Wednesday 12 October 2011

Defusing The Bomber

Defused: Martyn "Bomber" Bradbury's exclusion from Radio New Zealand's Afternoons with Jim Mora's "The Panel" was unfair to the man and embarrassing for public radio, but it was also, in the intimate little country New Zealand has always been, utterly predictable.

I WAS A LITTLE SURPRISED, and a lot impressed, when the production team behind Radio New Zealand – National’s Afternoons with Jim Mora invited Martyn “Bomber” Bradbury on to “The Panel”. Surprised: because Bomber’s style is about as far away from the decorous National Radio tradition as it’s possible to get. Impressed: because it confirmed Afternoons’ determination to remain at the cutting-edge of public service radio in New Zealand.

Since the demise of Radio New Zealand’s commercial arm in the 1990s, and the Fifth Labour Government’s craven refusal to honour its promise to establish a publicly-owned, commercial-free, nationwide youth network, Radio New Zealand – National  has drifted, like a piece of pre-Rogernomics cultural flotsam, in hostile neo-liberal seas.

For nearly two decades the public network has struggled to re-invent itself – with limited success. How could it be otherwise, when the funding increases required for genuine experimentation were consistently withheld by Radio New Zealand’s political masters.

To be utterly dependent on non-hypothecated state funding cannot help but foster an institutional culture of acute self-awareness. Radio New Zealand’s broadcasters have become experts at sensing where the invisible political trip-wires had been laid – and how to avoid them.

“The Panel” – a sort of radio adaptation of TV3’s much-loved The Ralston Group – brought its staff and their guests about as close to those trip-wires as Radio New Zealand’s bosses were prepared to go. And, like The Ralston Group, “The Panel’s” survival depended on its guests fully understanding and respecting the show’s parameters.

I well remember TV3’s Head of News & Current Affairs, Rod Pedersen, telling Ralston’s guests (most of whom were experienced journalists) that he trusted them, as professionals, to know the difference between fair comment and defamation, and thus to keep the network out of the courts. To my knowledge, no one ever let him down.

The producers of Afternoons weren’t as explicit as Rod Pedersen, and yet it was always pretty clear to me that the “culture” of Radio New Zealand was very different indeed from the culture of Newstalk-ZB, Radio Live, and commercial radio in general. Though it ended up as a sort of Ralston-Group-without-pictures, it was originally conceived as a radio version of the BBC’s delightful show Grumpy Old Men – a witty and wistful programme by and for ageing “Baby-Boomers”. You could be many things on Afternoons – but strident wasn’t one of them.

I well remember the day I was ambushed on-air by a bitter and even more than normally vituperative Mike Moore. The former Labour leader really laid into me, landing verbal blow after verbal blow until, becoming very angry, I began to fight back – stridently. Immediately, I felt the vice-like grip of my fellow panellist, Richard Griffin, on my wrist. He shook his head emphatically, as if to say: “don’t go there, stay calm”. Meanwhile, the programme’s amiable host, Jim Mora, very adroitly and professionally, began defusing the confrontation.

This was the institutional culture that Bomber – a natural broadcasting talent honed at stations like BfM and Channel Z – was striding into: pre-written “Soapbox” diatribe gripped tightly in his hand, and that enormous, Gen-X, anti-Baby-Boomer chip he carries around balanced precariously on his shoulder. Talk about inviting Hamas to a bar-mitzvah! This was one gutsy call.

Bomber’s bombastic bloviations swept through Radio New Zealand’s studios – and into the middle-class parlours of the nation – like a noisome radical fart. And, presumably, that was the point. Why else bring Bomber onto “The Panel” unless you genuinely intended to get up the Afternoons audience’s nose? Unless, in the words of Theodore Roszak, you wanted your listeners to experience “an invasion of centaurs”? (Or, in this case, centaur?)

But what about the tripwires? Well, that’s why I was so surprised, impressed, and – yes – even delighted. Because Bomber, host of the high-rating (for Stratos) Citizen A show, and no-holds-barred poster on the Tumeke blog, was gloriously oblivious to any and all of the political tripwires lacing through Radio New Zealand’s corridors. And that could only mean, by inviting him on to Afternoons, one of the network’s highest-rating shows (and one of the highest-rating in the whole country) Radio New Zealand was ready to push out the boundaries of public radio – hard.

Too hard, it would seem.

Perhaps the Radio New Zealand producers were just so used to stepping carefully over all those political tripwires they simply assumed every other broadcaster was too. But there are all kinds of tripwires in broadcasting. In commercial radio they’re laid by the advertisers – via the Sales & Marketing Department – and the shock-jocks ignore them at their peril. In student radio, I imagine the ultimate sin is a terminal lack of “cool”.

As Bomber’s commentaries nudged the stridency levels higher and higher, and Afternoon’s Baby-Boomer audience grew weary of the Bradbury blame-game, the programme was dragged further and further away from its comfort-zone. Sooner or later, Radio New Zealand was bound to say: “Nup. That’s it. We’ve gone too far out on this particular limb.”

The moment came last Thursday afternoon. Bomber took aim at the Prime Minister and squeezed-off a sustained burst of heavy-calibre fire. It was no better or worse than a dozen other well-aimed political fusillades he’d unleashed over the past few months. But, it was one too many.

What happened? I don’t know – and I haven’t been able to find out. Did RNZ Board Chairman, Richard Griffin, put the vice-like metaphorical squeeze on CEO Peter Cavanagh’s wrist? I doubt it. The most likely explanation is that, quite suddenly, and without the clear warning he was entitled to and should have been given, Bomber crossed the invisible line from “gutsy call” to “major liability” – and the Bomber-disposal squad went into action.

Unfair to Bomber? Yes. Bad for the programme? Possibly. Deeply embarrassing for Radio New Zealand? Definitely. But in a society so small; so politically and professionally intimate; and so utterly dependent on invisible lines and unspoken rules as New Zealand, it was also very, very predictable.

This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.


Tiger Mountain said...

Bring back Bomber!

Amdy C said...

"Bomber’s bombastic bloviations swept through Radio New Zealand’s studios – and into the middle-class parlours of the nation – like a noisome radical fart."

One of the most memorable sentances I think I have ever read. Fantastic.

Anonymous said...

I do get annoyed however, when he's obviously reading something, rather than talking. It becomes a rant, and loses its impact by being too fast to follow.

Snapper said...

Bomber always seemed to me to be oblivious to anything but the sound of his own voice.

When I listen to the panel I want to hear reasoned debate and intelligent views from both left and right. The bottom line is they have to offer some intelligence, some insight and preferably a bit of humour.

I don't hear that from the Bomber.

Shona said...

The Panel is stale and full of old farts warbling like sonorous trombones and other assorted brass instruments in the background. Parp Par Parp. Meanwhile the younger generation have been thrown on the scrapheap of greed promoted by these old farts. Bomber did nothing wrong. He did not defame the PM . RNZ needs to grow a pair. While I respect the fact that Jim Mora is forced to walk a fine line there is only Mary Wilson and the occassional show by Lynn Freeman left to listen to now as Richard Griffin continues to throttle RNZ to death.And to all the boring middle class pakeha ingnoramus's who couldn't handle Mr Bradbury ... UP YOURS!

Anonymous said...

Yes, it was annoying for Bomber to read out his blog on the Panel, and to ruin it for us that religiously watch his actual blog show on Stratos. A real lack of humour at RNZ, and confirms that they want the same (literally) old people on the whole time, the usual public figures, career journalists, and local body politicians.

The more interesting thing was the need to call out John Key on some serious reactionary comments in the House, and an apparently wildly inappropriate gesture. Would this have been ignored otherwise? And why do they all say that John Key is above politics, when him and Joyce are the most petty partisan politicians in a long time.

LynW said...

Agree with Amdy C. I also loved that magnificent sentence, so descriptive.. especially 'the noisome radical fart resounding into the middle-class parlours of the nation' bit..gave me quite a chuckle and I can't think of a better reason to have Bomber on the show! Thanks Chris. Great article and as Tiger Mountain said 'Bring Back Bomber!'...his contribution certainly helps to liven up debate, vary The Panel's views and keep the topics debated honestly!

barry said...

Bad for the programme?. Well in my case Id already turned to radio live whenever he was on. So now Ill be listening every day. So good for the programme.

He wasnt a comentator - he was a screaming idealogue and all screaming idealogues do is turn people off.
You see - no one actually has a radio with only one station on it - and the modern car radio has all these programmable buttons. So on comes Bomber - so press another button (in my case its button 5 for radio live and there I can listen to the humour of Henry)

Oh - and Shona - I dont believe you. You mean you listen to a prgramme that you dislike - dont tell lies - or else youre a very slow learner.

And I understand the RNZ were getting increasing numbers of complaints from the very people they want to liten to their programmes.

peasantpete said...

I am no cheer leader for Bomber (au contraire).

He was asked to express an opinion on what was on his mind.

He did so in typical Bomber style.

What did he do wrong?

He has been doing this on this radio slot for how many years?

Now he is banned a few weeks out from an election. For what?

Absolute coincidence that the grey ghost of Greytown has arrived on the scene recently.

Even Uncle Scrim managed to survive
in the British Imperial/ Nazi era.

Bomber gets done in the dying days of neo liberal capitalism.

How ironic.

Cavanagh should resign in shame.
It is just another under arm bowl from Crosby/Textor.

Frank said...

I listened to Bomber's comments on that fateful day.

Bomber commented on a situation in Parliament that had been barely covered by the MSM. Twenty years ago, Keyts comments and "throat slitting" gesture would've made front page headlines and been the stuff of interviews on the current affairs programmes of the day.

Of course, in the year 2011AD, we are more sophisticated now, it seems, and instead of media scrutiny of Key - we have media scrutiny of groins. Or penguins. Or penguin's groins.

Bomber's comments were not offensive. He was passionate and he expressed an anger which we should all have, but which sadly has been euthenased under a non-stop diet of TV cooking programmes; ghastly crime shows; and TV news which is basically an extension of Police Ten-7.

I can understand Bomber's frustrations. His is like the dream we have when we're trying to warn people of an impending disaster - but no one is listening.

Of course there are those who believe tyhat Bomber's commnts were offensive. Or OTT. Or whatever.

But you know what else? He cut through the static of commercial TV and radio crap and brought an issue to our attention.

For which he was duly metaphorically "shot at dawn" the next day. Thus go unpopular messengers.

Never mind. Plenty more cooking shows on TV.

Anonymous said...

I began long ago to turn to another station whenever Martyn 'Bomber' Bradbury came on (why the ridiculous name?)-I am interested in a debate not a rant and especially not one that is read out. The best panelists are those that have opposing points of view and we get to hear the debate. I am amazed that you seem to support this guy Chris since you
simply don't do this and although I don't always agree with you I do appreciate your ability to debate the issues and listen to other points of view. Bradbury hoots and yells like a bad manneered teenager - maybe he still is!

Madison said...

For someone who has often called for others to be pulled from the media and for countless conservatives to be fired immediately I can only say he's gotten what he asked for. RNZ have no real credibility after pulling him from the air, but for all the times he has called for a similar action on someone else I only say be careful what you wish for. When someone finally made a short-sighted and stupid judgement call to drop someone rashly it happened to him. There are no winners after this decision, only losers on all sides.

Shona said...

barry you are pathetic, do I care if you belive me?? Stopped listening to the panel after I supplied Jim with a wealth of info re mining in Conservation areas when that was on our govt's agenda. Info that he used to provide a radically different line questioning to that he had planned for his show, which had been pro the govt. line. The fact is that National radio has three fifth's of F. A. in the way of resources to research many current events.The cold dead hands of Griffin are all over the Panel this has been glaringly apparent to those of us who do not need listening aids for some time.
It has a right wing bias and is a propganda arm for the Key govt.
Radio Live is sh*t aimed at those whose I.Q.'s match the room temperature. That's all I need to know about your level of understanding of current issues.

Anonymous said...

"Bomber did nothing wrong. He did not defame the PM . RNZ needs to grow a pair."

Yep, that's why he moderated and edited comments on his blog that provided a reasoned challenge to his world view.

Once you get past his bombastic delivery and analyse what he actually says then much of his wisdom is nonsensical and derivitive. He lacks a ideological framework formulated by careful reflection of the facts. Just look at the contrast between Bomber and Tim Selwyn's post and you can see the difference and quality, research and independent thought.

Cactus Kate was correct when she accused him of being intellectually lazy. He simply hasn't come into his own as a thinker but is rather a regurgitator of other's creative content he finds on the internet.