Radio week: Humour, humiliation, human kindness; What are New Zealand’s biggest radio moments?

Radio’s speciality is being able to provide live unscripted moments of pure human connection. Sometimes this comes in the form of happy accidents and funny stories, sometimes it results in humour so unmatched it’s referenced years later, and sometimes it comes in heart-wrenching moments when life is literally on the line. Here, we explore some of New Zealand’s biggest radio moments.

An endearing quality of radio is the fact that there are no scripts when it comes to live callers. This leads to golden moments of interactions that struggle to be replicated on any other type of media, as many of these moments have long-ingrained themselves as part of New Zealand’s culture.

Take for example, what started out as a simple way to give a caller a prize on in some ‘reverse trivia’ and ended up in a grueling two whole minutes of confusion that is still referenced almost a decade later. The famous ‘Father’s Day’ moment came when MoreFM host Gareth Lischner tried valiantly to get caller Solly to say the question which was in fact the answer: “What day is Father’s Day?”.

This hilarious yet innocently kind moment lead to this call being viewed over two million times across social media. While the caller responsible, who is known only as Solly, is now referenced yearly as Father’s Day rolls around.

Yet a live audience doesn’t always mean kind, wholesome moments. Another hugely popular radio moment in New Zealand’s history, which again is now referenced nation-wide and even has a dubstep remix, is the incredible ‘Karen owes me twenty bucks’.

The abusive phone call which was first heard as an accident went viral in 2013. The caller known as Karen called who she thought was a close friend but ended up leaving a voicemail at a local station which was then put across the air.

Warning; Karen uses a wide vocabulary of offensive language in the video below.

This segment upon going viral lead to social media groups such as ‘find Karen’s twenty bucks’. The success lead the original caller to create her own debt collection agency where she now uses her instantly recognisable way with words to threaten those who owe money.

However, our moments of mass engagement aren’t always ones that entertain through comedy. Sometimes radio’s biggest moments are the hardest. Leighton Smith, host of News Talk ZB for the last 33 years says some of the most striking moments for him were ones that shook the globe, and called upon radio announcers to supply constant updates.

“The day Princess Diana was killed was a massive moment. It was a Sunday afternoon and I got a call to get into the studio asap. Carolyn, my producer, beat me there and was already lining up interviews. For the next few hours it was very intense radio. And there was a small personal connection; a few years before I had lunch and conversed with Diana.

Leighton Smith

“The other occasion was 9/11 in 2001. Again it was a full-on tense program, where radio excelled. There were listeners calling to give Carolyn phone contacts for relatives and associates in New York. A very close friend of mine was in mid-town New York and he rang. Tragedy provides an opportunity, sad as it is.”

However radios intimate reality of live callers sees two sides of the coin, and announcers are expected to connect emotionally with the situation no matter what it is. It was no other than Leighton Smith himself who was at the forefront of one of New Zealand’s biggest radio moments.

In 2007, a woman named Clare called into Smith’s show. She had attempted suicide and called Leighton in a final cry for help. Incredibly, Leighton was able to work out where she had parked her car and ask listeners in the vicinity to go and look for where she may have parked. It was a race against time, but locals managed fine her, and get her to hospital. 

Smith says he’s never listened to a replay of that conversation with Clare.

“There was no rehearsal, no warning, apart from Carolyn saying in my headphones “take this call NOW”. Then you just react instinctively. It was a real community effort. As we narrowed down where she might be, people were in cars looking for her. As it happens there was a listener parked very nearby who found her. I met Clare a few years later when she came into the studio. A lovely, lovely person.”

The conclusion of finding Clare was the natural end of that segment, and Clare who thought she was on her own awoke in a hospital room filled with flowers and messages of love from the ZB listeners of that night.

It is moments like these in radio that build connection and trust for the sector and for its announcers. This is one of the reason that radio is one of New Zealand’s most trusted sources of media. It’s a common consensus that Kiwis have a low threshold for disingenuity, which is why unscripted moments as above stick in our cultural landscape for decades.

The duality of radio and the connection its hosts have to their callers create these unforgettable moments, repeatedly confirming to listeners that this medium may be massive, but the connections are genuine. There is no doubt as radio evolves and listeners change, that there are plenty more of these moments to come.

This story is part of a content partnership with The Radio Bureau.

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