R.A.P. Interview: Chris Nicoll

JV: Tell us a little about The Radio Network and radio in New Zealand in general.
Chris: There are two major players here in New Zealand. The Radio Network is co-owned by Clear Channel, and it has in New Zealand maybe eight or nine stations, ZM being one of them. When I started back in the creative department, I was producing ads for all of the brands that we own. We have a single department that looks after all the stations. The Radio Network’s brands span from talk to the CHR brands. I think the only brand that’s kind of missing from New Zealand entirely is an Alt. Rock brand. We have Classic Rock and just a standard rock I suppose.

Then we have another company called Radio Works which owns maybe the same amount, seven or eight stations, which are also networked across the country. Radio Works is owned by CanWest, and they also own a few TV stations here in New Zealand.

JV: Has New Zealand radio gone through changes similar to deregulation in the US?
Chris: Yes. Back in the eighties there was a big shift — gosh, I was only five or six at the time. Back then everything was owned by the government and they were regulating. There was in fact one of our stations, Radio Hauraki, that was a pirate radio station that actually broadcast from a ship in the Hauraki Gulf, which is south of Auckland. I’m not very good with my geography, but they covered a fair area from the Gulf. They sat just outside of the New Zealand border, so they couldn’t be charged I suppose, and they broadcast into New Zealand from a ship. So with that and a few other small instances of pirate radio, the government decided to open up and sell the airwaves. They called it deregulation here. That just opened the floodgates, and suddenly there were thousands of stations. Then they got bought up ultimately by the two companies we have now. There are only a few little community stations and a few what I call family run stations here and there around the country.

JV: Let’s talk a bit about ZM. How are the station’s ratings?
Chris: Well, it’s really funny because we just have these two players, so it gets broken down very much into the company versus company philosophy I suppose. ZM is broadcast to seventeen markets around the country, but not all of those are surveyed. I think we’re number one in Wellington, which is the capitol city of New Zealand. In Auckland, I think we’re number four or five, maybe the number three music station but number five overall behind a talk-back station, which my company owns, and a hip-hop and rap station. We have a high population of Polynesian people in Auckland, so that station rates really, really well. And the Classic Hits format, which we also own, does really well. One of our rock formats does really well also; we’ve got quite a lot of industrial areas south of Auckland which the rock format does quite well in. But number five is pretty good. Our main competitors are behind us, which is nice.

JV: What’s your title and what are your responsibilities?
Chris: On my contract it says Studio Engineer, but the roles that I look after encompass writing the imaging — not necessarily all the sweepers, sometimes the PD team looks after that — but definitely writing trailers and coming up with ideas for those, liaising with the promotions department, writing occasional scripts to get approved from the clients, who often send it back, and also producing everything, organizing and managing it all so it gets to air. We use the NexGen system over here, so I’m putting everything in, assigning the numbers, making sure it’s on the right rotate and deal with all that sort of stuff. And I take as much off the PD, in terms of imaging, as I can. But my duties are primarily imaging ZM.

JV: How did you develop your style of imaging?
Chris: Gosh, I guess the only thing I can say is that the people who got me into it are kind of where I got my style. People like Dave Foxx, who was the first imaging engineer that I ever sat down and listened to a whole reel of his stuff and went, “Wow.” From there, I got into people like Jeff Thomas, and I loved some of his work. Then I discovered a guy called Will Morgan who is at K-Rock in LA. I love that station, and I just loved some of the stuff that he did. I guess from there I just started soaking up all of the different styles that all of the people have done. I’ve sort of tried to tap into bits and pieces here and there and carve my own niche I suppose.

We are adopting down here the “Less Is More” philosophy as well. We’ve kind of been doing it on and off for a couple of years, but every now and again, the big long emotional promo will slip through. It’s an evolving process, and I’m just trying to soak up as many different things to hopefully eventually land at something that lots of people like.

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