Paul Henry – watching radio on the telly in New Zealand

Radio Tomorrow with James Cridland

I’ve just been on holiday to New Zealand. It was very nice, thank you for asking. It’s awfully pretty, and everyone is very friendly. If that wasn’t enough, they call shopping trolleys by the incredibly cute name of “trundlers”. What’s not to like about that?

MediaWorks NZ operates the national newstalk station Radio Live, and I tuned into the morning show, simply called Paul Henry.

With regular news bulletins, guests and interviews, Paul Henry presents the archetypal morning radio program. He sounds warm and friendly, and has a good rapport with his guests, who clearly know him well.

The program sounds great. While the station’s on FM throughout much of New Zealand, the station almost sounds as if it’s on AM – with nice, beefy microphones that give a proper punchy processed sound that’s warm and easy to listen to. The program has some tight imaging; news and sports segments are enhanced by actuality and soundbites, and the whole thing sounds like a really well-produced radio show.

But. I didn’t listen on the radio. I watched the whole thing on the TV.

MediaWorks also own the national television network TV3, which also takes the Paul Henry show. This program, which sounds so good on the radio, actually comes from a television studio. The guests sit around a table, with big chunky microphones in front of them. Those microphones are the only real visual nod to radio – the studio is brightly lit, and Paul and his guests mainly use autocue. The news or sports bulletins look, well, like you expect them to look on the television. You can’t see any evidence of headphones or headsets; the program contains none of the normal paraphenalia of radio studios.

It was an impressive experience. A telephone interview was excellently handled, with visuals on the screen while the interview went on. A segment called “The Panel”, which contained a, um, panel of three commentators, sounded great and looked fantastic. The sports headlines were covered in a pacy style that worked well in visuals and audio alike. It was clearly radio-led from an editorial standpoint, but that’s probably no bad thing.

Ultimately, this reflects that breakfast television is mostly listened-to, rather than watched. Sunrise or any other typical morning show on the television could make for a great radio show too. Start watching on the television in the kitchen, and keep listening on the way to work. It sounds pretty simple to me: so I wonder why it’s so comparatively rare. (Come to that, I wonder why TV channels aren’t also making their audio available on the radio, particularly with the possibilities offered by DAB+).

I’ve seen plenty of attempts at “visualisation”, as it’s regularly known. It often simply doesn’t work – radio studios are mostly ugly places built for radio, not for TV. Camera lines are regularly broken by computer monitors and ugly microphone stands. Lighting is bad, people wear ugly headphones, and long stretches of radio are accompanied by dull or non-existent visuals. The sound is often weak and poor.

However, this was probably the first time I’ve watched a great radio programme – one that sounded like a great radio programme, but was on the television. And what a shame that it’s only available in a tiny country like New Zealand: because MediaWorks are really showing how to make great use of the content they already have.

So if you ever fancy a holiday, you should probably come over to New Zealand. The beer’s great, there’s lots to do, the television has some great radio on it… and they have trundlers.


About The Author

James Cridland is a radio futurologist: a writer, speaker and consultant on the effect that new platforms and technology are having on the radio business across the world.

A former radio presenter, James has worked for stations and companies across the world, including the original Virgin Radio in London, the BBC, Futuri Media, Imagination Technologies and Seven Network. He has judged many industry awards, including the CBAA, ABC Local Radio, RAIN and the UK’s ARIAS.

He writes for publications across the world, and runs the worldwide media information website. He also runs a free weekly newsletter with news of radio’s future.  

British by birth, James lives in Brisbane, QLD and is a fan of craft beer.