On the 22nd of March this year, the NZ Herald carried an ad that stated Channel Z would soon be back to full frequency. This is part of Programme Director Andrew Szusterman’s master plan for getting the world to realise that Channel Z is coming back to the Auckland airwaves. His agreeing to talk to me is another part. I meet him in his office in the MoreFM building on Ponsonby Road. He has the stereo running while we talk, and leaves the door open, but I don?t take this as a sign of rudeness. Instead it just makes it obvious how involved with the station he is. Occasionally he turns the volume up to demonstrate his points like “who else plays the Datsuns, for fuck’s sake?” Well, obviously other stations do (for example, ‘In Love’ came in at number 228 on The Rock’s top 1000 songs of all time). But they don’t play them as often or as passionately, apparently. Throughout its seven-year history, Channel Z has been at the forefront of promoting Kiwi music into the mainstream and that is why it continues to survive. But maybe I’m getting a little ahead. Rewind the tape. Let’s go back to the beginning.
Channel Z appeared on the air on the 18th of April 1996. Its first programme director was a man named John Diver, who is currently living in Melbourne. I interview him via email to begin my research, and find that I have to keep emailing him back to allow him a chance to explain things that others will tell me. Everyone agrees though that he is the man to talk to about the origins of Channel Z.
“The MoreFM group of stations had a couple of spare frequencies in the Wellington market, and so they decided to launch a station that loosely speaking would target a youth market,” says Diver. “Without wanting to sound like a complete tosser, I was the driving force. Management at the time were, or seemed, quite happy to give me a largely free hand to create the station as I saw fit.”
In long sessions with the ad agency, various names for the station were thrown around. The top two contenders were ‘Viper’ and ‘Wired’, but research showed that ‘Viper’ had heavy metal connotations, while ‘Wired’ implyed drug use. Diver suggested Channel Z as an afterthought, and the name stuck.
“I had always liked the name Channel Z as a concept because of the obvious B-52s reference (apart from being famous for ‘Loveshack’, the B-52s also penned the song ‘Channel Z’ containing the line “getting nothing but static from Channel Z”), and the capital ‘Z’ is so strong to any New Zealander,” he explains.
Interestingly though, it has always been pronounced ‘Zee’ like Americans would say, instead of ‘Zed’ as New Zealanders are taught.
As his yardstick, Diver set out to create a radio station that he would be happy to listen to.
“In terms of what I wanted, Channel Z needed to be a completely different radio beast that would appeal to the sort of listener with a certain taste in music, a certain view of commercial/conventional media and at least half a brain.”
But of course, there was a little more to it than that.
“In terms of what the (MoreFM) ?group? wanted, it was to be male skewed, youth leaning and couldn’t impact on the MoreFM audience, and though it was never intended to be a spoiler, it was considered a plus if it could attack the bottom end of the ZM audience.”
The resulting Channel Z fell in somewhere between the dominating commercial pop stations and student radio.
“There was a huge gap there for a station playing the massive amount of music untouched by the commercials because it was considered too difficult, and largely ignored by (student) Radio Active because it wasn’t underground or dance enough. Active was incredibly snooty at the time and a huge number of listeners were alienated from their cooler-than-thou approach to everything they did. It was a time when an act as important as Radiohead wouldn’t have made it onto the radio anywhere else”.
Szusterman was working at ZM in Wellington when Channel Z started and he disputes this, saying that they were certainly playing Radiohead. But without quibbling over semantics, it was obvious that Channel Z was playing a lot of artists on a regular basis who didn?t get airtime elsewhere. Along with new grunge-type releases, the station also had a “big-gold-library” as Diver referred to it of older music from luminaries such as Tori Amos, Elvis Costello, Killing Joke, The Cure, Pavement and so on.
It wasn’t just the music that made Channel Z different from the other commercial stations. Current breakfast host James Coleman was on air from Day One, so I go to Channel Z’s Ponsonby Studio to talk to him. In an interview that takes place half between songs as he does his breakfast show, and half with me standing on the edge of his cubicle while he wanders around distractedly, he recalls the crazy times of 1996.
“It was amazing, wonderful, because it was all new to me. It was my first full time commercial radio job, and I had free range to do whatever I wanted, it was just fantastic, heady”.
In its early days, Channel Z was very loose, with the occasional patches of dead air that would normally be limited to student radio. Night host Olivia – the self-titled ‘Queen of the Night’ was notorious for accidentally stopping songs half way through, while Coleman and Diver together hosted a talkback show that featured, among other things, Cornish Hour where they talked non-stop in Cornish accents.
“When you launch a product that hasn’t been around before and you really get into the mindset of people, they’re really going to take ownership of it,” says Szusterman. Indeed, Channel Z Wellington very quickly made its presence known in Wellington with its regular Bands In The Square, where radio staff would show up in a big old purple car nicknamed ‘the Carhoona’, championed local Wellington music, and just represented the station. As one example, it was Channel Z DJs who appeared in HLAH’s “I’m on Fire” video that was a takeoff of U2’s rooftop ‘Where the streets have no name’ video.
Because it seemed to be working in Wellington, it wasn’t long before the powers that be decided to introduce Channel Z to Auckland.
According to Diver, the Auckland station was flawed from the start.
“Channel Z Auckland was originally programmed by Ross Godwin. He believed in ‘jingles’ and a very hypey-jocky presentation. His idea of programming was to play all the ‘hits’ from the back page of the American radio and records magazine – and play them a lot. They played very little, if any, New Zealand music, whereas in Wellington we were playing over 20%”. Diver says Channel Z Auckland struggled rating-wise from the beginning, achieving 2s and 3s while Wellington was hitting 6s and 7s.
Martyn Bradbury, who you will probably know better as Bomber, started at Channel Z Auckland in 1997. I interview him via email to prevent the distraction problems that I felt I had with Coleman. Bradbury had no previous experience on the radio but had gained notoriety for being outspoken as Editor of the University of Auckland?s Craccum, and on a television show on TV4 called The Drum.
“When Channel Z Auckland was set up, I believe it was run by a pack of clowns who had no idea where the station should go at all. Channel Z Auckland SHOULD have been much more like it was in Wellington, there was some blood-letting, heads rolled and a new management team put together,” says Bradbury, who currently hosts the Drive show.
All the same, Bradbury slotted right in. “I was asked if I wanted to do talkback in 1997 and I thought, ‘Fuck it, why not?’ I was blown away by how popular it became and was always surprised by how hateful people would get of me. For every five who seem to love it, there was one who wanted to kill me,” he says.
Although they were both owned by MoreFM, the Wellington and Auckland incarnations of Channel Z had very little in common originally, and operated independently from one another. Diver describes the audience the Wellington station was aiming for as “18-29, intelligent, and urbane”, while Auckland had no specific target.
Auckland University of Technology student Brad Collett initially described himself as “Channel Z’s biggest fan,” but he later amended that statement. “I’m next of kin to the station. I’m just a loyal listener and I’m everything they want to be”. Collett is twenty-one, from East Auckland and has been listening to Channel Z since it first started in Auckland.
“I’m pretty sure that the first song that they played on the station was ‘Firestarter’ by the Prodigy. They initially played no ads, I think. At the same time, there was that other station, 96.1 that had just come out and they weren’t playing ads either, but Channel Z had the DJs while 96.1 was just music, repeating the same 12 songs”.
Collett found that the station catered to him rather well. “The music wasn’t hardcore rock like Hauraki, and it wasn’t pop like ZM. It appealed to me about how they would sponsor things like Bands in the Square (although, being from Auckland, Brad has never attended a Bands in the Square), and the bands they promote on Z”.
Day host Phoebe Spiers started at Wellington Channel Z at the beginning of 1998.
“I’m proud to say that it’s the only station I’ve ever worked at,” she says. In order to get another perspective from the original Wellington station, I email Spiers, the current day host and ask her if she’d take part in this article. Spiers did an internship for her Communications degree at the station in 1997, and asked if they would have her the next year, which they did.
She spent the next three years working and building up a really good relationship with the local music community. “We supported heaps of events in Welli, and were part of a really thriving music scene.”
“Then we went through some massive changes, which included getting Jon and Nathan’s breakfast show networked around the country, and a new programme director,” says Spiers, very neutrally in her email.
While the Breakfast and Drive shows were networked, as was the playlist, during Days and Nights each station was free to pursue its own identity. David Ridler came on board as the Operations Manager in Wellington after Diver left, while the programme director was based in Auckland.
I contacted by phone both Rodger Clamp, who, according to Diver became Programme Director at this time, and Jon Bridges, who along with Nathan Rarere was the Breakfast Host at the time of the initial networking process. Both said that they were happy to take part, and received my emailed questions. I made further phone calls and emails to them to follow up, and make sure that they were still happy to participate, and reminded them of my deadlines. Neither of them has got back to me, which is extremely unfortunate, as they would have had valuable input as to what was going on in the Auckland office at this time.
Diver forwarded me his archive of emails he’d received in response to the changes at Channel Z. He had solicited them through the Z mailing list, and still has them as files on his computer. It would be safe to say that he didn’t leave on the best of terms with the station.
Bradbury speaks of Diver’s legacy with some disdain. “The problem with Diver, as much as a genius as he was, he blew hundreds of thousands of dollars – it was all very bitter. At the end of the day, it’s someone else’s money and they want a return on it”.
Diver responds to Bomber’s allegations, “As for me ‘blowing hundreds of thousands of dollars’, that’s just laughable. While it’s true Channel Z Wellington was running at just below break-even point most months – although not losing nearly as much as Channel Z Auckland was – this was due to issues within the sales department. None of the initial sales team had any experience in radio sales; only one had sold anything before. Actually I was saving the station money, trimming $50,000 from the marketing and programming budgets from 97/98 and yet making better use of that money”.
The reason Diver gives for leaving was that he strongly disagreed with the direction the Auckland management was taking with the station. “It became obvious they were intent on destroying the vision we, in Wellington had worked so hard to realise. In hindsight, my predictions as to the consequences that would result from taking the station in that direction have been borne out,” he says.
In June 1999, Channel Z set up in Christchurch as well, continuing with the networked Breakfast and Drive shows, and having its own hosts the rest of the time.
“I think Channel Z was at its strongest when we had set shows that were national; breakfast, drive and talkback, and set shows that were regional (mornings and nights). It allowed for local flavour AND it created a national mindset,” says Bradbury.
Over the summer, the Channel Z Wellington tradition of having Bands in the Square continued. Ridler tells a good story about one of his favourite memories of the station.
“We featured Zed just as they were starting to get big… There were thousands of people… We hadn’t organised any security and I had to call up a friend of mine and offer him some CDs to help me be the on-stage security! That was just full-on.”
Szusterman said that Rodger Clamp became Programme Director for Channel Z nationwide at the start of 2000. (This contradicts the dates that Diver gave me, but as Clamp himself never got back to me, I cannot verify this. I also asked Bradbury, as he was working at Channel Z Auckland at the time, but he ignored that email question in order to pursue his own personal agenda further). According to Diver, “When Rodger took over the music did improve, though not by much. Rodger initially kicked off with lots of what he called ‘Alternative Pop’. Eventually this tended to be a staple diet of Skater Kids – Punk ala Blink 182, and Nu Metal ala Linkin Park”. It is probably prudent to point out that by this stage of Channel Z, Diver was living in Melbourne, Australia, not in Wellington or Auckland or Christchurch where Channel Z was broadcasting.
“I think Rodger had a hard time when he took over from John Diver, as Wellington had this whole ‘what the fuck are these Aucklanders doing, taking over our station?’ thing going on,” says Bradbury. Szusterman backs this up.
“I don’t think it’s anything to do with the announcers or the content or anything like that, it’s just the fact that people are actually saying ‘these guys were here in my city and stuff was always going on that I could do and be there and all that stuff. They were my people and that was my station and that was Wellington’. That’s what people are missing out on”.
David Ridler became Programme Director in November 2000.
“I wanted to make Channel Z a credible music station which focused more on the music and lifestyle choices of the listeners. Kind of like a music and associated lifestyle magazine that you listen to. I wanted to not only play the big hits of the rock/alternative genre, but also to take a few punts. I think we did that.”
New Zealand has no quota system in place to promote New Zealand music, but Ridler imposed a policy. “We had no directives from above or anything, but I personally wanted to keep the content of NZ music above 20% because I thought that out of any format in commercial radio we were the ones who could pull it off and really support upcoming artists.” Others at the station agreed that this was important.
“Musicians work bloody hard, especially those in NZ,” says Spiers, “so I have much respect for them all. Anyone that can get off their arse and get out there and be a success deserves to be championed”.
Not everything about the station changed with the programme director though. NZmusic.com user Robyn says, “I never liked Channel Z. I think it was mostly that the ‘your music, your voice’ slogan was spoken in that fake American accent, which doesn’t even remotely sound like my voice”.
This sentiment is echoed in the complaint emails to Diver, which are peppered with comments like “it is ironic that the NEW slogan is ‘you’re music, you?re Voice (sic)? channel z’ when our voice is being taken from us”.
Even the DJs seemed uphappy with the positioning statement. Bradbury says about it “I never really liked
‘your music, your voice’ as it seemed a little pretentious of us to pretend to be other people’s voices.”
“The reason that I didn’t change the slogan was because we really found it difficult to find something to replace it with. Channel Z is a very very difficult station to define,” comments Ridler. He did however replace the cheesy American voice with a more natural sounding female.
“In hindsight, I would have liked to have come up with another slogan, and I’m sure we could have done it. But at the end of the day, I believe the music has always been the most important thing about Channel Z.”
In early 2001, James Coleman made the personal choice to move up to Auckland and host from there.
“Let’s face it, all the record companies are here, all the television networks are here and I’m a broadcaster, an entertainer, so for me, I needed to do that for my career”.
Shortly after James made the move, everyone else had to as well.
“Channel Z is a niche product, and it was not economically viable with three stand-alone stations. It is economically viable operated as a network,” says Brent Impey, CEO of Canwest, Channel Z’s owner. The Communications Agency Association voted Impey Media Personality of the Year in 2003. He received this award for being ‘connected and available to the street’.
It was Impey’s decision to can local shows from Wellington, Christchurch and Auckland, and broadcast solely over the network from Auckland
“I moved up to Auckland in May 2001 when we were fully networked, meaning all Z’s shows came out of the Auckland Z studio, pretty much making Welli and Chch Z redundant,” says Spiers. She was unhappy about the move, because she had spent three years building up a really good relationship with the local music community.
“It was hard to leave, but I love what I do and by me being such a supporter of the Welli scene, it was important to continue working at Z, if nothing else but to be a contact for Welli bands who wanted to be programmed nationally.”
“I think the demolishing of those regional shows and broadcasting solely out of Auckland was a mistake that we are only now rectifying with the creation of studios in Wellington and Christchurch that we can now use when we fly to those cities,” says Bradbury.
The move to networking had benefits for Auckland listeners in that it brought the talents of those in Wellington and Christchurch to nationwide audiences.
“I’m in love with Phoebe Spiers,” says listener Collett, “her and the knowledge of music that she brings to the station. She’s got a cute voice and she always seems to be on when I listen, and I grew up with her (figuratively)”.
Channel Z still kept its other offices open, although not its studios.
“We also have a couple of damn good people in each Welli and Chch who work bloody hard and keep things going on for Z on a daily basis”, says Spiers. Often listeners aren’t aware of the people behind the scenes who make things happen, like Promotions Manager Lauren Whitney who provided the photos for this article. The offices in Christchurch and Wellington came in handy in September 2001 when Channel Z held a Gorillaz Race, where four people dressed in gorilla suits had to travel across country to win a trip to see the band Gorillaz play in London.
“The finale to our Gorillaz Race from Christchurch to Auckland was unbelievable, when the girl who won a trip to London to see Gorillaz live gave her +1 ticket to the guy who came second. That was a pretty stunning radio moment,” says Ridler. Moments like this kept listeners interested, and managed to involve the whole country, rather than just Auckland.
Another of Ridler’s favourite memories of Channel Z came in January 2002, when Salmonella Dub played a private gig for the station staff at The Classic.
“It was a NZ Music Month prize from NZ on Air,” says Katey Kate, Bradbury’s talkback producer. “We had to put together a file of all the choice things we did for NZ Music Month in May 2001, and we won!”
Self-congratulations aside, the gig demonstrates one of Channel Z’s strongest points – its support for New Zealand music.
“The thing is, the New Zealand music industry would generally be pretty fucked without the likes of Channel Z,” says Szusterman. “30% of NZ music not because we have to, but because we want to. Other stations are lucky to have 15%.” Szusterman name checks Steriogram, who are now signed to Capitol in the States, and says that now other stations will play them, but only because they’ve now got the okay from overseas.
Ridler agrees with this. “Channel Z breaks so many new bands to the general public, a lot of whom cross over to more mainstram radio formats. There is a massive gulf between the B-Net radio stations and most commercial radio, and Channel Z nestles very well between those groups. Without Channel Z the jump from B-Net to mainstream would be too large for many artists to cross, I think”.
In fact, Ridler has now made the jump himself from Channel Z to working for New Zealand on Air. “After 3 years working really hard for that brand I decided it was time to move on and do something that wasn’t giving me so many grey hairs.”
The Edge had started broadcasting from Auckland to every radio market except for Auckland, and that made Ridler nervous, especially since the Government announced that it wasn’t going to sell any more frequencies.
“This made life very difficult for Channel Z in that there was even more intense scrutiny and pressure. But that’s nothing new to Z. Anybody who has worked there will tell you it is very hard.”
So Szusterman came on board as Programme Director in February 2001. Immediately he recognised that some changes needed to be made.
“I’ve always been on record saying that we had both The Rock and Channel Z and they sounded very similar, and we were pretty much a skate rock station, and you don’t have skate rock stations in the US, let alone in New Zealand. I didn’t think it was a lasting format, and made changes to make Z a commercially alternative radio station.”
His changes were popular amongst the Channel Z staff.
“Szusterman has turned out to be the kind of force we’ve needed to make sure Channel Z doesn’t sink to the same bland FM you get everywhere else,” says Bradbury.
Ridler puts it a little more pragmatically.
“For my personal music taste, Andrew Szusterman?s initial changes were great, and I really respected a lot of the things that he was doing. Unfortunately, the audience didn’t seem to respond as I – and he – had hoped they might, so the station is now back a bit closer to where I was at, I think.”
The ratings in October 2002 for Channel Z were 2.6% and that was down 1.8% from previous ratings. Nights Host Melanie Wise keeps an online journal (www.melanie.co.nz), and on the 17th of October 2002, she wrote, “Our survey results weren?t that great unfortunately, never mind though, surveys are generally pretty inaccurate anyway”.
Szusterman has a different view on the rating system.
“I think it’s the only method that we have, so you can’t say when you’ve got a good survey book as many people do ‘oh fantastic, we’re number one’ and then when you have a shit one say ‘oh well it can’t be accurate’. My take on that is that it’s the only measurement system that we have, so you have to believe in it”.
Szusterman also defends the changes he made to the radio station’s format.
“Everyone sort of forgets that the first ratings of that year (in April), which saw Channel Z go from a 3.6 to a 4.4 under the new music policy. So the first block of the year was under that policy. I think that every time you change the music policy of a station, sure it’s going to take a hit, but we had to do that as a company, because we had two products that were kind of similar. But I still believe in the changes I made.”
It appears that the music industry as a whole believes in the changes too. Andrew Szusterman was nominated for New Zealand Music Radio Programmer of the Year for 2002, although he lost out to MoreFM Christchurch.
More changes were in store for the station. While Szusterman says other stations are always circulating rumours that Channel Z is going to shut down, there was a rise in gossip and rumours as to what was going on. In her online journal on the 24th of January, Wise wrote “We’ve had some big announcements made at work this week which have really blown everybody away. I can’t go into any of it with you unfortunately, but you’ll find out for yourself in due course… and then we can chat. Far out though, let’s just say you can never be too sure or too secure about anything in this world”.
On the 3rd of February 2003, to put an end to intense speculation, Canwest issued a press release stating that The Edge would be launched on Waitangi Day in Auckland, on the frequency of 94.2FM. That frequency was what Channel Z was broadcasting on. I asked Szusterman why CanWest was bringing The Edge into the most crowded radio market in the country, and he told me I’d have to ask Brent Impey.
“The Edge operates in all other markets in New Zealand and it’s the fastest growing radio station in New Zealand,” says Impey. In the last survey period in Wellington where both The Edge and Channel Z are already operating, Channel Z out-rated The Edge 4.9% to 3.6%, but Impey isn’t worried about the same thing happening in Auckland.
“The only market you can really judge all of the stations equally is Christchurch where they all have the same power. In the Wellington market, Channel Z’s operating has full operating coverage, whereas The Edge only broadcasts off one frequency, while Channel Z has two, so coverage is a vital factor”.
Which brings us to the frequency/coverage issue of Channel Z Auckland now. Channel Z was shifted to the frequency 93.8FM, which has a much lower range as it is broadcast from Waiheke Island instead of from the Sky Tower.
Wise wrote on the 5th of February, “I’m bracing myself for a raging torrent of telephone calls tonight. Although the signal may only be this weak for few weeks or so, the phones have been ringing all afternoon with listeners who simply can’t hear us anymore! Excellent stuff, so I’ve practiced my speech of ‘hang in there, we’ll be back with you soon’ rah rah rah.”
At the time of writing, on the 15th of April, much of Auckland cannot receive its signal, although Channel Z’s website promises full coverage again by mid-April. Impey justifies giving the stronger signal to The Edge by saying “Bottom line is that a contemporary hit station such as The Edge will generally out rate an alternative station such as Channel Z.”
April is ratings-month, when everyone can expect to see a barrage of television ads for radio stations, and large give-aways and extreme stunts, all aimed at getting favourable results in the all important radio survey books. Meanwhile, Channel Z Auckland is effectively still off-air. This doesn’t worry Szusterman though. He says that everyone knows that no one in Auckland can hear them, and that therefore their ratings are not at all indicative of what they should be.
Others at Channel Z are saying that the off air period is good for them.
“You know the old saying you don’t miss it until it’s gone? I think that’s happened to lots of people” says Spiers.
Coleman certainly has benefited from the frequency shift, as Szusterman saw it as a good opportunity to implement other changes. The station now has a new breakfast host in the form of Coleman, a new Drive line-up with Bradbury and Clarke, a new nights host, Wise, and a new positioning statement – ‘Sounds Different’.
“I just think that Jon and Nathan had been on Channel Z for four years, and it was a completely amicable arrangement, we just decided that Channel Z had to go forward, and we certainly weren’t growing any audiences with them and it was time to take a fresh approach,” explains Szusterman. “We had a guy on a Drive show that was consistently rating above the average of the radio station, that people who wouldn’t listen to the show throughout the day would listen to James Coleman; isn’t that the wise move to enhance your biggest time with that person?”
Coleman has a very succinct way of summing up his approach to the new Breakfast show. “I’m being friendly. They were talented broadcasters and big shoes to fill, so yeah”.
According to Szusterman, Bradbury has also changed his show to fit in the Drive slot. “Bomber’s a very strong character, and up until recently, he was doing nights, so that was the perception, Bomber with the kids, Bomber on Nights. When you can, you should listen to the Drive show, I mean they’ve aged their show up quite amazingly, with Clarke working there, so that whole ‘Bomber and the Kids’ thing isn’t at all what Channel Z’s all about. We’re a discerning music radio station with discerning music listeners”.
“At the moment, the statement ‘Sounds Different’ is very descriptive if you?re listening in Auckland, not so much as sounds different as ‘sounds like static’,” says Bradbury.
So what now for the station?
Channel Z staff are itching to get back into the Auckland market.
“I know I’ll be dancing on the tables when it’s back to full power,” says Spiers. They’re also confident that their listeners will be back.
“The interesting thing is that in the radio survey from the end of last year in October, Channel Z has the third most loyal listeners, behind Newstalk ZB and MaiFM,” says Szusterman. “Let’s say if ZM was in the same predicament today, I guarantee that you wouldn’t be sitting in this office doing an article about it, because no one would really care. People are passionate about Channel Z, because they care about Channel Z, because it’s their music for their listening. That’s why there’s so much generated about it”.
Of course, the station still has its critics, with Diver being at the front of the queue.
“I can’t see where Channel Z fits in any longer as there is no vision behind the station. It’s been played with by several programmers now, none of whom have got it ‘right’. The station could never return to its original vision, though what new path it should take to make it relevant and vital once again is beyond me. Simply, it now lacks a raison d’etre; without that it’ll simply struggle on, merely existing, where once it blazed trails,” he says.
Szusterman responds to this like he has heard it many times before. “I don’t even know John Diver. Obviously he was a very talented programmer but he continuously makes remarks about Channel Z, and it’s sort of like ‘get on with your life and get over it’!”
Bradbury echoes his sentiments. “It’s weird because Channel Z tries to do something a little different, it attracts so much criticism (check out NZmusic.com forums). I suppose that’s just something to do with the whole tall poppy NZ thing”.
Szusterman has tremendous faith in the passion of the presenters keeping the station alive. “None of these announcers, and a lot of them have been approached by different stations, want to go anywhere else, because they love Channel Z and they love the attitude of this station,” he says.
“I like a heck of a lot of the music we play, I wouldn’t work at Z if I didn’t. I couldn’t work somewhere else I hate most of the crap that’s in the top 20. I’m not very professional when it comes to stuff like that – I couldn’t say ‘Yeah, the new Shania!’ without being sarcastic, and that’s not fair to your audience who like Shania,” says Spiers.
Coleman, on the other hand, says yes without any hesitation when I ask him if he’d work for a station whose music he doesn’t like.
“Phoebe is the music knowledge of this station, and for her who was in the John Diver era of the radio station to say that this station is sounding fantastic is kind of cool,” says Szusterman, “That’s why Channel Z is coming back to full power, because we’re so passionate about what we do.”
Bradbury has a simple explanation for the station’s continuous existence.
“I think we just try to be a little more real – there’s no big radio voices and we like NZ music and try and promote it when we can. Look, at the end of the day – it’s only radio”
Meanwhile Szusterman offers suggestions to the old die-hard Wellington enthusiasts. “I understand the ‘oh it’s never going to be as good as what it was in Welly’. The thing is, forget about it! This is Channel Z 2003, and I believe it’s just as good if not better”.
And as soon as it returns to the air in Auckland, you’ll be able to judge it for yourself.
(Debate #4, 2003)