Bang Ron Sneddon on media
By Ron Sneddon
There's something enormously delightful about shoving it back up them.
You know, when you get told it'll never work, it'll wither and die on the vine, it'll explode in your face, it'll cost you your job et al.
Then the delicious moment arrives when your idea triumphs over all the dim-witted deadheads who said it could never be done. No doubt it is a rare and rewarding feeling.
I refer, on this occasion, to the networking of radio and in particular Newstalk ZB in Wellington.
Back in 1997, the good burghers of our nation's capital got extremely pissy when Radio New Zealand, as it was then known, decided it would kill off 90% of the locally produced programming to be replaced with shows from nasty latte-drinking poofy old Auckland.
The motive was money. RNZ was forking out huge schekkles to Holmes and Co, as well as paying relatively good money for a plethora of local disc jockeys about the countryside.
Ah ha, they thought, what if we brand all the stations that sound the same into networks using nationally known (and sometimes loathed) personalities. Economies of scale appealed immensely to an organisation which was a gnat's away from being technically bankrupt.
Depending on the telling there were many architects of this networking lark.
Some prefer to remain anonymous, but one who must now come forward to take his bow is the ultimate behind- the-scenes radio man, Bill Francis, who held down the most unloved job in radio at the time, brand manager Newstalk ZB.
The former sports reporter/presenter almost had his skin ripped off him by angry Wellingtonians as he bravely went about making his changes.
Most of the local revolt centred on the axing of an annoying little bee called Buzz'O Bumble and his creator Lindsay Yeo on 2ZB. (Aucklanders, think Merv Smith and Hairy Maclary)
Yeo and the Bee were as Wellington as the wind, and indeed many thought they were wind.
And it turned out to be a foul old wind that shot up Lambton Quay when Yeo Yeo (as he called himself) was retired to a lesser station to be replaced at the microphone (albeit by land-line) by none other than the devil himself, Paul Holmes!
The burghers went crazy, public meetings were called, petitions were gathered, a hangin' was imminent.
The Evening Post headlines screamed "Networking a Fad Ñ says Gary McCormick", a man who years later was to prove himself a dead loss as a nationally networked radio presenter (National Radio).
"Wellington Listeners Tire of Holmes" shouted the paper. "Mayors Want Local Radio to Stay".
Indeed the newly elected mayor of Wellington, a very flashy and media savvy chap called Blumsky sprinted onto the bandwagon as it rolled past his plush office, calling on his mayoral colleagues in the district to "gang up" to beat off the horrid Aucklanders.
Great joy was had as the first listening surveys of the networked product began to roll in. The ratings plummeted. Breakfast in 1997 with Yeo had an 18.4% share (10-plus) but by the first survey of 1999, Holmes was only on 10.3%. Advertising revenue all but dried up.
Wellington had its way. Newstalk ZB all but curled up and died.
In fact what happened was the mirror image of what occurred on Auckland's 1ZB when it farewelled Merv Smith and rebranded to Newstalk. The Auckland station, as popular legend has it, went from great to eight (in the ratings).
But as we now know, it came back from the dead and so has ZB in Wellington and, in particular, the love him or hate him Mr Holmes.
His breakfast show in the very latest ratings attracted a 10-plus share of 19.4%, surpassing Yeo Yeo's 1997 effort and helping the station to a whisker away from number one station 91ZM.
All this proves that even in fiercely parochial Wellington, home of the NPC, the best cafes, and the biggest museum, networking a good product with top-flight personalities does work. It just takes a little time and a lot of guts.
Yeo Yeo and the Bee now live on a farm.
© Copyright AdMedia magazine November 2000
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