Assessment: The first hours of SENZ, Aotearoa’s new sports radio
Sport on radio is back with the launch of the local branch of an Australian media giant. Alex Braae – much missed by old Radio Sport – was tuned in for the opening show.
“Sport is more than a way of life, a passion. It’s a fabric that complements who we are, ”former Black Caps captain Brendon McCullum said on a Six60 backing track when they were making drum’n’bass. It was a lot for 6 a.m. on a Monday morning.
“Well, if that doesn’t get you excited, nothing will,” Israel Dagg snapped. It looked like an ad was about to go through, the audio swam in, McCullum made a false start, another sting was played, then he started again correctly. The very first caller to the new SENZ network – Lance – could not be broadcast for some reason. Nothing makes the radio sound thrilling like a bit of a mess.
“Baz and Izzy” have a pretty easy vibe as broadcasters, although they have continued to insist that they “never went to broadcast school.” They were both fortunate enough to enter the industry as former players known for their personalities, which means they can make a rougher, less polished technique work. Before the first commercial break, their former Radio Sport producer Louis Watt was brought to the air to do the basics, like yelling at sponsors and telling listeners the time.
A bit of danger was introduced early. An interview with winning WTC captain Kane Williamson was teased, provided he picked up the phone – apparently he was in Formula 1.
Being former players, McCullum and Dagg are probably a little more positive and forgiving of athletes than the average fan. About 15 minutes later, the conversation turned to the Warriors, with a discussion of how the country is still proud of the team because of the sacrifices this season has involved. It might be a heroic reading of the sports public’s thoughts on this Warriors’ season, but the comments clearly came out of a respect for the lifestyle the team must lead.
The stereotype of what you’d hear on Radio Sport would probably have been the opposite – that the Warriors are sweet, they’re professional athletes so what are they waiting for, I bet you’d love to play freshman football for that kind of thing. money, blah blah blah. It doesn’t matter that the Radio Sport hosts are largely out of this kind of mentality – the image is set in stone.
But half an hour into the life of SENZ, the breakfast hosts were talking about the value of multiculturalism and diversity in the rugby community, especially at the club level. Dare I say it – has sports radio woken up?
It’s a mischievous way of putting it, but there might actually be something there. The saga about producer Sam Casey is indicative of this. For those who haven’t followed him – Casey wrote a horrific column on women’s rugby that said women were takers rather than donors, and there was a justifiable storm of criticism. But although the column was written before Casey was employed by SENZ, on a platform unrelated to SENZ, and Casey being in a back room, and it was apparently a first strike, he was fired a few weeks before the launch of the station.
During a recent episode of the Between two beers podcast, broadcaster Jason Pine appeared to suggest the sacking may have been a step too far. His opinion is relevant, as he briefly ran SENZ, before realizing that he had taken on too big a job and that his family life would suffer too much. Pine indicated that SENZ may have decided to put a line in the sand on what is and is not acceptable with the sacking.
Sometimes the opening show maybe veered a bit too far into a feel-good positivity. Israel Dagg did an op-ed in which he discussed rumors that Scott Robertson could replace Ian Foster as All Blacks coach. Dagg’s take was that, in fact, the public should support Foster 100%, at least until the end of the year. The segment is billed as “Izzy’s Bomb Squad” (a reference to his full back days) but as he did on the rugby pitch, here he was defusing a bomb rather than shooting from it. a.
It took someone to report it. “I don’t want us to be cheerleaders,” the caller said, noting that Australia and Argentina weren’t particularly good last year and they both beat them. All Blacks. The appellant was also right – the All Blacks have really had a poor 2020. Sports are different, but can you imagine a business journalist telling the public they should give their full backing to an IPO?
It might reflect the slightly awkward spot where Baz and Izzy are currently. They are both very recent players – a few teammates from the representative teams in which they were stars are still there. No one wants former athletes to say how much better they were than the present lot – but in the same way, the media should be prepared to criticize without fear or favor. And you need to leave enough space for callers to express their opinions honestly, otherwise they won’t call.
Athletes will likely be very keen to talk to SENZ. Kane Williamson finally arrived and he gave an interview that seemed a bit more in-depth than he normally does. Williamson is somewhat known for playing with a far too straight bat with the media, but on SENZ he took sincerity to heart and returned the favor.
Injured All Blacks captain Sam Cane also brought his particular style of mumbled brutality, in an interview with mid-morning host Ian Smith. Good questions, good answers, a good production to get the interview across, good radio at all levels.
Smith himself – and more and more broadcasters to come later today like Kirstie Stanway and Rikki Swannell – will likely be crucial to SENZ in the months to come. The first four hours included talks with Kieran Read, Williamson and the current All Blacks captain – all important ‘gets’ that set a very high standard. The opening day buzz will wear off very quickly, and after that, the grind will begin. And daily radio is hell.
There are positive signs that SENZ will be looking to expand the net on their content. Horse racing will likely end up paying a large chunk of the bills, but the Smith show found time to talk to the boss of Surfing NZ about including the sport in the Olympics.
For the generalist sports fan, this station will fill a void left by Radio Sport, and maybe even broaden the conversation around what matters as sport of interest, which would be very welcome. That’s just one man’s opinion, but they’ve done enough this morning to have at least one new regular listener.
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