Unearthing Tauranga’s Hidden Gem
They are the elderly, the infirm, the lonely and the housebound. Even the lovelorn.
“But we are making a lot of those people happy,” says George Stewart. He’s station manager and sometimes jock at 1368 AM or Village Radio 1XT, which on Sunday celebrates 35 years of broadcasting. These are George’s people. They are Village Radio’s audience.
“And if we are making them happy, then they will be going to the doctor’s a lot less.”
They are the folk right off the waveband of commercial radio audience surveys, the listeners that marketers poo-poo because they don’t spend big discretionary dollars and they probably don’t buy the stuff mainstream advertisers are pitching.
“And they’re aged 60 to 100,” says George Stewart proudly.
Brian Cotter hosts a Saturday morning show on Village Radio. “I call it the Village people.” Not the American macho-gay ‘YMCA’ fantasy disco band type. “No,no,no! There’s about 4,000 young people living in retirement villages around Tauranga – young people my age and I am coming up 90. They’re the village people, our people, our listeners.”
And the broadcaster who first climbed behind a radio mic half a century ago is pleasantly surprised Village Radio has endured. “It’s only because the dedication of pioneers and volunteers has kept it going,” says Brian. They are the 27 or 28 active volunteers who announce, who produce, who maintain and archive. “We volunteer because we love what we do. We love music.”
It’s the music spanning the 1930s to specifically 1989. “Because after that it gets a bit rocky,” says George. But there’s some ‘fabulous‘ music at the other end of the Village Radio spectrum. “ The big band era, Benny Goodman, Glen Miller and Arty Shaw.”
He was the best of swing, the best of jazz. “And a balladeer,” says Brian Cotter. Remember ‘A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody’, ‘Back Bat Shuffle’ and ‘Sugar Foot Stomp’.” Apparently one listener would ring Village Radio all the time identifying himself as the secretary of the Arty Shaw fan club. ‘Back Bat Shuffle’ would go back on the turntable.
“Most of our listeners are elderly, they know what they like and it’s the music they grew up with. The classics, the dance music, the big band and rock and roll.” There’s no ad’s, it’s wall-to-wall music. “You might call that wallpaper,” says George . Or music to be heard but not listened to. “Either way it’s there and it’s a constant companion for a lot of people. And it’s loved.”
The Weekend Sun is in the Village Radio studio, on the second floor of the historic Town Board Building, in amongst 120,000 tracks of music – LPs,45s,78s and CDs – some 50,000 titles and 10,000 artists. There’s a lot of music. We pull one from the library. It’s called “Before Rock and Roll”, 22 hits of the 1950s by artists such as Rosemary Clooney, The Ink Spots, Orvon Grover Autrey – no wonder he became Gene – Billy Vaughn and Frankie Lane. You don’t have to like the music to be fascinated.
And there are personal favourites – the manager George Stewart, himself a trained classical pianist opts for the “fabulous compositions” of singer, songwriter and actor Hoagland Howard ‘Hoagy’ Carmichael.
Frank Sinatra did it, Tony Bennett did it, but George’s all-time favourite is Hoagy’s “The Lady is a Tramp.”
“I never bother with people that I hate,” as the song goes. “That’s why this chick is a tramp.”
And the near 90 “young” radio jock, Brian Cotter goes for immortal “Never know how much I love you, Never know how much I care.” Peggy Lee and ‘Fever.’ And he delivers a refrain for good measure. Peggy probably did it better.
So if nostalgia defines the playlist, and golden years defines the audience, what defines the listenership?
“Sixty-four thousand dollar question,” laughs Brian. “I sometimes sit and think who the hell is listening? But you never really know.” When someone calls in to say they are enjoying the show it would be really nice to think it represented another 200 who are tuned in but haven’t bothered to call.
Brian Cotter stops and ponders.
“The value of Village Radio is the attention and acknowledgement of a certain demographic of a radio audience. An acknowledgment that they have their own music and some very good music that deserves to be played again and again.”
Brian learned all the Irish and Scottish songs off his Mum and Dad – like “I will take you home again Kathleen, Across the ocean wide and wild.” He says it’s nice for people who live alone , like him, to have music you grew up with, music you are familiar with.
And so Village radio is more than music, it’s a social responsibility. “You could say that,” says George. ”Because we are part of the social fabric of Tauranga. We are a hidden gem because a lot of people don’t know we are here.”