Sunday, September 15, 2019

John McCready-My 50 Years working in Music, Radio and TV

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Tuesday, September 3, 2019

RADIO DAYS; RADIO HAURAKI 1982-87; 89FM 1987-89


John McCready  1982
In 1982 Michael Wall, who was managing Radio Hauraki on an interim basis and responsible for finding a new manager, heard that I was intending to leave my position as MD of CBS RECORDS AUSTRALIA and return with my family to New Zealand. Michael approached me and after discussion offered me the position managing Radio Hauraki. Although I knew nothing about running a radio station the job excited me and I accepted.

On arriving to take my position I found Radio Hauraki in a poor state. The station was sinking in the ratings and revenue was down. The music being played was, to my ears, too heavy. On-air staff played their own music choices rather than keeping to the stations play list. There was no regard for what the audience may prefer to hear . Programming staff were stuck on the idea that music stations 1ZM, Triple M and Magic 91 were the target opposition.

I didn’t see it that way.

On appraising the market I saw market leader 1ZB with their news and talk format as the one we should be competing with and viewed the music stations as just a cannibalising distraction.

My plan was to broaden our music to appeal to a wider age group, without losing our core 18-24 males, bring in more news, sport news and work towards a closer community involvement. I saw radio’s strength against TV and newspapers as radio being more local.

I also felt that our DJ’s, as they were called, were not warm to their listeners, but rather arrogant. I wanted warm, friendly and at one with our listeners.

It became quickly obvious to me that my plan would be undermined by key on-air staff and I made the decision to get rid of the old and their destructive attitudes.

My first task was to find a new Programme Director, a successful expert who would obviously know more about the day to day running of a radio station than novice me. A key appointment and one whom the staff, particularly those on-air, would respect. I determined that Ross Goodwin at 1ZM was the leading candidate having been successful there and he was also a programme manager who, like me, embraced audience music research as a programming tool.

Ross and I met and he was enthusiastic, but on one condition. I had to also create a position of Research Manager and hire Wendy Palmer, currently doing that role at 1ZM. It was a no brainer. Yes.
                               Ross Goodwin

Ross and Wendy joined and an audience research department was set up. Ross and I appraised our on-air line up and decided major changes had to be made, particularly in the key Breakfast slot. The timing was right with the much loved, but not rating as well as we wanted, Fred Botica, being offered a position in Australia. Ross hired Pat Courtney, whose style I disliked intensely. Ross was right and ratings improved.....for a while.

Over a period of months Pat’s behaviour off air became erratic and then whilst broadcasting he started to ignore our brief and become, in my view, disregarding of the audience. I wanted him gone. Ross wanted to hang in, but after a growing number of clashes with Pat, Ross finally got feed up and acted.

I wanted on air personalities that audiences would love. My plan was to get Kevin Black back from Triple M, hire TV newsman John Hawkesby for mornings and have them joined by a sports' expert. We set out to hire those talented broadcasters and after tough negotiations and a reluctant agreement from the board to pay major money, we succeeded. Joining Kevin and John was sporting journalist and commentator Phil Gifford aka LOOSEHEAD LEN.


                                          JOHN HAWKESBY

                         PHIL GIFFORD aka Loosehead Len

Ross Goodwin also hired a young TV presenter Phillip Schofield and this move proved another of Ross’s astute programming decisions. Phillip was very successful for the two years he was with us before returning to the UK. In the UK Phillip went onto a highly successful career as a TV presenter and is still going strong today, hosting a popular morning show.

As the new team cemented in, our music broadened and our news became more frequent and more local.

It worked and ratings began to climb. The board, rightly so, demanded I get increased revenue to compensate for the monetary investment and to catch up to the ratings increase. 
        The Radio Hauraki Breakfast and Morning Teams

I searched the market for the best Advertising Sales Manager and found that in Bernie Brown from RNZ Christchurch. Bernie was so good he signed a major sales contract with an advertiser at the airport on the way home after our hiring meeting. Bernie quickly built a new sales team, one that capitalised on our increasing audience numbers.

                             BERNIE BROWN

Radio Hauraki’s on-air team went from strength to strength and we succeeded in knocking 1ZB off the Number 1 rating slot. Coupled with that we were awarded with METROPOLITAN STATION OF THE YEAR 1984.

But, behind the successful front things weren’t going so well for me. Our owners, a group of successful businessmen, cashed in on our success by selling the business to Brierley Investments. From Brierley's I was getting a much more corporate approach and my enjoyment was waning.
NSW Premier N WRAN with JOHN McCREADY accepting NZ Radio Station of the Year 1985
Early 1987, as part of Brierley’s expansion plans, they asked me to approach Barry Everard, majority owner of Triple M, to see if they were interested in selling. Triple M was now a not so successful competing station, but it did have the advantage of an FM licence. Barry wasn’t interested, but what he was interested in was me coming over to manage Triple M. Barry made me a generous financial offer.


Barry had perfect timing. His offer coincided with my disenchantment with what I perceived as Brierley’s increasing corporatisation of Radio Hauraki within their desire to build a network of stations. I accepted Barry’s offer, resigned from Radio Hauraki and moved over.

89FM 1987-1989

I wanted Ross Goodwin and Wendy Palmer to move with me and as soon as I was in the Triple M chair I made each an offer. They accepted, but Brierley’s wouldn’t release them immediately and made them work out their current contracts.

So, without my two programming colleagues I commenced to re-shape Triple M. 

Triple M was an Australian brand and as the station was currently unsuccessful, I saw no value in the brand. So I decided to change the name and brand to coincide with introducing the new music format.

I decided on a name that would, importantly for a less than popular station, give our station’s address on the radio dial. So it was simply 89FM, but with the added positioning slogan AUCKLAND’S MUSIC LEADER.

Needing a strong logo for the new brand I turned to graphic artist supreme PETER BURT, who had designed many great logos and record sleeves for me over the years. Pete presented me with design after design, but none felt right. Pete one day presented me with an orange and black logo that incorporated a musical note: excitement rushed through my body. I loved it. It was strong and very distinctive. The master designer had done it again.

                 John McCready and Peter Burt

I began the process of changing the music played. I moved the content away from the existing playlist, which leaned towards male 18-24 age orientated rock, to a more pop and female acceptable 18-39 age targeted range of songs. I made no effort to change the on-air line up, preferring to wait for Ross. I did however promote a warmer, friendlier and more one on one style from those behind the mic.

The music changes and re-branding were an immediate success and in the next audience survey we gained a full share point.

Ross and Wendy then arrived and audience research was quickly established and on-air changes commenced. We tried hard to entice Kevin Black over to us, but not withstanding his contract at Radio Hauraki, Kevin was talked out of moving again by those closest to him. Finally we had to accept that and move on.

                                 WENDY PALMER

For the important breakfast slot we chose Kent Robertson, a young up and coming broadcaster with a great voice, We put Mark Kennedy in the morning slot and paired him with newsman Mark Staufer, bringing regular news updates.

Sometimes in life you get lucky.

Unbeknown to Ross and I, Mark Kennedy saw wider potential in the younger Mark Staufer, more than just a a news reader; he decided they would make a great duo team. Mark Kennedy saw the expression TOP MARKS in an advert and thought it a great name for his perceived duo. Kennedy took the other Mark for coffee and floated his idea. They agreed and decided they would just join together as a duo on air without telling Ross or I and see how it went.

The TOP MARKS were an immediate hit, giving away branded T-shirts they jammed the Auckland phone exchange switchboard. Their style of teasing and sometimes outrageous banter hit a chord with the public and a unique on-air partnership had begun.

Naturally the young men were quickly in my office seeking a major pay rise, which they got.

We moved the TOP MARKS to breakfast, swapping slots with Kent.

                                           THE TOP MARKS
                                          JOHN McCREADY
          TOP MARKS, JOHN and WENDY
TOP MARKS didn’t stay in the studio, but got out to the public, broadcasting the show from buses, billboards and bridges. One day they even managed to get into Radio Hauraki and do a segment from there.

Meanwhile we increased our community involvement doing public events at popular beaches, markets and wherever we could make contact with the people of Auckland.

It all worked. By June 1988, less than a year from my joining, 89FM had climbed from near last in the Auckland market to Number 2 with an audience share of 14.2%. We were just a share point from now leader 91FM. Meanwhile Radio Hauraki had dropped to 6th place, a full 3.8% share behind us.
In the following survey in July 1988 we gained the Number 1 spot. We achieved a 15.2% share, whilst 91FM dropped to 5th and Radio Hauraki falling a further 0.2% share to stay in 6th place. Radio I became the new Number 2 with a revitalised 1ZB moving up to Number 3.

History repeated itself and like when we took Radio Hauraki to the top, things were changing behind the scenes. Barry Everard, who had until then been a great “hands off” employer, now wanted more day to day involvement and wished to bring in consultants to look at ways to increase profit margins. Profit had already been growing thanks to our increased audience share and I was not at all happy to lose any control over the day to day running. I decided it was time to move on to another challenge.

John McCready, Tricia Everard, Wendy Palmer and Ross Goodwin
Fate took over and coinciding with my private decision to move on, I was approached by TVNZ to join their programming team as Manager of Presentation and Promotion. TVNZ we’re facing the introduction of TV3, the country’s first commercial TV station and wanted me to bring my commercial experience to assist in increasing ratings and profile. I accepted the position and Barry was totally understanding of my decision. We parted on the best of terms and Barry remained a good friend until his sad death in 2016.

After marrying my partner JT Taylor and honeymooning in Europe, I joined TVNZ in May 1989........but, that’s another story.