January 22, 2013 by Doug Coutts
I was lucky enough to be invited along to Broadcasting House the other day to sit in on a transmission of RNZ’s equivalent of Seven Sharp, Matinee Idle. As you can imagine, I was very excited and so I got there a bit early. No matter, I had time to sit in the oak-panelled reception area, sip on a free decaf soy latte courtesy of the corporation barrista and soak up the atmosphere.
The first thing that strikes you about the entrance is the receptionist. Gaylene has been there for many years – in fact she remembers Mr Marconi, the first advertising manager – and she doesn’t like being startled. I apologised for sneaking up, she handed me a tissue for my nose and invited me to look at the portraits on the wall.
They’re all there – the movers, the shakers, the dribblers… everyone who’s had some sort of impact on the development of radio in New Zealand is displayed on that wall. Not in person, you understand, apart from the head of Don McKinnon who ordered the destruction of the original BH some time last century. (Apparently the rest of him is still functioning well.)
I could have stayed there for hours but suddenly a large bookcase slid back and there was Kelle. She is a lot taller in person than she sounds and the single channel stereo sound does not prepare you for the deep auburn eyebrows. In a voice dripping of honey, or perhaps it was just the muffin, she invited me to the inner sanctum.
The Matinee Idle studio is large. Reputedly designed by the same man who writes John Key’s ad libs, it has a floor area of some 400 square metres, although most of that is taken up up by a huge water feature. To the left of the swinging doors is a kitchenette, to the right staff accommodations and smack dab in the centre is the studio console. And it’s enormous.
It has to be. If, like me, you thought that Phil, Simon and Kelle play records all day, think again. It’s all live. The Beatles were there warming up, Ross Ryan was sharing a joke with Frank Sinatra in the jacuzzi and off in a corner Burton Cummings was having his beard trimmed by Sandie Edmonds. Amazing!
The lights dimmed and as the James Last Orchestra blasted out a tremendous fanfare the ceiling peeled back and two skydivers dropped in. Phil and Simon had arrived. Kelle warned me to keep back but I still had a great view. And the thing that struck me was they’re not at all like they sound on the wireless – Phil is shorter but more debonaire, and Simon radiates charm without the spelling mistakes.
Several assistants were hovering with armloads of scripts, bottles of spring water from Morrinsville and racks of t-shirts but Phil and Simon had busied themselves with the much more important task at hand, adjusting the height of their chairs. Ïf they’re too low, it affects the treble notes,” Kelle whispered.
Simon looked at his watch. “Quiet!”he roared. “On air in five, four..” My palms were starting to sweat. Just then, Kelle tugged at my sleeve.
“Time to go,” she whispered urgently. “Phil and Simon don’t like anyone watching while they work. Or while they eat. And so on.”
I understood. Genius makes its own rules. As I made my way back through the reception area Gaylene was dusting the portraits and Don McKinnon was onto his third short black. I decided I’d come back very soon.