My first day at RNZ

This is part of an occasional series of broadcasting memories.

I started work at Radio New Zealand in 1981, one day late. It’s a long story.

I’d applied for a job as a radio studio operator, and been through two interviews. I got offered one of three positions by post and wrote back, yep, a letter, to confirm when I could start – 26 January. I got an acknowledgement, again by post.

At the time I was working for an electrician on a summer job, and had committed to work up to the week before starting at RNZ. John (the electrician) had been ribbing me about working for the pubic service, and would make jokes about not having to use my brain anymore. He was a bit of an entrepreneur and was always looking out for deals and projects to make money, and I think he took a dim view of salaried workers.

On the Monday a week before I was to start we dropped in to my place to eat lunch. The phone rang. I answered.

“Can I speak to Richard”

“This is he.”

“This is Jack Hoare, District Technical Services Manager, don’t you want this job?”, said the gruff voice on the other end.

“Yes”, I said.

“Why aren’t you here?”, he barked.

“I have a letter saying I am to start next week.”, I replied meekly.

“Can you come now?”, he requested, although it felt like a demand.

“I will check with my current employer to see if he will release me early.”, was my bold reply.

That is pretty much verbatim what happened – you don’t forget nearly getting fired on your first day – and I don’t think he was pleased.

In retrospect my last statement was probably not the best thing to say. I asked John and he joked that look, it had already started. ‘It’ being ‘the public service’ mentality.

John agreed to release me from the contract early, and I conveyed this to Jack.

I took the letter – from Mahi Potiki, who I am sure some readers will remember – with me to show Jack on the Tuesday. He did not want to see it.

It had been an administrative mistake, and not really the auspicious start I had hoped for.

The people who started at the same time as me were three studio operators – me, Gareth Curtis (Mockers’s bass player, later Stooges Studio, and now Rumpus Recording), and Kent Leahy. Three technicians also started that day – technicians had to do operational training for the first six months as you had to know how equipment was used in order to fix it. They were John Tonkin, Dave (?) and one other.

We spent the first week in studio six, with training officer Alan Warner. The studio was right next to that of 2ZM (1161 kHz), and we used to marvel at how none of the on-air staff looked anything like we had imagined. This is common in radio circles, and is probably why many people requested photos of our staff when the website started up some 20-odd years later.

In those days you started on probation which lasted for two years, and if things went well you’d be confirmed as permanent staff at the end of it. If it did not go well, you were out.

I joined broadcasting because I had an interest in music recording, and an enquiry to EMI in Lower Hutt suggested that they took people from broadcasting.

I did do well, and quickly fell in love with broadcasting. These were my people, doing work I thought was important. I did get to move into the music recording area later, but that is a tale for another time.

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