Yardley signs off for last time
For the past 1000 days, Mike Yardley has been broadcasting to his broken home town - taking on people's insurance woes, sticking it to those in power and reeling off well-informed views.
Usually it is second nature. However, the Newstalk ZB presenter is more nervous than normal - a whirl of energy as he winds himself up for broadcast.
It is his last morning on air.
He sits in a plush, new studio smelling of fresh carpet. It is a long way from the hotel and motel studios where Yardley presented his post-earthquake show.
He smiles through the glass window to producer Russell Cryer.
"Have you got the hankies ready?"
There is another smile when the song Wind of Change begins.
Then that nervous energy is unleashed.
He reads a handwritten statement, describing his time on air as "the most rewarding radio experience of my life".
"It has been a profoundly unique privilege to have been your local voice throughout that journey."
From anyone else that could sound saccharine but there does not seem to be an insincere bone in Yardley's body.
He responds to callers with focus, empathy and sincerity. There is a real desire to engage.
He kicks off the debate with a talk-radio staple: "Do you believe in full moon madness?"
However, the callers only want to talk about one thing - their broadcaster's last day.
Irene talks about how Yardley used to go on air when there was a quake in the night and talk people through it.
"You're a wee spark in the dark," she says.
All the callers talk about what his voice has meant to them during a turbulent time.
Victoria: "It's a very sad day today. It has been really reassuring to hear your voice. You know that you are not alone."
Mark: "You deserve a medal, mate. Put your feet up and have a beer."
Melanie: "You brought a lot of comfort to a lot of people."
These are the voices of the city. Young and old, men and women. And they call to talk about what is happening in their city.
When a caller is on air, Yardley sits with one hand on his hip, the other on the fader. His face is animated as he listens keenly and responds to callers. There is a genuine connection over the air, a sense of warmth.
Radio is the most intimate of mediums, something Yardley understands very well.
"In a time of need, radio is a friend. Radio is a mate," he tells a caller. And what a time of need.
Towards the end of the show, Yardley plays a 10-minute compilation from 2011.
It features Yardley on air the morning after the quake, broadcasting through substantial aftershocks, updating on rescue operations at the CTV building; there are rumours of a text message from the rubble. Then we move on to council boss Tony Marryatt's pay rise, the Occupy protesters in Hagley Park and, finally, the December aftershocks.
It is a powerful package that brings back many memories. Listening, Yardley sits still for once - arms folded and head down.
Then it is the final minutes of the live broadcast. He talks about his time on air and thanks those who made it possible. It is a long list that ends with the most important people.
"Thanks for being the best radio audience. Farewell for now."
The red light goes out for the last time. Yardley is off the air.
He pushes back his chair and folds his arms. His eyes go wide and he grins: "Aaaaaah! I didn't cry."
He hugs his producer and the "wee spark in the dark" leaves the studio.
Tomorrow: The life and times of Mike Yardley.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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