Both RNZ Concert and Youth Radio – Not Either/Or.


MARTYN BRADBURY believes in radio. He’s been an advocate of an FM frequency dedicated to 18-35-year-old New Zealanders since at least the 1990s. That he should welcome RNZ’s announcement that a new, state-funded, youth radio station has been green-lighted is only to be expected. Equally to be anticipated, however, is the outcry from listeners and supporters of RNZ Concert. What else did RNZ’s Paul Thompson expect when he rejected the ‘both/and’ approach in favour of ‘either/or’?

By sacking not only RNZ Concert’s presenters, but also its producers and librarians, and reducing the station to an automated purveyor of classical music in-between parliamentary broadcasts, RNZ’s CEO, Paul Thompson, wasn’t simply announcing an operational shake-up, he was declaring war on one of the most important guardians of New Zealand’s cultural traditions.

There can be no doubt that he knew what he was doing. The ice-cold way in which he and his co-conspirator, RNZ’s Music Content Director, Willy Macalister, are said to have delivered the news to the stunned staff of RNZ Concert, strongly suggests that they were all-too-aware of the serious consequences of their decision. That they would come under instantaneous and heavy fire from the artistic community and its political defenders must have been anticipated. Which suggests strongly that crossing swords with the likes of Helen Clark, Chris Finlayson, Sir Michael Cullen, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and Sam Neil had already been accepted as the necessary cost of doing business.

But, accepted by whom? The RNZ Board? The Minister of Broadcasting, Kris Faafoi? The Minister of Arts & Heritage – and Prime Minister – Jacinda Ardern? Were all of these people really on-board with Thompson’s and Macalister’s decision? Had they all been fully informed of RNZ’s senior managers’ intention to gut RNZ Concert? Were they all as keyed-up as the leading protagonists for the inevitable backlash? Were all of them truly willing accessories-before-the-fact to what Sir Michael Cullen described as  “cultural vandalism”?

It would seem not.

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On this morning’s edition of RNZ’s Morning Report, the Prime Minister coolly set forth her understanding of what had taken place. It seems that her Broadcasting Minister, upon being informed of Thompson and Macalister’s plans, reacted unenthusiastically. All-too-aware of the likely consequences of establishing a youth-oriented station at RNZ Concert’s expense, he cautioned RNZ’s CEO against proceeding too hastily. He asked Thompson for time to come up with a ‘both/and’ solution – specifically, by sorting out an additional FM frequency. In her interview with Morning Report co-host Corin Dann (which Dann appeared to be doing his best to frame in terms of intergenerational warfare and cultural elitism) the Prime Minister made it icily clear that Thompson, by opting not to delay his announcement, had undermined Faafoi’s efforts to come up with an acceptable compromise.

Thompson must, surely, understand that, by setting forth the sequence of events in the way she did, the Prime Minister was telling him that he was now on his own. The Government had offered to help him craft a solution and he had denied them the time needed to make it happen. Is that really where Thompson intended to place himself? At odds with RNZ Concert’s listeners? At odds with the New Zealand artistic community? At odds with present and former Ministers of Arts & Heritage? (Jacinda made it very clear to RNZ’s listeners this morning that she, too, is looking for a ‘both/and’ resolution to this problem.) Does he really think that his position is strengthened by causing a former prime minister to get in the ear of a present prime minister? Did he not hear the implicit threat in Finance Minister Grant Robertson’s comment that he and his Cabinet colleagues would be investigating the matter further? Was he simply not aware that the Labour Party 2017 manifesto includes a rock-solid commitment to the preservation of RNZ Concert?

It certainly makes you wonder, doesn’t it? Why RNZ’s CEO would choose this precise moment to unleash such a shitstorm upon his own head? After all, the RNZ Concert announcement was made just 48 hours before the Broadcasting Minister formally announced his plans for a possible merger of RNZ and TVNZ into a single state-owned broadcasting entity. Pending the outcome of the necessarily lengthy feasibility study Faafoi has ordered, it would surely have made more sense to hold off on a decision as sensitive and consequential as gutting RNZ Concert?

Was Thompson fearful that in any future merger his position would disappear? (A virtual certainty now!) Was he hoping the proposed 18-35 youth station would serve as a lasting personal legacy, and the destruction of the Baby Boomer elite’s RNZ Concert (a feat which others have attempted, and failed, to accomplish) his greatest managerial triumph? It is to be hoped not.

Because how much more impressive it would have been for Thompson and Macalister to have set in motion a steady process of renovation and reconstruction in RNZ Concert, while simultaneously investigating the best way to attract a new and younger listenership to RNZ. The promoters of New Zealand popular music have been struggling for the best part of 30 years to expand the state broadcaster’s cultural horizons and thereby fulfil more generously the aims and objectives of its charter. Preserving both the invaluable contribution of RNZ Concert to New Zealand’s classical musical traditions, and developing a new and vibrant platform for this country’s young cultural producers: now that would have been a legacy worth having.

Indeed, the way the politics of this debacle are unfolding, something like the above will be its ultimate legacy. It just won’t be Paul Thompson’s or Willy Macalister’s legacy.



  1. “MARTYN BRADBURY believes in radio. He’s been an advocate of an FM frequency dedicated to 18-35-year-old New Zealanders since at least the 1990s. That he should welcome RNZ’s announcement that a new, state-funded, youth radio station has been green-lighted is only to be expected”
    Very true! And having to have put up with a lot of the bullshit he’s encountered over the years.
    However He’s not really doing himself OR his cause any favours, and martyrdom went out of fashion eons ago.
    As the comments on other threads show (including from people that know about frequency availability for example) as well as discussion and analysis in other media, let alone the past history that’s led to all this – his failure to understand its more about political will and procrastination than it is about bloody boomers or any other age group (or as it’s about to be referred to as the war continues: “Life stages”)

  2. This government can’t help but shoot itself in the foot.

    12 people to run concert FM? REALLY! Do they play cards all day once they’ve spent 15 minutes each morning agreeing the play list?

    • Seriously, Andrew? That’s your take?

      When confronted with ignorance and prejudice on such a scale, even I am lost for words.

      God save this country from such unreconstructed philistinism!

    • Andrew: “12 people to run concert FM? REALLY! Do they play cards all day once they’ve spent 15 minutes each morning agreeing the play list?”

      Hahahaha! I’m guessing that you’re not – qu’on dit – a member of the target market. You’ve possibly never listened to Concert in your life.

      If you knew owt about classical music, I doubt that you’d have made such a statement. Concert is both underfunded and understaffed: as we regular listeners know full well.

  3. I’m still waiting to hear a convincing reason why we need a national “youth” radio. The idea seems predicated on the idea of generations as “tribes”, and so looks like just another example of the identity politics that contaminates decision-making at every level in NZ currently (and what’s wrong with student radio stations?). Though I also like the “legacy theory” advanced in this article – woke neoliberals like Thompson and McAlastair thought it would look really cool that they “lifted up” youth music (as well as saving money by sacking Concert program staff). I don’t listen to RNZ Concert, but I think the state should support classical music, just like art galleries get state or local body funding. Are art galleries elitist? Depends on how you define the word – they’re economically elitist if you charge admission.

    • chruskl: “I’m still waiting to hear a convincing reason why we need a national “youth” radio.”

      Yup. Me too.

      “….looks like just another example of the identity politics that contaminates decision-making at every level in NZ currently…”

      Nailed it! Wish I’d thought of that…

  4. Why would anyone listen to a state-run youth station when there are so many alternatives, and radio consumption by younger NZ is shrinking?
    Has RNZ not heard of Spotify and YouTube?

  5. Asking the old to go on-line to listen to music and offering the youth FM radio, indicates some suit out of touch with the way people consume product.

    FM radio is for oldies, the youth are on-line and have ways of consuming product there with good sound. Youth radio will be marketed to them on-line, they will check it out on-line and they will go back on-line. And in due course when it is on the FM frequency allocated for it back in 1989, they may if off-line (parents have taken wifi down) resort to radio listening (if they have one).

    This was just a suit doing what they did under the last government cutting costs of an existing service to finance new spending (finance the new service to the future “yooth” market) – with no regard to public service in the process. Given the allocation of extra spending cutting cost was not required but just the way the suit was trying to promote himself for a role managing the falling revenues of TVNZ with any merger. But given he was prepared to do so in a way directly contrary to the governing party’s own manifesto, there is now a huge loss of trust (he will however put his hand up when/should National puts TVNZ up for sale).

    • Any Laboir minister would approach media mergers, conglomerates and media oligarchs from a position of power, always blocking mergers and media monopolies and funding public broadcasting to the enth degree, always.

  6. It’s all part of the ongoing silent neoliberal ‘revolution’ to keep pace in NZ Inc., the stooges at RNZ’s head are part of the fighters for this to happen. Dumbing down and silencing unwanted voices is the ultimate goal.

  7. From Jim Sullivan in this a.m.’s O.D.T.: ” . . . Radio New Zealand (now called RNZ in response to their aim for a target audience incapable of stringing three consecutive words together) . . ” HoHo.

    As a “youth listener” several decades back, I recall being mesmerised by Beethoven’s Fifth in the (no longer extant) King Edward barracks in ChCh. It does youth no service to suppose that they are incapable of enjoying classical music.

  8. I blame previous Govts for encouraging the appointment of bloody Marketing people as CEO of Radio NZ, TNZ, etc. They tend to be right-wing klutzes with no regard for art or culture, and very little social vision.

  9. Interesting article Chris Trotter. In support of RNZ Concert program, I think that management in their lack of vision are looking for their magic bullet in trying to axe that which helps to develop NZ culture in essence. This is no different than chopping down NZ’s only long-standing soap opera Shortland Street. Over 6,000 episodes and over 27 years, it has been the only real breeding ground for budding actors. While most of us would probably fail to watch it, it fills a void with the masses, as does the concert program with a select audience.

    The youth know where to find their own brand of music, they don’t need RNZ to do it for them. Crazy in this day and age to be reformatting and trying to create new business models around media, when its becoming all the more fragmented as people aim for tribalism, and something to identify with.

  10. Strange matter, from a great intaker of all Nat Rad’s output. I’m not really informed to respond, thinking ipods a great loss to transistor radio research (even Sonys have no ‘strong’ volume control).

    Creativity without having to bow to powerful gatekeepers would be good. The Beeb and the Aab do that unlike here. RNZ National gets tedious trying not to offend anyone. Adventuring, unhinged to private bill-payers’ agenda, is as much an imperative of public broadcasting.

  11. There’s another take on this…

    Idea! RNZ want to launch a new youth station on 102MHz (the frequency block intended for RNZ youth radio when it was reserved 15 or so years ago), but Government funding levels are way too low to build a new network.

    Bummer. Time for a sneaky plan.

    Step 1 – RNZ hatches an idea to gazump RNZ Concert’s FM network – quick, easy, cheap way to get the youth network on air, with collateral damage to Concert (which will piss off the classical music fans).

    Step 2 – Discussion document on the changes is leaked/revealed to the press. RNZ Concert fans have a collective fit. Cue outrage, and lobbying to the Government to “Save RNZ Concert”

    Step 3 – Government listens to the Concert fans, INCREASES RNZ funding so they can do the youth network on 102 MHz, AND keep RNZ Concert on its current hodge-podge of FM frequencies as-is, where-is.

    TA DA! RNZ gets the result they wanted all along. 🙂

  12. It’s clearly a political move. RNZ are against COL and have been running a repetitive, hysterical media campaign on certain issues for a while now.

    Think getting rid of Campbell Live which TV3 rammed through to help John Key and remove local news content. It decimated their views, but increasingly media is about paid for propaganda and not viewship so it does not matter.

    RNZ seemingly want to redirect public money into their own paid for agendas and ideologies of more migrant NZ and fuck what the public thinks about it.

    For example RNZ has been running a campaign against NZ First. Funny how their reporters never put dodgy donations into the context of other political donations like the Natz who do it too and worse and actually get $100k donations in the context of MP seats where 2 Chinese are more valuable than 2 Indians?

    Suddenly RNZ, which was exposing immigration routs, does a u turn and suddenly wants condition for more via frauds and loosening of visa conditions! The so called wonderful solution of extending migrant visas for 3 years has created massive infrastructure spending needed for NZ taking away from social spending, huge poverty as more people have no work here and houses are hard to come by, more criminal activity as ‘real’ jobs that pay real wages are non existent in rockstar NZ, and there are more and more kids being born in NZ with complicated residency, social and family court needs and more and more people applying for special conditions to stay in NZ and refusing to be deported even if they have no real job or prospects here.

    All this is a big headache for COL, who seem to be easily tricked into making all NZ statistics (jobseeker, infrastructure, health) get worse under the banner of ‘diversity, diversity”. Kind of weird because there is such a small population of Maori and Pakeha in NZ compared to the world’s ethnicities and there is supposed to be a legal treaty to protest both … how is it more in line with diversity and treaty obligations to now be advocating a switcheroo with a decade?

    • Agree saveNZ it’s an attempt by the neo-liberal Chris Thompson to undermine the government. I hope Ardern and Fa’afoi, who have behaved admirably, get advice on sacking the nasty asap(as soon as possible). I don’t think his job remit involved destroying RNZ.

    • Further to my comment to saveNZ (above): change my wording from “destroy RNZ” to “sabotage RNZ”. Thompson wants to make it ineffectual, not obliterated at present.

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