I worked with Paul Holmes in the 1980s while he was the host of the 9am to midday talkback slot on 2ZB in Wellington.
I was a studio operator at the time – we played the commercials, took in feeds of news and other events and balanced the audio levels of the show. I also got to worked with Paul on the odd outside broadcast, and helped put together the audio package that was part of his (first) winning entry in the Mobil Radio Awards. He offered me a lift up to Hawkes Bay as repayment – his Mum lived there, as did friends of mine – but I never collected. He always appreciated the work you did for him.
One of my most enduring memories is of his daily reading of an ‘episode’ – an often torrid section of a Mills & Bon novel – dressed up with an old-time music intro and outro and read in the most over-the-top fashion. Paul had been an actor, a contemporary of Sam Neil I think and also John Clarke, and he could really put on a character. That segment was very popular with the listeners, and I would often ask at the start of each shift if he was going to do an ‘episode’ today.
On-air, Paul was a stand-out. Talk-back has every type of caller from the nutty-conspiracy-theorists through to the lonely and alone. Paul could handle anything. He was quick-witted, and could always come-back to anything thrown at him. But he was also compassionate, and I believed he cared deeply about the callers who phoned to talk about their troubles.
I remember him looking through the glass (soundproofing between the control room and his booth) on many occasions with his mischievous smile, looking for encouragement, wanting the producer and I to egg him on, which of course we did!
It was exciting working with Paul. You never knew what was going to happen, what direction today’s show would go, whether this time he’d go a little too far. I don’t recall him getting into big trouble while at 2ZB, but everyone knows some of the more famous (or infamous) incidents that happened later. I think the very best broadcasters are always on that fine-line between seat-of-the-pants and a train-wreck, and I Paul was a master at walking that line.
On a technical note, on one occasion he agreed that I could try out a new theory I had for better balancing the volumes of the ads, the phone audio and him. It was quite successful and the findings formed the basis of a report I wrote later for TVNZ about how to fix their loud commercial problems. (They never did action it).
The rebranding of 1ZB in Auckland to a NewsTalk (in 1987) had been a big secret, and quite a few people we in shock when it was announced that Paul was moving to Auckland. We knew that Merv Smith wasn’t that happy with the format change and as it turned out his loyal Auckland audience wasn’t either. The show dropped to number two, but eventually bounced back. The format was extended to 2ZB and 3ZB in the early 90s, having been proven in the tough Auckland Market.
I did watch Holmes in it’s early days, and could see many of the same attributes I’d seen working with him in Radio – his wit, and his compassion. You could sometimes see he was looking at the floor crew, presumably seeking feedback, as he’d done on radio. It was a great show. He really did care about the little guy, and this was borne out later when his involvement in community groups became more widely known.
Of course he left TVNZ for Prime, after contract negotiations went bad – I think TVNZ was offering only a one year renewal. Viewers did not follow, and this was attributed to the market inertia that TV1 had – for many people it was the only channel they had ever watched, and I believe that Paul contributed to maintaining that inertia, sadly to his own detriment when he moved on. It’s shame the audience was too entrenched to follow him, for Paul thrived with an audience.
At the Radio Awards in the early 90s I walked past him, not thinking he’d remember me, and he asked, “me old mate, how are are you?”.
Years later (around 2000) I was walking up past the TVNZ building in Auckland. Paul was outside waiting to do a piece to camera. He looked over, saw me and raised his eyebrows and titled his head back slightly in acknowledgement, the way blokes do to each other. Even though we only worked together for a short time a long time before, for a second it was just him and me.
That’s how I’ll remember Paul.