It’s official: Our public radio broadcaster is effectively killing off RNZ Concert to compete in the “youth” market. PAT PILCHER and GARY STEEL are both appalled and dismayed.
Sometimes you hear about such breathtakingly stupid decisions that you’re at a loss for words. Today it’s the news that Radio NZ is to kill off the Concert programme on FM and replace it with a youth-oriented music station.
Is it just me, or is this move a completely brain-dead and utter waste of taxpayer money?
A small consolation is that Concert won’t be entirely killed off. RNZ has confirmed that it will be pulled off the FM band and transformed into an automated non-stop music station that will stream online and play on AM.
Here’s the problem: ‘Youth’ don’t need another radio station. There are loads available already, and most kids haven’t touched a radio since Spotify launched. There is, however, only one Concert FM, and while oldies are more likely to be familiar with using the radio, it’d be a fair guess to say that many will struggle with the idea of streaming its content.
It’s all a lose-lose proposition. Wouldn’t it be smarter to offer streaming youth radio where the kids hang out and leave Concert on FM where its existing audience is?
Sadly, that isn’t how RNZ’s executives see it, and it seems it’s all a done deal with no real public consultation. Concert will be removed from FM radio on May 29, while the youth platform is to be trialled ahead of a full launch planned for August 28.
RNZ staff were told of the changes, and that the move will result in the loss of 17 jobs at RNZ Music, including Concert presenter roles which are to be replaced with 13 roles at the new youth platform. Call me a cynic, but somehow I doubt that any of the Concert presenters are going to be successful (or even interested) in getting the youth radio jobs.
RNZ’s new offering will have to have something pretty damned compelling if it is to wrestle young people away from streamed content. Given their complete lack of experience with this demographic, I wonder if we could be looking at a Kiwi version of WKRP In Cincinnati, the ’70s comedy about a classic radio station trying to move into the youth market and failing catastrophically.
While the idea of a youth station may have set a few pulses racing in the boardroom, there is some logic underpinning the move. RNZ argue that they need to do something as older audiences continue to age and die off. RNZ chief executive Paul Thompson says, “We are thinking five and 10 years ahead. We need to start to connect with younger New Zealanders”.
This might appear a sound strategy in RNZ executive group-think, but I’d wager that precious little thought has actually been given to prevailing market and audience dynamics. Maybe RNZ’s exec needs to understand that classical music isn’t just for old people and that marketing it to a younger audience could have been worth trying.
While RNZ is obviously keen to secure new audiences, the reality is that the youth segment is over-serviced. There are dozens of NZ radio stations all vying for the few younger listeners that can be arsed still fiddling about with a radio dial. Most youth listeners have long since dumped radio and are instead subscribing to Spotify, Deezer, Tidal and other streaming services. Why would they bother with radio? To them, it’s a dead format.
RNZ concert, on the other hand, has carved out a niche with next to no competition and a loyal audience who really don’t want to go near this new-fangled streaming thing. It’d be fair to say that trading one for the other probably will not work.
Then there’s the not so inconsiderable matter of how Concert listeners will react to content in a highly automated format over AM radio or streamed online. RNZ’s executive team seem to think that existing Concert FM listeners will choose to stick with the new station. Trouble is, there will be next to nothing to differentiate it from the hundreds (if not thousands) of streaming classical music options already available. By inviting listeners to try streaming, I can’t help but wonder how many will choose not to bother with RNZ at all.
Many listen to Concert because they can get it in stereo with the superior audio on offer via FM. For these listeners, tuning into AM for their daily fix of classical music will be a let-down.
The Labour Government came to power promising that it would take a look at the dire state of public broadcasting in New Zealand, with every indication that the current televisual model wasn’t working. The inference was that the way that state-owned corporations like TVNZ had to operate actually worked against the essential tenets of a public broadcasting system. While they were obligated to rake in money through advertising and sponsorship and therefore they were then forced to select often appalling ratings-winners to survive, television would never represent the diversity of life and interests in New Zealand.
With Jacinda Ardern as Arts, Culture and Heritage Minister, I assumed that we would be free of the kind of profit-driven malarkey that had marked out various National governments. The promise was that television and radio would somehow be brought together in one splendid package that benefited all walks of life in our great country.
Unfortunately, yesterday’s news that effectively, RNZ’s Concert programme was going to be gutted and then turned into a 21st Century version of those horrendous, disco-beat ‘Hooked On Classics’ 45s, has confirmed that the exact opposite is true.
Pat’s already made the point above that the youth of New Zealand aren’t exactly desperate for youth-oriented radio, and that most of them barely know what FM means because they live and breathe streaming radio. But let’s suppose that RNZ wants to do the right thing and give the youth of NZ a programme that’s free of the commercial and aesthetic bollocks that pervades radio. Who knows, maybe they will represent ALL NZ teenagers by having shows for those who don’t just listen to the latest Autotuned crap, those who love classic rock, those who enjoy experimental electronica or (God forbid) those who appreciate classical music. And maybe they’ll have shows for teens of every culture and religion and sexual orientation, too. That would be different. But I suspect that’s not what they’re planning.
But the couple of points I’d like to make concern RNZ Concert. First, there’s a deeply flawed assumption here that the programme is just about playing the music of long-dead composers when that couldn’t be further from the truth. Yes, Concert does do that but backs it up with the really important thing, the role of the public broadcaster: to educate, cast light on the artistry, give context. RNZ Concert has a deep pool of knowledge amongst its staff and many contributors and guests, and that’s something that gives it its uniquely New Zealand flavour.
Second, RNZ Concert is about much, much more than baroque or renaissance-era composers. There’s an incredible diversity in its programming, which includes many 20th and 21st Century composers and performers, and then there are all the incredible programmes put together on the smell of an oily rag by knowledgeable specialists, and often about neglected or marginalised artists, from experimental through to rock and jazz. And some of these are New Zealand artists who, aside from RNZ Concert, really have no outlet amongst all the ratings-driven commercial alternatives. This is why RNZ Concert needs to survive in its current form.
I don’t know who these executives are or what gives them the mandate to cut, splice and drag the corpse of Concert FM around in the streets with gleeful expressions on their faces, but the decision they’ve made to gut this hallowed institution is totally fucked. I’d like these individuals to stand up and tell us about their backgrounds and why they think they’re qualified to make decisions that will likely change the face of NZ music culture drastically, and all for the worse.
Former Arts Minister Helen Clark had this to say on Twitter today, and I hope Jacinda Ardern is listening: “Reasons given by @radionz management don’t stack up: one doesn’t have to destroy #RNZ #concertprogramme 2 establish youth radio services & broaden audiences. This combined w/ demolition of overseas collection @NLNZ& cutbacks at @ArchivesNZ represents significant cultural setback.”
And finally, if you really think that RNZ Concert as it stands is all about Mozart and Beethoven, then here are a couple of links to incredible shows put together exclusively for Concert by composer James Gardner. Nowhere in the world (no, not even on the BBC) will you hear anything quite as incisive and intelligent on music. Are we really prepared to lose this to appease our teens?
If you are as dismayed at the sheer stupidity of this dick move by RNZ as we are, sign this petition and let them know!