John Roughan 's Opinion

John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

John Roughan: We lose a calm, gentle voice

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National Radio's Morning Report host Geoff Robinson has announced he will retire on April 1 next year after more than 35 years on the programme. Photo / Mark Mitchell
National Radio's Morning Report host Geoff Robinson has announced he will retire on April 1 next year after more than 35 years on the programme. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Watching Seven Sharp the other night it struck me how much I miss Paul Holmes. Not that Seven Sharp is failing, quite the opposite. I miss Holmes because he would be the first to say how well those broadcasters are doing in his old slot.

It is not a programme that holds me for more than a few minutes but it is evident in those minutes how comfortable the presenters have become in a format radically different from anything done in our television prime time previously.

Holmes would be applauding the fun and vitality of it, and celebrating the new personalities it has put into the national life. I miss him because he was usually the first to recognise good and successful contributions to the country, particularly if they had been risky and daring and widely damned at the beginning.

If the subject had been politically contentious, he was sometimes the the only media voice to acknowledge that it had turned out well.

I'd love to read what Holmes would have written about Geoff Robinson today. Robinson's calm voice in the mornings has practically defined the character of National Radio for as long as I can remember, which I suppose is why he is going. National Radio has a new chief executive, former newspaperman Paul Thompson, who will change the programme.

He needs to. It has been many years since I could bear waking up to Morning Report. The grim, serious problems of society ought to be the first things to enter my head each day, but sorry, let me read about it when I'm ready.

Hosking wakes me up, I get to National Radio in the car. That is where I heard Robinson announce his retirement on Thursday. It was done with typical class.

Nobody on air, not even his co-host, knew it was coming. The shock in the studio was audible. He said he was grateful to Thompson who thought it better that he, Robinson, make the announcement himself. Honesty with class.

He mentioned that his sign-off on April 1 will be the anniversary of the day Morning Report began in 1975. Can it possibly be that long? It was compelling when it began. He and Lindsay Perigo, chalk and cheese, gentleman and aggressor, were a perfect combination. Perigo had a mind like a razor and a wit to match Muldoon. Robinson was the relief, the chummy one.

He still is. Robinson is the voice that says, relax, don't take this too seriously. It's important but it's not the end of the world. People make mistakes, do wrong, but that's life. They are good people.

We need that counterpoint in news and commentary.

Robinson's greatest word is "goodness". It is his instinctive response to somebody who has just told him the roof is falling in.

"Goodness."

It is clear he doesn't mean to diminish the weight of the offence or the calamity being described to him. He is genuinely as angry or worried as he can be.

After more than 35 years and 30 different co-hosts, it is hard to imagine Morning Report without him. National Radio is probably in for a morning make-over as drastic as Seven Sharp.

It will want to devise a programme capable of restoring it to the place in public life it enjoyed when Robinson and Perigo were in their heyday. Morning Report in those days was essential listening for everyone in, or interested in, politics and public issues. Its interrogations of ministers and policy-makers often provided insights and explanations that were not readily available in an era before governments routinely published their advice. It is hard to remember when the rot set in. For me, it was probably the 1990s when the programme became an endless catalogue of woe about public service funding cuts.

Perigo had long gone, his best successor in the aggressor's chair, Kim Hill, had moved on. Hosking was hired briefly to give the programme more pace and edge but didn't quite fit. Sean Plunket became the hard cop.

He and Robinson did their best with boring material. When the Shipley Government gave way to Clark's, National Radio's standard fare changed from funding cuts to social policy. Too often when you tuned in it was to hear a discussion in tedious jargon about some tendentious research that had come to an unremarkable conclusion.

It remains that way. Ministers in the present Government hardly ever go on. John Key prefers a weekly chat with Hosking on ZB where Steven Joyce is also a regular. But it is not the same.

National Radio has to make itself essential again, which doesn't mean unremitting aggression. If Geoff Robinson has to go, his gentle manner, good humour and light touch should not be discarded.

But he is probably irreplaceable. I wish Holmes was here to give him his due.

- NZ Herald

John Roughan

John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald. A graduate of Canterbury University with a degree in history and a diploma in journalism, he started his career on the Auckland Star, travelled and worked on newspapers in Japan and Britain before returning to New Zealand where he joined the Herald in 1981. He was posted to the Parliamentary Press Gallery in 1983, took a keen interest in the economic reform programme and has been a full time commentator for the Herald since 1986. He became the paper's senior editorial writer in 1988 and has been writing a weekly column under his own name since 1996. His interests range from the economy, public policy and politics to the more serious issues of life.

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