Our best-known voice
New Zealand has been waking up to Geoff Robinson for well over three decades and he’s been a PSA member all of that time. He’s retiring in April so we asked him about his job.
I heard you worked in a bank.
I worked in banking in England. Then I came here and worked for the ANZ bank.
How did you get into radio?
I worked in banking when I came here. There was an ad in the paper: “Wanted – Announcers. Ring for an audition”. So I did. I had the English southern accent which was what they were looking for then. I was always interested in broadcasting but the BBC was hard to get into. You had to have a degree and I didn’t have anything like that.
Most of us are still in bed when you come on air. Do you enjoy the hours?
You get used to them. I must be genetically lucky as my dad was an early riser and it’s not too hard for me. But if you do the job, you’ve got to get up early, simple as that.
Some say you’re too polite. What’s your view?
It doesn’t hurt to be polite and I don’t particularly like listening to aggressive interviews. I think the aim of most of what we do is to put information into the hands of the listener. I’m not asking questions because I want to know the answer necessarily but because I think you want to know the answer.
And some people don’t want to answer.
That’s true. You can either do what that famous English bloke did and ask the same question 19 times. Or you can ask it two or three times, make the point they’re not answering and then move on. The listeners will make their own judgement.
Do you ever forget your question?
It happens to all of us – well, I hope it does and I’m not the only one. I was talking to Martin Crowe, just to name-drop, about when he famously got to 299 runs. Then he had a moment when he forgot what he was doing and was thinking of something else. And that’s what happens sometimes when you’re interviewing. All of a sudden, you realise they’ve stopped talking. You do have to concentrate when you’re on air.
Have you always worked in public broadcasting?
Yes. I believe in public broadcasting. The distinction is that commercial broadcasting, whether it’s radio or television, exists to deliver an audience to advertisers and they’ll do whatever’s necessary to get the audience. Public broadcasting exists to make programmes for listeners. That’s still what we do, what public broadcasting has always done. Impartially present material for the listeners to make their own judgement.
Public radio seems constantly under threat.
Successive governments have kept us on a short leash. I remember when Warren Cooper was the minister of broadcasting and he started to make noises about whether we needed public radio. A lobby group called Friends of Public Radio was immediately set up. The government made a pragmatic decision that it was too much trouble to get rid of it. I think in fairness they all recognise there’s a value to the country in public radio. With the usual constraints on money, I think they’ll keep it going.
You’ve been a PSA member throughout.
I’ve always been a member of the union, I’ve always believed in them. By and large, they’ve done me well. I signed up with the PSA when I first started at Radio New Zealand. What else do you do? I’m hopeless at negotiating, I’d rather let someone else do it.
What will you miss most when you retire?
What I’ll miss most is the information flow. I remember when the Gulf War started, the then prime minister Jim Bolger came into the studio. We had Sky television in the studio with the CNN pictures. He had the latest government information just given to him and I had the wire services coming in on our computer. And we sat down to wait for the start of the war. I think it was Jim who said, we’re probably the best-informed people in the country on this topic.
And what will you be glad to see the back of?
What I won’t miss on some winter mornings is the alarm going off at 3.30am. It will be nice to sleep in.
Any plans for retirement, other than a lie-in?
I’m a person who lets life happen to him; I’m not a very good planner. We’ll do a bit of travel. If something comes along, it does, and if not, I’ll be happy. I’ve got lots of books to read and things to do.
Will you listen to Morning Report?
That’s interesting because I don’t know whether I’ll be a radio listener or what sort. At the moment I work on radio so I tend not to listen to it for pleasure because it puts me in my work brain. It will be interesting to see how much I become a typical radio listener.
This article is from the March 2014 issue of the PSA Journal. You can read back issues of the Journal by clicking here.