Radio without Pictures

Karyn Hay is a woman on a mission – to keep 100 percent Kiwi music station, Kiwi FM on the airwaves, and find more time to follow her passion – writing.

karynAs general manager of Kiwi FM since May, Karyn Hay has just one year to turn the fledgling station into a self-sufficient, not for profit organisation, while extending its format to be more inclusive of a wider range of kiwi artists.

It’s been a tough year for Ms Hay – radio station manager, breakfast DJ, accomplished author, and busy mother of two.

When the Government allocated three FM frequencies used for public service radio to Kiwi earlier this year it caused pandemonium, with those bidding for government funded youth radio network, the Radio Network and student radio up in arms at the deal. No one, least of all Karyn, was prepared for the backlash. “I felt we got hammered from so many different quarters – we were accused of camping on the frequencies youth radio wanted, while the Radio Network said the frequencies were worth millions and should have been put up for tender – but as frequencies reserved for public service radio, they will never be put up for sale. There was a lot of misinformation in the media, and attacks made, which at the time, really hurt.”

Despite the uproar, Karyn believes good progress is now being made at Kiwi. “Things are really turning around – we are gaining a lot of industry support, and fulfilling the government agreement and obligations to provide depth and diversity in our programming. Plus we are providing a great vehicle for local musicians to be heard.”

Fame for musicians in New Zealand is not accompanied by the fortune you may find elsewhere, and it’s something that irks Karyn. “We have a whole range of artists, who if they were on the international stage, or born in the USA or UK, would make a really good living. These are the artists we try to champion – Kiwi artists who we can think of in a global sense.”

Rewind to 1981, and I was an impressionable fourteen year old with musical taste far belying the sensibilities of my country upbringing, yet forbidden to stay up and watch Radio with Pictures, with its uber-cool, rock goddess hostess, Ms Hay. I would sneak out of bed to watch the late night show, where she somehow managed to make 80s fashion look hip, while revealing all about the newest foreign and kiwi music acts. “Radio with Pictures was ahead of its time – mainly because of the people working there. There were never any real rules, and a genuine sense of freedom – a philosophy I have brought to the culture at KiwiFM.”

When Karyn met Andrew Fagan, lead singer of The Mockers – they were about as close as you could get to king and queen of the local music scene. “While we were pretty famous at the time, it was another example of having the fame without the fortune. It didn’t mean we had a flash house or a nice car – but it did mean we were available to everybody.”

After five years, Karyn threw in her job at Radio with Pictures. “It wasn’t really a challenge once I had mastered the autocue, and I really wanted to write.”

At the top of their game, the couple eventually found the interest of the star-struck public too great.  “There are some strange people on the fringes who get obsessed with people in the public world.” They escaped to London and famously set up home on a house boat on the Grand Union Canal, where they lived on and off for nearly two decades – Karyn working as a TV producer and director, and Andrew playing in his band, and supplementing the family income with a job at Sensible Music. After marrying in a registry office, the couple had two sons. When her first born was two, Karyn began to write.

Her first novel, Emerald Budgies, was published to critical acclaim in 2001. Described as a “somewhat dark, comic tale of disintegration, betrayal and revenge”, it won the Hubert Church Best First Book for Fiction prize at the Montana Book Awards the same year. Then Karyn become one of two Buddle Findlay Sargeson Fellows in 2004, which gave her a $10,000 grant, and the use of the historic Sargeson flat in Auckland for six months to work on her second novel. “It was a thrill to win the fellowship, and to be able to write in that quiet, beautiful flat.”

Her second novel, as yet un-titled, is now in the hands of her London agent. It’s a book about love, yearning and envy, written from a man’s perspective. “I enjoyed the challenge of thinking like a man, but it wasn’t hard after years of observation. I showed the book to a couple of male friends and they didn’t for one second believe I had misrepresented them. It’s been a fascinating project getting inside the male psyche.”

With Kiwi FM and her family taking a huge chunk of her time, Karyn finds herself with very little time to write. “I have decided to devote this year to Kiwi – then I’ll re-evaluate the timetable. Finding the hours to write is very difficult at the moment, but writing is the one thing that really drives me – it’s just a matter of having the time and energy to do it.”

After spending most of her adult life away from New Zealand, Karyn thinks of herself more as a ‘citizen of the world’ than a kiwi. “While I am a New Zealander, I am not hugely patriotic. There are some aspects of this country I really love, and parts of my previous life in the UK that I really miss.”

It’s been three years since the Hay/Fagan household upped sticks back to New Zealand for an extended stay. “The boys (now 11 and 7) love being here – it is much freer than the UK. They don’t have to wear shoes to school if they don’t want to.”

With just a year to prove Kiwi FM’s mettle, Karyn admits to being a little unsettled. “It’s hard to market yourself and build an audience when you’re working towards a finite period, with an uncertain future. It’s disconcerting not to have that stability, but then,” she laughs, “I’ve never really been known for having a life  filled with stability.”

By Jo Bailey