Wellington Scoop

RNZ: derision, dismay, disbelief

by Lindsay Shelton
RadioNZ’s decision to disembowel its Concert Programme has been met with derision, dismay and disbelief. I havent seen any support for the plan. But the numbers against it are huge. The petition that had 8000 signatures yesterday morning had reached more than 18,000 signatures tonight. (Update: More than 25,000 on Tuesday morning. .)

The decision has also been met with sadness.

Kiri Te Kanawa, quoted by the DomPost, said that losing the station would be

“an inestimable blow to the arts in New Zealand. So many of our young artists have become known to a wide audience thanks to broadcasts on RNZ Concert. I sincerely hope that the powers that be in RNZ will reconsider the backward step announced in the media today.”

And Michael Houstoun:

I have spent my life playing all over New Zealand to the many thousands of music lovers who listen to RNZ Concert every day. I feel I understand these people and that their hearts will be broken by this latest terrible news. It is even worse for those who can no longer get to concerts. An invaluable source of consolation has been ripped out of their lives. The whole business is enraging and extremely dispiriting. It is impossible to explain the love of music to those who do not feel it. But for those who do, it is intrinsic to their wellbeing and happiness. There is nothing to replace it.

On the Spinoff, Toby Manhire wrote that the plan to replace RadioNZ Concert with youth radio was “just what New Zealand needed in 1996.” He quoted an RNZ employee as saying that

framing the change as a trade-off between the youth brand and Concert was a “lazy, binary argument”. It was not necessarily a case of one or the other; there was opportunity to evolve and augment the existing offering to reach younger audiences.

And it’s also obvious that most of the job losses are in Wellington, while all the new “youth” jobs will be in Auckland. Toby Manhire again:

Twenty positions are to go as of March 25. They include 12 RNZ Concert roles and eight that span National or RNZ as a whole, including producers and librarians. There would be four redeployments among those, and a dozen new roles on the “new RNZ music brand”, all based in Auckland. While RNZ National programmes such as Music 101 will remain, executives say, these changes will have substantial impact across the board. It is hard to see how the existing slate of music features can survive given the roles being disestablished.

Also thanks to Toby Manhire for telling us that Willy Macalister, who as RNZ music content director is overseeing the new project, has a background in commercial radio –

Two RNZ staffers and one contributor noted he was the guy who brought Max Key to George FM. Their concern: that you risk becoming a commercial radio clone if the ambition is reaching an audience at the expense of public broadcasting principles.

Helen Clark has joined the debate, another leading figure strongly opposing the change:

And other notable critics:

Andy Foster
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.

Marc Taddei
It is difficult to countenance destroying the voice and centre of the dialogue around NZ Art Music, when the numbers of RNZ Concert are so strong…Destroying a successful radio station with a clearly-defined market makes little sense. Paul Thompson’s and Willie Macalister’s reasoning [is] fatuous, self-serving, and ill-considered.

Bill Manhire
Seems to be one more component of the general and seemingly active running down of the arts/heritage sector.

Elizabeth Kerr
A blatant internal resource grab of the FM network and Concert’s budget. For a mythical audience of 18-35 year olds who do not consume music this way. No apparent research here either.

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

Morgan Godfery
Maybe, if you wanted to attract a new and diverse audience, you should’ve hired a māori to present Morning Report…Anyone who answers the question “how do we attract a younger audience” with “an FM radio station” should be immediately fired and banned from ever working in media again.

Ali Ikram
I heart Concert FM. I remember listening last year to a particularly sad piece. When they came back to the presenter, she was so overcome she couldn’t speak. I don’t think there is a crew in broadcasting who are as passionate or knowledgeable about their work.

Phoenix Foundation
Wellington needs to fight back against all media shifting to Auckland. We have a strong history of broadcasting and production in this town and we can’t let that die…

…And that’s a key issue for Wellington. The city has worked hard to ensure that we retain the RNZ Ballet Company (with its temporary building next to the Michael Fowler Centre) and the NZSO (in a few years to share a new music centre based on the restored and strengthened Town Hall.) So there’s every reason for Andy Foster and the city to fight to retain RNZ Concert, and its skilled team of presenters and producers.

Sign the petition here


  1. Henry Filth, 8. February 2020, 14:21

    This whole thing seems simply bizarre.

    Is RNZ simply incapable of opening a new, “youth” station?

  2. Lindsay, 8. February 2020, 18:39

    Spain offers a good example for NZ. It has six public radio stations funded by the government, with Radio Clasica being classical music and concerts, and Radio 3 a “youth station.” France does even better – with seven public radio stations including the wonderful France Musique – classical music and jazz. The BBC has ten national stations, five of them on FM, with Radio 3 playing classical music and jazz. And as reported this month: Radio 3 has posted its highest audience ratings in three years as young people migrate to classical music, while the audience for the BBC’s youth station has slumped. No sign of any country in Europe wanting to downgrade classical music on FM.

  3. Neil Douglas, 8. February 2020, 18:43

    That’s great research Lindsay. I listened to Radio 3 from the age of 13 when I lived in England. I enjoyed it and it helped me with my music. I attended the Lancashire Junior College of Music at Ormskirk on Saturdays. No doubt young people in NZ will choose to listen to classical music too. Axing the concert program as apparently sanctioned by our Broadcasting Minister denies the youth of NZ that choice.

  4. sue barnett, 8. February 2020, 18:43

    This is just the last sod poured on the grave. Hot on the heels of Thompson’s appointment as RNZ Concert’s publicist, I was one of the first to be fired. After 40 years in all aspects of radio (including being one of the first producers on Morning Report) he wasn’t even keen to consult with me over new moves. He quite proudly broadcast the fact he know NOTHING about classical music, surrounding himself with staff of limited experience, mainly in commercial radio. Until his arrival I had had 35 wonderfully happy years working with the very best. Lindsay Perigo, Dick Griffin, Trevor Henry, Elizabeth Alley and the lovely Catriona McLeod. Bring back some professional leadership to our precious RNZ.

  5. Jonathan Bielski, 8. February 2020, 21:52

    We don’t have such a rich investment in culture in NZ to let what we have go. We need to build MORE, not tear down what little we have. I’m all for a new network at radionz but NOT at the expense of RNZConcert. [via twitter]

  6. Hamish Keith, 9. February 2020, 10:40

    Jacinda Ardern – as Minister for the Arts, please intervene in the mess and muddle RNZ and Minister Faafoi are making … Broadcasting is not peripheral to our culture, it is part of its beating heart. [via twitter]

  7. Theta Grunberg, 9. February 2020, 10:42

    New Zealand Broadcasting is being Dumbed Down. They want to replace Concert FM with a radio station playing “music” by desperate, insecure attention-seekers who merely want “likes” for their social media platforms. Pathetic.

  8. Peter Kerr, 9. February 2020, 10:57

    Dear Scoop Readers, You might want to follow my offering to our Minister of “Culture”, by adapting to your own taste, my email to her which reads:

    Dear Prime Minister,
    Please don’t expect me to vote Labour (Party and Electorate) at the coming election if Concert FM is disestablished from its current format, and its staff sacked. I’ve voted Labour since xxxx, but I promise you I won’t if this proposal goes ahead. I will be asking friends to follow my example.

    xxxx (these are not kisses)

  9. D Maunsell, 9. February 2020, 11:34

    Concert FM is the only station my elderly mother listens to.
    Moving concert fm to a streaming service, elderly can access that easily…….yeah right.

  10. tom appleton, 9. February 2020, 14:26

    Admittedly, i don’t listen to any radio, and i don’t watch television either, so whatever happens to the concert programme or radio hauraki is a matter of complete indifference to me. but fairly obviously new zealand needs to have some presence on “the airwaves” — even if people could only receive the programmes via headphones or through the internet. i don’t know anybody who still listens to actual radio — AM or FM — blaring away in the kitchen all day. i would rather listen to young, keen, informed presenters doing classical music programmes day and night, rather than conservative old fuddy duddies doing it. so i imagine change is overdue, new zealand needs to reinvent itself as a young nation that’s into more than just endless repeats of the 1970s. personally i wouldn’t mind having talk radio — not “talk back” blather, but informed podcasts on a million subjectsthat could be listened to at any hour of the day or night, downloaded, repeated, interrupted, mailed off to friends, etc. the whole business of radio playing something just the once on a saturday morning and then it’s gone is just stuck in the past. radio does not need to be cut, it needs to be renewed, refurbished, brought back to life. every time i walk past that silly donald duck park that was put in place where broadcasting house once used to be in wellington, i don’t know whether to laugh or cry. such manifest public stupidity — it is hard to believe.

  11. Nikki Haukunnen, 9. February 2020, 15:01

    Done, with some additional comment. After JA is also:
    Minister for National Security and Intelligence, Arts, Culture and Heritage, and Child Poverty Reduction

    Dear Prime Minister,
    Please don’t expect me to vote Labour (Party and Electorate) at the coming election if Concert FM is disestablished from its current format, and its staff sacked. I’ve voted Labour since xxxx, but I promise you I won’t if this proposal goes ahead. I will be asking friends to follow my example.

    xxxx (these are not kisses)

  12. Peter Kerr, 9. February 2020, 16:37

    Thanks, Nikki.

  13. N.D., 9. February 2020, 17:47

    There isn’t much evidence Jacinda Adern is into Classical music as her favourite plays as a DJ were Sid Vicious, Snoop Dogg and Smashing Pumpkins. I can see no likes of Beethoven, Elgar and Douglas Lilburn. But please Jacinda save our ‘Concert Program’.

  14. TrevorH, 9. February 2020, 20:06

    Don’t expect Labour to overturn this vandalism.

  15. Helene Ritchie, 9. February 2020, 20:18

    Just now enjoying RNZ Concert.
    Can’t we just keep the (this) good things in life?
    Do you ( whoever ) really need to “destroy a success”? For what? For why? Really?

  16. TrevorH, 9. February 2020, 20:58

    As a late in life student musician, the hardest discipline I have ever experienced because there is no place to hide when you are performing, I have also come to understand a little of the brilliance of composers going back to the Renaissance. Elitism, well yes if that’s how you want to see it but the music is available to you too. The divine harmonies, melodies and counterpoint of Bach or the magnificence of da Milano are now to be tossed into the rubbish bin in the public consciousness? This will not stand!

  17. Nikki Haukunnen, 9. February 2020, 21:43

    “Don’t expect Labour to overturn this vandalism.”
    Well, in Wellington I always voted for the local Labour candidate, but myself and others can’t, can’t be expected to vote for Labour again. Where is Labour regarding the destruction of the cultural capital of NZ?
    Town Hall, Central Library, Film Archive, parts of the National Library … gone. And now the Labour-led government is sitting on its hands regarding the destruction of Concert FM and seems to endorse the merger of TVNZ (partially funded by commercial interest) and RNZ. National and ACT could not do worse.

  18. Pauline, 9. February 2020, 22:10

    Agree with you all … and just today while I was filing a lot of notes for one of the organisations I belong to I turned on RadioNZ Concert and to my great pleasure heard Dame Kiri Te Kanawa …. My grandfather introduced me to Orchestras and Operas and happy to say my Wellington-based granddaughters love Orchestra Wellington and I have told them about the Concert programme. And like D Maunsell’s mother I have many friends who are unable to go to concerts etc and have Concert FM on nearly all the time.

  19. Dale Hendry, 9. February 2020, 22:35

    Radio is still a very important comforting, learning and informative medium. The Concert programme is where many childen, young adults and others are introduced to the arts. It is often these interactions which stimulate further learning which often leads to accomplishment and employment.

  20. Roger Horrocks, 10. February 2020, 9:25

    I’m reminded of the fact that years ago when I was appointed to NZ On Air by Jonathan Hunt, who was then Labour Minister of Broadcasting, he made it clear that he loved Concert and expected us to look after it. Then National came to power, and some of its Ministers hated Concert and wanted to get rid of it. We fought to save it, as did many members of the public. In the end, the National government backed off and left the station alone. Today, years later, I am dismayed to see that the work of destruction is being carried out not by National but by Labour. It is good to hear that Helen Clark thinks this is a bad move. Still, the damage is being done – by the current Minister for the Arts and the current Minister of Broadcasting, along with the RNZ board which they have appointed. Over the years Labour has had some strong supporters of the arts (such as Clark and Judith Tizard). But the current policy is appalling. The idea of shifting the funding to a new Triple J style station that no young people are going to listen to (they already have Spotify) is simply a joke. [via Facebook]

  21. Judith Tizard, 10. February 2020, 9:27

    I’m not opposed to a Triple J style station; I think there is a gap for young people – and the rest of us who want news and context as well as opinions and music; but not at the expense of RNZ Concert. We looked at the possibilities for a Youth radio station in 2000 but did not do it because of the damage we might do to student radio. [via Facebook]

  22. Wilma Smith, 10. February 2020, 9:32

    Thank you, Helen Clark, Dame Kiri, and other high-profile Kiwis who are rightly outraged and making public statements about this nonsensical, destructive proposal. I’ve been living out of NZ for 17 years but visit several times a year and still call NZ home. This appalling proposal reminds me of a 70’s movie called Soylent Green, about a dystopian, overpopulated New York in the year 2022 in which the awful secret is that the Govt-rationed food substance called Soylent Green is actually churned-up unwanted humans fed to the unsuspecting other humans. I’m smack in the middle of Radio NZ’s unwanted 35-100 demographic, which I would have thought was quite a sizeable chunk of the population. I’m proudly Pasifika, Fiji-born and bred and NZ-raised, and count myself fortunate to have spent my entire career immersed in service to one of humanity’s greatest achievements, Western Classical music. Radio NZ: Classical is not a dirty word – it describes a musical heritage of which we should be immensely proud. In my youth, I was a rarity, a brown-skinned child playing the violin, thanks to an enlightened primary school teacher (thank you, Mr Wilson!). These days, thanks to the great work of individuals and organisations who realise the power of Classical music to engage young minds and hearts and change lives, that is not the case. I was deeply moved to be part of the adjudication panel a few years ago who awarded 1st prize in the NZCT Chamber Music Contest to Te Ahi Kaa, a fabulous all-Maori string quartet from Whangarei who played Schubert “Death and the Maiden” 1st movement from memory. When the father of three of them broke into a spontaneous haka at the prizegiving, it was a moment no one in the audience will forget. It moves me to tears right now to even write about it. It was historic and a coming of age. This is diversity and youth culture to be celebrated! Radio NZ Concert with its intelligent presenters and commentary is the public platform for all of us of any demographic who love and are nourished by this art form – and that group is growing from the diverse youth end up! It is NOT just the preserve of tragic old white people. Stop trying to dumb us down, Radio NZ. There will always be an audience for the great Classical music canon unless you kill it. [via Facebook]

  23. Peter Mulligan, 10. February 2020, 9:45

    Life long Labour voter here and for me the equation is simple
    Concert FM dies= my vote for Labour dying

  24. Barbara Smyth, 10. February 2020, 14:44

    Yes I agree with Peter. NO vote for labour from me if they go ahead with this.

  25. Marianne Elliott, 10. February 2020, 18:30

    My baby loves Concert almost as much as he loves Anika Moa & white noise. But you know what he loves more? The midwives and nurses who looked after us when he was born and when he was in hospital. A warm dry home. Paid parental leave. Those are election issues I’ll be voting on. [via twitter]

  26. Al Simmonds, 10. February 2020, 20:45

    Hello from Venue Al, Wellington’s Michael Fowler Centre, Opera House, St James, Town Hall etc. Many a long night I would have Concert FM playing in my office while waiting for shows to load out. The soothing classical music I so love would focus me as I wrote my show reports in the early hours while the city slept. On occasion I’d have performers, public and promoters visit my office during events. They’d take a seat, download their troubles to me, comment on the beautiful music on my radio, then leave feeling better. Some nights I could be looking after a Heavy Metal gig. And Concert FM would save me post show. Many times I listened to NZSO concerts I looked after as FOH Manager, recorded by RNZ and played back on Concert FM. I felt proud. And I will join the fight to keep Concert FM going. Al (Alastair) Simmonds. Concert FM was an important part of my work life. It provided my soundtrack. #SaveRNZConcert

  27. Russell Brown, 11. February 2020, 8:01

    Sometimes change, even painful change, is warranted. We value recent years’ changes at RNZ National, for which people lost their jobs. But setting up a death match between a cultural taonga and [amorphous youthy thing, details tbc] was crazy and inept. [via twitter]

  28. Gillian Murgatroyd, 11. February 2020, 17:59

    I wonder who wants this youth focussed station? I have listened to Concert since my teenage years, especially when Morning Report has all that chatter when I am too busy to be listening to it. I enjoy good music to accompany me through the day. Are we not entitled to one decent programme?

  29. Alf the Aspirational Apteryx, 11. February 2020, 19:01

    @ Gillian Murgatroyd. Perhaps we could call Concert FM a taonga and take a case to the Waitangi Tribunal?

  30. MediaWatch, 12. February 2020, 17:43

    RNZ has scrapped the restructure plan which would have cut RNZ Concert back to an automated service and phased out many RNZ music jobs. Will now work on new strategy for Concert and new planned youth service with govt support. [via twitter]

  31. Pauline, 15. February 2020, 15:31

    Thank you again all the supporters of RadioNZ Concert FM. I recommend the articles and letters in today’s DomPost and The Listener 22nd-28th with regard to “the raging debate over the future of our only classical radio station”.