NewstalkZB is 30 today.

It is 30 years well worth celebrating given the success it has been, and continues to be.
Radio in this country has transformed in the most remarkable way in the past three decades - we have more radio stations per head of population than anywhere in the world.

That in part explains why radio is such a prosperous growth industry.. in a world where other media like free-to-air telly and newspapers are having such a hard time of it.

Back when the radio industry deregulated, it sorted the winners from the ones who eventually closed their doors, it shook up markets, brought in networking ..it was big change, but the change paid off and here we are today.. in clover.

NewstalkZB came out of this change. Newstalk was the future or the re-emergence of 1ZB and the ZB network.. which had basically come to the end of its life. ZB had been everything to everyone, a bit of chat, a bit of music, and this was a world of increasing specialisation. A decision was made that 'talk' was the future, and that decision has paid dividends.

Talk has a number of issues.. it's expensive, talent is rare, good talent even rarer, but get it right and you're away.

Without getting too "in house" about it, you will note that even to this day music stations far outnumber talk stations, because music is cheaper and easier.

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But in any given market, there are at least 40% of people who want a talk radio station, so you're splitting a decent size piece of the pie with comparitively few operators.

Music may split a bigger piece of that pie ... but there are literally dozens of operators chasing it, so making a dent is hard work.

I celebrated my 35th anniversary in radio in January, so the better part of my career has been involved with ZB in some way shape or form. A handful of years was spent in music radio, public radio, and there's been the cross over with TV and Print too, so I've been lucky to have worked for a lot of different groups, people and outlets.

I've worked for commercial, non commercial, public and privately owned.. and in 35 years I have seen, if not all, then most of it ...and I can tell you without any hesitancy, that ZB's the greatest operator of them all.

When I say the greatest, I mean today's version. ZB was once government owned, not a model to be emulated. Once the government split Radio New Zealand in two and sold off the commercial arm, it set ZB free and we've never looked back.

If there's a trick to its success, it is consistency, longevity and talent. In its 30 years, NewstalkZB has had two breakfast hosts. That relationship with the audience is everything.. and it is respected and treasured.

One of the greatest strategic moves of modern media happened about 10 years ago, and was engineered by one of the greats of the industry, Bill Francis. He announced the late Sir Paul Holme's replacement (me), two years in advance.

Former All Black Richie McCaw with Mike Hosking. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Former All Black Richie McCaw with Mike Hosking. Photo / Jason Oxenham

The theory was that by the time I turned up, it would be so smooth it was a virtual non event. In an industry known for upheaval and drama, sackings and calamities, this simple well-thought-through stroke of genius shocked everyone.

Yet it was so simple .. so respectful of the audience, so well planned, the shock was really that no one had done it before.

Like a lot of great art, people stare at it and think they could do it, except they didn't and couldn't. And that's ZB for you, a class act. Respectful of its audience. And like so many things in life, success breeds success.

Of course like any change, the good days took time, and other operators, other owners, other media might well have panicked and pulled the plug, and in that is the value of great leadership. Work out what it is you want to do, and when you've decided, sign it off, buckle up and stick with it.

They rode out the rough days, the days of doubt and scepticism, and when they emerged, the blueprint had been laid down for what you see and hear today. The change continues.. like anything, it has to evolve.

That's another part of success, embracing that change is constant. The ZB I operate in today is not the same as the one ten years ago.. or five years ago even.

It's multi-platform, it's visual, it's heard on the radio but also via app.

But.. and this is the beauty of not just ZB but all radio.. as different as it may be, it's quintissentially the same.

It is frighteningly simple in its premise. In a nutshell you need a communicator, and a series of ideas. You need a connection between the person behind the mic, and the person listening. Radio communication is the same today as it's ever been.

It's clear, simple, personal, insightful, amusing, outrageous, unpredictable. People respond to the same thing they always have.

Newstalk ZB radio hosts Kerre McIvor and Mark Dye. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Newstalk ZB radio hosts Kerre McIvor and Mark Dye. Photo / Jason Oxenham

You get an audience by providing what's always been provided.. something to learn about, something to relate to, something to laugh at, something to challenge you or make you think. It doesn't have to be a love fest.. the best communicators are usually loved and hated in equal measure.

And that might be ZB's greatest gift.. the broadcasting world is full of people, many talented, but few who divide the way the talent in the ZB stable divides. Lots of people can "do radio".. but they let themselves down when they view it as a job, or a 'gig', instead of a passion.

The great radio people hang it out there everyday, they cover the news, and often set the news agenda. ZB has had a good number of great broadcasters and behind the scenes radio operators. It's an ongoing privilege to be part of something so sustained and sustaining.

The NewstalkZB brand has an enviable business and track record and 30 years is something to be extremely proud of.

It's often referred to in reportage as a juggernaut, which it is, but let me be the first to tell you, ZB has never taken that for granted.

Like all success in life, as smooth as the surface might look, there is a bucket load of paddling going on underneath. Happy 30th.