Wellington Scoop

RNZ – outrage at a giant loss


An open letter from Claire Cowan
To the Prime Minister and Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage Jacinda Ardern
To Kris Faafoi, Minister of Broadcasting, and the relevant leadership at RNZ.

I am writing to express my outrage and sadness over the proposal to disestablish the jobs of all presenters on RNZ Concert and reduce the station to online and AM frequency only. These changes will be the death of classical music in this country, and reflect an incredible disregard for the art form and naivety around the value of this station and what it does for listeners of all ages.

RNZ Concert is part of the lifeblood of our music history, and helped me become who I am today. Reducing it to an AM frequency, available only when parliament isn’t in session, and presenter-less, is a giant step in the wrong direction.

RNZ Concert was the reason I started to love classical music.

My parents didn’t listen to classical music in the house when I was growing up. I stole my sister’s walkman to listen to Concert FM when I was 8 years old, discovered Vivaldi’s incredible Four Seasons, and never looked back. I have since ignited a love for classical music in my parents through my career and they are as passionate as I am. They are introducing their grandchildren to music via this very station. RNZ Concert IS listened to by ‘youth’ of today.

RNZ Concert helped me become a composer. I did my first radio interview on then Concert FM at 17 years old, after I had written my first orchestral piece. They encouraged my successes and broadcast my work. With the proposed switch to AM, and loss of presenters, even if my work is broadcast at this lower quality frequency, nobody will know who wrote it or the ideas behind it. Commercial radio does not and will never offer this. The government must support this station to retain its presenters for the livelihood of NZ’s classical music community. Without this support, many will struggle to continue their careers.

RNZ Concert supported my career every step of the way. After I graduated university, I formed the Blackbird Ensemble (top photo) to bring a younger and more diverse audience to classical music performance. RNZ Concert comes to our concerts and makes documentaries about them and broadcasts them. It is supporting these initiatives in the real world, not only by what it broadcasts.

RNZ Concert presenters are the ONLY presenters who are informed about NZ Composers, who validate my work and other kiwi composers and musicians. They present a broad knowledge of classical music, jazz and a broader spectrum of the arts in NZ. This specialist knowledge is incredibly important.

Music without presenters is losing the core of what connects listeners to the station. Presenters guide us through live concerts, explaining the traditions and histories to give context and meaning to the music we hear. RNZ Concert Presenters curate and explore new and exciting music, created in Aotearoa. No other presenters on any other station do this. If we lose them, we lose an outlet, indeed our ONLY outlet for the exploration and exposure of NZ’s finest composers. The same composers who were my role models growing up, the same composers who are inspiring the next generation of classical musicians.

I am a composer of music for stage and screen. I make my living from this profession and I have done since I graduated University in 2008. I have just turned 36. Last year I became the first woman to compose a full length ballet score for our National Ballet company. I attribute much of my success to the encouragement and exposure I have received from RNZ Concert.

In an industry where the type of music I write is already marginalised, devalued and made invisible, (at the NZ music awards they show the classical award in the ad-break), and where songwriting and commercial music is valued above all else, RNZ Concert is the only station that gives support and air time to artists like me. Losing funding for this station feels like a giant loss for all of those kids making those discoveries now that I made growing up. Who will support their growth as musicians? Who will validate their passions?

It is hard enough to survive as an artist in NZ without the support of an audience. RNZ Concert is my audience. It is my community. It is so much more than just a radio station. It is the glue that holds the diverse range of musicians and artists working outside the commercial music realm together. It gives amplification to our work and shares in depth knowledge with the whole country and internationally online. The proposed changes will reduce the station to nothing more than a low-quality streaming classical music station without personality or passion. It will crumble the infrastructure of the entire non-commercial music scene in NZ, undoubtedly losing a significant amount of money into the NZ economy.

As a representative of a wider community of NZ Composers and musicians and listeners to RNZ Concert I am imploring you to:

* Immediately reverse the proposed decision to disestablish the station

* Increase funding for the station, allowing breathing room to address areas of improvement in terms of reach, adequate pay for employees, support for classical composers and musicians in NZ, and wider spectrum arts coverage

* Consult a range of experts in the classical music field in NZ during the process of improvement. I would start with national and regional orchestras, Chamber Music NZ, Sistema Aotearoa, Virtuoso Strings, and the Music Teachers Association of NZ.

If we lose RNZ Concert we lose:

* A vital part of music education for our young people and all who listen

* Support for the live concert scene in NZ through loss of broadcasts, interviews, reviews and all of the important conversations and information that gets people interested to attend

* Awareness of what’s actually going on in the non-pop music scene in NZ, leading to less exposure for NZ artists, halting their career development and forcing our most talented to move overseas for these opportunities

* Our only station that actively documents classical and cross-genre performance

* The human connection between presenter and audience, who guide us on journeys of discovery into a huge range of music from all around the world

* An advertisement-free listening experience which is a one of a kind in NZ

There is always room for improvement and modernisation in any organisation. The decision to disestablish this National treasure of a station is ill-informed, short sighted and disrespectful to the classical music community of NZ and all its listeners young and old. For the young listeners, it inspires and ignites a lifelong passion; for the old, it provides comfort and company through often a lonely time in one’s life. For the middle-aged and youthful, it calms, provokes, intrigues, informs and adds value and depth to their stressful busy lives.

This is a station that has survived on a shoestring for so long because of the passion of the presenters and producers involved. This is the same passion we as listeners share and it’s time to acknowledge that and foster it into something that an even greater audience can enjoy.

Yours passionately,
Claire Cowan

Claire Cowan is a composer whose most recent work was the original score for the RNZB season of Hansel and Gretel.


  1. TrevorH, 7. February 2020, 8:17

    The Concert Programme is a wonderful, life-affirming resource available to anyone with a radio. It appears the dumbing down of New Zealand is gathering pace. Very sad.

  2. Rob Southam, 7. February 2020, 8:44

    A brilliant summary of a truly disgusting operational decision – thank you – will act.

  3. Peter Dunne, 7. February 2020, 9:28

    As an avid listener for many years I am appalled by proposals to downgrade RNZConcert. If anything, its reach should be increased, not reduced. I urge RNZ management to think again on this.

  4. Barbara, 7. February 2020, 11:47

    Such Philistines!

  5. JR, 7. February 2020, 13:39

    This will destroy a part of New Zealand culture.
    It is incredibly important for young to old that RNZ Concert gets support and saved.

  6. Alan, 7. February 2020, 14:47

    As if youth haven’t already got more than enough to listen to. The airwave revolves around them. Because Concert is listened to predominantly by older white people, the CEO considers he can interfere without any consideration or consultation. Contemptible behaviour.

  7. Alf the Aspirational Apteryx, 7. February 2020, 16:42

    Why is our heritage being stripped away? So Bach, Beethoven and Mozart are no longer “relevant”? New Zealand is becoming a spiritually impoverished, mean little backwater.

  8. Andy Foster, 8. February 2020, 8:42

    I understand RNZ are consulting – but only with staff, and those are the sort of consultations that rarely change much (what do you think of a proposal to make you redundant?)
    I challenge RNZ to consult meaningfully with their audience.
    Government should also not hide behind that RNZ is ‘consulting’ nor that this is ‘operational’. To me it is clearly about level of service. If Council management planned to say remove all non fiction from our libraries and replace those books with comics you can bet the elected Council would intervene. RNZ Concert is hugely important to our arts sector. I have left a message with the Minister asking him to intervene. I will also raise this with other Mayors and with Government MPs.

  9. Neil Douglas, 8. February 2020, 13:29

    Well said Andy. It would be good for Wellington if you defend RNZ since the likelihood is the new youth jobs will be in Auckland. It used to be that Wellington was NZ’s arts and cultural capital. No longer and the decision to axe our nation’s concert program means fewer people will hear our Symphony orchestras wherever they play.

  10. Barbara Smyth, 8. February 2020, 13:40

    Wellington needs a lift after the sewage problems, axing the trolley buses, closing the library and town hall and awful traffic congestion. One thing that kept me sane was RadioNZ Concert. Now that is being axed. What a bad start to 2020. Is nobody looking after Wellington which used to be the Arts Capital of New Zealand.

  11. Daryl Cockburn, 8. February 2020, 14:33

    Poor Labour – having to surrender to fashions albeit long-term fashions such as RONS, then the fashion to set aside so much to do with intelligence and the best that history has proven timeless such as the Concert programme. My heart goes out to Jacinda and Grant. 1km of a RONS motorway is probably a match for one year of the costs of RNZ Concert.

  12. Andy Foster, 8. February 2020, 18:34

    Further to my argument above that essentially axing RNZ Concert is not ‘operational’ (and therefore the Minister can – and should – get involved) – have a look at RNZ’s Statement of Intent 2019-2023 and Statement of Performance Expectations 2019 .

    These are documents I have to assume the Minister signed off. They are very clear that at that time (September last year) there was an entity called RNZ Concert, there is a whole lot of familiar detail about its expected programmes, and it is specifically listed as being ‘FM’ – so this seems to me to be the agreement with RNZ that the Minister should happily be able to intervene in to ensure it is upheld.

  13. Neil Douglas, 10. February 2020, 7:58

    Strong information Andy! Please now put pressure on both the Minister for Arts (aka the Prime Minister) and the Broadcasting Minister to change the decision and instead invest in RNZ as a key part of our nation’s social infrastructure.

  14. Gareth Farr, 10. February 2020, 9:29

    I could barely believe my ears when I heard about this. This move will not only do serious damage to people’s continued appreciation (and introduction to…) classical music – more importantly it catastrophically upsets the balance of culture in NZ, and it was precarious already. I’m not furious YET – I’m still in the astonishment/devastated stage – but the fury is coming. I can also personally attest to Concert’s absolute commitment to representing classical music all the way from the early 1st millennium right up to this very minute. This is utterly shameful and needs to be corrected before it is too late. [via Facebook]