95.4 – Radio Tainui in Ngaruawhaia
There’re birthday shoutouts to do and Te Reo cheats on the whiteboard near the signed picture of Rick Dees, but Huntly-born, bred and living Patara Berryman doesn’t need any of that. He needs the Waikato Times and makes a desperate bid for it from under a pile of stuff as the song is ending.
“It is, of course … ” he fills and flicks and finds the date and tells the listeners and without pause spits into a string of breakfast show speed Maori with one hand on the mixing desk sliders, slick and fluent ending on “hip-hip hooray!” as the levels go down and the On Air light goes out.
It’s 8am and the shift at Radio Tainui in Ngaruawhaia – “The NGA, 824 baby” – is at full noise. He was 17 and recruited out of school as a young Maori speaker to do this and 15 years, five kids and five years with youth show Mai Time, he’s back. Not that he minds. Even on the telly full time, he stayed down here, in Huntly, commuting up to the smoke. And not that he’s really that far way these days from Auckland. As it goes, he will be back up there this afternoon doing voice work for someone else.
The bosses are cool about it; they don’t have the money to lock him up here, anyway, and, although he is supposed to stick to the playlist, that is negotiable, too, because, given the mysterious absence of breakfast show partner Lisa Reedy, he is the only one in the building.
Radio Tainui, maybe soon to be called again by its original name, Tainui FM, has been going for 22 years. It was the second iwi station of the 21 now around, its explicit job to promote the language and history. In between that, from a transmitter on the top of Mt Te Aroha, it plays hip-hop, reggae, rhythm and blues, and a bit of pop to a massive area. The mountain megaphone gets it into parts of Tauranga and Rotorua, as far north as Manurewa, just past Thames and all over Tainui’s Waikato heartland. The station itself could not be more downtown. It has a big glass shop-front in the middle of Ngaruawahia’s sweet little main street and the studio upstairs looks out over the town. Hamilton’s More FM has just sacked its locals and will soon be broadcast out of Auckland, fronted by a millionaire playboy and a beauty queen. Berryman says Radio Tainui is not going to be doing that any time soon.
“We talk the way our people talk and we talk about things that are happening within our community. I believe locals need a voice and I think Auckland will miss a lot of that.”
The station thought New Zealand Music month catered too much to already established bands, so followed that up with a local music month. Waikato bands gave a demo CD to the station and then played a two-hour set in the town square directly across the road. The station guaranteed each band’s song would be played on air for the rest of that month. Berryman says many have stayed on rotation.
Despite sharing a name with the tribe, that is more or less just coincidence. Berryman says the station is “under the same umbrella”, but a separate entity from the Waikato-Tainui iwi.
“They aren’t chucking anything our way at this stage. There are a whole lot of other things the tribe has prioritised, but we are part of the mix down the line.”
He should know – he is a representative in the Te Kauhanganui Chamber, the tribal parliament.
“The dream is to have Tainui print, TV, radio and an events centre.”
Tainui’s current magazine goes to about 6000 of the tribe’s beneficiaries monthly and might become weekly. The events centre could grow just over the bridge at Hopuhopu. One day, Radio Tainui might even broadcast from the tribe’s shopping centre in Hamilton. He is enthusiastic.
“We would love to be in The Base. Any shop that would be playing the radio in store would be on us.”
But Tainui’s world domination plans are on the one- to two-decade list for now. Immediately, there are bigger eels to smoke.
“Unemployment is huge around this area. The Government says the jobs are there, but they really ain’t, not unless you’re already qualified.”
The tribe signed a deal with the Government a few years ago that means they co-control most aspects of the Waikato River. The agreement provided a huge clean-up fund, too, that is now coming onstream. Berryman reckons it is going to help.
“People will be getting training and being made culturally aware of the river and how that is a big part of the Waikato people … and also getting paid.”
He still plays senior league and has five girls under 11 “because of something I did in a past life”. He has six brothers and three sisters – all now in Australia. Every other person in Huntly used to be a Berryman. He is about the last. He has a mate who acts just like All Blacks wing Zac Guildford and reckons the New Zealand Rugby Union should support him, but good on the guy in the meantime for taking the heat off league. Then programme director Norm Rahiri arrives: Lisa Reedy is in hospital.
The station is funded by the Government’s Te Mangai Paho, but not with a lot. And it isn’t going on the programme director’s office. Rahiri’s jandals scrape over an industrial-themed carpet in a room painted dead-flower yellow, where the light switch is gaffer taped in place. Reedy is a worry. No one knows why she is in hospital, but the show has to go on. Rahiri is Tainui, too, with six months in the job. He saw the More FM move coming. “When they started taking over local stations, they said there was always going to be a local breakfast and mid-morning show. But, slowly, a lot of the local markets have lost their mid-morning show.” He thinks it is a foregone conclusion that everything is going to be networked from Auckland. “I think the way radio is at the moment, we could possibly be the only local station within the Waikato. The More FM breakfast show here may have been the first to go, but I think sooner or later it is going to happen everywhere. Classic Hits, too.”
It is not a lost opportunity. “We are jumping onboard and saying we are here, we are not from Auckland; we’re people that you can see face to face and meet on the street.”
The station does not have numbers, but is aiming at Maori women under 30. He is trying to get a lot of feel-good music in there, with Gangsta rap not really viable in Breakfast and Drive. He fills in on air a lot because staff get sick or leave for better pay after they have learned their chops. Not everyone can do it.
“We used to have an open-door policy but it’s hard to mould talent coming off the street into the on-air talent that you want. There’s just that lack of knowledge if they haven’t been to broadcasting school. We don’t have the time in this day and age to teach them the basics.”
The word comes that Reedy is fine and will be back at work by the end of the week. As befits the station, her on-air partner is in full swing, making up for the lack of quantity with passion. Through the studio’s nominally soundproof door, the only thing louder than the music he is pumping is the sound of the last of the Berrymans, singing songs over the NGA’s roofs with all his heart.
– © Fairfax NZ News
© Waikato Times November 26th, 2011.
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