Paul Casserly watched too much TV as a child.

Paul Casserly: The best talk radio in NZ

Paul Casserly continues his roundup of the best weekend radio in New Zealand by checking out the two Hills - Kim and Graeme.

Kim Hill. Photo / David White
Kim Hill. Photo / David White

The name Hill looms large in the world of weekend radio. It starts at 8am on RNZ National with Kim Hill and closes with Graeme Hill on Radio Live at midnight Sunday. Between them, the Hills (no relation) deliver the best talk-based radio in the country.

Kim Hill.

She's the alpha female of the airwaves and would no doubt scare the skinny jeans or polar fleece off the best of us if we got on her wrong side.

Then again anyone in their right mind would be wary of a tussle with her.

But that's only part of what makes listening to her show so rewarding.

Sure, there's the ever-present threat that she can lash out and scar the unwary, but she actually purrs more than she pounces. If most radio seems intent on dumbing us down, this remarkable show is having a good crack at sending us all to Mensa.

That it manages to do so without losing a sense of fun is the key to its greatness. If there's a flaw - and even this is entertaining - you could say that like most long time stars of the airwaves she does get a bit giddy on the fumes of herself from time to time.

Her run in with Joyce McKinney is a legendary case in point. It's brilliant, it's hilarious but it's also a little cruel. McKinney was the subject of the documentary film Tabloid, and infuriated Hill so much she even said, "Joyce, I'm losing the will to live."

When it comes to detecting BS she's unequalled. A memorable interview comes to mind with billionaire blowhard Owen Glenn, who was doing the rounds peddling his book. It was refreshingly at odds with the free-range-chookery he enjoyed with the rest of the media. Kim didn't exactly hang the guy, rather she created the platform for him to build his own scaffold.

Others complain that she says "filum" instead of "film", just as other idiots complained, when she was on TV, that "she moves around too much." But the best moaners are the listeners who send in their views and complaints. These can be incredibly erudite although my favourites are the incredibly cantankerous.

Last week a woman complained that an interview that touched on cannibalism was inappropriately grisly, given this was the time of the morning that she consumed her poached eggs. This was met with, "well, you do know where eggs come from I hope?"

Saturday Mornings with Kim Hill. RNZ National. 101.4FM/756AM. 8am - midday Saturdays.

Graeme Hill.

The other Hill from weekend radio, Graeme Hill, has moved from his Saturday and Sunday morning slots on Radio Live to the evenings.

This was not a move that found support among Hill's many loyal fans. His show used to be my go-to when the other Hill was entertaining some self-saucing Wellington arts-bore or droning on about something I couldn't understand. But Graeme's show has its own form of greatness, and now in its new slot, no competition at all.

As hinted by the name, The Weekend Variety Wireless, the show is delightfully all over the place. It's strong on science - there's a weekly astronomy report and a roundup of scientific breakthroughs - but Hill is equally as good with contributors who dabble in tabloid news, (Jodie Molloy) music, (Grant Smithies) language, (Max Cryer) or even America (John Dydvig).

Best of all, Graeme has a unique take on his main obsession, conservation. The former zoology student is knowledgeable but never boring. He can report on the release of native species back into the wild while he mulls over the number of sexy foreigners who end up working at DOC.

There's also a refreshingly absurdist sense of humour at play here. Peppered through the show are adverts that seem even weirder than the various spots for snake-oil that make up so much of commercial talk radio.

These mini satires take you in only to spit you out laughing. My favourite of these is to be found here and involves our taciturn All Blacks coach Steven Hansen. They represent one of the best things about Hill's style of broadcasting; he loves to surprise, to confound, to engage.

A weekly Shipwreck Tale rounds off the weekend at 11pm Sunday nights, in which Graeme is joined by enthusiastic writer and researcher John McCrystal to retell stories of famous and not so famous maritime disasters.

I very much enjoyed Andrew Fagan's own shipwreck tale on TV One's excellent Descent from Disaster series, but there's nothing like hearing these stories on the radio and imagining the horror as it unfolds, especially if you're listening while driving near the coast on a rainy night as I was recently. In moments like these radio reveals itself as a medium capable of magic.

The Weekend Variety Wireless. Radio Live. 100.6FM/702AM Saturdays and Sundays 8pm - midnight.

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Paul Casserly watched too much TV as a child.

It began with Dr Who, in black and white, when it was actually scary. The addiction took hold with Chips, in colour. He made his mum knit a Starsky and Hutch cardigan. Later, Twin Peaks would blow what was left of his mind. He’s been working in radio and TV since the 1990s and has an award in his pool room for Eating Media Lunch.

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