A fill-in appearance on Saturday night radio turned into a 25-year success story for announcer Jim Sutton. He became a friend to local recording artists and listeners when they shared airtime on his Nostalgia Radio Show on Newstalk ZB which ran from 1988 to April this year.
Sutton says the talk lines "would light up like a Christmas tree" as he spun the sounds of local artists including Peter Posa, and the late Sir Howard Morrison, combined with international names Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney and Bobby Darin.
Through the years many of New Zealand's greatest singers and entertainers would appear on the Nostalgia Radio Show. Sutton reckons he spoke to at least 300 entertainers from all eras. "We had them all practically.
"There were probably some I didn't talk to and others I wanted to but were no longer with us." One of his fondest memories was hosting Sir Howard Morrison.
"On occasion, Sir Howard would drive himself to our Auckland studio.
"The second time he came up, he wasn't that well but we ended up having a great chat and the listeners were calling and chatting to Sir Howard live on air."
Conversations were often sparked by a song Hutton would play.
"It really was a magic show," he says.
Punters can relive the reflective days of his radio show with the recent release of Nostalgia: The Very Best of The Jim Sutton Show. The 40-track compilation album features a huge range of artists from Peter Posa to Doris Day and Dave Brubeck. Before Christmas it reached as high as No 2 spot in the New Zealand compilation charts.
The heart of the Nostalgia show was fuelled by Sutton's passion and enthusiasm. However the show only happened by chance. Back in 1988, Sutton had a yearning to become a radio announcer and in September he went for an audition at Radio New Zealand.
"In those days you would sit next to a chappie who had a tape recorder and a microphone.
"He asked me to read a weather forecast, a news bulletin and a commercial and then ad lib for a few minutes. It was then up to the powers that be in Wellington to decide whether or not you had the right stuff to go on air."
A few weeks later, Sutton received a letter from Radio New Zealand. "It stated, 'Mr Sutton, you have a lovely baritone voice but you will never make it in commercial radio.' A few months later, Sutton received a call from a radio announcer asking him if he would like to contribute to a Saturday night radio show.
"I said 'yes'.
"The chappie told me: "You can play as much music as you like and bring in your own record albums if you want to." I realised an older audience would be at home listening to the radio so I took in a few albums from the 1950s with artists like Frank Sinatra, Pery Como and Rosemary Clooney.
"Within minutes people were ringing me up, the talk lines were going crazy ... 'I haven't heard that song for years.' or 'Rosemary Clooney was my favourite artist. That song Mambo Italiano reminds me of my past'.
"I thought 'Hey, this is a good idea and I think it's going to work." And it did.
Sutton's fill-in appearance on Saturday evenings turned into a regular spot and for 25 years his Nostalgia Radio Show became a nationwide success story.
"When you are in a studio environment talking to people and hearing their own stories about music, family and memories it made every Saturday night a wonderful experience. I guess what we did was re-create radio as it used to be and people loved it."
Suddenly, in March last year, Sutton received news that the Nostalgia Radio Show was to end resulting in a national outcry when the No 1 rating show was cancelled.
"When I got the phone call to say 'Jim, we want to meet with you', I knew what it was all about. I've been around the world long enough to know what's going on."
Sutton says he accepted the show was to close. "And that was it, the show was over.
"But 25 years in radio, I had a good run and every one of those Saturday nights was fantastic."
A few months later, Sutton sold his house in Auckland and moved to Wanaka to be with his son.
- The Dominion Post
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