Colin Hogg on television
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Colin Hogg: Rocking tale that hits high notes

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Despite story of the birth of Radio Hauraki being familiar to many, latest Kiwi docu-drama is a fun-filled ride.

Pirates of the Airwaves captured the drama of the times.
Pirates of the Airwaves captured the drama of the times.

Is it that we don't have enough stories to tell that we have to keep repeating the same famous old ones over and over? We certainly can't seem to get enough of the one about Radio Hauraki and the piratical early days of rock and roll radio in New Zealand.

There's been a book, a television documentary and, recently, even a feature film on the subject. So what's left to do - a docu-drama perhaps? Well, yes, as it turns out.

Because dependable TV One duly delivered just that on Sunday night in their 8:30 Sunday Theatre slot with Pirates of the Airwaves, the final in a series of three separate feature-length local docu-dramas.

There's no mystery left in the story of the band of crazy young Kiwis who took it upon themselves, back in the 1960s, to launch New Zealand's first private radio station - dedicated to playing all that great rock music the local kids weren't getting to hear.

They were saints of sorts in their skinny ties and Beatle boots, or they start to seem that way as the story is repeated and becomes some sort of legend. Sunday night's version was cleverly done - albeit with the usual mix of drama, archive and interviews with the grizzled present-day former DJs themselves.

Some of them were extremely grizzled indeed, but Pirates of the Airwaves was slick and assured and even, at times, rollicked a bit, as a decent piratical yarn should, I suppose.

And its cleverness was in telling the story - in asides to the camera - from the point of view of the story's victim, Rick Grant, the Hauraki DJ who died in an accident on their boat just as they'd won their battle to come ashore and be granted a broadcast licence by the creaky old slow-moving government of the day.

It all seemed a bit theatrical at first, being instructed: "That's how we did it in the 60s, so cast yourself back to a simpler time." But it worked after a bit and there was real drama in the realisation that the narrator was the DJ who didn't come back.

I even fell for the touches of A Hard Day's Night in the sped-up sequences of the search for a boat to sail out and broadcast from, which caught something of the 60s zeitgeist.

And it was funny to be reminded that those offshore Radio Hauraki broadcasts were all safely pre-recorded on land in half-hour batches - it being too wobbly out at sea to play records.

On the key matter of music, the docu-drama's soundtrack missed the boat a bit, being strictly dedicated - perhaps for reasons of budget - to local rock of the time, rather than any of the stuff the station was probably playing more of, like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

The action sequences at sea, though, were terrific, catching the energy and the panic, those mad radio stars caught in storms, drifting rudderless, running aground on rocks and even a sandy beach.

The great trove of archive footage helped and so did those grizzled radio pioneers, who bore strong witness to the old story. And, for once, the drama bit of the docu-drama formula stood equal to the task.

Even if the story was a bit familiar.

- NZ Herald

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