Business columnist, with a political twist, for NZ Herald

Dita De Boni: Radio sounds a little less like us


All-Kiwi radio is facing extinction, but fans can still fill their boots with local music.

Is Kiwi music going the way of the huia on the path to extinction? Illustration / Anna Crichton
Is Kiwi music going the way of the huia on the path to extinction? Illustration / Anna Crichton

If there's one thing everyone in our household can agree on, it's that our choice of vehicle is seriously, dangerously uncool. But we completely fall apart when it comes to what station the vehicle's radio should be set to. It's a frequent battle as we cruise the streets in our blue, seven-seat people mover, replete with three car seats, six drink holders and the entire Wiggles back catalogue.

I tend to spend an eternity cursing and trying to find National Radio. My husband prefers the strangled-cat ramblings of Radio Live. Naturally, as modern parents, we are both over-ruled by my daughter's Dora the Explorer Around the World soundtrack, and she in turn is superseded by my son's Playhouse Disney Volume 45.

The babysitter, in her mid-20s, footloose and fancy-free, prefers the stylings of 95BFM, as befits her demographic. She has that easy, sophisticated taste of a young woman at ease with herself: where I hear clanging guitars assaulted by young men with too much time on their hands, she sees tortured, talented souls.

I hear pre-menstrual lunacy, she hears an oestrogen-powered cri de coeur; that sort of thing.

Local and alternative she likes, but she's not blindly loyal to New Zealand music per se. Her generation hasn't been steeped in the "struggle" to keep local music, in turns awful and inspired, on radio playlists. The local musicians she likes are just as likely to make their home in Berlin or Melbourne as Dominion or K Rds. She simply likes it if it's good, and doesn't if it's not.

But she does see a lot of live music, and because she's on a limited budget it tends to be local acts. She and her mates and thousands like them are keeping the local live music scene afloat.

She had gone away to the Splore! music festival before I could ask her what she made of Kiwi FM's decision to allow as much as 40 per cent international music on its previously pristine playlist. According to owner MediaWorks, there just weren't enough people listening to the 100 per cent Enzed line-up - and according to others, there just isn't enough new local stuff, or good-quality local stuff, to fill the airwaves to the satisfaction of purists.

MediaWorks will retain the NZ On Air funding of about $300,000 to play all-local-content shows, on a loaned frequency, committing little if any money to marketing, in a radio market that is turning up slimmer pickings by the day. It's a bit of a head scratcher how this business model stacks up. Young people already support the BFMs of the world, and events such as Laneways, which showcase local and international acts alike (as long as only three people have ever heard of you), are bursting at the seams. The Big Day Out tanked because of issues with the international acts, not the local ones.

Local fans can fill their boots with Kiwi music if they want to. Will they be lured back to Kiwi FM because it's becoming a lot like other radio product on offer?

Underlying all of this of course is the question of supply: not just the musicians and how much music they make, but how New Zealand On Air makes its decisions on whom to support, whether it should be propping up the local music market, or whether it should exist at all.

Big, important questions indeed - but probably, admittedly, not properly put to all us saddos driving seven-seater vans and listening to Playhouse Disney.

* Illustration by Anna Crichton:

- NZ Herald

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Business columnist, with a political twist, for NZ Herald

Dita De Boni is a columnist, commentator and TV producer/journalist. She first wrote columns for the NZ Herald in 1995, moving to daily business news in 1999 for four years, and then to TVNZ in Business, News and Current Affairs. After tiring of the parenting/blogging beat for the Herald Online she moved back to her first love, business (with a politics chaser), writing a column for Friday Business since 2012.

Read more by Dita De Boni

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