What started as two young blokes commentating club rugby from the Gore Showgrounds 25 years ago, for the princely payment of a dozen cans of DB Bitter from the Mataura Licensing Trust, culminates on Monday when The Country comes to Auckland on Radio Sport.

A quarter of a century ago I was one of those relatively young bucks. The other one was Lee Piper; these days the Head of Rural Content for NZME. Back in 1994 we decided it would be a great idea to buy a radio station from the government of the day.

Brief history lesson; at the time, the state-owned Radio New Zealand commercial division was haemorrhaging cash and Jim Bolger's government wanted to investigate the possibility of selling off the unprofitable assets to private enterprises.

A strategically insignificant station called 4ZG in Gore seemed like an ideal guinea pig. However, the elongated sale process proved to be a dog rather than a guinea pig and the net result was the launch of Hokonui Gold Radio on April 11, 1994.


The Shareholders were Lee Piper, yours truly and another rugby commentator by the name of Grant Nisbett threw his trusting hat into the ring as a silent partner.

While I was gleefully dismissive of Piper's lack of farming knowledge, to his credit he did know radio having been sent to the unfashionable outpost of Gore to be the breakfast announcer, and then to manage 4ZG, literally straight out of broadcasting school.

What he didn't know, he made up, and thus convinced me that a radio station selling only $7000 of advertising in February of 1994 was worth a punt.

By rights I should have been an accountant. I dodged a boredom bullet there when fate cruelly intervened at the tender age of 19 when my father died. It was a matter of selling the family farm or quitting my commerce degree at Otago University to go home to run the place. I chose the latter.

My only training in radio was as a consumer, an all-day listener, just as many farmers are today. The only difference is today, farmers have a plethora of listening options in their sophisticated tractor cabs, farm utes and quad bikes.

But back in the early 1980s when I was cutting my teeth doing long hours on the tractor and in the shearing shed, there were just two full-time commercial music radio stations in Southland, plus the National Programme (these days RNZ National) and Sports Roundup, which has since morphed into Radio Sport.

Many long and happy hours were spent on the tractor listening to the likes of Iain Galloway, John Parker, Jeremy Coney and Bryan Waddle creating a theatre of the mind, calling the cricket on Sports Roundup. The latter two gents are still weaving their magic on Radio Sport.

In 1994 we effectively learned to run a radio station on the run. With my farming background we started a five-minute rural feature after the midday news, not wanting to challenge the (then) almighty Midday and Rural Report on the National Programme.

More by accident than design our rural feature went from one interview to one hour, daily. Then after 10 years of running Hokonui Radio it was time to spread our wings and take on the country, the first step being a move to the Newstalk ZB regional network in 2004.

Since starting out in rural broadcasting nearly 25 years ago, we've navigated our way through crippling droughts, devastating floods, one-in-100 year snowfalls, the Asian Financial Crisis, the formation of Fonterra from two previously warring dairy factions, the fight against the Fart Tax, the subsequent confusion surrounding the Emissions Trading Scheme, the dairy boom, dirty dairying, foreign investment in our farm land and farmer-owned co-operatives, Psa and then the renaissance of the Kiwifruit industry, the emergence of the economic tiger of China as our largest trading partner, the forging of Free Trade Agreements, the biosecurity threats of M. bovis, myrtle rust and the marmorated stink bug, and lastly a Labour-led coalition government with a strong Greens presence which is certainly throwing some environmental challenges at the farming community.

Over the years we have built up a great network and stable of regular contributors. The Prime Minister of the day has been a regular weekly guest since Helen Clark back in 2000.

Today Jacinda Ardern is joined by the likes of Winston Peters, Simon Bridges, James Shaw, Damien O'Connor and Nathan Guy. And to cover my bases I've even created a slot for Judith Collins in 2019.

We have more weather experts than Auckland has rainy days, economists for Africa, and all the major players from the likes of Fonterra, Zespri, Silver Fern Farms, Dairy NZ, Horticulture NZ and Beef + Lamb NZ. Not to mention sport - we love our footy.

Auckland listeners on Radio Sport on Monday are either due for a pleasant surprise or a nasty shock depending on their disposition to rural New Zealand.

In a past life our daily one hour offering was known as the Farming Show, but today our show is about a whole lot more than farming. We unashamedly want to bring a bit of the country to town, to bridge the rural-urban divide. But mostly we want to inform and hopefully entertain along the way.

So Auckland, how about a bit of farming, footy and fun for lunch? What's not to like about that?

The Country is back this Monday from midday and now in Auckland on Radio Sport 1332am.