The Rise and Fall of Radio Avon

A radio documentary about Christchurch’s first private station Radio Avon, created as a 700-level major project by Richard Holstein, a student at the New Zealand Broadcasting School, Christchurch Polytechnic. Narrated by Nikki Reece.

Includes excerpts of published commercial music tracks, Radio Avon jingles, interviews with broadcasters from Radio Avon and other Christchurch stations.

Listen to this documentary on the Nga Taonga Sound & Vision website:

https://ngataonga.org.nz/collections/catalogue/catalogue-item?record_id=192482

Prior to the start of Avon in August 1973, the only private station available in Christchurch was Auckland’s Radio Hauraki – which could only be heard from the Port Hills.

Noel Wesney is credited as the major instigator of the station.Several of Avon’s board members talk about challenges in getting the station started – including opposition from the government-owned Broadcasting Corporation.

Former NZBC staff members discuss the reaction to the prospect of a local private station arriving.

The new station was very popular from the start – with a Top 40 format and taking radio out in the community more than the NZBC had done. Graham Parsonage, Avon’s first programme director recalls the first months.

A 1977 audience survey found Avon had over 50 percent of all Christchurch listeners aged 10 and over.

Images of a busy radio station, 3XA Radio Avon in 1978.
© Greg Agnew Collection, Radio Heritage Foundation

Avon’s local news was a strong part of the station’s identity. An excerpt of a local news bulletin read by Bob Sutton, and an excerpt of a report by Elaine Price. Tom Clark, Avon’s news director recalls the heavy emphasis on local news. Avon made heavy use of telephone interviews – which the NZBC was not equipped to do – and used a lot of sound bites in their news stories.

Sales manager Malcolm Ballentine remembers the impact of Avon’s commercials written by copywriter Tim Crowther for local retailers. The station’s Christmas parties were famous and clients would raise their advertising spend in order to be invited.

Avon’s station promotions were something the city had never seen before and had a huge public response, as several former staff recall. Morrie Shanahan remembers the personalities of Avon’s announcers, which were a contrast to the more reserved NZBC approach. Murray “Muzza” Inglis took over the breakfast show and gained a reputation for pushing boundaries with his style of humour.

In 1977 the NZBC relaunched rock station 3ZM with a new easy-listening format, as Radio Nova – Avon spelt backwards. An excerpt of Muzza Inglis ‘studio sit-in’ promotion in response to Nova’s launch, which stole media coverage of the new station. Morrie Shanahan recalls his wife Heather Eggleton was working for Nova and was very unimpressed at the tactics.

Several key staff members departed at the end of the 1970s, which impacted the station’s performance. Ken Ellis who was then Avon’s programme director, comments. Don Douglas recalls the improving performance of local Radio New Zealand station 3ZB, under manager Earl Rowle. The 3ZB breakfast duo of Pat Courtenay and John Craig was successful – an excerpt is played. 3ZM reverted to a youth format after the demise of Radio Nova.

However, the slide in Avon’s performance continued into the 1980s, and 3ZB eventually regained top-spot in the ratings. Avon stayed on air until the late 1980s but never regained the extraordinary success it enjoyed in the mid-1970s.

Copyright © The New Zealand Archive of Film, Television and Sound Ngā Taonga Whitiāhua Me Ngā Taonga Kōrero

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