ten­ers on Ra­dio Sport on Mon­day are ei­ther due for a pleas­ant sur­prise or a nasty shock de­pend­ing on their dis­po­si­tion to ru­ral New Zealand.

the cricket on Sports Roundup. The lat­ter two gents are still weav­ing their magic on Ra­dio Sport.

In 1994 we ef­fec­tively learned to run a ra­dio sta­tion on the run. With my farm­ing back­ground we started a five-minute ru­ral fea­ture af­ter the mid­day news, not want­ing to chal­lenge the (then) almighty Mid­day and Ru­ral Re­port on the Na­tional Pro­gramme.

More by ac­ci­dent than de­sign our ru­ral fea­ture went from one interview to one hour, daily. Then af­ter 10 years of run­ning Hokonui Ra­dio it was time to spread our wings and take on the coun­try, the first step be­ing a move to the New­stalk ZB re­gional net­work in 2004.

Since start­ing out in ru­ral broad­cast­ing nearly 25 years ago, we’ve nav­i­gated our way through crip­pling droughts, dev­as­tat­ing floods, one-in-100-year snow­falls, the Asian fi­nan­cial cri­sis, the for­ma­tion of Fon­terra from two pre­vi­ously war­ring dairy fac­tions, the fight against the fart tax, the sub­se­quent con­fu­sion sur­round­ing the Emis­sions Trad­ing Scheme, the dairy boom, dirty dairy­ing, for­eign in­vest­ment in our farm land and farmer-owned co­op­er­a­tives, PSA and then the re­nais­sance of the ki­wifruit in­dus­try, the emer­gence of the eco­nomic tiger of China as our largest trad­ing part­ner, the forg­ing of free-trade agree­ments, the biose­cu­rity threats of M. bo­vis, myr­tle rust and the mar­morated stink bug and, lastly, a Labour-led coali­tion govern­ment with a strong Greens pres­ence, which is cer­tainly throw­ing some en­vi­ron­men­tal chal­lenges at the farm­ing com­mu­nity.

Over the years we have built up a great net­work and sta­ble of reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tors. The Prime Min­is­ter of the day has been a reg­u­lar weekly guest since He­len Clark back in 2000.

To­day Jacinda Ardern is joined by the likes of Win­ston Peters, Si­mon Bridges, James Shaw, Damien O’Con­nor and Nathan Guy. And to cover my bases I’ve even cre­ated a slot for Ju­dith Collins in 2019.

We have more weather ex­perts than Auckland has rainy days, econ­o­mists for Africa, and all the ma­jor play­ers from the likes of Fon­terra, Ze­spri, Sil­ver Fern Farms, Dairy NZ, Hor­ti­cul­ture NZ and Beef + Lamb NZ. Not to men­tion sport — we love our footy.

Auckland lis­ten­ers on Ra­dio Sport on Mon­day are ei­ther due for a pleas­ant sur­prise or a nasty shock de­pend­ing on their dis­po­si­tion to ru­ral New Zealand.

In a past life, our daily one-hour of­fer­ing was known as the Farm­ing Show, but to­day our show is about a whole lot more than farm­ing. We unashamedly want to bring a bit of the coun­try to town, to bridge the ru­ralur­ban di­vide. But mostly we want to in­form and hope­fully en­ter­tain along the way.

So Auckland, how about a bit of farm­ing, footy and fun for lunch? What’s not to like about that?

The Coun­try is back this Mon­day

● from mid­day and now in Auckland on Ra­dio Sport 1332am.

Photo / Getty Im­ages

The Coun­try is on its way to bring a bit of farm­ing, footy and fun to Ra­dio Sport.

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