RNZ Review – Unplanned obsolescence


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.

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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?


  1. RNZ.
    What are they doing? What is the plan?

    Many tried to give Today FM a go. It failed to deliver. They had a plan! They could not deliver or the plan was flawed!

    The truth will set us free? Maybe we are better off without the truth! Many seem to support this idea.

  2. Frankly I am appalled that Mani Dunlop did not get the ‘morning report’ – cream of the crop job. She is absolutely brilliant and I think she is a huge loss to RNZ. The person they have hired is light weight compared to her.

    I heard that Jim is just about to return to RNZ Sunday mornings.

    And I hope that Susana Lei’ataua continues on RNZ evenings, she is a huge step up from the other woman.

  3. I should have said I found her comments on leaving just brilliant – I did hear it live. Personally I found it humbling and was close to tears. We need Mani.

    • Have to disagree. No doubt Mani has various talents and now suitable experience. Better suited to documentary and in depth type analysis of issues (a la Guyon Espiner and Susie Ferguson)
      In a serious straight news and current affairs role, she’s a giggle puss. A ha ha ha hee hee hee. And Tim Selwyn has a point re broadcasting from a creche.
      There’s never the perfect specimen though (unless of course it’s me, or many of the people that comment here)

  4. Maybe the lesson is not about radio but a problem with the Big Boys who can in an instant leave workers economically and psychologically f#%ked.
    No one really gave 2Fs in 1986 when grown men cried at Whakatu works with the immediate loss of 1500 jobs that had massive long term effects on thousands more families, including suicides.

    Tell me again What was Silver Ferns profit last week ?

    Hundreds and hundreds lose their jobs at the whim of profit, yet the hypocrisy is no tears shed in the push back to erode worker’s welfare … except if it’s a public person.
    What’s that you say…. minimum wage is evil ? Sack a few workers who cares what happens behind the scenes in their households??
    Employment Insurance tut tut such a bad idea … did the tighty righties consider Garner has truly had a traumatic time already with divorce and loss of home? Did anyone have feels for the further new 340 layoffs ( lovely soft word for shitting on humans) in the Warehouse group ?
    Collective Employment Agreements and Fair Pay Agreements such evil means to erode corporate profits..
    Spark NZ up 33% but the worker who could be gone tomorrow in the retail store is working at minimum wage plus commission hence their helpful smile and customer attendance to raise Spark profit in order to feed their family.

    Fonterra profit up 50% and someone yesterday said ‘ oh wow, there’s cheese, we don’t have that at home ,”

    Perhaps Tova in her new endeavours might push back with more empathy for underdogs .

    • Keep the dream alive.
      I was not around at the time but it is my understanding that unions were run by real men in the 80s.

  5. Not sure why anyone employed by an enterprise owned by Oaktree, or any venture capitalist or corporate would believe their futures were secure. Not even Damien Grant. If the past 30 or 40 years of neoliberalism and 3rd way bullshit is not evidence enough.
    It is/was a commercial enterprise that inevitably has to provide a return for its shareholders first and foremost, AND to grow grow grow. Any benefits in providing an alternative view was secondary. NPR or Public Service broadcasting it was not.
    Now, please, cry me a river. Or maybe start pumping out the same shit some other already established station does. BUT above all, don’t take risks and above all preoccupy yourselves with audience share and target demographics, and make sure you do regular market and consumer satisfaction surveys.

  6. The Community Radio Stations were the ones to deliver foreign languages as a service. Not Radionz is/was a national station set up for English speakers and with growing Maori subjects and programs and other languages FTTT.

    Why unpick everything great that had been set up and on which we hoped to build ‘Jerusalem’? Oops sorry that just popped out. But we did have big ideas until Labour sold out because the spiel they received was so plausible and pleasurable. Just come with us they were told by Treasury and friends, and all your troubles will be little ones.

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