Peeps and pips: RNZ’s top of hour bird call turns 50

The ABC might have deemed the top of hour pips irrelevant in the digital age but in New Zealand, if the beloved bird call that precedes the 7 and 9am news on RNZ was removed, there would be an uproar. Or perhaps an up-squawk.

The many birds that have sounded out the top of the hour before the Morning Report mark their 50th anniversary this week. The concept’s beginnings were less auspicious.

In 1973 NZBC all night presenter Robert Taylor decided he wanted a sound to herald the start of his show and decided on the call of the Morepork or Ruru, similar in sound to the Australian Boobook.

As he wanted the sound immediately he decided to ask colleague John Winchcombe to do an impression of the bird in the hallway, which he duly recorded.

The ‘call’ gained in popularity until NZ Wildlife Service staff member John Kendrick called in about it.

Taylor told RNZ:

“He said to me, ‘what’s that strange Morepork call you’re broadcasting?’

I said ‘well, what do you mean strange?’

He said, ‘well, it’s a dialect I’ve never heard before,’ and I had to fess up and tell him that it was a fake that we had done because we couldn’t get hold of the real thing.

He said, ‘I’m in the Wildlife Service in Bowen State building. Come up and see me, I’ll sort you out’. I went over and I formed a lifelong friendship with John Kendrick, who was the sound recordist for all of our bird calls.”

The friendship would involve field trip adventures way out of his comfort zone for Taylor, April Fools Day pranks and poignant reminders of birds now extinct.

You can read, and hear more of RNZ’s radio bird calls above.


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