The magic is in the mayhem for student radio
Massey University's student radio station may be having a change in management, but as Carly Thomas found out, the ethos of the place has not changed much over the decades.
Radio Control is a nice place to be. It feels a bit like a lounge room on a Sunday. There are sweet tunes playing, people coming and going and host Abi Symes is wearing pyjamas.
She's a bit teary. It's David Stevens' last day as manager and he will be missed. He's off to London, so, yeah, he's sad, but, well, heck, he's off to London.
"Yeah, it's pretty exciting, but I will miss this place. It felt like the right time to do something new and London seemed like a good idea."
Radio Control 99.4FM is Massey University's student radio and it's been running for ages, since 1981 to be exact, and it was broadcast from a caravan back then. The radio station was a bit of a first for New Zealand, the original commercial student-run radio station. And like the gangly teenager that it kind of was, it had a few image changes and names to match.
It's been Masskeradio, Radio Massey, 2XM and more recently it's settled into itself as Radio Control. It's been around the block a bit, too, before finding its current nook overlooking the campus's concourse.
Radio Control's studio has just had a spruce-up and it may have gone through its various phases and decades, but one thing has remained true – the little radio station that could plays local, Kiwi, alternative music, with stuff that is new and relevant to the students who help run it. It's volunteer-heavy, staffed with current or recent students, and people from the wider community jump into the DJ seat too.
It's what Stevens says has kept the job interesting for him – all the different people that pass through the door – and it's the fact that they don't play "the same old stuff" like other stations that has made his reign at Radio Control one he won't forget in a hurry.
"It's a student radio station that is essentially made by students, but it's for everyone. What we support is local music, New Zealand music, emerging artists – people that aren't getting coverage elsewhere. The under-represented is what we like to do. That's the hard bit about leaving a place like this, because I actually care about all of that a lot."
It was the same back in the day. In 1991, Guy McIndoe was the manager and Radio Massey was run out of a cupboard at the back of the university's recreation centre. He was in his early 20s, a keen muso, and McIndoe thought he had landed the "best job in the world".
"There were some pretty landmark albums that year and changes in the direction of music, so it was really exciting times. There was lots happening locally, [music venue and recording space] The Stomach was going nuts, there was a good local music scene and we were all playing in bands and hanging out and having fun."
McIndoe and his merry band of volunteers brought in the Wild Card, which was basically a student card that gave discounts and got local businesses on board. They also started the magazine Valve as a way to bring attention to the thriving Manawatu music scene.
Vinyl was the go in 1991 and McIndoe remembers "rocking up for my breakfast shift on my bike".
"There was a ransom note from the 'Andoran Record Liberation Front'."
Someone had pulled up in a truck and taken every single piece of music out of the studio and left only one tape cartridge in their wake. It was a recording that repeated McIndoe's breakfast slot greeting, musical stings and their ransom demand, which was to play the recording continuously if Radio Massey wanted its records back.
"So here I am on my breakfast show with no music and a cartridge of stings and that is the sort of wonderful crap that would happen. Just fun madness, we used to encourage that, walking on the slight edge of mayhem."
It's a great place for a mix of volunteers. "We have some wild ones, which is great. It's awesome to see the volunteers that have been doing their thing for years, like the All Star Jazz Show – they are up around the 20-year mark."
It takes trust, having new people on air, and Stevens has about a six-second threshold of radio silence before he starts to get anxious about if the next song is going to kick in. It takes a sense of humour, too, and it would seem the willingness to embrace, like McIndoe did back in the 90s, a bit of mayhem.
"Like the year Abi [Symes] decided that we should do the Christmas parade."
Symes gets the giggles. "That was a crack-up. We got Dave's mum's ute and we couldn't put anything on it because it was like a real nice ute, so we just kind of tied stuff on and stood in the back."
"So we are in between these big like 18-wheeler trucks," pipes in Stevens, "with people dancing and huge decorations and then there's us with this little Nissan ute with Abi's handmade decorations falling off."
Not much has changed, really, even though there have been many names linked to the radio station over the years – James Lissette, Craig Black, Lon Teal, Darren Lesley, Alexander Hallag, Jake Lilley – and there has been longstanding support from the Massey University Students' Association and in more recent years New Zealand On Air.
The little radio station got out of the cupboard and it grew some momentum-giving legs, but the home-grown, down-to-earth feel still hums at Radio Control. Because, well, as McIndoe says, "it's just the way it rolls".
Michael Tilley is the new manager, who intends to keep things spinning and, like the others before him, he too thinks he has "the best job".
"I'm really stoked. There is such a history with this place, and yeah," he pauses and glances at Stevens as a lull in the radio broadcast reaches the five-second zone. A tune kicks in and they grin, "it's pretty unique."
To find out more about Radio Control go to: http://radiocontrol.org.nz/