The big day is finally here! Simon Barnett and Phil Gifford are back on air today with Si and Phil Afternoons on Newstalk ZB from noon. Simon has been off work for the past few months while focusing on his role as primary caregiver for his sick wife Jodi. But as she recovered, he spoke to Gifford, a friend of nearly 30 years, for this feature, as published in June.
On Friday, June 9, 2017, in Christchurch, after I'd interviewed Grant Fox on stage at a launch function for a new Land Rover, I had a pleasant chat and a drink with Simon Barnett's lawyer, Patrick Costello. I didn't realise it was part of a long game Simon was playing.
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When it was publicly announced the following month that Simon would be leaving breakfast radio, and joining Newstalk ZB in 2019, I was one of many who presumed he would be going solo.
In fact, he always had a cunning plan to get us back together on air, and we start an afternoon show on ZB on July 1.
This week he told me how in '17 he'd been talking with Patrick, and wanted to put my name forward to the station's management. "We hadn't worked together for a long time, so when I found Patrick was going to the function, I said, 'Could you give me a read on what his speech is like?' Patrick rang me the next day and said, 'He was brilliant. You'd be fantastic together again.'"
Jodi and Simon's daughter Sammi was married in Queenstown on December 2 that year. My wife Jan and I had first met Samantha an hour after she was born in Christchurch in 1994. The atmosphere at her wedding was as warm as the day was.
But when Simon and Jodi went to bed that night, says Simon, "instead of just thinking about my daughter's wonderful wedding, I said to Jodi, 'I think this is it [for ZB].' I had real peace of mind that was going to work.
"That cemented things. I talked to the bosses at NZME, and said, 'You've got to get Phil, it'll work.' They said, 'We're happy to look at Phil, but what about these other names?' I said, 'I don't want to look at other names, I want to work with him.' They said, 'We'll talk with him.'"
They did. My wife Jan and I decided we'd change our life in Auckland completely, and here we are in Christchurch about to begin a very new and different chapter.
This time the work is very different from January 1992 when I started broadcasting with Simon and Susi Allison on 91ZM in Christchurch. Simon was the host of What Now on Saturday mornings on TVNZ. Susi and I had been head hunted from Radio Hauraki in Auckland, where I'd worked on breakfast radio for 11 years.
Then the aim was to attract attention in any off the wall way we could. We gave away a vasectomy on air. We made candid calls to people who had romantically misbehaved everywhere from in a gondola on the port hills to under the goalposts on a North Canterbury rugby field. When we moved radio stations in 1996 we even appeared stark naked (rear elevation I hasten to add) in a television ad and on the back of buses.
Simon and I used to compare the 11 years we worked together in breakfast radio until 2003 to being an old married couple. We spent a lot of time together, but we never had sex. (In passing, it was me, not Jodi, who took him to the surgeon when he had a vasectomy. As I mentioned, we were shameless then about doing whatever we could to make people talk.)
What we genuinely have is a deep, enduring friendship that isn't radio hype. Being 20 years younger than me he's like the kid brother I never had.
I guess I was the grizzled, cynical old journalist, there to balance his boundless enthusiasm. He says of me, "There's nobody I respect more for the breadth of their general knowledge. My go to line is, 'If you're ever playing Trivial Pursuit get Phil on your team, and you'll win.'"
Now that we look back we both agree the most memorable show we ever did wasn't the funniest, or the most outrageous. It was the day of the big snow in Christchurch, Friday, August 28, 1992.
When Simon went to open his garage door at 5am he couldn't work out why it wouldn't move. When he went outside he found there was knee-deep snow covering the lawn. Both of us were only able to get to work with the help of four-wheel-drive taxis.
"It was just snow, but it was amazing how disruptive it was," says Simon. ZM was a music station, but from the first, at 6am, we basically became a talk show, and a conduit for people wanting to help. Manly men with four-wheel drives rang with offers to take hot food, or blankets, to elderly people whose houses were without power. One man drove up the icy hills of Cashmere to check on a worried woman's Nana, whose landline had been knocked out.
Val Robinson, who usually followed us at 10am on air, was unable to get into the studio in the city, so the broadcast ran until one o'clock in the afternoon.
"For me the humanity of that morning really struck me," recalls Simon, "and to this day I believe that humanity on air touches everybody. We had one child who phoned in whose parents had gone to work. We got quite emotional when we were talking to a wee girl and she said Mum and Dad weren't there. She got a little bit scared. Someone was able to go and pick her up and take her to her grandparents. On that morning the plight of that little girl really struck a chord. She was everybody's daughter.
"What resonates still is that people are intrinsically good, and people actually care about the vulnerable. It taught me a really salient lesson. People do care, and the immediacy of radio can bring that out better than any other medium, and that's why I love it, because snap, you're there."
On the new afternoon show some things will be the same as the more giddy days of breakfast. But we are different people, older, and hopefully a little bit wiser. Both of us are now grandfathers. We both have married children. But along with the delights, real life hasn't always been kind.
Jodi suffered a seizure in April last year, and has been receiving treatment for brain lesions since. Happily, while the process is lengthy, Jodi is recovering, and the prognosis is good.
Simon's peers honoured him on Thursday at their annual awards in Auckland with the Outstanding Contribution to Radio Award. He tearfully paid tribute to his wife in a video played at the award ceremony.
"It's probably my wife I have to pay the most credit to ... because she said, 'you can do this' and I doubted (it). She's just my biggest fan.
"When the chips were down, Jodi said 'you can do it'. I'd come home and this is without a word of a lie, right up to present day, every single show, she's listened to. She just affirmed me every step of the way. She's been my greatest cheerleader, so I can say without any shadow of a doubt that I wouldn't be getting [this award] if it wasn't for her.
"They say behind every great man is a woman rolling her eyes and Jodi's rolled her eyes many, many times, but she is a hero - first and foremost for the way she's handled what she's going through, but she loves radio and loves me and she's 100 per cent unbelievable."
He added: "She's been through it, there's no question we've all been through it ... she's the strongest person alive, I'm in awe of her."
Simon and I have a huge amount in common. We both grew up in small towns, him in Ashburton, me in Waihi. We both love sport. Simon was brave enough to play club rugby for Sumner when he was sporting bleached blond hair. I've reported at every Rugby World Cup and every test in New Zealand since 1977. And even in the early '90s neither of us was much of a party animal.
But we have differences too, which we will address on air. Simon is a committed Christian, while I have no religious beliefs of any kind.
This week we ran a snap two man poll on issues that will find their way to air.
Who's to blame, Israel Folau or Rugby Australia? Simon: "Both of them, in the sense I thought there was a lack of wisdom on Israel's part. And I thought there was a lack of relationship from Rugby Australia. I think good bosses genuinely care about the people they work with, and are close enough to work things out." Me: "Israel Folau. I believe Raelene Castle, who I happened to have met through a mutual friend before she was ever a sports administrator, when she says she had a handshake deal with him that he would stop posting."
Should hate speech laws extend to banning the use of racial slurs? Simon: "My hearts says unequivocally yes, because words can be so destructive, but my head says freedom of expression is very important, and the public should be the ones to discern what's right or wrong." Me: "I believe that words are so important, and can be so damaging, that some words in themselves are unconscionable."
Donald Trump? Simon: "A buffoon. I think he's a hustler who lacks any statesmanship. There's an old proverb that says it's a wise person who is slow to speak, and quick to listen. I think he's the opposite." Me: "I found him amusing as a candidate, but terrifying as a president. Presidency by text goes into a parallel universe where anything, no matter how untrue, stupid, or gross, is possible."
I endorse the words of NZME's Head of Talk, Jason Winstanley when Barnett was awarded on Thursday. He said: "The judges commented that Simon's positive, enthusiastic outlook on life has earned him a spot as one of the most trusted New Zealanders. As a broadcaster having the trust of your audience is the ultimate accolade."
I was in the room in Christchurch when they surprised Simon by shooting the video they played at the awards. He did actually mean it when he said, "For me it's a never a cliche to say it's all about the people, because simply – it is about the people. I'm so honoured, and a little embarrassed to be honest, to be recognised in this way. It means such a huge amount to me and to my family."
For the two of us to be given the chance of another chapter in our radio partnership is at once slightly surreal, but also hugely exciting. We'll do everything we can to make it work, and we have one guarantee. There will never be another naked ad.
• Simon Barnett and Phil Gifford Afternoons is on Newstalk ZB, 12pm-4pm Tuesday to Friday from July 1.
Simon Barnett, 52
Born in Winton, Southland.
Was head boy at Ashburton College. No tertiary education.
Married with four children, one grandson.
Met his wife Jodi at Les Mills gym in Christchurch in 1989.
Previous occupations: Pharmacy delivery boy, menswear shop assistant.
Television highlights: Presenter on What Now, Wheel Of Fortune, and so many game shows he was described by a TV reviewer as "ubiquitous". Won Dancing With The Stars in 2015.
Radio highlights: Outstanding Contribution to Radio Award, 2019. Five times awarded Best Breakfast Show on Music Radio.
Phil Gifford, 72
Born in Hamilton.
Was deputy head boy at Waihi College. No tertiary education.
Married with four children, eight grandchildren.
Met his wife Jan at Waihi College reunion in 1985.
Previous occupations: Forestry labourer. Twice New Zealand Sports Journalist of the Year. Author of 27 books, including Valerie Adams biography and Looking After Your Nuts And Bolts, a guide to men's health.
Television highlights: Sports newsreader, TVNZ, 1990. Winner of Celebrity Mastermind, 2002.
Radio highlights: Five times awarded Best Breakfast Show on Music Radio.