Lights, music, fireworks - cue the entry of our home-grown audio visual pioneer


Think of any number of this city's major events and it's odds on Dennis Falconer was behind the scenes making them happen.

He's one of Rotorua's original audio visual (AV) operators running his own company, Audio Visual Techniques, for 36 years. In July he sold out to a staff member, the offer came out of the blue but for Dennis the timing was perfect. It coincided with the major building project he's undertaking, extending outward and upward the Lake Okareka cottage he and wife Evelyn (Our People, December 17, 2011) bought a decade go, initially as a home for his father, Wally Falconer, more recently renting it out. It's there we talk, entranced by the stunning view.

Rotorua born and bred, Dennis is adamant there's nowhere like it. He should know, he's plied his trade around large chunks of the globe, leaving Americans in the dust (our words not his) with his AV expertise.

At Boys' High he developed a twin affinity for electronics and tech drawing, topping the school in the latter, but it was a job offer helping assemble TV transmitters that led him into the former.

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He was 12 when he met Evelyn at Sunday School.

"I was pretty scared of her parents, I mowed their lawns so it didn't take long to win them around."

There're snorts of laughter from both Falconers when he confesses it was a double whammy allurement - Evelyn had an older sister. "Two cute chicks was part of the attraction, but her sister turned me down."

We learn more of his teenage eye for attractive girls when he talks of living at Kiwi Ranch, the Christian camp near Tikitere; his father was a director.

"It was a fantastic place to grow up, every camp a new bus load of girls would arrive, as staff children we had special privileges . . ."

Regardless of the plethora of camp-going girls, Evelyn remained his number one. They married young, their careers frequently crossing, Evelyn's in music Dennis her technical support crew.

As a duo they're very much in tune. Together they founded the Off Broadway cabaret dinner show in 1995.

"Evelyn's the talent, I don't tell her how to sing, she doesn't tell me how to operate, we're still married, 35 years this month."

He considers it a badge of honour that he's only had three jobs.


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The second was with his long-time mate, Ray Philpot; they met working together on those TV translators.

"Ray's a real electronics guru, he started ComServe, asked me to be his apprentice technician."

The pair became partners in a subsidiary company, ComHire, Dennis branching into AV work.

"The conference industry was in its infancy, hotels lacked technical facilities, we supplied them with equipment, real basic stuff; a 16mm projector, an overhead for slides, sound systems now hugely outdated."

Two years into the venture Ray suggested his mate buy him out, Audio Visual Techniques resulted, initially based at the then Hyatt Hotel's antiquated staff quarters.

"We worked rent-free for three or four years, moving to Tui House when the business really took off. I was going from the Bay of Islands to Invercargill; there probably isn't a conference venue in the country I haven't done business with."

Overseas work flowed in; Bali, Hawaii, Fiji, Singapore, Penang, Thailand - Dennis has taken his know-how to them all.

He's lost track of the number of his American assignments. "Americans know New Zealanders can deliver, can arrive in say Las Vegas and within two days be up and running. Compared with America we're very advanced, they only know American things. I take everything I need there."

There's a chunk of his business he's hung on to. While his name's synonymous with his AV persona few, Our People included, know he's a cracker pyrotechnic operator licensed to ignite major displays, generally fired from a barge he unearthed doing a gig on Mokoia Island.

Between shows the barge is berthed at Lake Okareka, Dennis uses it for commercial commissions, the latest delivering portaloos for the Tarawera Ultra Marathon.

Dennis has developed a special affinity with the States.

"Eight years ago my brother who lives there said 'let's do a motor bike ride around the US', three brothers bought three bikes, Triumphs, covered 5000 miles (8046 km) of the top quarter, we've done it twice since with mates. It's snowballed, friends of my brother's tagged along, now they're coming to ride here."

Conversations with Dennis meander all over the place, from off stage (she's hiding out in a makeshift bedroom) Evelyn does her best to keep him on track, slipping in pertinent details he bypasses.

Somehow we get back to his building project. The Falconers are camping out in a corner, Evelyn prefers to call it glamping despite washing up in a plastic bowl and walking the plank from one area to the next.

The extensions are a complex exercise but it's the third family home he's built. The first he started one Christmas Day, moving his family in the following Boxing Day. The Falconers' last, much larger home was nearby.

"One day we stuck a For Sale sign out for fun really, 10 days later it was under contract, suddenly we were homeless, somehow we've shoehorned ourselves into here."

Dennis insists he couldn't have lifted a hammer on any of his homes without friends' support.

"We have this wonderful co-op, we share around our equipment, skills, toys. I own the barge, a bobcat, a digger, I was brought up on diesel and grease, can bluff my way around most mechanical things."

When it comes to water skiing there's no bluffing. He's been national age group champ five times since he was 17. This is another wee gem Evelyn tosses in that Dennis overlooked, she elaborates: "He does the absolute minimum training then goes out and cleans up, one of those tin bums everyone loves to hate."

Nearly six months since he moved on is Dennis missing the industry he helped pioneer?

"I loved AV with a passion, it was me to a T, but I'm really enjoying the place I'm in now."

DENNIS FALCONER
Born: Rotorua, 1956.
Education: Western Heights, Malfroy, Lynmore Primaries, Rotorua Intermediate, Boys' High.
Family: Wife Evelyn, son Thomas, daughter Laura.
Interests: Family "I cried when my daughter went overseas", motor bikes, water skiing, building. "I love with a passion anything that takes petrol or diesel."
On Rotorua: "The best place on earth."
Personal philosophy: "Family, faith, friends."