By Mike Regal PD Radio Hauraki (1st printed in The Median Strip)
Reprinted with permission from Paul Kennedy (Editor of Median Strip)
Back in 1995 Josh Easby and Gerard Murray were
invited to attend a forum in Wellington to discuss
the lack of New Zealand music being played on
If my memory serves me correctly, the meeting
ended in the usual shit fight, with Arthur Baysting
demanding that New Zealand music had a
Godzone-given right to be played on air while the
commercial radio representatives nodded politely
knowing damn well they didn’t really give a fuck.
Through all this Mike Chunn and Brendan Smyth
ever the diplomats, kept everyone from
collectively strangling each other
As for the musicians who attended, most had gone home because the free food had run out and they couldn’t smoke dope inside. So all in all it was pretty much the way things had been since the halcyon days of The Loxene Golden Disc Awards, (Timberjack Come To The Sabbat... now there was a song!).
For Josh and Gerard one thing was clear 1.9% local content on commercial radio was a pretty lousy figure, in Easby’s pragmatic mind, it was just a matter of getting the prospective parties together, discussing each others objectives, finding some common ground and taking it from there.
And that’s how The Kiwi Music Action Group was formed. Representatives from commercial radio, the recording industry, APRA, AMCOS, NZ On Air and The Musicians Collective (as I think they were called), were to meet on a monthly basis to nut out how to get more kiwi music on the radio.
It was about this time TRN bought prospect from GWR and Joan Withers made her now famous “there wont be any redundancies” speech. (That’s another story for another Median Strip). The takeover resulted in both Josh and Gerard departing for the greener pastures of Europe along with over 60 people losing their jobs. As a parting gift Josh left me to chair the newly formed Kiwi MAG so there we were, Mike Chunn wearing the hat for APRA, Arthur Baysting doing his passionate best for AMCOS, Michael Glading and a very annoying girl (who’s name escapes me) from Flying Nun Records representing the recording industry, Kaye Glamuzina from National Radio, Jeff Clarkson the musicians rep, Rodger Clamp for radio and rounding out this diverse group Brendan Smyth from NZ On Air. Over three years it was this group who paved the way for what we have today the introduction of mainstream New Zealand Music Week in May 1997 along with a showcase of New Zealand talent at the annual RBA conference grew each year in size and status, to the point where today the week has become a month not only celebrated by radio, but by all local media.
NZ On Air’s Kiwi Hit Disc while a great concept, was being largely ignored by programmers in 97 it needed a harder sell and that resulted in the creation of the NZ On Air Plugger. Someone to sell the songs to the PD’s and make them accountable for what they ‘promised’ to play. The third initiative was to introduce a New Zealand Music Programmer Of The Year category to the New Zealand Music Awards This inaugural Tui was won by Melanie Wise from Q93 in 1998 and gave PD’s a taste of the recognition they could achieve by supporting local artists.
Through all this we had our critics on both sides of the fence. Some programmers nodded politely but did nothing in reality, while Neil Finn and his like ignored the process being made and continued to lobby the Government for a Youth Radio Network instead.
Finn probably did more damage to the cause then anyone person I can think of. In 1999 Neil and co managed to get the then National government to put the Youth Radio Network back on the drawing board resulting in Kiwi MAG becoming political football. At the time I was directed by Brent Impey and Steven Joyce to shut the whole thing down if the YRN was to become a reality it was then that I realised we’d done all we could do the foundations had been laid there was definitely
more local music on air. Bands like The Feelers, Stellar*, Deep Obsession and aka Brown were enjoying widespread airplay but it was all still too loose. Everything we had achieved could come crumbling down like the proverbial dunny in a dust storm
based on the ensuing shit fight between the newly elected Labour government and Neil Finn in one corner and Impey, Joyce and the radio industry in the other. The good news was common sense prevailed.
It was around 2000 Kiwi MAG ceased to be and the NZ Music Commission was created to take what we had started to the next level. And that’s what we have today. Self-imposed quotas that are expected to grow to agreed levels by both commercial radio and the government. These figures are independently monitored and measured, the growth being a prerequisite as opposed to something the industry might try to achieve.
I take pride in the fact that Kiwi MAG laid the foundations for the healthy state the local music industry is in today. There has never been more local content on commercial radio than there is right now. Since 2000 many other factors have contributed to this success. A labour Government that has created an environment for NZ Music to succeed, a commercial radio industry wholly made up of really just two companies (it’s much easier to get consensus) and a proliferation of niche radio formats catering for the likes of everything from Scribe to Goodshirt, Goldenhorse to Hayley Westenra and from Ben Lummis to Brooke Fraser.
Perhaps at last Neil Finn can get some sleep