When someone in the public eye leaves a job and says they don’t know what they’re doing now – no plans – it begs the question: why? Not an oh that’s nice, but a why? They escaping? Pushed? Looming scandal? Medical? Breakdown? Why? Why for them as individuals and why for their role, their organisation.
When Jacinda Ardern chucked in the Prime Ministership for the official line of I don’t know what I’m doing now, no plans, the only response (after the shock) was why? What’s the go? Can’t be buggered anymore, rather be a stay at home mum now with a lazy $2.5m in the bank from five years of a half mil’ salary – that truth we can all understand, there doesn’t need to be an agenda. But everyone has a theory nonetheless.
In Phil Goff’s case the Auckland Mayor announced retirement well in advance. Every person over 16 years old in Wellington and half of Auckland understood full well that Goff was going to be our man to London or Washington by Christmas. I listened to Goff, as Mayor, explaining that he didn’t know what he was going to do now and he didn’t have any plans. No plans. Spend time with the grandkids. Just can’t be buggered arsing around Aucks when the only business success is the orange road cone factory. So, no plans. No plans for the former minister of Defence and Trade. And… nek minnit… His Excellency Hon Philip Goff has the honour of begging Her Majesty’s gracious acceptance of his credentials to the Court at St James’s Palace as High Commissioner of New Zealand to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. What an awful way to ruin one’s retirement. Hardly cause for a surprise party – it could not have been more well telegraphed had Samuel Morse himself sent the message.
In Tova O’Brien and Duncan Garner’s case, slightly different scenario. When the two anchor hosts said on Thursday morning as it went live to air on Today FM that they didn’t know what they were going to do now and that they had no plans it was all very real. By close of business that day it was no longer Today FM – the board of Media Works and it’s interim CEO had cancelled the entire mother fucking network. Go to their website todayfm.co.nz – it’s a deceased radio network. When has this ever happened before – anywhere? I understand Kerry Packer got on the phone to the TV station he owned in the 80s to take off an appallingly unfunny comedy show that he was watching and they pulled it right there and then. But to pull a whole national network just like that, and on a Thursday morning without any warning at all is extraordinary.
Garner must have seen a memo, as moments before Tova flounced into the chair, glared at him (no doubt), and simply said “They’ve fucked us!” – from what I recall – he was meandering around speculation of longevity. Maybe that low groaning sound of the ratings giving way that everyone had been hearing meant the 5 year bulkhead design of Titanic FM has a fatal flaw and that worse still the lifeboats were taken by Cam Wallace and Dallas Gurney. They were mortified – well O’Brien was ropeable, the news staff and producers in tears, but Garner was more sanguine, detached as if he was observing it and commentating on it from the outside, like he was already adjusted to it. He sounded cashed up and in a good spot. He used to sound like a bullying oaf. He has gone a bit soft: a scatter-brained, mediocre, middle-aged mummy blogger. A terrible listen. Now he’s just gone.
O’Brien was a Mary Tyler Moore ‘it’ girl figure, with a beret and an attitude, but that morning she had the vibe of a thin-lipped, short-wicked p-head contemplating life in the big city: mortgage rates on fire and not nearly enough to heat the glass barbecue. It was poetic that O’Brien should be there at the end complaining about what was essentially a result of her own poor performance when she was the one who had caused the brand launch to be delayed last year at great cost. That cock-up spoke volumes about the competency of the personnel and the project.
The last moment on air was O’Brien and Garner saying they have been directed to play music, and that was that. Lindsey Perigo in the ’90s held Radio LIberty for over 48 hours without sleep after the owner’s tried to pull the plug – did he not? Did he not continue to broadcast until he stroked out as security smashed through the doors – isn’t that the legend? What did O’Brien and Garner do? They didn’t just face the music they played the damn music. We can imagine the board and the CEO and executives listening to the live stream as O’Brien storms off from the meeting. Oh God, what is she going to say on air once she gets into the studio with Garner? Tova doesn’t play happy families, so f-bombs will rain, but they both knew they could not give management any excuse to sack them and avoid the severance settlement, so they played the music.
And tell me it’s just a coincidence that the financial year ends the day after this drama. Radio Live that became Magic Talk that became Today FM is no more. That audience – and I can tell you as a listener – is gone from that frequency. We won’t hang around for The Eagles and cricket commentary. The Radio LIve/Magic/Today audience (and Radio Pacific before that in part) will still exist as a community for a time as a shared experience, but it will start to dissolve and become like those people that used to read the Auckland Star or the Auckland Sun. It’s money, it’s ratings, it’s nothing personal, it’s accounting.
Mani Dunlop left as host of Midday Report on RNZ National on Friday. She too said she didn’t know what she was going to do and didn’t have any plans etc. Not sure I quite believe this one if only because there was no mention of why. I listened to her farewell broadcast on Friday – no why. The website story – no why. No mention of who was taking over the role either. I could not tell where on the Ardern-Goff spectrum of plausibility her leaving should be placed. Makes it rather difficult to comment without knowing and difficult to speculate as I have no insider knowledge here.
Sticking to the facts then: the first Maori to produce a weekday show on RNZ. This was in 2020. Not Henare Te Ua in 1960s, but Mani Dunlop in this decade. A lot of space is needed that I can’t give for that to sink in. The amount of hate she has had from the RNZ legacy audience of old white men is obvious even through the couched language of their own reporting on it. It is an indictment on their own audience. Dunlop makes the usual uplifting word salad response of a millennial so we cannot gauge whether that is coded or not. Absent any reason; is that the reason? – an acidic slurry of race hate from your average RNZ listener?
Dunlop waxes on how great everything is despite the white-out conditions atop Mount Aryan-Albino in the high Caucasus. If it’s so great and such a great privilege why is she chucking it in after only three years? Has her contract run out and she wasn’t renewed? Tell us ffs. Tell us something, not nothing, or we will conclude the worst. I remember Henare Te Ua, in his memoir, stating on one page that he never, ever experienced any racism at RNZ at all, and on the other hundred or so pages described the racism he experienced at RNZ. The people will tell you straight out that it ain’t so when it is so. Do they believe it themselves, or not? How much is wilful delusion?
Dunlop – speaking in the past tense now her stint is over – was young. Her voice sounded teenaged. Combined with a bouncing pep and the shit-eating-grin of a host slot and pay rate she was irritatingly buoyant. She babbled a mile a minute as teenage girls do, cluttered, filling every gap with verbiage. Think Julian Wilcox is bad – please. She accidentally on purpose had her young kids running around audibly in the background when she was hosting from home. Professionalism not important anymore if you think it’s cute, huh. It’s the state broadcaster so don’t go and locate your studio in the middle of a creche would have been my suggestion. She was a breath of fresh air when I wanted the window kept shut. But…
The one moment where I really heard her show some class was an interview with Naida Glavish (I think it was) who was in the highlight reel, but I heard it live, and Glavish, A Maori women in her 70s, was struggling to find the words to express herself and Dunlop asked her to korero in Te Reo and that transition from English to Maori and then back again to English was a lovely moment. That glimpse into a future where the state broadcaster has the ability to engage authentically with indigenous people with no distance at all between host and subject – not merely as platitudes in a corporate publication – but to achieve it by having the host indigenous with editorial encouragement to be indigenous is heartening, however the gut reaction of the legacy audience to that beautiful moment is a toxic vomit of bigoted bile. That’s the problem – as outlined in the first of this series of reviews – that rump audience is the problem.
And so right at the time that the Maori trail-blazer leaves RNZ they announce that they have funding to hire Chinese and Indian journalists to cultivate their communities through RNZ including in the Chinese language. What are they going to do, what’s the plan?