Dark Night of the Sound Soul

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Grant Robertson launched my book ‘The Plot to Kill Peter Fraser’ not quite three years ago. We talked about mutual admiration for wartime Labour Prime Minister Peter Fraser, who came back from setting up the United Nations in 1945 and faced down his own Labour Party and his political opponents to found the National Orchestra, promote theatre and develop public radio. Grant said that the first thing they would do in the (unlikely) event of winning the election was to invest in public radio. Now he is dispensing six billion or so into mostly transport infrastructure, I am gobsmacked that not a smidgeon goes into sustaining successful cultural infrastructure. I never imagined in my darkest hours the axing of the entire Concert FM and with it my constant companion. It is my default radio station.

I communicated with Helen Clark about a subsequent book launch. She apologised for not being able to make it due to a prior engagement at Parliament. I had thought her an active and caring Minister of the Arts, Heritage and Culture. She would not have presided over this Al Qaeda-like destruction of a national cultural treasure. Her Labour prime ministerial successor in the role has not been visible.

I love Jacinda Ardern as a caring and sharing prime minister like we have not seen before. The problem that has appeared you might say from left field is that she does not love me, in regard to my listening companion. She does not express care about Concert FM. Silence from the Minister who should, as part of her portfolio, be defending public radio is very sad. Maybe she does not know what a magnificent cultural asset Concert FM is because she does not turn it on. Maybe she prefers to go fishing. Her predecessor Peter Fraser would be revolving in his grave again, having perhaps only just stopped spinning at Rogernomics removing so many of the public service gains he created. After all, as Helen Clark quoted publicly a few days ago, Labour promised in 2017 to protect public radio.

I cannot see any justification for this turncoat behaviour by Labour. As far as I know, Winston did not kibosh this. He wouldn’t agree to axe the station that to a large degree represents the demographic that votes for him. Such a draconian decision by a public servant cannot be made without political approval. I recall the leading wrecking ball Minister Faafoi, who is threatening more public radio shake-ups, coming to Paekakariki where I live before the election, but not since. Why in heaven’s name are they killing such a small investment, the cost of a kilometre of the now-Opposition’s vainglorious highways they are back building, willfully killing a golden egg that delivers such gorgeous returns?

The CEO of public radio claims he needs to get 18-to-34 folk involved. Really? I thought this demographic was well served already. I do not see this CEO engaging people half his age. They decide for themselves what they listen to. They do not need his paternalistic help. They have not said they want it. Where did he get the notion they did? I smell somebody making a PC project here that helps his CV and destroys the legacy Peter Fraser created of all New Zealanders having access to culture. This CEO is decreeing without any evidence that kids need to be involved in his concept of talk radio, at the expense of a channel of informed folk sublimely good at presenting and commenting on continuous classical music that I know attracts many folk from many age groups and is a cultural star in our somewhat impoverished public culture galaxy.

On Concert FM we hear the best practitioners, and many are youngsters, like the magnificent Sole Mio, three Samoan lads who topped the Concert FM chart these last several years and are expanding from there towards the international recognition of many other frequent Kiwi stars on Concert FM, like Kiri Te Kanawa, Teddy Tahu Rhodes and Jonathan Lemalu. Shame on the Radio NZ CEO and the silent Labour Party Ministers. Concert FM is very healthy, not broken, leave it alone!