When a young and eager Brian Kelly walked into Broadcasting House in Wellington 50 years ago, he thought he'd "died and gone to heaven".

Kelly's task on the first day of his new job at New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation was selecting what music should play on national radio and sending that music in a special bucket to then radio-legend John Gordon.

"I was shown my desk and next to that was a turntable and pair of headphones. The room next to it was full of 20,000 LPs. That's how I started."

Sports journalist and Coast radio presenter Brian Kelly celebrates 50 years in the industry this weekend. Photo / Andrew Warner
Sports journalist and Coast radio presenter Brian Kelly celebrates 50 years in the industry this weekend. Photo / Andrew Warner

Kelly, known to many as BK, was earning $1374 per annum and was on top of the world.

Advertisement

Fast-forward half a Century and Kelly is still the man behind the airwaves, as breakfast host for Coast Tauranga and Coromandel. Tomorrow, marks his 50th anniversary of working in radio.

From the Cameron Rd studio where Kelly hosts Coast each morning, he stated he's never worked a day in his life.

"I'm doing something I've wanted to do since I was a child. I'm living the dream."

Radio Bay of Plenty breakfast host Brian Kelly in 1988 chatting to Andrew Stannett who was in a queue for half price petrol. Photo / File
Radio Bay of Plenty breakfast host Brian Kelly in 1988 chatting to Andrew Stannett who was in a queue for half price petrol. Photo / File

It was a moment in Whanganui when his parents were playing cards at the local plumber's home that a five-year-old Kelly first discovered radio, speaking to him from a large brown box in the lounge.

Kelly's love for radio began. He became a self-confessed "radio groupie"; calling in, taking part in children's panels on air, later as a teen requesting love songs for girlfriends and taking part in competitions. In the 1970s, after nabbing that first job of selecting music, Kelly auditioned to become a radio announcer but was rejected several times.

"They said my voice was too light and didn't have the right quality of voice," he said.

"I was told in 1975 to give up doing the auditions as I'd never become an announcer. Three years later I won an award as the best provincial announcer in New Zealand."

Brian Kelly through the years. The radio announcer celebrates 50 years on the airwaves. Photos / Supplied
Brian Kelly through the years. The radio announcer celebrates 50 years on the airwaves. Photos / Supplied

A wide smile beams from Kelly's face as he recalls that moment, which sealed his career path to win dozens more radio awards and become one of New Zealand's most recognisable personalities.

Advertisement

Kelly admits he once considered joining the Royal New Zealand Navy "but I went out on the HMNZS Taranaki and got violently sea-sick".

Radio it was.

As a breakfast host, Kelly's typical workday begins at 4.30am.

"I've always been an early-riser. As a kid, I worked at the bakery or with paper runs."

Brian Kelly's letter to the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation, accepting his first job in the radio industry. Photo / Andrew Warner
Brian Kelly's letter to the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation, accepting his first job in the radio industry. Photo / Andrew Warner

Such early starts have meant Kelly was always there to pick up the children after school and coach them cricket if wife Roanna was unable. Michael, Amy and Mark are now grown, with Mark continuing the radio legacy at Radio Sport.

"I live and breathe radio," Kelly said.

In 1975, Kelly moved to Tauranga as a programmer and part-time announcer. In 1980 he became a full-time host for 1ZD, which became Radio Bay of Plenty and later Classic Hits.

In 2011, Kelly moved to Auckland to help launch Coast nationally as its breakfast host. It was the first job he had to apply for in 40 years.

"But I was still nervous as anything."

Kelly got the job, despite 20 other applicants, and within seven years won another five of at least 26 radio awards in his career. He also got within three points of surpassing Mike Hosking for the highest breakfast ratings.

In 2018, Kelly returned to Tauranga to host the only local Coast breakfast show in New Zealand.

Kelly has had many highlights over the years. Most notably, meeting musician James Taylor. A signed cardboard cut out of Taylor flanks Kelly in the studio every day. Another moment of significance for Kelly is a small badge.

"Back when you worked for NZBC, it was a real honour and they gave you a badge. I still wear that one on my suit. It's really quite special."

Brian Kelly's New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation badge. Photo / Andrew Warner
Brian Kelly's New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation badge. Photo / Andrew Warner

The job has also enabled Kelly to pursue his passion for motorsport, covering events and happenings for 40 years. In 2018, he was named a life member of the New Zealand Sports Journalism Awards.

Kelly acknowledged the media and radio landscape had changed plenty over the years but "you've just got to go with the flow".

"Radio has changed but I still love it."

Fifty years on from that first day in Broadcasting House, Kelly has no plans of slowing down.

"Retiring? That word does not exist in my vocabulary.

"It has been an amazing journey."

NZME Coast content director David Brice said Kelly was a remarkable talent renowned for warmth and professionalism.

Brian Kelly and Anna Marsden from 95FM in 2004 with then NZ Idol winner Ben Lummis. Photo / File
Brian Kelly and Anna Marsden from 95FM in 2004 with then NZ Idol winner Ben Lummis. Photo / File

"Brian has created many memorable moments over the years talking to many of the world's biggest music stars, sporting personalities and as importantly has had an undeniable focus on local Bay events and activities.

"He's a huge supporter of numerous community events to the extent of getting naked on a couple of occasions."

NZME chief executive Michael Boggs said Kelly's reputation and following as a broadcaster was known to everyone within the business.

"He is sought out for his ability to engage and entertain," Boggs said.

"I love the infectious voice and the smile he always has on his face. He's an inspiration to anyone thinking of entering broadcasting."