Encounter: Rock solid, Barry Jenkin

By John Landrigan


Aucklander Encounter series:

WHO: Dr Rock

WHAT: Broadcasting veteran who introduced punk and new wave to the nation

WHERE: His house in Blackpool, Waiheke Island

WHY: A chat about getting sacked, lost love and glowing embers

It would be easy to mistake Barry Jenkin for a broken man. New Zealand broadcasting's godfather of alternative music hasn't listened to his record collection since turning his back on his lengthy radio announcer career a few years ago.

I meet Jenkin, aka Dr Rock, on the lawn of his Blackpool cottage on Waiheke Island.

After lighting a cigarette, he tells me the radio industry has lost its soul. I can just hear him over a chorus of cicadas that surround his property.

We go sit in his garage among an odd arrangement of machinery - a de facto homage to his past and present passions: broadcasting gear,  a motorbike, broadband internet infrastructure parts and his self-built gyrocopter.

He explains to me, between drags on a cigarette, that radio stations have become overly regimented with strict playlists.

"There's a chain of command now that wasn't there in those days. It's all business. Even campus radio, bFM, even that has taken on a commercial aspect."

He compares being a DJ today to wearing a straitjacket - devoid of the freedom to introduce listeners to new music. But that's not to say things were dandy when Jenkin introduced the nation to alternative music as a radio disc jockey and television presenter (Radio with Pictures) in the late 70s and early 80s.

While wilfully ignoring playlists in favour of less commercial music, he did get fired often.

When I ask why he was sacked from Radio New Zealand, he says he can't remember. Then he cackles. "I don't know if I want to go over that really," without pausing for breath to add, "I got pissed one night."

During a celebration for Kevin Black, who was heading back to Radio Hauraki, Jenkin discovered Elephant Beer - about five of them. He hadn't realised the beer had a higher alcohol content and later found himself half paralysed, sleeping his way through his midnight-to-dawn shift.

Thanks to his fiercely liberal attitude towards set playlists, Jenkin was fired from radio five times. But the stations kept taking him back.

His incorruptible desire to play his own music eventually led to him buying his own radio station on Waiheke in 2004.

That turned out to be a bit of a disaster. "The local economy didn't need it - particularly not what I wanted to play," he adds with a cheeky smile.

Jenkin gave the station away after a few years and concentrated his efforts on starting the island's first wireless broadband company. Three and a half years later it's yet to turn a solid profit, but he's amassed a sizeable infrastructure and a healthy client base that's sure to pay off in years to come.

So is it just the industry that's lost its soul?

When I ask him what music he listens to now, the response is a little sobering.

"There's confession time," he drags on his cigarette and cringes a little, "when I gave it up, I really gave it up. I mean it. I don't listen to anything now. Nothing at all. I don't have it on the radio. I don't have it on the telly".

But then a spark comes into his eyes: "Except if there's crap everywhere else, I'll flick on to the music channel and every now and then it blows me out. I go 'Yeah, great, I miss all this shit'," he exclaims as the free-spirited giant inside him leaps out with arms in the air, widened eyes.

The man has far too much zest to be considered broken, but he does seem torn. On one hand, there's the anti-establishment music lover clawing to get out, and there's the businessman running a reputable wireless broadband service.

"I cannot work and listen to good music at the same time.

"I have to give my music my full attention. And I can't afford the time, I just can't do it."

After we finish the interview, we talk about life on Waiheke and how he likes the island's feisty, independent attitude.

"The first bloke that opens a McDonald's on the island will get firebombed," he says, bellowing laughter roaring from his belly.

"The first traffic lights will be cut down," a further roar and both me and the photographer laugh along.

As I leave his Blackpool cottage, not even the deafening cicadas can stop me wondering what the future holds for Dr Rock.

Everyone needs a nest-egg, but the way the 62-year-old's face animates when talking about music and giving institutions the middle finger, I have to wonder if he'll be the one with the firebomb and chainsaw.

 

- THE AUCKLANDER

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