Max Christoffersen: The Axe Attack makes heavy metal radio history

Paul Martin, left, with his band Devilskin, is instrumental in keeping The Axe Attack on air for 30 years.

Paul Martin, left, with his band Devilskin, is instrumental in keeping The Axe Attack on air for 30 years.

OPINION: Hamiltonians don't celebrate each other very well.

But today I'm going to. This column celebrates music and radio and the people behind The Axe Attack.

The Axe Attack is one of the world's longest running heavy metal radio programmes and this year it celebrates 30 years in the hands of popular Hamilton musician and broadcaster, Paul Martin.

All radio programmes have a beginning and in the beginning there was student radio. The Axe Attack was always going to happen on my watch.

It was just a matter of when.

It was 1986 and my interest as the station manager at Waikato University's student radio station Contact-89FM, was to put more rock in the station's playlist.

I knew Hamilton had a music profile. And I knew what it was – rock. Straight forward, down the line, guitar-based hard rock and heavy metal. Hamilton rockers loved the rock music we could hear at local pubs, but we couldn't hear it on local radio.

We decided to change all that on Contact-89FM. It would be where Axe Attack host and founder Johnny Brooks would broadcast metal music for the first time.

It became a turning point in student radio nationally. Hamilton was the renegade among the other student radio stations. The station played hard rock and metal music and we were proud to break new musical ground. This was our musical patch – metal was Hamilton's music.

But if The Axe Attack was ever going to grow to reach more listeners it would have to move outside the bounds of Contact-FM's reach in Hamilton. There had to be a bigger broadcast stage.

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That bigger stage came through the hands of Paul Martin. The popular guitarist with local bands Fury and Knightshade (and today Devilskin) met Brooks at the Contact-89FM student radio studios in 1987 for a band interview.

Talk soon turned to how the programme could reach a bigger and wider audience. The Axe Attack had a committed Hamilton audience, but it needed to be heard nationally for it to have any future.

It was The Axe Attack's move to The Rock FM in 1987 that would see Martin pull hundreds of hours on air and drive thousands of kilometres from Hamilton to the Auckland studios of The Rock to put the show out each Sunday night for 28 years.

For Martin it was a labour of love, and for listeners new to The Axe Attack, the same excitement first heard in Hamilton was now reaching an Auckland and national listenership.

All of it was due to Martin's commitment to sharing new and classic rock, profiling emerging bands and interviewing touring musicians alongside a healthy dose of one-third local metal bands on the show.

It was innovative new radio and was met with open arms by New Zealand's rock community who knew they were in the hands of a rock enthusiast and musician and not some stand-in station jock there solely for the radio station pay cheque.

The Axe Attack had become part-radio programme and part-metal lifestyle hub for musicians and fans alike as the programme became a touchstone for all things metal in New Zealand.

It was the high water-mark for The Axe Attack as the programme became entrenched in history as the longest-running New Zealand radio programme hosted by the same broadcaster; Paul Martin.

Trouble though was looming on the horizon at The Rock.

Changes in broadcasting priorities and shifts in programming culture would take The Axe Attack off-air. The last broadcast went out on the Rock in 2015.

The Axe Attack was now off air and not on New Zealand radio for the first time in almost 30 years.

But Martin wasn't done yet. The Axe Attack was soon reborn as an online only station on iHeart Radio the same year.

It continues to broadcast today with Martin still programming and producing the programme 30 years after he had that first interview with Jonny Brooks in the Contact-89FM studios in 1987.

The Axe Attack is a testament to perseverance, challenging the rules and believing in the importance of music in people's lives. That the show has lasted for 30 years is due to the ongoing commitment of one man, Paul Martin.

Few can know how many hours Martin has willingly paid over 30 years to help other bands, research and find new musicians and contribute so willingly to the growth of New Zealand rock and metal.

The Axe Attack story is, in so many ways, the Paul Martin story. We will never see another dedicated rock radio music show that started from such humble beginnings (in an old cowshed on the University of Waikato campus) last for three decades.

The Axe Attack is the story of Hamilton people who loved music, were determined to share it, went against prevailing trends and criticism and made it their mission to do what it took, to get music into the lives of people who cared about it.

Here's to The Axe Attack – the metal music programme that has rocked the country for 30 years.

It all started in Hamilton.

 - Stuff


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